This is the fourth of a series of briefings on traffic handling. The source for this material is N0WPA (now K0RM) and the Colorado ECom web pages.
This time we'll spend a little time discussing the CHECK on the amateur message form - and how to count words in the text.
The CHECK is, in essence, a very basic manual error checking figure which can alert traffic handlers to a missed word in the passing of traffic.
After receiving a message, traffic handlers count the WORDS in the message and compare to the CHECK. If the two numbers do not agree, a re-read of the message may be necessary to detect the error.
When passing formal message traffic, the format is to send the preamble, then the address, a BREAK (which is the prosign BT on CW and the word "BREAK" on phone) then the text, followed by another BREAK, then the signature, then END OF MESSAGE - prosign AR on CW or the word "END" on phone.
All of the words between the two BREAKS are counted as part of the text, and this is what the check refers to.
Each WORD is counted as one. In addition to whole words, there are GROUPS which are also each counted as ONE. Some examples are:
Telephone numbers in the TEXT sometimes present confusion.
An example: FIGURES 719 FIGURES 535 FIGURES 1568 would be counted as THREE WORDS and according to the Public Service Communications manual, this is correct way to send a telephone number in the TEXT.
If, however, a telephone number is sent as: FIGURES 719 dash 535 dash 1568; it would be one group and would be counted as one word. The easiest way to remember this is that each SPACE, except for the one between the last word of the text and 'BREAK', begins a new word.
Punctuation marks consist of the period and the question mark - they are really the only punctuation used in the text. The period is written as the single letter X as in X-RAY (and on phone is spoken as "X-RAY") and this counts as one word. The question mark is spoken as the word QUERY I SPELL QUEBEC UNIFORM ECHO ROMEO YANKEE and also counts as one word.
The first ham who creates the message should exercise care to be as brief as possible and avoid the use of contractions. The apostrophe is not really used in CW - and contractions are often misunderstood on phone.
ARRL NUMBERED RADIOGRAMS are a standardized list of often used phrases in NTS messages. Each phrase on the list is assigned a number. There are two groups: group one for emergency relief consists of 26 phrases numbered consecutively from ONE to TWENTY SIX. As an example, Number six means: will contact you as soon as possible. Group TWO, for routine messages, consists of 21 phrases numbered FORTY SIX and then consecutively from FIFTY through SIXTY NINE. The complete list is available in ARRL publication FSD-3 dated February 94. Earlier versions of this list do not contain the latest additions.
When using numbered radiograms, the letters ARL (ALPHA ROMEO LIMA) are placed in the check block of the preamble, just prior to the number indicating the word count. In the text of the message, the appropriate numbered radiogram is inserted by using the letters ARL (ALHPA ROMEO LIMA) as one word, followed by the number written out in text - not numerals. For example:
ARL FIFTY SIX - This needs to be emphasized when using voice and it is important to spell out the numbers. This allows the receiving station to correctly copy what is being sent and NOT inadvertently write the figures FIVE SIX.
The preceding example- ARL F-I-F-T-Y S-I-X is counted as three words. Some common mistakes are for the receiving station to write ARL dash five six and count it as one word; or ARL space five six and count it as two words.
ARL SIXTY TWO: Greetings and best wishes TO YOU for a pleasant BLANK holiday season.
or ARL SIXTY FOUR: ARRIVED SAFELY AT BLANK
As THESE examples show, there are some numbered radiograms which require a "fill in the blank" word or two in order to make sense!
Here's an example of a message to convey a Christmas greeting, indicate safe arrival and send regards from family members: You may wish to copy this for practice.
NUMBER FIFTY SEVEN, ROUTINE, NOVEMBER ZERO WHISKEY PAPA ALPHA, ARL 16, PUEBLO, CO DECEMBER 10
FIGURES 3820 INITIAL S SUNNYRIDGE LANE
NEW BERLIN, WISCONSIN FIGURES 53151
FIGURES 414 FIGURES 555 FIGURES 1234
ARL FIFTY ARL SIXTY TWO
CHRISTMAS ARL SIXTY FOUR HOME
MOM AND DAD SEND THEIR
BOB AND ALICE
END, NO MORE NØWPA.
No XRAY needs to be added between parts of this message. The numbered radiogram assumes a period at the end of the phrase, so adding X-RAYs would unnecessarily drive up the word count.
When copying the text of a message, receiving stations should write five words on each line. The yellow and green ARRL Radiogram form is set up to do this; but if copying on whatever happens to be handy, grouping the words five at a time allows for a very quick count after the message is received. After receiving the message, the receiving operator compares the word count with the check. If okay, the message is rogered; if not, the message is repeated at reading speed.
There are variations used when passing traffic via CW; especially when both stations are operating full break-in. The receiving station can "break" the sending station at any point for needed fills, instead of waiting for the entire message to be sent. There are additional special prosigns used and interested amateurs should obtain ARRL publication FSD-218 dated February of 91 - this publication is referred to as the "Pink Card" and contains CW NET procedures as well as a description of the Amateur Message Form, precedence and Handling Instructions.