The Nuts and Bolts of the National Traffic System

The National Traffic System as we know it today started in 1949. Prior to that time, there were various options that were tried but none that were really successful. Primarily, the National Traffic System (NTS) was set up for emergency communications during a disaster sending messages to "served agencies" requesting either assistance or providing updates with regard to a situation.

Since Public Service has been the "cornerstone" of our organization, NTS was expanded to send messages to third parties who were "non-hams and messages were received and put back into the system. Most people today do not totally understand how the cycles in NTS need to operate for it to become as efficient as it can be. Remember, the NTS is only as strong as its weakest link.

Letís look at how it should work. Generally, when a station wishes to send a message, it always starts at the local level. This station brings a piece of traffic to the net. The net control station (NCS) directs the station to send this message to another station who will in turn take it to the "section" traffic net" (the section net is a state net). If the message is for someone in the same state, it is hoped that either a station from that area will pick up the traffic or, a liaison will take the message to another net and move it to its final destination if the message is with in the same state.  Now, if the message goes out of state, there should be a station in the net who can take the message to the regional net. A regional net is made up of several states within a given geographical area.  For example, in Kentucky, we are in the 9th region. The 9th region consists of the states of:  Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin. The 8th region consists of the states of Ohio, Michigan and West Virginia. If the message is not for any of these states, then from the regional net it is carried to the Area net. The 9th region is in the central area net. The 8th region is in eastern area. Central area consists of regions 5, 9 and 10. Eastern area is probably the largest NTS division.  It includes regions 1, 2, 3, portions of 4, and 8 as well as Canada. If this message is not for any of these regions there will be a liaison from the Trans Continental Corps (TCC) who will have a schedule with another station who will in turn see to it that the message is taken to the area in which it should be passed. From there, the procedure reverses. Simply, remember that the cycle is local net, section net, regional net and TCC.

For the system to work efficiently there needs to be at least two traffic cycles. Usually there is a daytime cycle and nighttime cycle. In most areas and regions, the daytime cycles are phone cycles and the night time cycles are the CW cycles. Each mode, regardless of what it is must complement one another for NTS to work efficiently.

Unfortunately, due to modern communication means available to the general public, NTS has fallen on hard times. Since the late 80's, more and more traffic is going from amateur to amateur. While this may be "OK" to some, that was not really what NTS was intended to do. There are always opportunities for hams to demonstrate how the system should work through locally based community events such as fairs, festivals etc.  One can set up a booth and advertise that as hams, we can send a message to your friends or relatives across the country or, in some cases, to certain countries where we have third party agreements.

While emergency preparedness is what we should be about, NTS should be used in all exercises and in the real thing as much as possible. If you check into a net as a liaison from another net, you should know who can handle traffic that has been listed on your net. Think of NTS as an electronic postal service. A good NTS operator is one who knows where the strengths and weaknesses lie within the given geographical confines of the net in which he/she participates.

Most people want to help, and their heart is in the right place, but they do not understand what is supposed to happen. For example, more often than not, a station will pick up a piece of traffic from a station and if they cannot deliver it, especially if it is out of state traffic, rather than writing out a radiogram and stating that they have traffic for the 9th region they will just call the person who sent the message to them just stating that they could not deliver the traffic. This is incorrect procedure. If I take a message and it is from out of state for someone in my local area and I can't pass it, then it is incumbent upon me to originate a message for the 9th region and send it properly through the chain of command.

Why have a check or group count? The purpose of the check or group count is to check to see if your word count agrees with the receiving station. Should there be a discrepancy, then you should work it out and try to correct it. Never "roger" a message you really don't understand. The term "roger" by itself is not an action word. It does not mean that you agree or disagree with what you received but that you acknowledge what you have received. The same holds true when there are handling instructions on a message. The receiving station should pay special attention to handling instructions and if you don't understand them----ask what they mean. It makes a big difference on message delivery.

In closing, in this day and time, too many people are just interested in accumulating points and have drifted away from what NTS is truly supposed to be. Rather then sending "spam traffic," make messages meaningful and send them to family, friends and acquaintances that you have. By doing this, we will be able to give NTS a new life.


Tom Lykins, K4LID Kentucky Section Traffic Manager