Radio Language Ushered in Clear Talk

You ever hear someone spelling out an address and it’s unclear if they just said “M” or “N”?

You’re not the only one.

Sixty years ago this month the global community devised the NATO phonetic alphabet for more effective translation.

“The system has lasted so long because it works," said Chris Demarest, author of Alpha Bravo Charlie: The Military Alphabet. “It’s not like Morse Code, which has become obsolete with new technology.”

The system, also known as the International Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet, uses words to represent individual letters.

A Bluejacket Manual published in 1913 by the US Navy contains the earliest known reference of an American spelling alphabet.  NATO didn’t invent the idea of phonetic spelling but their method became the global standard in 1956.

Pilots, militaries and emergency responders across the world have since adopted NATO’s code or some variation of it.

The letters and accompanying keywords are listed below. 

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