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What Does a Check of "ARL 3" Mean?

posted May 2, 2014, 5:18 PM by C. Matthew Curtin   [ updated May 11, 2014, 6:29 PM ]
On this evening's net, someone asked the question of what it means when we put the initials "ARL" in the check field of the radiogram's preamble. This is a case study in why details matter.

The Methods, Procedures, and Guidelines (MPG) document, chapter 1, discusses the ARRL Message Format (Radiogram), and answers the question. After pointing out that the check shows the number of words in the text of the message, MPG notes:

The check is preceded by the letters "ARL" if the text includes one or more ARRL NUMBERED 
RADIOGRAMS (See attached list.). Note the space between "ARL" and "12". 
The use of "ARL" in the check alerts the receiving operator to expect ARRL NUMBERED 
RADIOGRAM(s) in the text. 

Training officer WA8EYQ told us a story. (I love WA8EYQ's stories.)

Once a traffic handler received a radiogram to deliver. The text of the radiogram was


Since the text has three words, the check field in the preamble said "ARL 3", allowing relaying stations to know that they've got the right number of words and that the text is actually part of an ARRL Numbered Radiogram.

The handler should have gone to the FSD-3 form to find the corresponding text to deliver to the recipient. When the delivering station called the recipient, he did not give the text for FORTY SIX,

Greetings on your birthday and best wishes for many more to come.

but instead saw the "ARL 3" in the check and delivered the message for numbered radiogram THREE,

Am in _____ hospital. Receiving excellent care and recovering fine.

The recipient had a lot of questions, starting with "which hospital?" and got unduly worried. Some birthday greeting!