National Traffic System

National Traffic System (NTS)

During disasters or other emergencies, radiograms are used to communicate information critical to saving lives or property, or to inquire about the health or welfare of a disaster victim.

Here is an example of the NTS in New York -

What is the National Traffic System?

The National Traffic System (NTS) consists of American Radio Relay League (ARRL) affiliated and independent amateur radio networks (“nets”) which pass non-commercial messages on behalf of third parties as a public service. A variety of communications modes are used. CW and other digital modes are most often used for “long-haul” interstate traffic. Regional traffic is handled using both CW and SSB, while local (city or county) nets most often use FM repeaters.

The NTS has been in operation since 1949, established by the ARRL in response to membership demand. It carries on a proud tradition of message relaying, established by Hiram Percy Maxim when he founded the ARRL for the purpose of handling message traffic in 1914. The NTS is the tightest, and solidest organization within the ARRL framework.

The goals of the NTS are to provide two things:

Timely and reliable movement of formal written message traffic from origin to destination as a free public service to the amateur community and the general public.
Training of amateur operators in handling of written traffic and participating in directed nets.

Training of amateur operators in the processing of third party messages in directed nets continues the existence of a reserve of well trained radio communications personnel. The NTS also supplies communications during states of emergency on behalf of ARES and RACES, especially for medium and long range messages. It is important for these organizations to work together to provide the communications capabilities expected by served agencies.

Why should I participate?

Many reasons…first, it’s fun! Traffic handlers enjoy a special camaraderie in the ham world. Second, it’s putting your station and yourself to public benefit. You’re maintaining emergency communications preparedness ability in your neighborhood and section. Third, it’s good public relations for amateur radio. Whenever you deliver a message to a third party, you’re doing your part to keep the general public aware of Amateur Radio. Also, no matter what your particular operating interest is (Phone, 2 meter FM, RTTY, packet, CW, etc.), there is an NTS net that you can join! Finally, a lot of little reasons can come to mind…you’re adding to your pleasure of operating, learning new techniques through on-the-air classes, publications, nets, etc., you can receive awards and recognition from the amateur service, and so on. There’s a lot of different reasons! (And don’t forget the fame and fortune available to you when you see your call in QST’s Public Service Honor Roll (PSHR) each month, if you qualify!)

Traffic handlers are a dedicated group of Amateurs who handle (transfer and deliver) traffic (messages) for others as a free service of the hobby.

Learning and honing skills to provide communications for their global neighborhood should the need arise due to civil or natural causes.
Carrying on a tradition of service to our neighbors begun in the earliest days of our hobby.
Part of a social gathering of Amateurs on the air who also handle traffic for the reasons listed above.

Whatever the reason, traffic handling is a rewarding activity with which every amateur should be familiar. Few hams participate in traffic nets on a regular basis but those who do so are a very dedicated group and welcome new members. Check into a net and try this interesting facet of our hobby.
What are the requirements for participation?

The National Traffic System operates daily, with over 500 nets regularly operating. Sometime each day there will be a net operating at a time and mode that can suit your individual schedule. If you can spend even an hour or so each week, then the NTS can provide you with an opportunity to serve. ARRL membership, with optional appointment as an Official Relay Station (ORS) is encouraged, but not a requirement for participation as a traffic handler in the NTS. You’re eligible to join an NTS net if you possess a valid amateur radio license allowing the operating privileges in the band and mode of the net.

How to send Radiograms -

Formal Radiogram Traffic Format

Below is a sample of the radiogram form and all the information that you may need to process a formal written messages via the National Traffic System. These items are all spelled out in the ARRL FSD-218
Parts of a formatted message:

  1. Preamble:

    Message Number
    Handling Instructions*
    Station of Origin
    Place of Origin
    Time Filed*
    Date Filed

  2. Addressee:

    Full name (If Ham operator - call sign)
    Street Address - House number and street
    City, State/Province, and Zip/Postal Code
    Telephone number with area code

  3. First Break

  4. Body of the message

    Should not exceed twenty-five (25) words (see check) by convention.

  5. Second Break

  6. Signature - Of the party originating the message. Should contain address and phone number of the sender if reply requested.

