The National Traffic System (NTS) is an organized network of amateur radio operators sponsored by the American Radio Relay League for the purpose of relaying messages throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Normally, these messages are routine greetings (“Happy birthday Aunt Mary”) to keep the NTS operators active and well practiced in the event they are needed. When there is an emergency or disaster, NTS works closely with the Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) to provide emergency communications. The most common type of disaster-related messages are “health and welfare” inquiries and notifications into and out of the area affected by a disaster.
In a time of disaster, it is easy to expand the system by simply creating additional meeting times for the nets with high volume, or by setting up a specific “trunk line” between two points.
During 2018, I have sent over 200 routine messages using the phone and digital modes and during different conditions: summer heat, ice storms, rain, wind, etc. In order to be better prepared, my fellow operators and I would appreciate messages of 25 words or less. All that is needed is the message, a phone number and/or email address, plus the destination town and state. A street address is optional. You may initiate a message by sending the required information to email@example.com.
The Western Pennsylvania Phone and Traffic Net meets daily on 3.983 MHz LSB at 2200 UTC.
There is more to amateur radio than exchanging callsigns, signal reports, and the weather. One popular segment of amateur radio is the digital modes.
Besides the high frequency (HF) radio, and a PC with a soundcard (most have them), the main piece of hardware is a sound card interface. I currently use The Rigblaster Blue (shown at the top right in the image below).
It uses Bluetooth rather than audio cables to connect to the sound card on a PC. The Rigblaster Blue has a through microphone cable so the regular microphone may be used when not using the digital modes. An audio cable is then connected between the line out of the radio to the line in on the Rigblaster Blue. The final connection is made by pairing Bluetooth on the PC to The Rigblaster Blue. Then changing the sound card settings to the Rigblaster for input and output audio. There are other sound card interfaces available such as the Signalink.
I first started with PSK31, which is a highly-efficient data mode that lets you work long distances, even when you can barely hear the signal. PSK31 stands for Phase Shift Keying 31 baud (or 31 bits per second/bps). The characters are formed by changing the phase of the sound wave, not by using different tones. Once I got my hardware setup, as well as configured one of the available software programs (I use DigiPan), I was making regular contacts with Asia and Australia.
I recently set up my station to us WinLink 2000 with the RMS Express software. As many of my friends know, I can send and receive e-mails and National Traffic System (NTS) radiogram messages over the air, rather than use The Internet.
During disasters or other emergencies, radiograms are used to communicate information critical to saving lives or property or to inquire about the health or welfare of a disaster victim. Routine messages are regularly sent to test the system and for operator practice.
Propagation on the 40-meter and 75-meter bands has been very poor during the past few days. I have a backlog of several radiograms to send, as a result, since it has been difficult to hear the other stations on the nets where I usually check-in.
There is a wide “hole” in The Sun’s atmosphere from which gaseous material has been flowing. The resultant solar winds have caused a geomagnetic storm to occur on Earth. The Aurora has been visible in northern Minnesota. The geomagnetic storms may last for more than a day or two.
Stormstown is nestled in Halfmoon Valley. The valley is often windy, with the flow mainly from the southwest. The winds have been taking a toll on my outdoor equipment, mainly the flags and flagpole, and my G5RV HF amateur radio antenna.
Most of the damage has been minor. In the past six months, I have had to replace the dipole wires, resolder the ladder line connectors at the feed point, replace a section of coax due to a broken connection at the feed point, and replace two clamps and three sections for the collapsible mast.
During my latest repair, to replace the coax, I secured the ladder line with cable ties. That may reduce some of the wear and tear on the cables and connections.
I am a frequent check-in on the 3rd Region Net at 2100 UTC (3.918 MHz, LSB), and The Western PA Phone Traffic Net at 2200 UTC (3.983 MHz, LSB). My callsign is WX2DX.
Information on the National Traffic System
If you’d like to send a radiogram, send me a comment.
The vertical wire antenna I set up a few weeks ago was not working out. I decided to replace it with a G5RV antenna, installed as an inverted V. Since there are no suitable trees on our property, I needed a mast to support it.
I ordered and received a fiberglass mast, which was easy to assemble. However, it was necessary to attach two rope guys to keep it from bending. The two antenna wires also serve as guy lines.
Soon after completing the installation, I made a contact with a station in Indiana. Today, stations that were barely readable before were coming in with good signals. They were barely readable with the other antenna. Even though propagation has not been good this summer, the G5RV has been a great improvement.
This week, I completed setting up my HF amateur radio station. The final component was a 30 foot vertical antenna. The antenna mast, made of fiberglass, is collapsible and can be quickly disconnected. This is necessary in the event of a thunderstorm.
The day after I completed the installation, I made my first HF contact, from Stormstown on 40 meters, with a station in Maine. The operator gave me an excellent signal report to confirm my radio system is working. I sent a QSL card to the operator.