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What’s up with the Radio Lingo?

What’s up with the Radio Lingo?

“10-20,” “Mayday,” “Alfa” and “Wilco.” If you have no idea what these words mean, you’re not alone. It’s just everyday two-way radio lingo that has been used for decades. Working in the radio industry for a few years, we’ve picked up some of the jargon and broken them down into common, clear phrases so everyone can understand. Here goes:

Ten Codes

Communications Director for the Illinois State Police, Charles Hopper created ten-codes in 1937 to reduce the amount of time spent on the radio with limited communication channels. While the meaning of some codes vary, here are some of the more commonly used ones:

  • “10-4” Okay/Affirmative
  • “10-20” Denotes location. “What’s your 20?”
  • “10-36” Correct time. “Can I get 10-36?”
  • “10-69” Message received
  • “10-77” Estimated time of arrival

Over time, differing meanings for the codes came about in different agencies and jurisdictions, undoing the codes’ usefulness as a concise and standardized system.

Phonetic Alphabet

A lot of letters can sound alike. An “N” can easily be misheard for an “M,” or a “B” as a “D.” That’s why the International Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet was developed. Created by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) after World War II, the alphabet has now been adopted by organizations like the US Army, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The alphabet in its current form is:

  • Alfa
  • Bravo
  • Charlie
  • Delta
  • Echo
  • Foxtrot
  • Golf
  • Hotel
  • India
  • Juliet
  • Kilo
  • Lima
  • Mike
  • November
  • Oscar
  • Papa
  • Quebec
  • Romeo
  • Sierra
  • Tango
  • Uniform
  • Victor
  • Whiskey
  • X-ray
  • Yankee
  • Zulu

Roger That

In 1941, the phonetic word “Roger” or “R” or was used as an abbreviation for “received.” During World War II “Roger That” transcended to mean, “yes, I understand” when orders or commands were received.


“Mayday, Mayday, Mayday,” is an international radio distress signal used by ships and aircrafts. Frederick Stanley Mockford, a senior radio officer at Croydon Airport in London, came up with the term in 1923 as a code word that would easily be understood by all pilots and ground staff in an emergency.

Other Commonly Used Radio Lingo & Slang

  • “Over” I am done speaking
  • “Wilco” Will comply
  • “Negative” No
  • “Flip-flop” U-Turn
  • “Left Coast” West Coast
  • “Radio Check” Does my radio work?
  • “Travel Agent” Dispatcher

Hope you enjoyed learning about these terms as much as we have!