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
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. Often these alternatives will be used or mixed with ITU phonetics on the air to provide a variety of phonemes for an exchange with a very weak contact or in difficult atmospheric conditions.
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 WØLPR 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 syllable shorter. If the other operator is having trouble picking my callsign out of the noise, it sometimes helps to switch phonetic alphabets, as indicated above. 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).
-- Bob KØNR