Radiograms (QTC) and Message Handling

CW message ("Traffic") nets are lots of fun and they often handle the same amount of traffic as a voice net in about one third of the time.

Why should I be involved?

Many reasons… including, it's fun! Traffic handlers enjoy a special camaraderie in the ham world. Second, it's putting your station and yourself to public benefit. You're maintaining emergency communications preparedness ability in your neighborhood and zone. Third, it's good public relations for amateur radio. Finally, a lot of little reasons can come to mind…you're adding to your pleasure of operating, learning new techniques through on-the-air classes, publications, nets, etc., you can receive awards and recognition from the amateur service such as QTT. There's a lot of different reasons!

Traffic handlers are a dedicated group of Amateurs who can handle (transfer and deliver) traffic (messages) for others as a free service of the hobby, learning and honing skills to provide communications for their global neighborhood should the need arise due to civil or natural causes. They are carrying on a tradition of service to our neighbors begun in the earliest days of our hobby. They are part of a social gathering of Amateurs on the air who also handle traffic for the reasons listed above.

Whatever the reason, traffic handling is a rewarding activity with which every amateur should be familiar. Few hams participate in traffic nets on a regular basis but those who do so are a very dedicated group and very much welcome new members. Check into a net and try this interesting facet of our hobby.

I don't need any training!

Unfortunately, you absolutely do. This author has tried and tested, with a lot of patience, the sending of simple QTC to experienced amateur radio CW operators, impromptu. It always ends inconclusively at best, and with total confusion at worst. Here are some of the reasons why:

1. Radio Amateurs are not used to strict formal recording of messages. They generally take notes only here or there.
3. You won't know how to do a proper interrupt, or, if receiving the whole message, how to clarify any missing parts, and most certainly the sending station will have no idea nor way to be sure you got it all down correctly.

It may seem very simple, and indeed it is once you have had practice and know the procedures, which are designed to ENSURE ABSOLUTE NO DOUBT WHATSOEVER 100% ACCURATE COPY. This is something that is not easy for radio amateurs to accept, and that is why there are formal procedures that basically guarantee this, and those are outlined above on this page.

In an emergency, you don't have time to slow down those needing to pass messages quickly, reliably and effiicently, nor to practice, nor to avoid embarassment, nor to start downloading Q codes and message forms when the Internet is overloaded or offline. You will simply feel either incompetent, embarrassed, silly, regretful, annoyed, or all of the above!

Please join in message handling practice with CWB and you will be prepared and able to assist yourself, your family, your community, your nation or humanity at large as and when such need arises.

Most radio amateurs including good operators do not believe there is a need for training in Formal Message Handling. Here is why.

Q Codes

Essential to know some of the ones commonly used in traffic nets as well as the QN codes. Here are a few common Q codes:

QTC 3 = I have 3 telegrams/messages for you
QRU = I have nothing (further) for you
QRU? = Do you have anything (or any messages) for me?
QRV? = Are you ready to type/write them down?
QRV = I am ready
QSL = I acknowledge receipt (but see below, it's best to send QSL only after checking everything).
QSZ = please send each word (or group) twice
QTA = please cancel telegram/message number…
QTB = I do not agree with your counting of words; I will repeat the first letter or digit of each word or group.
QTB = Do you agree with my counting of words?
QSP = I will relay message to …
QSP? = Can you relay message to…?
QND = This net is directed (there is a Net Control, obey him/her)
QNN = Net controller is…
QNF = Net is now free (ended), there is no Net Control
QNG = Please take over as Net Control
QNI = Checking into Net
QNX = Asking or giving permission to leave Net
QNO = Checking out of Net

For exact meanings and more complete list of Q codes see printable list in PDF format HERE and for codes used in CW Nets see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/QN_Signals — every serious high frequency CW operator should print these off and keep handy on display.

You can refer anyone to this page so they can understand QTC by telling them "FOR INFO SEE WWW.VKCW.NET/QTC"

Service Messages

In case of non-deliverability of a Routine (R) QTC or failure after trying 3 days, an unnumbered SVC message should be sent to the originating station advising them of non-delivery and stating reason for non-delivery.

