AskDefine | Define radioman

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radioman (Plural: radiomen)
  1. A person who operates a radio transceiver, especially when a title or position in a crew.

Extensive Definition

For the DJ, see The Radioman.
Radioman (RM) was a rating for United States Navy and United States Coast Guard enlisted personnel, specializing in communications technology.

History of the rating

Originally created in 1921, the rating merged with the Data Processing Technician (DP) rating to form the Information Systems Technician (IT) rating in November 1999. Both Radiomen and Data Processing Technicians in the navy had to undergo general rate training and take a computer-based exam in order to be designated under the new IT rating (the Data Processing Technicians found themselves bound to a serious learning curve because they had to learn every single aspect from the Radioman rating) whereas to the Radiomen, most of them already had a general knowledge in basic computer fundamentals and maintenance. In 1996 the Submarine force merged Radioman with Electronics Technicians/ Electronic Warfare Specialist. The Coast Guard rating was renamed Telecommunications Specialist (TC) in 1995, which split in 2003 to make up the Information System Technician (IT) and Operation Systems Specialist (OS) ratings.

Scope of work

The Radiomen of the US Navy operated the navy's ELF, VLF, LF, HF, UHF, and SHF systems, particularly the tone-modulated radioteletype (RATT) equipment and associated peripheral equipment, such as various types of Teletype Corporation teletypes and teleprinters. Radiomen were also responsible for the prompt delivery of special handling code FLASH, CRITIC, LIMDIS, PERSONAL FOR, various classified message traffic, and other specifically designated messages to their commanding officers shipboard and the associated chain of command.
Radiomen maintained specific job designations, including the operation of satellite and Demand Assigned Multiple Access (DAMA) ship-to-shore shore multiplex systems, the Common-User Digital Information Exchange Subsystem (CUDIXS), the submarine-designated version of CUDIXS, called SSIXS (Sub-Surface Information Exchange Subsystem), and the Naval Modular Automated Communications System (NAVMACS), which was the principle ship-to-shore satellite system.
Radiomen were also responsible for antenna maintenance at both ship and shore based stations. This task was considered most favored because it led to the Radiomen being able to work outdoors and also working aloft on the ship's mast or from the side of the ship. Although the maintenance of antennas was often considered arduous and dirty work, the task of antenna maintenance was generally enjoyed by those Radiomen that carried out these duties.
One of the more arduous tasks that Radiomen underwent included the burning of classified messages. This job meant having to haul down large quantities of classified waste to the ship's incinerator and making sure that it was properly burned and then the ashes mixed with water into a slurry, which was then dumped over the side. This was particularly adhered to, since classified material, if not burned properly, could be read and/or deciphered by operators from those not designated with a need-to-know classification or basis.


The positions generally found in the ship's 'Radio Shack' included -
  • Broadcast Operator, which involved keeping track of incoming and outgoing message traffic. This process included maintaining a watchful eye on the NAVMACS system and the TT-624 electronic printers. This operator kept the original copy of each message and would place the message, in numerical order, onto "skids" which was nothing more than a two-holed binder. The Broadcast Operator was also responsible to handle and assist with FLASH traffic, particularly looking for messages called WHITE PINNACLES which was a specific drill message sent by the shore-based commander to test the speed and accuracy of fleet Radiomen. A similar fast reaction message called BEARDIRON was used for ships that operated primarily with Standing Naval Forces Atlantic (STANAVFORLANT) NATO forces.
  • Task Group Orestes (TGO) Operator, which related to the operation of a teletypewriter circuit, and the use of signals while communicating with ships in the general operating area of the designated task force. The TGO operator would coordinate the transmission of messages inter-task force and would also, on occasion, help to coordinate the position, course and speed of approaching replenishment vessels for underway replenishment (UNREP) or vertical replenishment (VERTREP) during underway deployments.
  • Message Center, Main-Communications (MAINCOMM) Supervisor, who supervised the Radiomen-operators in the message center. The MAINCOMM supervisor would hold quarters before his team of Radiomen went in to take over from the previous watch section and would also make sure that his section was properly trained for the various positions in Radio Central. The MAINCOMM Supervisor was also responsible to maintain discipline and leadership guidance for the Radiomen that worked under him/her, and would also submit evaluations on his crew to the chain of command.
  • Facilities Control (FACCON) Supervisor, who supervised the Radiomen in the facilities control area. This supervisor, much alike the MAINCOMM supervisor, would do similar duties, but was responsible for the safe operation of shipboard electronic radio equipment and the associated peripheral equipment, such as quality monitoring systems as well as the maintenance and upkeep of the communications plan (COMPLAN) as well as the operational frequency board.
  • Inbound/Outbound Traffic Checker, who made sure that all accountability of all message traffic reached appropriate designated departments as well as proper delivery of messages. This was generally considered a key position, but was often designated to junior Radiomen - particularly on board smaller vessels. On an aircraft carrier, this position was generally assigned to a second-class petty officer or below.
  • Repro/Distro Operator, who generally sat at a copy machine and made sure that routed messages were appropriately slotted to the various departments shipboard. This position was generally assigned to paygrade E-3 and below personnel, where their technical prowess and accuracy of running off copies of messages were closely monitored by the MAINCOMM supervisor. If the Repro-Distro operator made any mistakes, such as a SECRET message being routed to the Chaplain by error, the MAINCOMM supervisor would be the first to know about this mistake.
  • CRYPTO Operator, who made sure that the cryptographic equipment was in good working order and that daily CRYTO code changes were made in a timely manner. This operator would often work with the Communications Security Material Systems (CMS) Custodian for monthly key changeovers as well as inspections and inventory checks of cryptographic materials and associated electronic equipment.
  • Teletype (TTY) Repairman, a specially-designated Radioman that maintained and repaired the teletype equipment on board ship as well as shore stations. This position required a high degree of mechanical dexterity with a limited knowledge of electricity and electronics. Typically, teletype repairmen, prior to attending TTY repair school in Norfolk, Virginia, had to take a basic course in electricity and electronics and pass it before being accepted on to TTY repair school.
  • Inrouter (who generally was the Message Center Supervisor). This position made sure that all inbound message traffic was properly routed to the various departments on board ship.
  • Outrouter, who would designate an outbound message a serial number, date-time-group, and would verify that the message was signed and released by the commanding officer (or another officer designated in the chain of command).


  • Radiomen were traditionally nicknamed "Sparky" or "Sparks," stemming from their early use of spark-gap transmitters. The rating insignia was a set of four lightning bolts joined at the tip.
  • Radio Central was generally known on the ship as the place to go for "Rumor Control" because the Radiomen knew what was going to happen in advance of certain events, particularly sports scores stateside. Often, Radiomen would hold back baseball or football scores for certain "return favors" such as clean, pressed uniforms from the ships laundry. Radiomen on board most smaller ships, like the FFG-7 class frigates, are still considered "true radiomen" by most, even in the 21st century.
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