International Radio Phonetic Alphabet

List of the international phonetic alphabet and details of previous alphabets.

Codes & abbreviations includes:
Summary     Abbreviations     RST code     Q code     Phonetic alphabet    

The radio phonetic alphabet is widely used for radio communications, and also even for communications over the telephone lines and the like.

The international phonetic alphabet is used because it is easy to mistake one letter for another when they are said on their own. Sounds like 'B' and 'T' for 'S' and 'F' are very similar. Other letters can be difficult to distinguish and it is possible for messages to be received incorrectly. Even those which may sound very different could be mistaken if signals are poor and interference levels are high

To overcome this words beginning with the particular letter were used from the very earliest days of radio to

ITU radio phonetic alphabet

The International Telecommunications Union, ITU has adopted a phonetic alphabet for use with radio transmissions. Also called the International Phonetic Alphabet, this one has been adopted by other organisations including NATO.

This radio phonetic alphabet is given in the table below:

ITU International Radio Phonetic Alphabet
A Alpha
B Bravo
C Charlie
D Delta
E Echo
F Foxtrot
G Golf
H Hotel
I India
J Juliet
K Kilo
L Lima
M Mexico
N November
O Oscar
P Papa
Q Quebec
R Romeo
S Sierra
T Tango
U Uniform
V Victor
W Whisky
X X-ray
Y Yankee
Z Zulu

In this way a callsign such as G3YWX would be said as Golf three Yankee Whisky X-ray.

In cases like these the use of the radio phonetic alphabet is particularly useful because there is nothing else to help identify the letters if one is doubtful.

Old phonetic alphabets

Over the period before the current NATO / ITU phonetic alphabet was introduced a number of other ones were used by different organisations.

Joint Army/Navy Phonetic Alphabet

During the Second World War, a joint phonetic alphabet was devised by the Allied forces to provide a common approach for radio communications. This radio phonetic alphabet was introduced around 1941 and was called the Joint Army / Navy Phonetic Alphabet. This one was used by many people after the war, and it cna sometimes be heard on the ham radio bands even today.

Able;   Baker;   Charlie;   Dog;   Easy;   Fox;   George;   How;   Item;   Jig;   King;   Love;   Mike;   Nan;   Oboe;   Peter;   Queen;   Roger;   Sugar;   Tare;   Uncle;   Victor;   William;   X-ray;   Yoke;   Zebra

1932 ITU Phonetic Alphabet

One of the first phonetic alphabets was standardised in 1932 by the ITU. Until this time, a wide variety of words had been used, and this was an attempt to standardise them so that operators could understand the common words used.

Amsterdam;   Baltimore;   Casablanca;   Denmark;   Edison;   Florida;   Gallipoli;   Havana;   Italia;   Jerusalem;   Kilogramme;   Liverpool;   Madagascar;   New_York;   Oslo;   Paris;   Quebec;   Roma;   Santiago;   Tripoli;   Upsala;   Valencia;   Washington;   Xanthippe;   Yokohama;   Zurich

After the war there were several phonetic alphabets in use for radio communication and the then International Air Transport Association recognised the need for a single one to be used. As a result they presented a draft version of one to be used in 1947. This was modified after some use and adopted in 1951. This proved to be unsatisfactory in use and was modified again in 1956, and soon after this it was adopted by the ITU and reffered to as the ITU phonetic alphabet, the NATO phonetic alphabet, or even the radio alphabet.

Since then the ITU Phonetic Alphabet has been in widespread use for all forms of radio communication from shipping to aeronautical and all forms of radio communications.

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