In case of non-deliverability of a Priority (P) QTC or failure after trying 24 hours, an unnumbered SVC message should be sent to the originating station advising them of non-delivery and stating reason for non-delivery.

In case of non-deliverability of an URGENT PRIORITY (X) QTC or failure after trying 1 hour, an unnumbered SVC message should be sent to the originating station advising them of non-delivery and stating reason for non-delivery.

(Perhaps we can borrow from ARRL HX_ codes, or invent any to make it shorted and easy or not?)

Precedence Codes

All messages handled by Amateur Radio should contain precedences — that is, an evaluation of each message's importance, made by the originating station. A precedence is an "order of handling." There are four precedences in the ARRL message form: Emergency, Priority (P), Welfare (W) and Routine (R), in that order of handling. When and as they appear on a net or any other kind of circuit, messages will be handled in this order.

The precedence will follow, but is not a part of the message number. For example, a message may begin with NR 207 R on CW, "Number Two Zero Seven, Routine" on phone.

Emergency (X)

Note: if sent in CW as X to save time, it must be clearly spelled out as EMERGENCY on a written message form, or if using official form, the Emergency box must be ticked.

Any message having life and death urgency to any person or group of persons, which is transmitted by Amateur Radio in the absence of regular commercial facilities. This includes official messages of welfare agencies during emergencies requesting supplies, materials or instructions vital to relief to stricken populace in emergency areas. During normal times, it will be very rare. On RTTY, PACTOR and packet this designation will always be spelled out. When in doubt, do not use this designation.

Priority (P)

Use abbreviation P on CW, RTTY, PACTOR and packet. This classification is for important messages having a specific time limit, official messages not covered in the emergency category, press dispatches and emergency-related traffic not of the utmost urgency.

Welfare (W)

This classification, abbreviated as W on CW, RTTY, PACTOR and packet, refers to either an inquiry as to the health and welfare of an individual in the disaster area or an advisory from the disaster area that indicates all is well. Welfare traffic is handled only after all emergency and priority traffic is cleared. The Red Cross equivalent to an incoming Welfare message is DWI (Disaster Welfare Inquiry). If there is no check-box on the form, write W or Welfare in the Precedence box.

Routine (R)

Most traffic in normal times will bear this designation. In disaster situations, traffic labeled Routine (R on CW, RTTY, PACTOR and packet) should be handled last, or not at all when circuits are busy with higher-precedence traffic.

HX Handling Codes

HXA - (followed by a number): Collect landline delivery authorize by addressee within km. (If no number, authorization is unlimited).

HXB - (followed by a number): Cancel message if not delivered within hours (or _ D for days, _ W for weeks) of filing time; service originating station.

HXC - Report date and time of delivery (TOD) to originating station.

HXD - Report to originating station the identity of station from which received, plus date, time and method of delivery.

HXE - Delivering station get reply from addressee, originate message back.

HXF - (followed by a number): Hold delivery until _ (date).

HXG - Delivery by mail or landline toll call not required. If toll or other expense involved, cancel message and service originating station.

Special CWB Format

CWB has a few differences from some national traffic systems such as the NTS in USA. These are noted below.

Internet and Email Addresses in CW

These are often sent as they actually are between trained CWB operators, so the following CW characters should be learned:

  • : = - - - …
  • / = - . . - .
  • - = - … . -
  • _ = . . - - . -
  • @ = . - - . - .
  • . = . - . - . -

Line feed or paragraph

Although not normally used, the following are to be learned in case of need:

A single new line: either . - . - . . or - . - - . - (this is a closing bracket, but if there was no opening bracket, it's meaning is new line)
Two new lines, i.e. a paragraph an empty line: two of the above
Three line feeds, three times the above, etc.

Upper and Lower Case

Where it may be necessary or desirable to send upper and lower case, for example in a complex web address, the following conventino is used:

Start of upper case: . . - - .
End of upper case: . . - - . -
If a . . - - . - comes first, this is an underscore:
If an underscore needs to be sent in a web address, if already in upper case, uppercase would be ended and it sent again, e.g.:
abA_3 would be . - - … . . - - . . - . . - - . - . . - - . - … - -

Special Characters

In radiograms (QTC) there should be normally no punctuation. A full stop is written on the form as either X or STOP and sent the same way. A comma is spelt out in full COMMA. A "?" is written and sent as QUERY. If you hear a "?" during the sending of a QTC that indicates a repeat, unless it is within a complex web address string. ! is written and sent as EXCLAMATION.

