You Can’t Outrun a Radio

Rangers have radios to connect them with the Ranger Shift Command Team, with other Rangers, and with other Burning Man departments. Radios enable us to function as the eyes and ears of Black Rock City, allowing us to get assignments, report situations, request help, get advice, and kick things sideways when necessary.

Most of your radio conversations will be with Khaki. The Command Team is made up of multiple people, so don’t be surprised if Khaki’s voice changes during a shift or even in the midst of a radio conversation.

Dirt Rangers always work in pairs, and no matter what the situation, at least one Ranger in a given pair (and preferably both) must always be monitoring the radio. Listen for your own call sign as well as your partner’s, as a call could come in for either one of you. It takes some practice, but you will quickly develop the ability be aware of your surroundings in Black Rock City while simultaneously following Ranger radio traffic.

Initiating a Call
To make a radio call to another Ranger, wait until the channel is clear and then call their handle twice followed by your handle. For example, if Hubcap wants to get hold of Khaki they should say, “Khaki, Khaki: Hubcap.” Khaki will respond, “Hubcap, go for Khaki.” If you do not hear that acknowledgment, it means that Khaki did not hear you, or is not ready to take your call. Wait a moment and try again before proceeding with your traffic.

Effective Radio Use:

Think  |  Listen   |   Push   |   Pause   |   Talk

Five key steps to making a good radio call:

THINK Think about what you need before you push the talk button.

LISTEN Listen to make sure the channel is clear and that you’re not interrupting something more important. Only one person can talk on the channel at once, so if you try to transmit when somebody else is talking, Khaki will not hear you. Don’t interrupt emergency traffic with low priority messages.

PUSH Push the button on the side of your radio or shoulder mic to let the system know that you want to transmit.

PAUSE Wait until you hear the beep from your radio that tells you it’s ready for you to talk.

TALK Speak calmly, slowly, and clearly. State what it is you need from Khaki or what you’d like Khaki to do about the situation you are in, where you are, and any other pertinent details.

The most important part of radio traffic is…

…figuring out what you want to say.

Khaki needs to know three things to be able to mobilize resources effectively:

  • What do you need?
  • Where do you need it?
  • What do you need it for?

To get the maximum information across in a radio transmission in the shortest time, use your XYZs: “I need (X resource) at (Y location) for (Z issue).”  If you can phrase your call in XYZ format, it pretty much ensures that you’re about to make a good radio call.

Resource Request Protocol
In a situation where you have requested a resource or called in due to some extended situation, Khaki needs to know the situation has resolved, so remember…

1. Call for the resource you need.

Khaki, I need medical at 4:30 and Esplanade for a participant with…

2. Call when the resource arrives.

Khaki, medical is on scene at 4:30 and Esplanade.

3. Call when you are clear.

Khaki, medical has cleared us from the scene at 4:30 and Esplanade and we’re resuming patrol.

Being Clear on the Radio
The sound quality of calls on the radios we use on playa is about as good as a really bad phone connection. It can be very hard to understand what the caller is saying, especially in windy or noisy conditions. Err on the side of over-enunciating whenever possible.

Never yell into your microphone. That just causes distortion, and makes it harder to understand your transmission. Speak loudly, but clearly. If it’s windy, you may need to turn away from the wind or shield your mic with your body or your clothing. If you’re in a noisy sound camp, you may need to walk a few feet away before transmitting.

When using the radio, it can be very hard to distinguish between street names: B, C, D, E and G all sound pretty much alike over a bad radio connection (as do A and H). Always use some kind of phonetic alphabet. The best is the NATO phonetic alphabet (Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, etc), but using any word that obviously starts with the letter you’re trying to say is better than nothing (Avocado, Burrito, Car Wash, whatever). If you can remember all the street names at this year’s event, by all means use those.

NATO Phonetic Alphabet

A: AlphaN: November
B: BravoO: Oscar
C: CharlieP: Papa
D: DeltaQ: Quebec
E: EchoR: Romeo
F: FoxtrotS: Sierra
G: GolfT: Tango
H: HotelU: Uniform
I: IndiaV: Victor
J: JulietW: Whisky
K: KiloX: X-ray
L: LimaY: Yankee
M: MikeZ: Zulu

When reporting numbers, be aware that many numbers (e.g., “3:15” and “3:50”) are very difficult to distinguish on the radio. Call in numbers digit by digit (e.g., “five-one-five,” rather than “five-fifteen,” “seven-three-zero,” rather than “seven-thirty”).

