Baltimore Traffic Net (BTN) – ARRL NTS Message Format
Messages sent through the ARRL National Traffic System use a specific format. A pre-printed ARRL Radiogram form is available and makes handling traffic a little more convenient (e.g., fields are labeled and placed in the correct sequence, word count is easier because the form is laid out with five words per line). However, the use of this pre-printed message form is not necessary for handling traffic– you can use any form or blank paper that has the message in the proper format.
1 R G KC3CBL 12 BALTIMORE MD DEC 20
JOHN Q PUBLIC
1234 MAPLE AVE
BALTIMORE MD 27000
919 555 12343
ARRIVE 7PM DEC 24 X
LOOKING FORWARD TO SEEING YOU
BETTY M PUBLIC
REC’D W3YVQ DEC 22 1845 SENT JOHN Q PUBLIC DEC 22 1905
The NTS message format consists of several parts– preamble, address, text, signature, records and identification block. Some parts, like the preamble, contain multiple fields. Some parts and fields are required (they must be used) and some are optional (they are not usually used, unless needed). To qualify as a “formal” radiogram in the NTS, a message must have a preamble, address, text and signature in the standard ARRL format.
The preamble contains the information needed to track and handle a message and any reply. It consists of the fields that make up the first line of the example message– number, precedence, handling instructions (HX), station of origin, check, place of origin, time filed and date. Except for handling instructions (HX) and time filed, which are optional, all NTS radiograms must have a complete preamble.
This is a unique number assigned to the message by the originating station. The message number must contain only figures and should not have leading zeros. Many operators start with number 1 at the beginning of each year. Once a message is assigned a number, that same number remains with the message until it is delivered.
In the example message, number 1 was assigned.
The precedence is used to determine the order in which messages will be handled and to increase efficiency during both normal times and emergencies. Most of the time, all messages will be handled during a traffic net. The following four precedences are used, in order of priority from highest to lowest:
|EMERGENCY||EMERGENCY||Any message having life and death urgency to any person or group of
persons, which is transmitted by Amateur Radio in the absence of regular
communication facilities. During normal times, it would be rare to
use this precedence. When in doubt, do not use this precedence.
This traffic is handled immediately and first, before PRIORITY, WELFARE
|PRIORITY||P||These are messages have specific time limits. They are also for
official messages, not covered in the EMERGENCY category. This traffic
will be handled before WELFARE or ROUTINE.
|WELFARE||W||This message is either an inquiry/report about the health and welfare
of an individual in a disaster area or or an advisory from the disaster
area that indicates all is well. These messages will be handled before
|ROUTINE||R||Most traffic in normal times will bear this designation. During
emergencies, routine traffic will be handled last (or not at all when nets
are busy with higher precedence traffic).
The abbreviation for the precedence is written on the message form (e.g., ‘R’), but it always stated by its full name (e.g., ‘ROUTINE’). There is no abbreviation for EMERGENCY which is always spelled out completely.
In the example message, the precedence was routine (R).
Handling Instructions (optional)
Handling Instructions are sometimes used to tell the various stations along the way, what the desires of the originating
station are. If not needed, it is best not to use. If omitted, HXG is assumed. Note that some HX codes have ___ for the insertion of numbers.
|HX Code||Instructions (compliance with these instructions is mandatory)|
|HXA___||Collect landline delivery authorized by the by addressee within ___
miles (if no number, authorization is unlimited). This means that
the originating station has obtained authorization from the addressee,
through the party originating the message, to call collect when delivering
|HXB___||Cancel message if not delivered within ___ hours of filing time and
send service message back to originating station (preamble of message using
this code must include time filed).
|HXC||Report by service message to the originating station, the date and
time of delivery.
|HXD||Report by service message to the originating station, the identity
of the station from which message was received, plus date and time.
Include the identity of the station to which messaged was relayed, plus
date and time, or if message was delivered, report the date, time and method
|HXE||Delivering station get a reply from the addressee, and originate a
message back. The reply is sent to the person from whom the original
message was received, at the place of origin, using a full address
obtained from the addressee. If an address is not available, a reply
can often be successfully routed back to the station of origin since
a record is kept of originator’s information.
|HXF___||Hold delivery until ___ (date). The number indicates the day
of the month on which the message should be delivered (even if it is in
the following month).
|HXG||Delivery by mail or landline toll call not required. If toll
or other expense involved, cancel message and service originating station.
More than one HX code may be used. If more than one HX code is used, they may be combined provided no numbers are to be inserted (e.g., HXCE, HXAC), otherwise the HX should be repeated e.g., HXA50 HXC).
In the example message, the handling instruction was HXG (May be omitted since HXG is the default).
Station of Origin (required)
This is the call sign of the amateur radio station who originally created this message for handling by the NTS. Any service message regarding this piece of traffic should be directed to the station of origin (and should include the message number).
In the example message, the station of origin was KC3CBL.
This is a count of the number of “words” used in the text of the message only (words in the address or signature are not counted). Any single letter or figure; or any combinations of letters, figures and the slash (/) which are preceded and/or followed by a blank, are counted as “words”. If ARRL Numbered Radiograms are used in the text, the letters ARL precede the check (e.g., ARL 12).