  • These are optional on Routine message but required on all others.
    A Routine NTS Radiogram

Msg. #
1 Precedence:
R Handling Instructions
HX_* G Station of Origin
W7ARC Check**
25 Place of Origin
Lynnwood, WA Time Filed*
(Local or Zulu) Date Filed
Today’s Date

TO: Full Name: John Smith
Street Address: 123 Main St.
City: Seattle State/Province: WA Zip/Postal Code: 98802
Phone Number: 206 312 2223

BT (Break)

(Body of the message:)
THE MESSAGE X (see Punctuation) IT SHOULD

BT (Break)
(Signature:) Jane Smith
Name of person sending the message. Include the address and phone number if reply requested.

Twenty five (25) words is not a rule but rather a “benchmark” so the messages can be as concise as possible. - It’s not a letter…or a book.
Instructions for preamble:
MSG #: The number the originating station issues to the message. This number is NEVER changed by any station handling the message.
PRECEDENCE: Emergency (always spelled out) - Any message that has life and death urgency to any person or groups of persons.
§riority - Important messages having a specific time limit.
(W)elfare - A message that is an inquiry into the well-being of an individual in a disaster area.
®outine - Normal traffic during normal times.
*HX: = Handling Instructions.
(Optional for Routine messages.) HXA - (Followed by number) Collect landline delivery authorized by addressee within ____ miles. (If no number, authorization is unlimited.)
HXB - (Followed by number) Cancel message if not delivered within ____ hours of filing time; service originating station.
HXC - Report date and time of delivery (TOD) to originating station.
HXD - Report to originating station the identity of station from which received, plus date and time. Report identity of station to which relayed, plus date and time, or if delivered, report date, time and method of delivery.
HXE - Delivering station get reply. from addressee, originate message back.
HXF - (Followed by number) Hold delivery until _____. (date)
HXG - Delivery by mail or landline toll call not required. If toll or other expense involved, cancel message and service originating station.
STATION OF ORIGIN: The station originating the formal traffic (Call Sign).
**CHECK: The number of words, punctuation, mixed groups or numbers in the body of the message; between Break and Break. (In an effort to minimize the amount of words in the text you can use ARRL Numbered Radiograms. If ARRL Numbered Radiograms are used in the text add ARL to the check.)
PLACE OF ORIGIN: The location of the party originating the traffic. Need not be the same location as the station of origin.
*TIME FILED: Zulu or local time message was filed. (Not necessary in Routine messages) If using Zulu time you MUST use the Zulu date also.
DATE FILED: Date the message was put into the NTS for transmittal to a relay or delivering station. (Always needed)

All of this information is available on the ARRL FSD-218.

CW Procedures:
The pro-sign AA separates the parts of the address. BT separates the address from the text and the text from the signature. AR marks the end of the message: this is followed by B if there is another message to follow, by N if this is the last or only message. It is customary to copy the preamble, parts of the address, text and signature on separate lines.

Phone Procedures:
Use pro-words instead of pro-signs, but it is not necessary to name each part of the message as you send it. For example a message sent on phone (byvoice) would be as follows:
“Number one routine HX Golf W7ARC ARL12 Silverdale Washington one eight three zero Zulu March seventeen Donald Smith Figures one six four zero East Sixth Avenue, Bremerton, Washington niner eight three one one Telephone figures three six zero three one three five eight six seven Break ARL FIFTY ARL FORTY SIX HOPE TO SEE YOU SOON (X-ray) LOVE BREAK Mom and Dad End of Message - Over.” If more than one message is to be sent to the same receiving station the words “More to follow” would replace “Over” until the last message is sent.

It is important to speak clearly and distinctly over phone. It is also important to spell phonetically words that sound alike or may have several forms of spelling; i.e. to, too, two, etc. It is also important to spell words whose meaning may not be clear. Use the pro-words, “I SPELL” before each of these instances. For example - “you’re”. Say the word “you’re.” Say “I spell,” and proceed with “YANKEE OSCAR UNIFORM APOSTROPHE ROMEO ECHO.” Then say the word again, “you’re”. This will avoid confusion with your, you’re or yore in the message.


In an effort to keep things as simple as possible the NTS has adopted the following standards for punctuation in a formal radiogram:
STOP = X-Ray
Question Mark = Query

As these are the most common punctuations and could be easily misconstrued as something else ALL periods in a message are expressed as an “X” (spoken “X-ray”) and all question marks are spoken as the word “query” at the end of the sentence. Other punctuation is permitted but in an effort to keep the check to a minimum they are discouraged.

To shorten messages that are longer than 25 words you may want to use one or more of the ARRL Numbered Radiogram Messages. These can be found on the FSD-3 and every ham should have a copy of this document in their station for reference when delivering a message that contains and ARRL Numbered message.