Concentric street sides are either “man-side” (closest to the center of the city) or “mountain-side” (furthest from the center of the city). Radial streets should be called in as “between <letter> and <letter>” (e.g., “I’m on three o’clock, between Bravo and Charlie”). Esplanade is always called “Esplanade”.

An excellent radio call location, then, would be “Four-two-zero and Charlie, man-side.” Khaki will know exactly where you are, if additional resources are needed.

Radio Protocols

Allcom: Allcom is a call for “all stations” and is a clue to you that something probably important is about to follow. For example, Khaki might say, “Allcom, Allcom, this is Khaki, we have a lost child…”

Break: If you’ve been transmitting for longer than 15 seconds, say “BREAK”. Then, stop transmitting for a couple seconds and take your finger off the button, to let other urgent traffic break in. If nobody jumps in with something urgent, continue your message.

Break Break Break: We can be a chatty bunch, and sometimes it can be hard to get a word in edgewise on the radio. In emergencies only, if you have been unable to break into the channel, say “break break break” as soon as someone else has finished transmitting. Everyone will hear this and know it’s an emergency. Khaki will respond, “Breaking station, go for Khaki.” That’s your cue to identify yourself and let Khaki know what was so important. If you are not the breaking station, hold your call until the urgent communication is over and Khaki tells everyone it’s okay to proceed with non-emergency traffic. If there is no competing traffic, no need to use “break break break”, since there’s nothing to break into!

Open Mic: If somebody accidentally keys his or her radio, nobody else can talk. Try not to do this. When it happens, you will sometimes hear “Open mic!,” often said in a frustrated voice by a frazzled Khaki. If you hear “Open mic!,” check your radio and then check your partner’s radio to make sure it’s not you. Do not transmit during an open mic: it is Khaki’s responsibility to track down the offending radio, and if you transmit while Khaki is trying to track it down, it confuses the radio system and you may be incorrectly identified as the offender.

Tailgating (please don’t!): Tailgating is when you key up immediately following someone else’s transmission. Tailgating makes it difficult for emergency traffic to break in. Allow at least a one-second pause between transmissions, so that emergency traffic can break in.

Ranger-to-Ranger Calls: To speak to someone other than Khaki, wait for a pause in traffic, and use standard Ranger radio protocol: say the call-sign of the person you’re calling twice, and your own call-sign once. To avoid clogging up Control 1, Ranger-to-Ranger calls should generally be taken to another channel (usually Ranger Admin).

“Hubcap, Hubcap: Bucket—Admin.”
“Hubcap going to Admin.”

You do not need permission from Khaki to go direct to another Ranger, or to use the Admin channel.

Calling other departments: Occasionally, you may need to switch channels and speak to another department (e.g, placement, DPW, Airport, ESD). When talking to another department, make sure you identify yourself as “Ranger [your handle].

What to avoid saying on the radio: All Ranger radio traffic is recorded and may also be monitored by law enforcement or other outside agencies, as well as participants and other departments. A general rule is that we don’t say anything on the radio that we wouldn’t want to see on the front page of the New York Times the next day. That said, whenever possible we use plain English to improve the clarity of our communications.

Avoid saying any of the following on the radio:

  • Profanity of any kind.
  • “Death” or “dead” Instead, request medical for a person who is “unconscious and not breathing” and request an immediate face-to-face with Khaki.
  • Do not attempt to diagnose a participant’s condition. Instead, describe symptoms and severity.
  • Drugs (by name or generically), “overdose,” or “high.” Again, do not try to diagnose; instead describe a participant as “altered,” “disoriented,” “unresponsive,” or “unconscious,” as appropriate.
  • Eviction If you have a situation that appears to violate or blatantly disregard Burning Man community standards (e.g., repeated instances of vending), request a face-to-face with Khaki. See the section on evictions for more information on evictions.
  • Full legal names or other identifying information of participants, other than when reporting a lost child, or when requested by Khaki. Be respectful of participants’ privacy: they probably don’t want their name on the front page either.