The check can help make sure that the text was received without error (both the sender and receiver should have the same word count). The original check is never changed but may be amended if wrong. A slash (/) and the amended count is placed after the original count (e.g., 11/12, 12/ARL 12).
In the example message, the check was 12.
Place of Origin (required)
This field contains the city and state where the person whose signature appears on the message, was located when the message was originated. This is used for routing a reply to the person who originated the message. In most cases, this will be the same place as the station of origin (who should have kept a record of the originator’s information).
In the example message, the place of origin was BALTIMORE MD.
Time Filed (optional)
This field contains the time the message was originated. You may use UTC or local time (e.g., 1615Z or 1115EST). If no time zone designator is used, the ARRL default is UTC time (e.g., 1615 is the same as 1615Z). If the time is used, it must be consistent with the date (i.e., both must be UTC or local). It is useful only if the message has a short time value (i.e., most routine messages do not use this field).
In the example message, the time was omitted.
This field contains the date the message was originated. The date is given as the first 3 letters of the month, followed by the digits for the day (e.g., JAN 1, JUL 14). Only the month and day are used– the year is not used (if the message is over a year old, it wasn’t handled in an expeditious manner). The ARRL standard is to use the UTC date. When time filed is specified, then the date and time must be consistent (e.g., 0030Z DEC 21 or 1930EST DEC 20).
In the example message, the date was DEC 20.
This section contains the name(s) and address of the person to which this message is going. It looks like the address on an envelope used to send postal mail. Include a phone number, if you have it. Having as much accurate information as possible will make it easier to deliver the message promptly.
In the example message, the address was:
JOHN Q PUBLIC 1234 MAPLE AVE BALTIMORE MD 27000 919 555 1234
Address Op Note (optional)
Contains additional information that may be useful to the operator who will be delivering the message (e.g., OP NOTE CALL AFTER 7 PM). It is not part of the text and is not delivered as part of the message to the addressee. If used, the address op note is written in the area to the right of the phone number, and transmitted to the receiving station after the phone number.
This section contains the message you are sending to the addressee for the person whose signature appears on the radiogram. The only characters permitted are letters (A-Z), figures (0-9) and the slash (/). It should be short (usually less than 25 words) and in telegram style. No punctuation is used. The letter X can be used as a separator to end one idea and start another (although many messages do not have an X in them). The word QUERY is used to represent a question mark (?). The letter R is used as a decimal point in a figure group (e.g., 146.67 is sent as 146R67).
In the example message, the text was:
ARRIVE 7PM DEC 24 X LOOKING FORWARD TO SEEING YOU X BEST
This text contains 12 words, so the check is 12. If the text is written with 5 words per line (or typed with 10 words per line), it makes it easier to quickly count the words.As amateur radio is non-commercial, the text should have no commercial value (you, as the operator, must be the judge of what is commercial and what is not). You must be aware of restrictions on third-party traffic if the addressee is outside the US and not a licensed amateur radio operator.
This is the name of the person sending the message. It may be the name or call of the originating station. However, it is usually the name of a “third-party”, for whom the originating station is generating the message. You must be aware of restrictions on third-party traffic if the addressee is outside the US and not a licensed amateur radio operator.
In the example message, the signature was Betty M Public.
Signature Op Note (optional)
Contains additional information that may be useful to the operator who may be sending a reply back to the message originator
(e.g., OP NOTE REPLY VIA BALTIMORE TRAFFIC NET). It is not part of the signature and is not delivered as part of the message to the addressee (if intended for the addressee, it should be part of the signature). If used, the signature op note is written in the area to the right of the signature, and transmitted to the receiving station after the signature.
Identification Block (optional)
Most messages are delivered by telephone, but if the message is to be mailed or hand delivered, it is nice to put information about your station in this area. That will permit the addressee to reach you if there is any question, or if they want to send a return message. This section is rarely used.
In the example message, this was omitted.
This section provides a place for record keeping by the operator of the station handling the message. Although this information is not transmitted with the message, it contains important tracking information. When originating a message for a third-party, you should record enough information about the sender so that you can contact them in case the message is undeliverable or if additional information is needed.
This field contains the date, time and identification of the station from whom the message was received, or related to the origination of the message.
In the example message, this was received from W3YVQ on DEC 22 at 1845.
This field contains the date, time and identification of the station to whom the message was sent, or information related to the delivery of the message.
In the example message, this was DELIVERED to the addressee on DEC 22 at 1905.
Sent (required) This field contains the date, time and identification of the station to whom the message was sent, or information related to the delivery of the message.
In the example message, this was DELIVERED to the addressee on DEC 22 at 1905.
An excellent source of information on the essentials of voice traffic handling is Basic Traffic Handling Summary – Voice by W3YVQ.
For more information about ARRL NTS Message Format, see ARRL form FSD-3 or refer to the ARRL Operating Manual, available from ARRL .
For more information about ARRL NTS Traffic Net and Message Handling Procedures, see Appendix B- NTS Methods and Practices Guidelines in the ARRL Public Service Communications Manual.