Using the Wisconsin Network - Part 21

by Andy Nemec, KB9ALN

One of Amateur Radio's primary reasons for living is to handle messages on behalf of other people. Sometimes these are mere demonstration messages of the routine variety, some are actually important emergency traffic. The need for relaying messages in an orderly fashion was found by none other than Hiram Percy Maxim himself in 1913. The ARRL and the National Traffic System were born of this need.

As with virtually any mode of Amateur Radio operation, packet can and is used for message handling in the National Traffic System (NTS). Like anything else, there is a right way to do this, and a wrong way. In this edition of our series, we will explore just how to use the Wisconsin Network of BBS's to handle NTS Traffic.

If you know anything about the NTS, you know it uses a specialized format. There are reasons for this - NTS operators want to make certain that the message gets through accurately, and want to know what when wrong when it doesn't. For this reason, it is important that you know how to do this properly, and follow a standard format. Knowing how to properly handle a routine message now will be invaluable if a disaster strikes and you have to handle disaster traffic. All that being said, let's look at how to do it.

First, the usual Send command is now changed a little bit. Use the ST command when sending traffic. The line sent to the BBS includes the Zip code, the @ symbol, then the letters NTS followed by the destination's two-letter state abbreviation.

For example, suppose you are asked to send traffic to me. The person asking you to send the traffic should have a name, address with Zip code, and hopefully a telephone number. In my case, the line you would send to the BBS would look like this:

ST [email protected]

the BBS responds with

Enter Title or Postal Code

At this point, you send the destination city and recipient's phone number. In my case, this would be:

Green Bay, Wi. 920-555-1212

It is important that you limit the number of carachters to 37 or less. At this point, the BBS will respond with the familiar

Enter Message, End with ^Z, /EX (^A Aborts):

Now, you enter the preamble, the body of the message, and the signature.

The preamble appears on the first line, and includes the number of message that your station has handled from the start of the year, the handling instructions, your call sign, the word check, the town of origination as well as the date and time of origination. Let's say your call-sign is AX9XX, and this is the first message you have handled this year. You sent this on October 31st at 12:01 A.M., and it is a routine message of 10 words. The preamble would appear like this:

NR 1 R HXG AX9XX 10 Anytown, WI 10-31-96 0601Z

The NR 1 is Message number 1 from you station. R is the type of message, in this case Routine. HXG indicates that you should deliver this message without making a toll-call or mailing. 10 is the word check, and you are located in Anytown, Wisconsin. You sent the message at 12:01 A.M. local time on the 10-31-96. Of course, you use UTC time when handling traffic of any kind. This is why our 12:01 A.M. became 0601Z.

This article is not intended to give you a complete tutorial on traffic handling, just how to enter and handle the message via packet radio. If you are not familiar with the contents of a preamble, consult the Radio Amateur's Handbook. The chapter on "Operating a Station" covers this material well. The next line to send to the BBS seperates the preamble from the body of the message, it is simply:

-------------------bt---------------------------

Then comes the body of the message. After this is sent, you once again send a "break" like the one that seperates the preamble from the body. Then we have the signature and reply instructions, if any. It may appear something like this:

John Waprmember, AX9XX, Anytown, Wi. Reply to:[email protected]

After this, you send Control-Z (or /EX), and the traffic will be on it's way.

Of course, originating the message is only part of traffic handling. While the BBS forwarding system will handle relaying the message, some person has to deliver it. Delivering traffic can be a lot of fun, especially if the person you are delivering it to is not a ham and you have a chance to educate them a little about ham radio.

It is best to deliver the message without all of the preamble stuff - most non-hams have no idea of what it means. If ARL numbered messages are in the body of the message, don't read them to the recipient as "ARL 63" (or whatever), just interpret the number as text.

Naturally, you have to know if there is any traffic on your BBS if you want to deliver some. Use the LT command to determine if there is. You will get a listing of NTS traffic, or "***None Found***" as a reply. If you do find a piece of traffic and do deliver it, be sure to kill it from the BBS. Otherwise, some other well-meaning ham may find it and deliver it again. Use the format:

KT (message numer)

to delete the message. If the message number was 14523,

KT 14523

would erase the message from the BBS. Handling traffic is fairly easy with packet radio, if you know how. If you need more information, contact your local ARES Emergency Coordinator. They have a lot of good information and can give you some tips on how to handle traffic.

On to Part 22 - How to avoid "Flame" messages

Back to Part 20  - TNC and Radio information for 9600 bps operation

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