If there's one thing that movies and TV shows consistently get wrong about the military, it's radio chatter. This is annoying for a great many reasons, not in the least because I spend way too much time trying to break dumbass privates away from the bad habits they picked up playing Call of Duty or Battlefield. Seriously, it's freaking annoying. I've started smoking people for using "repeat" on the net, which is, by the way, not something you do. More on that later.
Anyway, the basic structure of a radio conversation is simple. For the purpose of this exercise, the first calling station is Wookiee, and the second is Droid
"Droid, this is Wookiee, over."
"Wookiee, this is Droid, send it, over."
"Droid, what is the status of X?"
"Wookiee, the status of X is ______."
"Droid, this is Wookiee, that's a good copy. Wookiee out."
When first starting a conversation over the radio, you always start off by trying to get the attention of the person you're trying to talk to. "Hey you, this is me, over." The other station replies by letting them know that not only they've heard you and that they're ready to receive traffic, but that they know who they're talking to. Once they've established who's who, they'll usually drop the "Hey you, this is me" part and converse fairly normally. After all, you've already established the two parties in the conversation, so the only time you'll need to be excessively formal (starting everything with "Hey you, this is me," ending everything with over) is when you suspect someone important is listening in. Once the conversation finished, the station that started the call will end it with "out", signalling that nothing more is to follow.
It's ridiculously simple, and somehow Hollywood manages to screw it up every. Single. Time.
A couple of other important things to keep in mind. One: never curse over the radio. Don't do it. Not only is it bad form, but it's a very good way to get an ass chewing. Also, remember to keep your cool and speak loudly and clearly. One of the hallmarks of a good RTO (Radio Telephone Operator, an obsolete term that has stuck around for reasons no one quite understands) is that they keep their cool no matter how serious things get. You have to be able to collect and relay information accurately, regardless of the circumstances.
Everything else is basically just terminology. To that end, I've compiled a short list of important terms and phrases. It's by no means exhaustive, but it should give you a head start when writing this sort of thing.
  • Call station- Person, place, or vehicle on the net. All call stations will have a designated call sign, such as Outlaw X-ray. The first part of the call sign, in this case Outlaw, lets you know which unit you're talking to. The second lets you know which part of the unit you're talking to. Usually, X-ray will be the command element, or headquarters. Individuals might have their own call signs as well, though this is usually reserved for either officers or senior NCOs that people might have to talk to specifically.
  • Net- Short for network. A common frequency that people are talking on. Each net will have a specific purpose. Some will be used for talking within a unit. Others will be used to talk to higher, or call for medivac, fire support, etc.
  • Over- Lets the call station you're talking to know that you're done speaking and that it's their turn.
  • Out- Used by the station that initiates the conversation to let the other stations on the net know the conversation is over. It's bad form to interrupt a conversation unless you've got something important to say, so saying "out" when you're finished is always a good idea.
  • Repeat- One of the most misused terms in movies and television. It does not mean "I'm about to say what I just said again for dramatic effect." It means "tell the artillery to shoot that thing they just shot again in the same way they shot it the first time." If you ever say "repeat" on a fires net, you had best mean exactly that, or things can get hairy.
  • Say Again- What you're supposed to say instead of "repeat." If you have to relay information a second time, the correct usage is "I say again." If you're asking someone what they just said, it's "Say again your last."
  • Break- If the message you're sending is more than a sentence long, you'll need to let off the mic for a second, just in case someone else needs to get important traffic through. "Outlaw X-ray, this is Griffin X-ray, we've got some very important stuff to tell you, break." *one mississippi* "The stuff is as follows..."
  • Break Break Break- Break said three times rapidly lets everyone on the net know you've got priority traffic coming through and that they need to shut up. Not to be used lightly.
  • Radio Check- You're trying to see if you can talk to either a particular call station or if anyone can hear you at all. "Any station this net, this is Wookiee Foxtrot, radio check, over." The appropriate call station will then reply with something like "Wookiee Foxtrot, this is Droid X-ray, I read you Lima Charlie." Lima Charlie, by the way, is the phonetic pronunciation of LC, short for Loud and Clear. That there are more syllables in Lima Charlie than Loud and Clear is something best not thought too hard about.
  • Be Advised- I'm telling you something, so you might want to take notes.
  • Roger- I've heard what you just said and acknowledge. You would be amazed how much meaning can be put into a single word. Depending on how it's said, it can mean anything from "I hear you" to "go kark your mother." Synonymous with Wilco, never to be used in conjunction with.
  • Wilco- Will Comply. Pretty much the same thing as Roger. You'll hear TV shows and movies use "Roger, wilco" a lot. This is stupid, because you're basically just repeating yourself.
  • Wait One- Gimme a minute.
  • Affirmative- Yes.
  • Negative- No.
  • Good Copy- I heard you.
  • How Copy?- Repeat back what I just said, or at least let me know you got the message.
  • Freq- Pronounced "freak", short for frequency.
So there you have it folks. It's not hard to get comms etiquette right, so long as you keep to the correct format and use the correct terminology. How Hollywood manages to consistently screw it up after all these years is beyond me. As always, if you have any questions or concerns, my inbox and the comments section are open.