Call Sign Order (Calling Protocol)

Ground Control to Major Tom
Ground Control to Major Tom
Take your protein pills
And put your helmet on

With all due respect to David Bowie and his classic song Space Oddity (which most of us probably know well), the lyrics are arranged for rhyming, not for good radio practice.

“This is AF5NP calling K5ZFA”.  If you heard this on a repeater, would it be OK?  The answer is that it is legal but the call sign order is backwards and contrary to protocol.

You may hear a new ham (or a very distracted old timer) on the air identifying first, followed by their target station.  That’s not right.

Well-established radio procedure is calling or identifying in a To-From sequence (call sign order).  Whether answering a CQ, calling a station on a repeater, or simply identifying the two parties in a contact, the other station call sign is given first, followed by your own.

T2A05-2018

Using our example above, the proper protocol would be, “Calling K5ZFA, this is AF5NP”, or in its most minimal form, “K5ZFA, AF5NP”.

Note that the basic To-From protocol using just the two call signs satisfies requirements and is well understood on the air.  K5ZFA would hear AF5NP calling and may return the call in the same manner (“AF5NP, K5ZFA”).

This to-from sequence is so ingrained that when the order is reversed other stations are likely to get confused; there is a risk of mistaking one station for the other.

Another reason for using this sequence is that it is normal and natural for a ham to alert on their own call sign.  When it is given in the to-from way, they will tend to pay attention to what comes next, which should be the calling station’s call sign.  Reversing this order means the called station is likely to miss the calling station’s ID because it was given first and they weren’t paying attention until they heard their own ID.

New hams should make this their practice and before long it will become second nature.

So don’t model your call sign order after Space Oddity, no matter how cool the song.  It should have been, “Major Tom from ground control” but that would have changed the flow of things.

3 thoughts on “Call Sign Order (Calling Protocol)

  1. I was thinking about this article and I respectfully disagree with protocol. Although it is considered proper protocol, the other way is more functional in practice. For instance:

    In a repeater situation, if you use your callsign first, then the destination (AF5NP to K5ZFA). If you talk too early before the repeater establishes a reliable continuous connection with receive sites etc., the destination still has an opportunity to hear their callsign and respond that they heard you calling them even though they might not know who, vs. the reverse where no body actually knows who is supposed to respond. There’s an opportunity for stations to double over each other while responding back (especially in an emergency!!!). The reverse method keeps the conversation flowing, instead of wasting precious seconds.

    i.e. ………….P to K5ZFA

    vs. ………….A from AF5NP

    This is also true with modern Digital Equipment. DMR radios we cut off the beginning of the transmission ALL THE F***** TIME, it makes us all nuts, as it does not establish the digital protocol fast enough for humans in production use.

    Realistically people are impatient, and “proper” protocol dictates that a callsign may be identified in up to the first 10 minutes, so during a typical net, callsigns are repeated many many times over, well within the first 10 minutes of typical conversations. Emergencies are also special cases where protocols are intentionally made more lenient in favor of the emergency.

    So the practical method solves the problem with humans that are talk happy [like mouse click happy, but with radio voices 😉 ]. Hence why I think everyone operates in that way (contrary to protocol). So I think in future nets, I’m going to stick with this method over the reverse “proper” protocol. Proper is not always practical.

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    • Thanks for the input, Roger (should I be cute and say roger that, Roger ?) Good point about repeater and DMR lag. I believe this is configurable by the repeater, so some are worse than others. That’s why we also encourage folks to hit the PTT and pause for 0.5-1 sec before talking. I will check to make sure that’s covered on this site somewhere; if not, I will make it a special post. That said, it’s hard to get people into that habit, so you have a good point. Thanks for adding to the discussion. 73, Jim

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  2. Yes, it is very hard to get people to wait the extra beat (so-to-speak), hence why I think the reverse is more practical. And yes, people always say, “Roger, Roger!” LOL! 73, AC9BT

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