Group/Word Count

In CWB format the total number of groups, defined as standing alone seperated by a space, is counted for the address, the text and the signature. In USA format only those in the text are counted. For International traffic one may use both with a / so for example if CWB check count is 23 and US check count is 21 the CK will be 21/23.

Special Signals: SOS XXX TTT etc


SOS can ONLY be used by a station directly calling for immediate help to save life or by a person directly in distress. In this case message forms are not generally used, but any means and any format, simply SOS followed by any relevant information as short as possible to indicate the location and nature of distress. If any station has to relay an SOS message, that station must NOT send SOS on its own, but can use DDD SOS SOS SOS DDD — the three D's must be sent first and immediately after, then the message follows. DDD means (all stations be quiet, stop transmitting, relay of an SOS follows). Note that an actual SOS seeking immediate help to save a life can be sent by any means on ANY frequency not just frequencies that we are licensed for. For this reason some CWB net frequencies are close to band edge so that in the event of an emergency any station calling for immediate help can be heard if there is interference by moving slightly out of band. In voice, SOS is "Mayday" said three times (from the French word M'Aider - help me). In CW the SOS can be joined.


"XXX" can be used as an urgent signal, being less urgent than "SOS." "XXX" is used when there is concern for the safety of one or more people. In voice XXX is "Pan" and said three times as "Pan Pan Pan". Pan originates from the French word Panne, meaning "mishap" or "accident". Examples of recent XXX messages: XXX


"TTT" is used as a safety signal to precede ice, storm, severe weather, or other navigational warnings or to announce information regarding safety and/or security. In voice it is sent as "Securitay, Securitay, Securitay". This corresponds to the French pronunciation for "sécurité", which means "safety." When sent on CW, it should normally be sent 9 times in 3 groups of three, to ensure attention is attracted. TTT TTT TTT CQ DE etc.


"MEDICO" is used for calling for medical advice from a doctor.

On HF for Radio Amateurs in Australia, when seeking assistance, it is recommended to first try 7050kHz CW, or 7051kHz LSB in view of the number of stations monitoring that frequency. Failing that, to search the band for a strong signal and break in.


For attracting attention on 7050 ahead of a message that is not necessarily of immediate concern for the safety of anyone but is a request for some other assistance, one could send II II II or the word URGENT or URGENT REQUEST ahead of a CQ. e.g. II II II … II II II … II II II REQUEST CQ DE CALLSIGN PHONES DOWN REQUEST MESSAGE RELAY PSE K

Message handling practice

Checking into the "National Traffic System" Nets is very easy to do (see NET for how to do this easily) and although you can just check in for fun or as a meeting place, they give you the optional choice of practice at your own pace:

  • If you want to practice receiving radiograms just check-in to one of the Traffic nets or traffic training nets
  • When you want to practice sending radiograms you can make a QTC and send it to others, below are some examples
  • QTC sending and/or receiving is a useful skill in familiarising with standard message format for possible emergencies in future
  • Use the IARU Emergency Message Form or copy the below format and make your own
  • Keep copies of all QTC sent/received especially if you want to qualify for the prestigious QTT award
  • Every CW Operator can print out and keep handy a list of Q-Codes and QN Signals.

Now an UN-WARNING (via N7FAN): Explanations of this simple form have probably stopped more people from participating in the NTS than anything else. — It is just a piece of paper! — This is not a confusing IRS tax form! — It's simple! — If you can remember your name and callsign, know what you want to say, and who you want to send it to, you are already 3/4 done with this form. — No Mysticism or Rocket Science is involved. — Download it from the link above or search the web for "IARU Message Form".

