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 What is the National Traffic System?

The National Traffic System (NTS) consists of American Radio Relay League (ARRL) affiliated and independent amateur radio networks (“nets”) which pass non-commercial messages on behalf of third parties as a public service. A variety of communications modes are used. CW and other digital modes are most often used for “long-haul” interstate traffic. Regional traffic is handled using both CW and SSB, while local (city or county) nets most often use FM repeaters.

The NTS has been in operation since 1949, established by the ARRL in response to membership demand. It carries on a proud tradition of message relaying, established by Hiram Percy Maxim when he founded the ARRL for the purpose of handling message traffic in 1914. The NTS is the tightest, and solidest organization within the ARRL framework.

The goals of the NTS are to provide two things:

  1. Timely and reliable movement of formal written message traffic from origin to destination as a free public service to the amateur community and the general public.
  2. Training of amateur operators in handling of written traffic and participating in directed nets.

Training of amateur operators in the processing of third party messages in directed nets continues the existence of a reserve of well trained radio communications personnel. The NTS also supplies communications during states of emergency on behalf of ARES and RACES, especially for medium and long range messages. It is important for these organizations to work together to provide the communications capabilities expected by served agencies.

Why should I participate?

Many reasons…first, 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 section. Third, it’s good public relations for amateur radio. Whenever you deliver a message to a third party, you’re doing your part to keep the general public aware of Amateur Radio. Also, no matter what your particular operating interest is (Phone, 2 meter FM, RTTY, packet, CW, etc.), there is an NTS net that you can join! 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, and so on. There’s a lot of different reasons! (And don’t forget the fame and fortune available to you when you see your call in QST‘s Public Service Honor Roll (PSHR) each month, if you qualify!)

Traffic handlers are a dedicated group of Amateurs who handle (transfer and deliver) traffic (messages) for others as a free service of the hobby.

  1. Learning and honing skills to provide communications for their global neighborhood should the need arise due to civil or natural causes.
  2. Carrying on a tradition of service to our neighbors begun in the earliest days of our hobby.
  3. 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 welcome new members. Check into a net and try this interesting facet of our hobby.

What are the requirements for participation?

The National Traffic System operates daily, with over 500 nets regularly operating. Sometime each day there will be a net operating at a time and mode that can suit your individual schedule. If you can spend even an hour or so each week, then the NTS can provide you with an opportunity to serve. ARRL membership, with optional appointment as an Official Relay Station (ORS) is encouraged, but not a requirement for participation as a traffic handler in the NTS. You’re eligible to join an NTS net if you possess a valid amateur radio license allowing the operating privileges in the band and mode of the net.

How are the nets organized?

Formal written radiogram traffic usually enters the system on local nets. In the Eastern New York section, the local FM repeater nets are Capital District Traffic Net, Hudson Valley Net, and Southern District Net. Next, liaisons move the traffic from the local nets to a section net. New York has four sections, and instead of individual section nets we have statewide nets — New York Phone and New York Public Operations Net on SSB, and NYS on CW. From the section/state nets traffic then moves to a regional net, in our case Second Region Net which serves New York and New Jersey. Next the traffic moves to an area net, in our case Eastern Area Net. Next, the traffic goes to a member of the Transcontinental Corps (TCC), a dedicated group of amateurs who handle long-haul traffic between areas. The TCC then moves the traffic to another area net, where the whole process happens in reverse. When the traffic makes it to the remote local net, an amateur takes the traffic for delivery to the recipient, usually by telephone.

The NTS Staff is responsible for oversight of the system as a whole.

Station and net reports are forwarded monthly to the ENY ">e-mail</a>">Section Traffic Manager (STM) Mike WO2H and ">e-mail</a>">Section Manager (SM) John K2QY. Active stations are eligible for the Public Service Honor Roll (PSHR) and the most active of these receive Brass Pounders League (BPL) awards. All traffic handlers in the section are recognized in the ENY monthly traffic reports.

Where can I find more information?

The canonical source of information about NTS is the League’s Public Service Communications Manual (PSCM). Two parts of the manual will be of particular interest to traffic handlers: Chapter One:National Traffic System describes the system and how it works, and Appendix B: NTS Methods and Practices Guidelines (NTSMPG) serves as a definitive operational reference manual for traffic handlers.

If the quantity of information in the PSCM/NTSMPG is a bit overwhelming, you may want to first have a look at K7BFL’s Guide to Creating a Radiogram which is a basic introduction to help get you started.

Once you’re familiar with the system, the League’s NTS Operating Aid, FSD-218 and ARRL Numbered Radiograms, FSD-3 are handy station references.

Another handy reference for traffic handlers in the state of New York is the New York State Traffic Routing Guide. The Guide lists locations in NY by city name and by zip code, and gives the county and net serving that location. Although it’s about 20 years old, it’s still quite useful. The document is quite large (24.2M), so please download once only, and be patient.

You can download a free M/S Excel file of zip codes, towns, states, and counties for the entire US. A handy reference for any traffic handler.

Here is a minimal zip code prefix map of the Eastern New York section.

For local information and discussion about traffic handling in the Eastern New York section, please join the NTS-ENY email reflector on Yahoo groups.

The best way to learn is to get on the air, join a net, then participate and have fun. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Anything that’s worth doing is worth doing badly. There are nets throughout the day, every day of the year, so you will have plenty of opportunity to learn through experience. See you on the air!