Radios are still used as the basic voice communication means in big governmental/non-governmental organizations, fire stations, airports, train/bus stations, shipping, police stations and etc. Radios are considered to be the most cost effective, consistent and failure-proof way of communication compared to the many other options available such as cellular phones, satellite communication, etc. because they transmit signals directly from the radio device to other stations. There are technical variations to this but that is beyond the scope of this article.
There are generally two types of radios used for this purpose:
- VHF radios: These radios use Very High Frequency and are used for communication between short distances. A general definition is that these types work on the Line of Sight method, meaning that the transmitting device must virtually see the receiving device and there should be no obstacles in between such as tall buildings, mountains, etc.
- HF Radios: These radios transmit signals on a High Frequency and are meant for broader distances and could even communicate to stations thousands of miles away.
In this article we will discuss the procedures of properly using radios especially VHF radios.
- Understand and get familiar with the etiquette of radio communication. The international radio communication language is English except in cases where you are licensed for to speak in some other language.
Using the radio is not like talking on the phone, it is a two-way communication, meaning you cannot speak and listen at the same time or break into the conversation. NEVER interrupt if you hear other people talking. Patiently wait until their conversation is finished unless it is an emergency, in which case you must inform the other parties that you have a very urgent emergency message. Do not respond to others' calls if you aren't sure it is for you. Never transmit sensitive, confidential, financial and military information in a radio communication, it could be heard by anyone on the same frequency.
- Always perform radio checks and ensure that your radio is in good working condition. Ensure that the battery is charged and the power is on. Keep the volume high enough to be able to hear any call outs and regularly make radio checks with other stations to make sure everything is working just fine.
- Memorize the call signs and locations of other persons and radio stations to whom you may communicate. In radio communication you are not called by your name. Everybody has their own unique call sign. Watch out if you hear any unauthorized or unknown call sign communicating on the network and report it immediately to the radio room.
- Think before you speak. Decide on what you are going to transmit and to whom it is meant for. Make it as concise, precise and clear as possible and avoid using long and complicated sentences. Do not use abbreviations or spoken phrases. If necessary, write down your message before transmitting it. If your message is long, divide it into understandable short messages.
- To call a station, first listen to ensure the channel is clear for you. Press the PTT (Push-To-Talk) button and after 2 seconds say the recipient's call sign twice followed by "THIS IS" and your call sign. Convey your message once the receiver replies and the communication is established. A typical radio conversation would be as follows:
You: Papa November One, Papa November One, This is Papa November Nine, Message Over!
Recipient: Papa November Nine, This is Papa November One, Go Ahead, Over!
You: (You now say your message), Acknowledge, Over!
Recipient: Wilco (means your message was well received and will act upon), Over!
You: This is Papa November Nine, Out!
Note how in the beginning and the end of the transmission you pronounce your call sign so that people know who is talking. If you have an emergency message and need to interrupt others' conversations, wait and listen until you hear "Over", Press PTT and call ("BREAK, BREAK, BREAK, This is (your call sign), I have emergency message for (recipient's call sign), Do you copy, Over!").
- Follow the four golden rules of Radio conversation.
- Clarity: Your message should be clear enough. Speak slower than normal speed so that people can understand you better, do not shout.
- Simplicity: Your message should be simple for everyone to understand.
- Brevity: Your message should be precise and to the point.
- Security: Follow the security procedures; do not transmit confidential information on the radio.
- Memorize the phonetic alphabet as you will have to use it in your conversations. Following is a table showing the international phonetics used for the alphabet.
B - BRAVO
C - CHARLIE
D - DELTA
E - ECHO
F - FOXTROT
G - GOLF
H - HOTEL
I - INDIA
J - JULIET
K - KILO
L - LIMA
M - MIKE
N - NOVEMBER
O - OSCAR
P - PAPA
Q - QUEBEC
R - ROMEO
S - SIERRA
T - TANGO
U - UNIFORM
V - VICTOR
W - WHISKEY
X - X-RAY
Y - YANKEE
Z - ZULU
You will often be required to spell a certain word or name in your radio conversations, use the above phonetic equivalents instead of letters.
Communicating through the radio this way might be a little challenging at first and you will feel the rush to talk as you normally do in your day to day conversations, but with practice and patience you could be a good radio communicator.