Example of a QTC sent/received in CW


VK5EEE would note e.g: Received 02SEP/0945Z
VK4QC would note e.g: Sent to VK5EEE on 2SEP at 0945UTC

  • Use R for routine
  • Start your outgoing messages from NR 1 and increase, perhaps only re-start at NR 1 in a new year
  • Keep a record of all QTC send/received, ideally in a folder or book
  • Pass messages in order of priority, R is lowest priority.

A good system to use is to keep a sheet with a consecutive list of numbers (beginning at 1) at your operating position. When a radiogram is filed at your station for transmission, complete all parts of the preamble except the number, leaving this blank. When you send the radiogram, assign a number to it from the number sheet, crossing out numbers on the sheet as they are used and making a notation, after the number, of the station to whom the radiogram was sent and the date. Such a system is convenient for quick reference purposes. Most traffic handlers start with number 1 at the beginning of each year.

Suggested Practice

  • Check into a Net that also has a Message Handling option such as the NTS CW Nets
  • Use full break-in if possible when sending messages
  • AA = repeat All After …, AB = repeat All before…, WA = repeat word after…, WB = Repeat word before, BN … ES … repeat words between … and …
  • CK (or W) is the number of words counting address words, message body words and signature words
  • Preamble (PRBL) is seperated from Address by a = (dah-di-di-di-dah) and likewise between Address, Text and Signature
  • Z is UTC
  • Keep a copy of Q-codes handy, search on the web (e.g. Wikipedia) and print off also conside the QN codes for use in nets: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/QN_Signals
  • Useful Q-codes for message handling: QSL, QTA, QTB, QTC, QRU, QSK, QSZ, QTX, QSX, QRX, QSW, QRK, QSA etc

Radiogram Traffic Study 1

(if you are receiving poorly, you can add QSZ which means please send each word twice) and/or QRS (please send slower)

Here is the QTC format used in this example:


Now explaining the parts of the QTC:

The PREAMBLE (PRBL): NR 1 is message number 1 from the originating station (VK5EEE in this case). R is Routine priority designator. If you have more than one message, always send in order of priority, with routine messages last.
CK (sometimes sent as W) is the number of groups (words) in the message — including the address and the signature

(dah di di di dah) separates the PREAMBLE from the ADDRESS and the BODY and the SIGNATURE

In our example the preamble is NR 1 R VK5EEE CK9 ADELAIDE 23OCT 0643Z

The FM (from) must show the callsign of the station where the message was lodged (originated) and each station must start their message number with 1 and increase each further message by 1 and keep a copy of each message, who it was sent to and when. Near the top of this page you can find a link to download the standard IARU message form that we are encouraged to use. The serial numbers can be reset perhaps each month, or each year, for low-traffic stations, most of us, outside of emergencies, it is recommend to reset your numbers only yearly to avoid ambiguity in cancelling/querying or replying to messages.

The date and time could be in different formats, this is an example, and Z means UTC. K would be the zone 11 hours ahead of UTC (A=1 hour ahead, B=2, etc), there is no code unfortunately for half-hour times zones such as VK5/VK8.

The ADDRESS in our example is MICHAEL VK2CCW. It could include a phone number, physical address. So that counts in our above example as 2 words for the CHECK (CK) total (sometimes W for Word is used as an alternative code to CK).

The message text body contains five groups: HOPE TO SEE YOU SOON

The signature here contains two groups group: MIKE JOHNSON

So the total CK is thus 2 + 5 + 2 = 9 so hence CK9

When sending, any error MUST be corrected by the sending station, if unsure you made a mistake, repeat the word anyway.

When sending, any error in the text given to the station must NOT be changed at all, must be sent EXACTLY as it is, or otherwise the author of the message needs to be contacted before the message is sent, to approve any changes or fix any errors, otherwise the radio operator MUST send it including what may (or may not be) errors. His job is to send EXACTLY what is there.

SPACING is important, the radio operator must NOT delete spaces, nor add any. Otherwise the CK counting too will become screwed up, and possibly any intended meanings.

The receiving station too must not modify ANYTHING even if it seems to be a mistake. If in doubt something he must check with the transmitting station. E.g. have a word clarified.

When receiving, normally FULL BREAK IN should be used.

