Using The International Phonetic Alphabet
Eliminating confusion and demonstrating excellence in operating technique.
Almost from the time the telephone was invented people have had a need to unambiguously understand one another under less than ideal conditions. It’s one thing to talk face to face yet quite another to understand each other over weak, noisy and otherwise challenging conditions. Telephone spelling alphabets were developed to improve understanding when communicating under difficult conditions. Because of this I want to make the case that as trained Radio Amateurs we all need to use standardized spelling alphabets and in particular the International (NATO) phonetic alphabet.
Prior to World War II many nations used their own versions of spelling alphabets. Starting in 1941 the United States Army and Navy standardized an alphabet across all branches and that became known as the “Able Baker” Phonetic Alphabet. As militaries found the need to ally themselves with other militaries and organizations across the world it became clear that International standardization was needed.
Skipping ahead to the point of this discussion is that the International (NATO) Phonetic Alphabet is now the accepted standardized alphabet used by English speaking radio communications professionals in Aviation, Military, EMCOMM and others. Certainly we, as Amateur Radio operators working under less than ideal communications conditions, need this as much as anyone.
The 26 Code words in the NATO alphabet are as follows:
Alfa, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Echo, Foxtrot, Golf, Hotel, India, Juliett, Kilo, Lima, Mike, November,
Oscar, Papa, Quebec, Romeo, Sierra, Tango, Uniform, Victor, Whiskey, X-ray, Yankee, Zulu.
Using these words under challenging conditions helps the operator get the message when only hearing partial words because the operator knows what to expect. If an operator hears a partial word, like “…ay” the trained operator will likely assume X-ray was the intended word when an improperly trained operator may have used Norway for the letter “N”. This nonstandard phrasing adds confusion, can cause delays for repeats and may cause inaccurate transcription of the intended message. These issues are greatly minimized when using standard phraseology.
Contest operators should be the quickest to adopt this use as it can expedite the contest exchange. However, I hear many casual contesters using non-standard phraseology which most often causes delays and repeats in crowded band conditions. No one wants delays when running rate is King!
When working DX stations, the accent of the operator can make some words hard to understand. But when using the standardized alphabet, a DL station that pronounces Whiskey as “Viskey” is easily understood. In aviation a pilot with a tail number N3656Y will always hear Yankee, never Yokahama regardless of the county he is operating. It’s this consistency that minimizes misunderstandings due to accents or conditions.
As amateur radio operators we pride ourselves as being trained professional communicators and it is very embarrassing when we do not adhere to these standards. The impact of having radio operators who are not trained in standard procedures can cause embarrassing problems. For example, Ham operators assisting in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina were reported …”to have excellent go-kits and technical ability but were seriously wanting in traffic handling skill. In one case it took almost 15 minutes to pass one 25 word message.” (source – Sant Andrea, Steve “When Not to Operate” P.74 April, 2010 QST)
Please help spread the word to improve our skills and increase our efficiency and professionalism in this great hobby. 73 from Whiskey X-ray Four Whiskey!
Curtis Foote – WX4W