New hams listening in on a local net are likely to hear the net control station begin the session by asking for stations with traffic.  Seems like there never is traffic, so what’s that all about?

Traffic is ham-speak for passing messages, usually via regular radio nets.


Messages are almost always formal, written on a form with bureaucratic detail.


Even friendly, casual messages (“happy birthday, Aunt Edna”) are typically passed this way.

ARRL Radiogram

Such messages (traffic) resemble the old telegram format.  They go back to the very early days of amateur radio when passing messages was a primary function.  In fact, this is from where the US Amateur Radio Relay League (ARRL) derives its name.

Nowadays traffic is mainly an emergency communications (EmComm) function, although the occasional casual message is passed on.  Purpose-specific traffic nets meet regularly to pass messages to stay in practice for when they are really needed, like when there is a local or regional communication outage.  Likewise, local nets support traffic to maintain readiness.

The general traffic flow is from an originating station to a local net where the message is Continue reading

Stuck Microphone

While it’s mainly a local VHF/UHF communications issue, stuck microphones can be a real problem.

A stuck mic situation is when a radio operator inadvertently transmits for an extended time because they have unintentionally triggered the push to talk or transmit switch on their radio.  Consequences of a stuck mic range from being a nuisance to a life-threatening disruption. At best a stuck mic ties up a repeater or simplex frequency with dead air or noise.  At worst it blocks urgent communication during a disaster net or public service event.

One common stuck mic situation involves a mobile unit with the hand-held mic loose in the vehicle where it might get wedged into the seat to trigger the PTT button.  Best practice here is to keep the mic clipped into a hanger when not being used to minimize inadvertent transmission.

Keeping a mobile mic secure in clip minimizes chance of inadvertent keying.

Another common situation involves mic accessories with HTs during a public service event or emergency deployment.  When using a speaker-mic or headset, ensure that the PTT button is protected from accidental triggering.  Also, the Yaesu FT-60 is a wonderful handheld radio and many hams have them, but they (and others like them) have a squirrely speaker/mic jack that is prone to false triggers when the connector is not seated completely.  So make sure your accessory is connected securely and not prone to pulling out when the radio is clipped to your belt or in a pocket or something like that.

External mic or headset prone to false PTT triggers because of plug design on certain HTs.

In any case, awareness is our first line of defense.  Be aware that a stuck mic is a problem and that you might be the culprit.

Don’t be this guy!

Keep an eye on your transmit light to make sure it’s not on when Continue reading

Directed Net

An amateur radio net (ham-speak for network) is an organized gathering of at least three hams on the air for a specific purpose.  It is usually on a regular schedule (e.g., 9pm local on Wednesdays) and specific frequency (e.g., 146.900 repeater).  Nets are organized for various reasons, usually conforming to one of two categories: hobby/pleasure and utilitarian.  Nets may be impromptu and unscheduled, such as during severe weather when a net may be quickly organized, or following a local emergency or disaster.

While there are CW (Morse code) and voice (phone) nets on the HF bands, most ham nets are found on VHF/UHF repeaters to serve area organizations such as a club or emergency communication group. EmComm organizations such as ARES typically have weekly training nets so it’s likely that one is in your area.

Radio nets can be formal or informal.  You are most likely to encounter formal nets which have a more structured feel.

When joining a more formal net, you are likely to hear the phrase, “directed net.”  This means that one operator is in charge of the net, and this person is Continue reading

Zed, not Zee

A side note to the previous post on using a phonetic alphabet–

When formally identifying yourself or another radio station with the letter Z in the call sign we use Zulu for proper ITU phonetics.

But we don’t always use phonetics for identification.  Once the call signs have been logged and acknowledged properly, we typically identify with call signs spoken normally (no phonetics).

So here is the wrinkle…  If there is a letter Z in any call sign, we should not pronounce “zee” when using non-phonetic identification.  Z is easily confused with C and to a lesser extent, G and P and T and V, especially if there is interference or noise.

To avoid this, simply say “zed” instead of “zee” when not using phonetics.  Zed is how the originators of the English language pronounce that last letter of the alphabet anyway, so let’s give the UK a show of support.

Using Zed solves the confusion and it’s widely known and understood.  You will hear experienced hams say Zed all the time when they’re not using phonetics.  Just remember to say Zulu when phonetics are needed.

It’s Zed, not Zee.  Get into the habit!


One of the first things a new ham needs to learn when they get on the air is the phonetic alphabet.  Because many alphabet letters sound the same over the air it is important to use phonetics when spelling out words or giving your call sign accurately.  This is particularly important when checking into a radio net, which is where many new hams get started.

Proper amateur radio protocol uses the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) phonetic alphabet.  You are likely to hear other phonetic alphabets on the air but should learn the ITU version and use it.  Start learning Continue reading