Let’s (Walkie) Talk About Radios

Posted on November 21, 2019

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By Erin Piafsky

Walkie-talkies are cool. Or at least I think they are. Maybe I was subconsciously influenced in my youth by a steady diet of movies that showed characters using two-way radios (like this one, this one, or this thrilling one), but I always get a little thrill using a walkie-talkie on events.

And that’s a good thing, because even if you don’t find them as exciting as I do, radios are essential tools for event professionals. When we’re staffing events, we’re constantly on the move, and being able to quickly and easily reach fellow staffers, clients, even vendors or key volunteers, is crucial. Two-way radios are the most efficient means of enabling that communication in our fast-paced event world.

That said, if not done right, radio communications can become a distraction and a detriment rather than a benefit. Here are a few do’s and don’ts of on-event radio etiquette:

DO Follow a Protocol — Lots of people on your event will be on radios, so it’s a good idea to establish a standard practice for how your communications will sound. The particulars can vary from team to team, which is fine, as long as everyone on the team is using the same protocol. On our events, our practice is that, to reach a specific person, you start by saying your name, and then the name of the person you’re trying to talk to. For example, if I need to ask Egon a question, I’d say, “Erin for Egon.” As in, “This is ERIN, and I’m looking FOR EGON.” When he’s ready to hear what I have to say, he’ll respond with “Go for Egon.” Now I know I have his attention—meanwhile, everyone who isn’t Egon knows they can go back to whatever they were doing—and I can finish my question. Making sure your team knows and follows the same call-and-respond protocol is important for keeping the radio chatter under control.

DON’T Leave Someone Hanging… — If your team member radios for you, but you’re not ready to hear what they have to say at that exact moment (maybe you’re in the middle of a conversation with a participant, or you’re operating a noisy forklift, or you’re just about to step into a porta-potty…hey, we’ve all been there!), don’t just ignore the call, leaving your cohort to wonder if you even heard them. Ask them to stand by. Let’s say I need to tell Ray that Ecto-1 needs fuel, so I say, “Erin for Ray.” But Ray is directing the Stay Puft Marshmallow vendor to their tent, and he’ll need a minute. So rather than “Go for Ray,” he can give me a “Stand by for Ray” instead. That way, I know that he heard me, and when he is ready, he can come back with “Go for Ray,” and we’re off and running again.

DON’T Sit on the Button — Friendly PSA: if you wear your radio on your hip, then you get into a car (or Gator, or golf cart, or whatever), you might inadvertently lean on the Push To Talk (PTT) button while you’re seated. If you’ve engaged the button, no one else can talk on that frequency, and instead, everyone just overhears you rustling around, or worse, singing along (badly) with “Love is a Battlefield” on the radio when you thought you were alone in the car (#truestory). So when you cozy yourself into the vehicle’s seat, take a second to adjust your radio or take it off and keep that button free. That said…

DO Engage the Button When Needed — The inverse problem to the button-hogging described above is when someone doesn’t push the PTT hard or long enough, so some of their words don’t get through. When you first fire up your walkie for the day, do a radio check to make sure you’re on the right channel and your volume is good, then any other time you need to use it, be sure to hold down the PTT for half a second before you begin talking, and keep it pushed all the way until you’ve finished what you need to say.

DON’T Clutter the Airwaves — I suspect that I’m not the only one who’s been guilty of using the radios for non-essential chit-chat at an event, and to a degree, that’s okay. But be aware of the situation and use good judgement before piping up about something unrelated to an actual event need. Personally, I would be mortified if I ever learned that my frivolous walkie-talk kept another team member from communicating something important. So…

DO K.I.S.S. — As in, “Keep It Short and Simple.” State clearly what you need, but be concise. When everyone has said what they need to say, you can reply with a simple “Copy” or “Great, thanks!” so everyone knows that you’ve picked up what they put down, so to speak.

DON’T Discuss Sensitive Info — Always remember this: whatever you say over the radio can be heard not only by every radioed teammate on the same channel, but also by anyone who’s even in earshot of those radios. If you need to confer with a colleague about a sensitive topic—a problematic participant, an issue with a vendor or site contact, personal matters of any kind—go find that colleague and talk face-to-face, or if that’s not possible, take the conversation to the phones instead. Walkies are great for mass communication and information that the entire team needs to hear, one-to-one communication may be better handled by phone, text or in person.

DO Have Back-up Options — At some point, you might find yourself beyond radio range out on the route somewhere, or you might have an issue that will require a longer discussion, or you need to have one of those delicate conversations mentioned above. It’s important that you also have your mobile phone handy at all times (with ringer on at full volume), along with the phone numbers of everyone you might need to reach during the event. If you can’t raise someone on the radio for one reason or another, you can call or text them as a back-up.

These are just a few suggestions I’ve picked up over many years of staffing events. How does my list stack up to yours? What other tips would you share?

Erin Piafsky is the Volunteer Programs Manager at Event 360. Outside of work, you might find her trudging her way through a run, bingeing true crime podcasts, or dominating a pub trivia game. She lives in Minneapolis.

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