What is the NTS?
The ARRL National Traffic System (NTS) is a well-organized system for routing formal written message traffic (radiograms) from any point in the United States to any other. Messages are relayed from one ham to the next, using a variety of modes such as voice, Morse code, radio teletype, or other digital radio modes. The NTS has it origins in the earliest days of radio as is indicated by the name, “American Radio Relay League” itself.
In times of emergency, radiograms may be used to communicate information critical to saving lives or property or to inquire or learn about the health or welfare of a disaster victim. During these times, NTS works in concert with the Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) and other emergency and disaster relief organizations.
However, the NTS does not operate only during disasters. It operates day in and out 7 days a week, 365 days a year and is used by thousands of people, hams and non-hams alike, to send and receive brief greeting messages (happy birthday, congratulations on the arrival of a new baby, hope you feel better, etc.) as long as they are of a personal, non-commercial nature (as defined in the FCC rules).
Subject to international treaties governing “third party” messages, many foreign countries also allow their hams to exchange radiograms with US hams.
How Does it Work?
The NTS works by Ham Radio operators passing the message along to the next available operator until the message is delivered to its destination.
After a message is given to the ‘local’ ham radio operator, the operator will participate in a ‘net’ (A group of hams commnicating together) to locate another Ham who can deliver the message to the next operator.
Typically, at this stage, the message is passed by ‘HF’ (more commonly known as shortwave) to cover large distances, often the next stop being a ‘local’ net near the destination of the message.
At this destination ‘local’ net, the operator who now has the message will find a local ham to deliver the message, most commonly in person.
This seems kind of awkward and slow???
While in normal times with modern communication methods like E-mail and Cell phones, this method of communication may well seem slow and awkward. To be fair, it can be slow, average travel time for a ‘routine’ message is around a week to 10 days.
You may be asking yourself why would someone even bother with this system then? That’s easy. During normal times, ‘routine’ traffic is just that, routine. It’s used to practice the skills associated with traffic handling. It’s important to remember this system is run ENTIRELY by volunteers, dedicating their own personal time and radio equipment into passing your message.
This becomes important when disaster strikes. Often after a major disaster such as Hurricane Katrina, or a tornado outbreak like Joplin, Missouri, normal communications are severely disrupted, with no power, Cell phone towers are inoperable, internet is unavailable, phone lines are down, there are no other methods of getting communications through. Ham radio operators can be deployed into a disaster area within hours, and have communications re-established. Ham radio operators are prepared, and not depend on the public power grid or utilities to be able to function in times of emergency.
This is why the system is worth using.
How do I send a Message?
You need only to contact a local ham radio operator and ask them to deliver the message. There are several ways this can be accomplished.
You can attend one of our social events in person as listed on the social page at the top of this website.
You can call us at GC-ARPSC.org and give the message via phone.
How would someone recieve a message?
By tradition, NTS messages are delivered in person. This is why we ask for the contact address of the receipient. We will use a phone number only as a last resort if one is provided. (Using the telephone defeats the whole purpose of the NTS system)
What is needed to send a message
A persons name, address and optionally phone number are all that are required to get the message to a destination.
In times of an emergency, getting a message delivered can be complicated, but it can be done. As much detail as you can provide is always best. Messages have a word limit of 25 physical words, however, we have an abbreviation system that allows for much more detail to be provided. The Ham radio operator taking your message will be happy to explain the details.