When the receiving station has some QSB, QRM, QRN, or is unsure about anything, he should tap his key to interrupt the sending station. The sending station will then go back a word or two and continue sending from there. Among professional Radio Officers (R/O) it is VERY common to interrupt the sender after every word or every few words, because WHENEVER there is ANY SLIGHTEST DOUBT and less than ONE HUNDRED PERCENT SURE the receiving operator must tap his key (if the operation if full QSK, otherwise, see below).

Alternatively, and/or in addition to the above, the receiving station may clarify uncertain parts or missing parts of the message after it has been sent, in the following manner:

WB = Word Before
AA = All After
AB = All Before
WA = Word After
BN = Between … and …

Only use WA or WB if you are sure only ONE word is missing, or you want to have a word repeated as you aren't 100% sure of it.

So if you have HOPE TO SEE _O_ SOON you would send either: WB SOON, or WA SEE, if you know that only one group is unclear, if you are unsure how many words were missed, you would use either BN SEE SOON or AA SEE if you want the rest of the message after SEE to be sent.

After being 100 percent sure you have copied down accurately every character without any doubts about any character in the preamble, address, message and signature, then you should count the address section, body section and signature section and make sure the word count checks with the CK number. If not, see QTB above. You could first send "QTB" then the sender will double check the counting on his side to see if he made an error when he counted the words of the telegram. If he is sure he has the CK correct, then either the entire telegram will be resent, or each first letter (or number) of each group, so that the receiving station can see where he went wrong in reception and then ask for the missing bit.

After the AR (+) the sending station may send the number of remaining messages he has to send the receiving station, e.g. + 2 means end of this message, I still have two more.
After the last one he may send + NM (No More) or NIL (I have nothing more for you) or QRU (same meaning as NIL).

EVERYTHING from the start of the message (CT) to the end (AR) must be accurately recorded. All received messages should be recorded in one book or each on a sheet and stored. Time received should be noted below the message, and signed by the receiving operator. When QSP or relaying any messages to one or more others, those times and stations should be recorded too.

If a station starts receiving a message he already has got on record, he can interrupt and say QSL.

A message can be cancelled with QTA, for example, a message is no longer valid or should be cancelled, the originating station can send a message QTA 1 QTA 4 = cancel my message numbers 1 and 4.

When writing down on a note book, paper or typing, and not directly onto a message form, WRITE down the = (dah di di di dah) as an = sign to separate the parts of the message, and ideally start a new line or paragraph. So the above example message would be written down:





Received from VK5EEE 24OCT 0954UTC Signed: Michael VK2CCW

Radiogram Traffic Study 2

To make things easy, some Q codes are really needed. QTC, QRV are most important. QTA, QTB are other useful ones. A table of Q codes should be printed off and kept handy.

But how to efficiently send and receive such messages? Both stations should ideally use QSK (full break in). Here is an example:

Station VK4QC is sending a QTC to station VK5EEE:





VK5EEE: fumbles around, where did that pen disappear to? Ahh, it has gone under the rig again. Fishes it out. Grabs message form, or a clean page of paper ideally… then:


VK4QC: [CT] 1 R VK4QC BRISBANE 060… [qsb/qrm]… 01…


VK4QC: (Stops sending)






VK5EEE: [AS] (and proceeds to count the words in the address, text and signature, and sees that he has 10 words, so that is all good, and he is sure received correctly everything, since any time he was not sure, he interrupted and got a repeat as often as was necessary)…



Now let us say that the message had been sent without QSK, or VK4QC had not heard VK5EEE trying to interrupt him, and VK5EEE decided to just leave some gaps and write down what was 100% clear. VK5EEE's page now looked like this:


VK5EEE would send this to VK4QC at the end of the message:



VK5EEE: WA 0930Z



These can then be used in such situations: AA = All After, AB = All Before, WA = Word After, WB = Word Before, BN = Between … and …

WA and WB are ONLY used if it is sure only one word is missing and/or if one is unsure of that word having been received correctly.

Helpful Videos

See them all playable on this page QTC-Videos or the index list below:

Example of a CW Traffic Net

Traffic Handling Class

Passing Trivial Radiograms

Internet and Email Addresses in Voice

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