Mastering the Basics: The Phonetic Alphabet

The Phonetic Alphabet is a series of words assigned to letters, in order to provide a standard for the clear understanding of messages or information of a verbal nature.

The NATO Phonetic Alphabet is also, coincidentally enough, the standard phonetic transcription system for the ITU (International Telecommunications Union).

this might be considered a clue

One might begin to think that the intended application of the modern phonetic alphabet was for radio communications…

The purpose of having the standard in place, is to obtain and process the correct information being transmitted. By working with the same set of corresponding data, in this case, the Phonetic Alphabet, everyone’s ability to handle traffic in a concise and timely manner is increased.

Using this system, the likelihood of confusion is reduced. If you’re digging a weak phone signal out from amongst the noise, letters like C, B, D, E, G, P, T, V, and Z start to sound A LOT alike. As well, during a high-traffic situation such as a disaster, brevity and clarity are significant aids in regards to relaying information.

The words on the list were NOT chosen at random; they were generated as unique terms that were dissimilar in tone from one another.

For instance, if the receiving station asks for you to phonetically spell the last word of your message, “weapon,” and your phonetic translation is:

Wine – Emily – Arkansas – Paul – Orson – Nancy…

The RX station may hear:

Mine/Fine/Time/Rhyme/Lime/Dime – Family/Heavenly/Remedy/Felony – Hacksaw/Panama/Ottowa/Chickasaw/Chippewa – Ball/Fall/Brawl/Crawl/Gall – Arson/Dorsal/Coarsen/Worsen – Fancy/Candy/Pansy/Ansty.

I’ll just leave this here:

Using location, or country names as a phonetic device is a great way to confuse the station operator on the receiving side of the transmission, especially if the receiving station is attempting to log information in poor conditions. 

Below is the breakdown of the Phonetic Alphabet, along with the pronunciation, and related CW code for each letter and number.

Letter CW Code Word Pronunciation
A  • – Alpha / Alfa AL-FAH
B – • • • Bravo BRAH-VOH
C – • – • Charlie CHAR-LEE
D – • • Delta DELL-TAH
F • • – • Foxtrot FOKS-TROT
G – –  • Golf GOLF
H • • • • Hotel HOH-TEL
I  • • India IN-DEE-AH
J • – – – Juliet JEW-LEE-ETT
K – • – Kilo KEY-LOH
L  • – • • Lima LEE-MAH
M – – Mike MIKE
N – • November NO-VEM-BER
O – – – Oscar OSS-CAH
P • – – • Papa PAH-PAH
Q – –  • – Quebec KEH-BECK
R • – • Romeo ROW-ME-OH
S  • • • Sierra SEE-AIR-RAH
U  •  • – Uniform YOU-NEE-FORM
V • • • – Victor VIK-TAH
W • – – Whiskey WISS-KEY
X –  • • – Xray ECKS-RAY
Y –  • – – Yankee YANG-KEY
Z – –  • • Zulu ZOO-LOO
1 • – – – – One WUN
2 • • – – – Two TOO
3 • • • – – Three TREE
4 • • • • – Four FOW-ER
5 • • • • • Five FIFE
6 – • • • • Six SIX
7 – – • • • Seven SEV-EN
8 – – – • • Eight AIT
9 – – – – • Nine NIN-ER
0 – – – – – Zero ZEE-RO

Notably absent from the above list are, “Nancy,” “Zed,” and my new favorite, “Japan.”

If it helps, think of the Phonetic Alphabet like analog Forward-Error-Correction. Usually, even if only a partial word from the Phonetic Alphabet is heard, it can be enough to understand the intent. By using the same set of standards, there’s a limited pool of words to decipher to determine intent.

This stuff may seem petty or insignificant for rag-chews, and general breeze-shooting, but in the event of a crisis, your ability to accurately and effectively communicate to another party could literally be a matter of life-or-death. The little things, regardless of the nature of them, tend to stack up into the big things.

Field Day 2017

SFD Lessons Learned:

Always check your packing list, twice. I forgot a data cable, which essentially flushed all my plans for our 70cm Station down the toilet.

PSK31 on 40m was straight up on fire.

Ruggedized gear is mandatory. This was strongly reiterated on SFD 2017 here in North Georgia. All of our HTs are rated for submersibility, but if they weren’t, there would have been some suck for us. At one point it was raining so hard, the raindrops were touching. One individual literally had a small river running through his tent.

Always have a PACE plan ready. Our primary site was intended to be a SOTA station at a pretty significant altitude; however Tropical Storm Cindy ruled that plan out. We were getting tornadoes and severe storms here, and erecting portable towers up on a mountain, during a severe storm, wasn’t my idea of a good time.

Our Alternate site worked out well and we were fortunate enough to find a gracious host. The downside was, with the unpredictability of the weather, we were still planning on trekking up to the Primary location until approximately 24 hours before SFD kicked off, when we popped smoke on being human lightning rods.

Be flexible with your planning. Ours wilted on the vine, but we were able to make some lemonade out of the lemons and had a great SFD. One of our guys forgot his solar setup, and 8 out of 8 of my 7.2Ah batteries were total shit, and wouldn’t take a charge. Another guy brought an unvetted 70W solar cell along with his Rigrunner 4005 and we were able to operate off-grid, despite the aforementioned setbacks. The 70W solar panel performed like a champ, and when the storms finally ended, it was still getting enough light through the overcast skies to keep the battery fully topped off.

You always learn more from failures than from successes.

Cliff Notes:

Check your gear. Check it again.

Expect to operate in shit weather.

Bring spares.

You can never have too much 550 cord.

Silent Key – W4OO

W4OO, Bill Hampton, was good people.

I gripe and groan about the older generation of hams, but Bill broke the stereotype. Bill would absolutely make us rookie hams feel welcome in the community.

He was a great ambassador to Amateur Radio.

Without fail, Bill would always go out of his way to answer questions, and lend a hand when he could. He was especially adept at the ins and outs of arcane LMR gear, which, consequently, helped myself and some buddies learn some cool tricks that we’ll take with us forever.

Bill was an exemplary radio operator, and a classic Southern Gentleman.

He will be sincerely missed.

February 10, 1949 – June 18, 2017

Billy Gene Hampton Jr., age 68, of Cumming, GA, passed away at home on Sunday, June 18, 2017. He was born February 10, 1949 at Southeast Missouri Hospital in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, to the late Billy Gene Hampton, Sr. and the late Ella Dee Hampton as the first of four children. 

Bill graduated from Central High School and attended Southeast Missouri State University in his hometown, prior to joining the United States Army National Guard as a radio operator and photographer. His career path led him to Atlanta where he was a freelance photographer for both the Marietta Daily Journal and the Atlanta Journal Constitution, and towards the end of his career, transitioned into special event photography. During these same 45 years, he also managed his own radio communications business, enjoying the hike and climb to his repeaters on Little Sweat Mountain and Sawnee Mountain.

See you on the other side of the ionosphere, buddy.