Two Way Radio Communication Etiquette

Because two-way radios are used by police, firemen, military personnel and security workers to send very important messages, clear communication over the radio waves is vital. It's because of this that fundamental rules were adopted, to be used by all. Read this quick guide on two-way radio etiquette and you'll soon become a smooth operator!

Identify Yourself at the Start of the Call

For new walkie-talkie users, perhaps the most disconcerting thing is that with radio communication, more than 2 people will likely be on a call at any given time. Unlike telephones and mobile phones, each user will not have a specific phone number that flashes on a screen to identify them. Therefore, as strange as it seems to say, for example, "Mary, this is John, Over," it clearly states who you wish to speak with and who you are who's speaking. On the other end, wait until you hear your call sign before you respond.

Wait a Few Seconds to Speak

Especially with digital radios, after you press the PTT button (Push to Talk), you should wait 2-3 seconds before you begin to speak, as there might be a brief delay.

Speak in the Same Language

English has been designated as the International Radio Language, and you can only speak in a foreign language if you're licensed to do so.

Make Sure You Have Their Attention

Common radio etiquette dictates that you acknowledge when someone contacts you, either with "Go Ahead" (you're ready to listen) or "Stand By" (you know they're calling but you need a moment to be available).

Clarity, Simplicity and Brevity

A two-way radio is designed to send and receive important messages and isn't intended for idle chit-chat. Be clear about what you have to say and keep it as simple and as brief as is possible. Speak slowly, clearly and in your normal voice, without shouting.

Do Not Transmit Confidential, Financial, Military or Sensitive Information

Since you never know who might be listening in on a radio call, until you confirm that the call is secure, you should not divulge any confidential or sensitive information.

Think Before You Speak

A worthwhile instruction at any time, this is especially important when transmitting over a radio. A two-way radio system is intended for vital and sometimes urgent communications. Since it's possible that many users will hear what you say, you must know which individual or group you want to send a message to and be clear on what that message is to avoid unnecessary rambling. It may help to write it down and divide a longer message into shorter messages (see Handling Long Radio Messages).

Don't Interrupt

If someone else is talking, wait until the conversation is over, unless it is an emergency (see "In Case of Emergency"). The word "Over" is the standard word to use to let others know that you have finished speaking. This word also indicates that you're waiting for a response.

Handling Long Radio Messages

If you have a long message to deliver, you can divide it into sections and say "break," waiting a few seconds before speaking the second part, and then continuing in that way. Saying "break in between individual points or instructions and then waiting a few seconds allows the other person to ask a question or comment if necessary.

Don't Use the Word "Repeat" To Have a Message Repeated

In military communications, the word "repeat" can have severe consequences, so it's standard radio procedure not to use this word, but instead use "Say Again" to have the other party repeat their message.

Avoid Saying Yes, No, Uh-huh and Nope

In the interest of absolute clarity, use the words "Affirmative" and "Negative" instead of words that may be misheard or misinterpreted.

NATO Phonetic Alphabet

Otherwise known as the International Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet, this phonetic alphabet is the most widely used system of letters and numbers that can be easily pronounced and understood by those transmitting and receiving radio or telephone messages. It is designed to help overcome any language barriers and transmission static. A small sampling of this alphabet is Alfa, Bravo, Charlie, Delta and Echo. Wikipedia for more information and the full alphabet. There is also a name based alphabet that begins Adam, Boy, Charles and David.

In Case of Emergency

While it's very rude to interrupt someone while they're speaking on a two-way radio or walkie-talkie, at times there may be an emergency situation. If this happens and it's vital that you interrupt, say "break, break, break."

Terminating a Call

When you want to end a call after a final transmission, say "over and out." This should end the communication with no further speaking by anyone.

Two-Way Radio Language

Radio Check - Check on signal strength. Can you hear me now?

Read you loud and clear - Responding to "Radio Check." Transmission Signal is strong.

Go Ahead - Resume the transmission.

Stand By - Acknowledges transmission, unable to respond.

Come in - Asking other party to acknowledge that they hear you.

Copy - Indicates that you understand what was just said.

Say Again - Re-transmit your message.

Roger or Ten Four - Message is received and understood.

Wilco - This means "I will comply."

Affirmative - Yes.

Negative - No.

Over - Transmission finished.

Out - Communication is over; channel is available.

Break, Break, Break - To interrupt a communication because of an emergency.