The NTS message form, otherwise known as an ARRL Radiogram is a very simple document to fill out. Everything is given a specific space and the rules of how to properly fill each space are available to all on the ARRL Web site within the pages devoted to the NTS system.
The first item is the "Number". This is meant to be a sequential numbering of the radiograms YOU as the operator, ORIGINATE. This numbering method restarts once each year on January 1. Thus the first message you originate every year will be Number 1. The second will be Number 2 and so on. At the end of each year you file all the messages you have originated that year and file them away. How you file them is up to you. The point is that the number restarts every year at 1. DO Not put a zero in front of the number, and DO NOT put any letters after the number. It should be "1", not "001" or "1A". Also DO NOT use any punctuation, no commas, no slashes, no dashes etc, just the number.
The second item is the "Precedence". This indicates how important the message is, and therefore the speed with which it should be handled. Unless the message is time sensitive or related to an emergency situation, the Precedence will be ROUTINE.
The precedence WELFARE is used when inquiring or advising as to the health and welfare of an individual in a disaster area. It is more important than ROUTINE but will be handled after PRIORITY and EMERGENCY traffic.
PRIORITY traffic is reserved for important messages having a specific time limit or for official messages not covered under the EMERGENCY precedence. Press dispatches from the disasxter area, emergency related traffic not of the utmost importance and notifications of death or injury also fall into the PRIORITY class.
EMERGENCY is reserved for messages with life or death urgency for a person or group of people. This includes official messages of agencies requesting supplies, materials, or instructions vital to relief of stricken populace in disaster areas. During normal times, it will be VERY RARE. This designation will always be spelled out. If in doubt, do NOT use it.
The next space is titled HX. This stands for "Handling Instructions". There are 7 different possibilities for this space.
"A" followed by a number (like HXA50) means you can call collect within 50 miles to deliver this message.
"B" followed by a number (like HXB24) means you can cancel the message if not delivered within 24 hours of the time filed.
"C" means report the time and date of delivery to the originating station.
"D" means report the name and callsign of the station you received the message from and the name and callsign of the station you relayed the message to, plus the date and time, or if delivered the date and time plus method of delivery.
"E" means get a reply from the addressee and originate a message back to the originating station.
"F" followed by a number (like HXF22) means hold the message until that date (day of month).
"G" Delivery by mail or landline toll call not required. If toll or other expense required, cancel message and service the originating station (send message back saying that the message was cancelled and why).
The next space is for the call sign of the originating station. This is the station that first enters the message into the NTS.
The CHECK is the word count of the text of the message. The text is everything between the address and the signature. If ARL messages are used, then the check becomes ARLxx with the xx being replaced by the actual number of words in the text of the message.
The CITY OF ORIGIN is the place where the message was from. If someone from a neighboring community calls and asks you to send a message, you are the ORIGINATING STATION but their city is the CITY OF ORIGIN.
The time a message is filed is seldom important. When traffic is ROUTINE as most of it is, there is NO NEED for a time. The date is all that is needed. Even there, just use the Month and the Day (April 20 eg.) Do NOT put the Year on the form. That is covered by the Message NUMBER since it is quite obvious what year it is.
The address on the form is written just as you would on an envelope. The only addition is the telephone number with area code. Use only common abreviations for the address like ST or AVE or DR. If in doubt, spell it out.
After the preamble, you say "BREAK" and then continue with the text. After the text you say "BREAK" again and then give the signature. Between the breaks you have the actual wording of the text. A telephone number will count as three words "Area code" "prefix" and "number" (800 555 1212 counts as three words). A email address counts as five words ("N1GY" "at" "ARRL" "dot" "net"). The only punctuation used in the text of a message is "X". Kind of like "STOP" in the old telegram days. Ending phrases like "Your Friend" or "73" are part of the text, not part of the signature.
After you end the text by saying "break" for the second time, you give the signature. There are no hard and fast rules about the size of the signature, it could be just "Bill" or it could include a full name and address with telephone #. In general follow the KISS principle and "keep it short and simple". If the recipient knows the sender there is little need for more than a name and a call sign if appropriate.
ARL MESSAGE NUMBERS
If you need to insert an ARL NUMBERED MESSAGE in a message, look up FSD 3 on the ARRL web site. This will give you all of the ARL numbered messages and their translations. If a number is called for in the translation, it will be placed after the ARL XX with XX being the number of the ARL Message. This will look like so (ARL EIGHT 20) and will count as 3 words in the text. Note that the ARL message number is ALWAYS spelled out (in this example E-I-G-H-T.).
FSD-218 (on the ARRL web site) covers many of the points I have discussed and is a valuable form to download and keep at your station for reference. FSD-220 is another form which covers the phonetic alphabet and the RST report as well as other aspects of amateur radio.
In participating in the NTS program, both as a net control, and as a delivering operator, I have come across a few messages that never should have been sent. One of these is the message that has in the text something like " your amateur radio license expires on (date). Please renew if not done so already". This sounds like an innocuous message, but when the delivering operator calls to deliver the message to the addressee, often he or she is monumentally embarrased to find that the addressee has passed away. This can be very distressing to the person that answers the phone and needlessly embarassing to the operator. A better idea would be to send a message congratulatiing the recipient on renewing their license, or upgrading to a higher class license.
I hope that this has helped a little in understanding the NTS program. Using the proper methods and terminology is important to making the system accurate and effective.
N1GY- The simple Approach to Ham Radio