Radio Channels
The primary channels for Ranger Operations are “Control 1” and “Control 2.” Generally, all Rangers will share the same channel; however, on a busy shift Rangers in one half of the city may be assigned to one channel and Rangers in the other half may be assigned to another channel. Pay attention to the assigned operational channel for your shift and area of the city.

Because it is critical that the Control channels be kept available for operational and emergency traffic, we regularly use other channels in order to move traffic off of the Control channels. A few channels deserve special mention:

BRC 911: Dispatch channel for the Emergency Services Department (ESD), which handles medical, fire, and emergency calls.

As a Ranger, you should generally report emergencies to Khaki on Control 1, rather than calling ESD directly. However, if you have an emergency and for some reason are unable to reach Khaki on Control 1, you should switch to BRC 911 and call Black Rock directly, identifying yourself as Ranger “<your handle>”.

Ranger Admin: Non-operational or other conversations that might tie up the channel for a while should take place on the Ranger Admin channel. You do not need permission from Khaki to use Ranger Admin.

Ranger HQ: This channel is for staff to use to get in touch with Ranger Management, someone from Ranger Logistics, or specific Rangers by name. If a staff member would like to request a Ranger response to something, they should call for Rangers on BRC 911.

Ranger On-Call: We use this channel to ask for extra resources when things get heavy. If you have an event radio and are off-shift but willing (and able) to come on if needed, please monitor this channel.

TAC 1-4, Local 1-2: During specific incidents, the Rangers involved may be told to switch to a Tac (“Tactical”) or Local channel assigned by Khaki. Local channels work without a repeater and have a short physical range. Do not use these channels unless directed to do so by Khaki.

CSD Placement: Placement is the department that handles theme camp locations. You may need to contact them on the CSD Placement channel in cases of land disputes. You do not need permission from Khaki to call for Placers.

DPW Dispatch: DPW can be reached on the DPW Dispatch channel. Do not use this channel unless directed to do so by Khaki.

Gate: Gate staff can be reached on the Gate channel. Do not use this channel unless directed to do so by Khaki.

Lockout/Tow: If participants need lockout service, you can help them out by contacting the Lockout/Tow channel. As noted elsewhere, Rangers do not provide any non-emergency lockout service.

Checking Out Your Radio From HQ
Radios are checked out from Ranger HQ. Prior to checking out your radio for the first time, you must fill out a form stating that you will be financially responsible if your radio is lost or damaged. Radios cost a great deal of money, which is to say it will cost you a great deal of money if you lose or damage your radio. Always remember to return your radio at the end of your shift.

Certain Rangers are issued a single radio for the duration of the event. If you have an event radio, you do not need to return it to HQ when you go off-duty.

Care and Feeding of Your Pet Radio
You should exchange your radio battery at the beginning of each shift or whenever you hear your radio “beep beep.” This ensures that your radio will not die out when you really need it. Charged batteries are available at Ranger HQ and at Ranger Outposts Berlin and Tokyo.

Don’t loan your radio to other people, but be willing to make a radio call on behalf of a Burning Man staff member if asked. Never carry your radio by the antenna or shoulder mic. Always remove your radio from your belt (heck, ask your partner to hold it) when using the porta-potty. If your radio seems to be malfunctioning or not transmitting clearly, first check to make sure that you have fresh batteries. If it still doesn’t work, have your partner call Khaki and ask to exchange it at Ranger HQ. Do not put stickers or other adhesives on your radio; someone has to take the time to thoroughly remove them before we return them.

Event Radios

Event radios are issued to certain Rangers for the duration of the event (based on the number of hours worked the previous event). Having an event radio carries with it additional responsibility. The intended purpose of issuing these radios is to extend the capabilities of the Rangers to provide assistance to the community by utilizing the “eyes and ears” of off-duty Rangers to inform the Shift Command Team when something warrants Ranger attention.

A Ranger unable or unwilling to provide assistance while off duty should decline an event radio if offered, and simply check out a shift radio while on duty. This frees that radio up for another Ranger to assist where able.

It is worth noting that Rangers are chosen in part for their character and their desire to help the community. While they are not required to act while off duty, we do hope that Rangers will, within their discretion, act appropriately.

Back: Ranger Shift Structure and Expectations  |  Next: Ranger Approach