Radio Lingo and Terminology

It is essential that everyone in your organization speaks the same radio lingo to ensure effective communications. Otherwise, you may find responders struggling to understand or failing to correctly answer communications directed to them by dispatchers.

Radio lingo and terminology

Short-hand radio expressions have been around for decades. Back in 1937, the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO) developed the so-called ‘ten-codes’. Historically used by law enforcement officers in North America, these brevity codes were used to represent commonly used phrases.

Since then, many industries have evolved standardized terms that are used as 2-way radio communication short cuts. The aim of these ‘dispatch signals’ is to boost communication response rates and collaboration between teams – and even different agencies.

But this only works if everyone uses the same agreed terminology. This means your organization needs to define which terms will be used during message transmissions – or whether you are going to stick to plain English only.

To get you started, here is a list of some commonly used radio communication phrases, traditionally used in public safety and complex security environments, such as industrial settings or sports stadiums.

While some of this terminology has fallen into disuse, you may find that reviving some of these tried and tested phrases help improve the effectiveness of your team’s communication.

Roger That
Message received and understood – similar to Ten-Four or Copy That

Roger so far
Confirm parts of the long message before continuing with rest of message

Affirmative
Normally used when a question is asked, and the reply is YES

Negative
Normally used when a question is asked and the reply is NO

Come in
Asking another party to acknowledge they can hear you

Go Ahead
I am ready for your message

Say Again
Repeat all your last transmission

Say all after/before
Repeat all after/before a certain keyword or phrase

Radio Check
What’s my signal strength? Can you hear me?

Read You Loud and Clear
Your transmission signal is good

Wilco
I will comply

Stand By
Wait for a short period and I will get back to you

Wait Out
The waiting period is longer than expected – I will call you as soon as possible

I spell
The next word will be spelled out using the phonetic alphabet

Over
Your message is finished – an invitation for others to respond/transmit

Over and Out, or Out
All conversation is finished – no answer is required or expected

Break, Break
Interruption to transmission to communicate urgently

Emergency Emergency
Distress call – used when there is grave or imminent danger to life – immediate assistance is required

Your organization may also use code words like Code Blue to indicate a non-crucial incident, Code Yellow for an incident requiring immediate response but is not yet dangerous, and Code Red for a serious incident.

If you work in the security sector, then you may employ terms like Cyclone to indicate a violent situation. If you operate in the marine or aviation industries, then you may use specific terms like MayDay to indicate urgent help is needed.

Whatever sector you work in, make sure everyone is familiar with the call signs used in your workplace. Because when everyone uses the same radio communications etiquette, it helps to ensure every message is heard loud and clear.

8 June 2020