Dispelling Some Myths: ‘Over and Out’
In the big scheme of things today’s post is a very minor ‘gripe’. It does, however, reflect on the historical accuracy of television dramas, documentaries and films. You may not have noticed it, but it happens pretty much every time characters interact over a radio. Once pointed out, then, like an ear worm, you will hear it often. Today’s bug bear is ‘Over and Out’.
In the history of radiotelephony (RT) certain words and phrases were adopted for accuracy, brevity  and clarity (ABC). Once they were agreed, these conventions have continued to aid communication and limit misunderstanding across the crackling airwaves ever since.
Correct RT procedure The voice calling procedure (sometimes referred to as ‘method of calling’ or ‘communications order model’) is the standardised method of establishing communications between stations. The internationally agreed order is as follows:
1. It MUST begin with the callsign of the station you are calling, twice (never three times).
2. It MUST be followed by your callsign with the proword ‘THIS IS…’
3. You MUST give your callsign once, and once only.
4. Communicate (as necessary).
5. You SHOULD end your transmission with the proword ‘OVER’, or ‘OUT’.
An example Imagine then that you wish to check that a station is receiving your transmissions. The procedure might be as follows:
STATION 1: ‘Callsign 2, Callsign 2, this is Callsign 1. Radio check. Over.’
STATION 2: ‘Callsign 1, this is Callsign 2. Reading you Loud and Clear. Over.’
STATION 1: ‘Callsign 2, this is Callsign 1. Roger. Out.’
In this simple example, both stations can hear and are responding to each other. The procedure words (prowords) ‘LOUD and CLEAR’ mean the signal strength is very strong and the quality of transmission is excellent (no background noise or signal interference). In the last sentence the proword ‘ROGER’ is used to acknowledge that the recipient, Station 1, has heard and understood the sender’s, Station 2’s, message. The proword in this context means ‘I have received your last transmission satisfactorily.’
In many US police and military themed television dramas or documentaries, and in films, you may hear the word ‘COPY’ used. We understand, however, that ‘COPY’ does not mean the same as the RT proword ‘ROGER’. It seems to be used when communications between two other stations, which includes information for one's own station, has been heard and received satisfactorily. That said, on TV and in film ‘COPY’ is increasingly used instead of ‘ROGER’ or ‘WILCO’. Indeed, for many commentators on the internet, both military and civilian, ‘COPY’ and ‘ROGER’ are becoming synonymous. In trying to explain the difference many of these same commentators then proceed to conflate the RT prowords ‘ROGER’ and ‘WILCO’. All of which just adds to the confusion.
So, if you want to be accurate stick to using ‘ROGER’ which originally came from the Morse code prosign ‘R’ meaning ‘received’. From 1943 to early January 1956, ‘ROGER’ was the code word used to spell the letter ‘R’ in the Allied Military phonetic spelling alphabets. Moreover, the use of ‘ROGER’ officially continued even after the word for the letter ‘R’ was changed to ROMEO in the NATO phonetic alphabet.
Contrary to popular belief, ‘ROGER’ does not mean or imply both ‘received’ and ‘I will comply’, however. That distinction goes to the contraction ‘WILCO’, the shortened form of ‘will comply’. In other words, the receiving station is acknowledging they have heard and understood the message and, as the phrase suggests, ‘will comply’ with any instruction. As should be evident, the phrase ‘ROGER WILCO’ is procedurally incorrect and redundant since it literally means ‘Received, Received and I will comply’. A tautological waste of time.
Returning to our example, in the initial call, and the subsequent reply, the word ‘OVER’ ends one station’s transmission to the other and indicates a response is necessary. In line one Station 1 is essentially saying ‘I’ve finished talking so now it is your turn to go ahead and transmit your reply.’ Put simply, the proword ‘OVER’ allows a conversation to be passed back and forth between stations.
Closing down Unsurprisingly, ending a two-way radio call has its own set of procedures. Generally, the station that originated the call is the station that should terminate the call. To end a call all stations indicate their last transmission of a particular communication exchange by using the proword ‘OUT’ (meaning ‘This is the end of my transmission to you and no answer is required or expected’) or ‘OUT TO YOU’ (‘I am ending my communication with you and calling another station’). In our example, if Station 2 replied after ‘OUT’ then they will probably be ignored as Station 1 may not be listening or may not hear the transmission if they are calling someone else.
It should be self-evident now that if you send the transmission ‘OVER and OUT’, you are effectively saying ‘it’s your turn to talk, but I’m not listening’, which is a bit rude really, so don’t do it. OUT.
1. Military RT procedure champions brevity for a very good reason. The longer you transmit, the more time the enemy has to direction find (DF) and locate your position. If they do that, then what usually follows is something very explosive!