This is a description of the Radiogram Game, a skill-building activity for amateur radio emergency preparedness groups to conduct on their radio nets.

Many amateur radio operators love us our emergency preparedness. The Canda-based Radio Association of Canada (RAC) has an Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) activity. The US-based Amateur Radio Relay League (ARRL) has an entire National Traffic System™, a structure of procedures and organisations and schedules and routings. I personally am a member of VECTOR, a amateur radio group affiliated with the city of Vancouver, B.C.. VECTOR operates a weekly radio net. It operates according to formal radio procedures of the sort we would use in an disaster, so just checking in following the right procedure is good training. But the organisation is looking for more ways to train its members. Anytime you can turn training into a game, it makes people more eager to participate. The Radiogram game is a skill-building activity disguised as a fun game.

A radiogram is a structure for short messages, designed to be sent by amateur radio volunteers during a disaster, when other communication links are down. Knowing how to hear a radiogram message over the air, and transcribe it correctly, and use the right forms and handling instructions, is a useful skill for the emergency preparedness volunteer. The ARRL’s National Traffic System publishes a radiogram form (fillable PDF, 2-up letter size, 71kB). (There is also a simpler but bulkier 1-up radiogram form; PDF, 442kB). See the NTS’s manual for instructions on how to use it as part of the NTS, especially in chapter 1, The ARRL Message Format, of the NTS Methods and Practices Guidlines.

Here’s how the game works.

The club announces the game to its members in advance. At the radio net on such and such a date, a radiogram will be sent. Any member of the club is encouraged to transcribe the radiogram, and submit it back to the club for points. Draw up a scoring list: so many points for transcribing the message, with deductions for errors; so many points for correct routing information; so many points for submitting it in person at the next club meeting, and so on.  See below for a possible scoring list. It helps to award points for both fun and amusing activities as part of the scoring; maybe you want to award points for the best dramatic reading of the radiogram at the next club meeting.  Designate the proper way to turn in completed radiograms (in person?  by email?). Don’t forget to designate the deadline.

The club picks someone to be the radiogram author and reader. The challenge for the author is to make the message concise but interesting and amusing. Maybe embed a joke or puzzle in the message. Maybe have the message parody local events.  The goal is both to help the participant learn a bit more about radiogram use, and reward them with a chuckle.

It might be nice for the club to clear with the operator of the radio net that the radiogram game will be played, so that they aren’t surprised by it!

During the radionet, at the appointed stage in the proceedings, Net Control turns the frequency over to the game’s reader. The reader sends the radiogram using correct methods and practices, getting the listeners accustomed to hearing radiogram delivery in its full glory. Listeners who care to participate by transcribing the message, and submitting it as directed. The reader reminds listeners of what those directions are, and what is the deadline for submission.

The ringleader for the radiogram game collects the submitted radiograms, and awards points.  The winner can be announced at the next club meeting. All participants should be thanked for taking part, and given their score. Personally I think they should be notified by email even if they aren’t at the meeting in person. This interaction is also a great time for a more experienced member to coach the participant on how well they did, and to answer questions. The interaction then also becomes a touch point which builds relationships within the club.

The game will be more effective with repetition over time. At first, many people won’t hear about the game in advance. They won’t be prepared. They won’t know what to make of it. But over time, especially if it sounds fun, more and more people should take part.

Here’s a sample message: TWO HAMS MARRIED X COMBINED THEIR ANTENNAS X CEREMONY WASNT MUCH BUT RECEPTION WAS SPECTACULAR . Sure, it’s a lame joke. But it fits in the radiogram form, and will give people a chuckle.

Here’s a sample scoring list:

Message body: 50 points if fully correct, 1 point off for each wrong word.

Handling: total 10 points, 5 points if handling information fully correct. 5 points for the receiving station’s information.

Procedures: 20 points for recording message on an ARRL Radiogram form (printed from ARRL web site OK). 10 points for writing it legibly on any other medium. (The point being to make people familiar with the radiogram form.)
Delivery: 10 points for submitting message by correct method, on time.  6 points if method is nearly correct, or missed deadline by less than 72 hours.

Having fun with it: 10 points for best dramatic reading of the radiogram at the next club meeting. 5 points for others who try the dramatic reading.

Total: 100 points.

Judges can award bonus points for any variation which makes the game more fun or more educational.

I have come up with a message for the radiogram game. I can’t wait to try it out on my club.  The above are the guidelines I came up with. I have no doubt that others will improve them. I wouldn’t be surprised to find I’ve reinvented something someone else has already done.  If you try this game, please comment below about how it went for you!