Whether you’re training new staff or refreshing the skills of seasoned personnel with years of experience working with two-way radios it’s essential to ensure that everyone speaks the same lingo. To help you understand some of the most popular radio lingo used today, we broke it down.
Two-way Radio Lingo
Short-hand radio expressions have been around for decades. Back in 1937, the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO) developed the so-called ‘ten-codes’. Historically used by law enforcement officers in North America, these brevity codes were used to represent commonly used phrases. There are certain radio terms that are likely already familiar to radio and non-radio users alike because of their prevalence in media such as movies or songs.
Since then, many industries have evolved standardised terms that are used as 2-way radio communication shortcuts. The aim of these ‘dispatch signals’ is to boost communication response rates and collaboration between teams and different agencies.
This only works if everyone uses the same agreed terminology, so each organisation needs to define which terms will be used during message transmissions or whether you are going to stick to plain English.
To get you started, we’ve put together a list of some commonly used radio communication phrases, traditionally used in public safety and complex security environments, such as industrial settings or sports stadiums.
While some of this terminology is no longer used in this day and age for many two-way radio users, you may find that reviving some of these tried and tested phrases helps improve your team’s communication.
Message received and understood – similar to Ten Four or Copy That “Roger” stems from the days of Morse code communications when the letter “R” was used to indicate “received” or “message understood.” As radio communications became more popular and the technology evolved, the U.S. military adopted the term “roger” for the same reason.
Roger so far
Confirm parts of a long message before continuing with rest of message
Normally used when a question is asked, and the reply is YES
Normally used when a question is asked, and the reply is NO
Asking another party to acknowledge they can hear you
I am ready for your message
Repeat all your last transmission
Say all after/before
Repeat all after/before a certain keyword or phrase
Your message is finished – an invitation for others to respond/transmit
All conversation is finished – no answer is required or expected
What’s my signal strength? Can you hear me?
Read You Loud & Clear
Your transmission signal is good
I will comply, indicates that the speaker is intending to complete the task that’s been asked of them.
Interruption to a transmission to communicate urgently
Distress call – used when there is a grave or imminent danger to life – immediate assistance is required
Wait for a short period and I will get back to you
The waiting period is longer than expected – I will call you as soon as possible
The next word will be spelled out using the phonetic alphabet
Your organisation may also utilise code words like ‘Code Blue’ – to indicate a non-crucial incident, ‘Code Yellow’ – for an incident requiring an immediate response but is not yet dangerous, and
‘Code Red’ – for a serious incident.
If you work in the security sector, then you may employ terms like ‘Cyclone’ to indicate a violent situation or ‘Tanto’ to request immediate backup. Similarly, if you operate in the marine or aviation industries, then you may use specific terms like ‘MayDay’ It essentially means “life-threatening emergency” and is recognized internationally as a universal distress signal. Most often, “mayday” is used to indicate that a vehicle or transport, such as a plane, boat, helicopter, etc., is going down. The term dates back to the early 1920s and is derived from a French word m’aidez, which means, “come help me.”
or ‘Pan-Pan’ to indicate urgent help is needed.
10-codes provide a succinct way of communicating via radio that spans users and industries. You’re just as likely to hear a 10-code working in the public safety arena as you are in a manufacturing company.
In short, 10-codes (or 10-signals) are numbers that stand in for phrases. Here are some of the most popular 10-codes and what they mean:
- 10-1: Bad reception
- 10-4: “OK” or “Affirmative,” similar to “roger”
- 10-9: Say again, or repeat, please
- 10-20: Location, as in “What’s your 20?”
- 10-36: Current time, “Can I get a 10-36?”
- 10-69: “Message received,” Again, much like “roger”
- 10-77: Estimated time of arrival, “Alpha 10-77”
Just like “roger” and “mayday,” 10-codes date back to the first half of the 1900s. Charles “Charlie” Hopper (District 10), the communications director for the Illinois State Police, is credited with inventing the codes in the 1930s.
At the time, limitations in radio technology meant that there was a brief delay between the time an officer pressed the button to talk and when the transmission of their voice would begin. Hopper understood that adding the “10” before the codes gave the radios time to catch up, ensuring that complete and abbreviated messages got across.
Some argue that ten codes are a thing of the past because of inconsistencies in what the codes mean in different departments, geographies, and industries. To be sure, lack of consistency has had a disastrous impact on communication and coordination across first responders and law enforcement during natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina.
Officials, particularly those with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), have been urging departments to adopt “Plain Talk” during their radio communications instead of lingo. Clear, descriptive language is replacing the codes in federal communications, and while it may take longer to get messages across, advocates of Plain Talk say it’s worth the extra time to ensure interoperability and to make sure everyone understands each other.
The subject isn’t yet settled, and the 10-codes are still widely used in public safety, as there is even an official guide created by the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO).
THE PHONETIC ALPHABET
The phonetic alphabet is one of the most universally recognized elements of two-way radio lingo, and if you’ve ever had to spell anything out over a radio – then spell it again to get it right because so many letters sound the same – you can understand why. The 26 codes represent the letters of the English alphabet and offer much less ambiguity when spoken than the letters themselves. Also known as the NATO phonetic alphabet, the codes are internationally recognized and used. They’ve been edited over time with input from non-English speakers, and some countries also have variations based on their linguistic needs.
THE FULL PHONETIC ALPHABET IS: Alpha Bravo Charlie Delta Echo Foxtrot Golf Hotel India Juliet Kilo Lima Mike November Oscar Papa Quebec Romeo Sierra Tango Uniform Victor Whiskey X-ray Yankee Zulu
Whatever sector you work in, make sure everyone is familiar with the call signs used in your workplace. Because when everyone uses the same radio communications etiquette, it helps to ensure every message is heard loud and clear.