Radio transmissions are heavily regulated in most countries since there is only a limited amount of spectrum that can be effectively used in any particular area. In the United States, the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau of the Federal Communications Commission is in charge of all domestic wireless communications. What follows is the skinny on how the military and/or amateur radio operators communicate effectively over the airwaves. It should be noted that you must be properly licensed to use several forms to wireless communications devices in the United States, and can be heavily fined for transmitting or broadcasting without a license.


Radio operators are assigned a handle or call sign to uniquely identify themselves. For amateur radio operators, this is typically a series of letters and numbers (pronounced phonically - see below). For the military, identification usually changes every day, or even multiple times a day for security, but usually utilizes the vehicle number where the radio is located as part of the identification. For example, it comes down from the chain of command that the new prefix is Sapper. So if your vehicle number is 7, you would be "Sapper 7". A favorite joke among members of the military taking advantage of this fact is:

Lost One, This Is Lost Tree: Are you lost too?

Phonic Alphabet / Phonetic Alphabet

Have you ever had to spell something over the phone? Then you probably know how annoying it can be to distinguish between various letters such as B, D, P, etc. Squelch, static, and weak signals on a radio net complicate things even more. It is for this reason that you never just say a letter in radio communication - you use its phonic equivalent.


Numbers are given similar treatment to letters. So as to avoid confusion, large numbers are "spelled out" instead of spoken normally. For example, instead of saying 1593 as "one thousand five hundred ninety three", it would be pronounced "one fife niner tree"


Prowords are a standardized list of words or phrases which eliminate ambiguity and confusion in radio transmissions.

  • Authenticate - The call sign being contacted is to provide a response for the challenge that follows.
  • Authentication Is - The response to the Authenticate challenge follows.
  • All After - I refer to all the transmission that follows.
  • All Before - I refer to all the transmission that preceeded.
  • Break - I am separating the text from other parts of the message. Can also be used like a comma in writing to separate items in a list.
  • Correction - There is an error in this transmission. Transmission will continue with the last word correctly transmitted.
  • Figures - Numbers to follow
  • Groups - This message contains the number of groups indicated by the numeral following. Usually used in conjunction with Break.
  • I Say Again - I am repeating all or part of the transmission
  • I Spell - I will spell the next word phonically
  • Message - A transmission that requires recording is to follow
  • More To Follow - I have additional traffic for you.
  • Out - This is the end of my transmission to you, and no response is needed or expected.
  • Over - This is the end of my transmission to you and a response is required. You may now transmit.
  • Radio Check - What is my signal strength and readability (i.e., How do you hear me?).
  • Relay or Relay To - Transmit this message to all call signs that follow.
  • Repeat - Used in artillery to mean fire again on the same coordinates. *Never* say "Repeat" when you mean "Say Again"
  • Roger - I have received your last transmission.
  • Say Again - Repeat all of your last transmission.
  • This Is - This transmission is from the station whose call sign immediately follows.
  • Time - That which follows is the time or date time.
  • Unknown Station - The call sign of the station I'm trying to reach is not known to me.
  • Wait or Wait One - I must pause for a few seconds.
  • Wait Out - I must pause for longer than a few seconds.
  • Wilco - I have received your transmission, understand it, and will comply. Used only by the addressee. Since the meaning of Roger is included that of Wilco, you never say Roger Wilco.
  • Word After - I refer to the word of the message that follows.
  • Word Before - I refer to the word of the message that preceedes.

Once these basics are learned, talking on a two-way radio is mostly like talking over the phone (other than the fact that you cannot both transmit and receive at the same time). Just speak clearly, be polite, and enjoy. Over and Out.


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