Phonetic Alphabets

Phonetic Alphabets


For clear communications under all conditions, we use a phonetic alphabet for spelling out critical information. Instead of “A B C”, we say “Alpha Bravo Charlie.” Letters such as D, T and V can sound alike during noisy conditions, whereas Delta, Tango and Victor are more distinct. The standard phonetic alphabet for amateur radio comes from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) (see below). This alphabet is also referred to as the NATO or International Aviation alphabet, although the spelling of the words may change slightly. This is the phonetic alphabet that you should commit to memory for ham radio use.

Adapted from KC4GZX
  ITU DX DX Alternative
A Alpha America Amsterdam
B Bravo Boston Baltimore
C Charlie Canada Chile
D Delta Denmark  
E Echo England Egypt
F Foxtrot France Finland
G Golf Germany Geneva
H Hotel Honolulu Hawaii
I India Italy Italy
J Juliet Japan Japan
K Kilo Kilowatt Kentucky
L Lima London Luxembourg
M Mike Mexico Montreal
N November Norway Nicaragua
O Oscar Ontario Ocean
P Papa Pacific Portugal
Q Quebec Quebec Queen
R Romeo Radio Romania
S Sierra Santiago Sweden
T Tango Tokyo Texas
U Uniform United Uruguay
V Victor Victoria Venezuela
W Whiskey Washington  
X X-Ray X-Ray  
Y Yankee Yokohama  
Z Zulu Zanzibar Zulu

You will hear other phonetic alphabets used on the air from time to time. Also shown in the table above is the “DX alphabet” and its alternate, which are popular on the HF bands for working DX and for contesting.

Because of these variations, you may think it’s OK to make up your own phonetics. Some hams like to come up with something cute and easy to remember for their own callsign. A callsign such as W0LPR might be “Whiskey Zero Long Playing Radio.” Certainly easy to remember but if you use these phonetics on the air under marginal conditions, you’ll probably just confuse the operator on the other end.

Most of the time, I stick to the ITU phonetics but I may use the DX phonetics for contests. The ITU phonetics for my callsign are “Kilo Zero November Romeo,” but I’ll often switch to “Kilo Zero Norway Radio,” which is a few syllables shorter. If the other operator is having trouble picking my callsign out of the noise, it sometimes helps to switch phonetic alphabets. Sometimes one or the other sound just happens to get through better or is more recognizable by the other radio operator (especially if English is not their primary language).

There is quite a bit of information on the web concerning phonetic alphabets. Check out the Wikipedia entry and the B C Kelk page for more information.

73, Bob

Kilo Zero November Romeo