I hear this all the time and I am sure that you do to. Someone is checking into a net or you are in the middle of a contest and an operator spells his/her call sign phonetically. This in itself is not a problem (although there is a point in which I get irked with phonetic call signs but that will be left for another time). In fact, there are some really appropriate times to spell a call sign phonetically.
Myself, I always use the ITU phonetic alphabet. Most Hams know it (or at least most of it). OK, for those that are questioning what I am talking about it is the standard one you learned when you getting your license… you know “alpha”, “bravo”, “charlie”, “delta”….
A large number of Hams–disproportionally on HF–change out many of the phonetic words. Even if you are a new Ham you have probably heard some of these. The common ones are “america” for “alpha”, “radio” for “romeo”, “sugar” for “sierra”, “mexico” for “mike” and “zephram” for “zulu”. OK, the last one is not real I just had to keep all you Trekkies awake. For the uninitiated you can get educated here.
Am I wild about using alternative words for a phonetic alphabet? No, I can not say that I love the idea, but I do understand it. It allows fellow Hams to express themselves and add some creativity to their call signs. To me it does add a little bit of ambiguity to what is being transmitted to where it does cause most people to spend a couple hundred more milliseconds of brain compute power to translate the phonetic word back into a letter. Is that bad? No, it keeps people on their toes and thinking. Always a good thing. And we all have had that point where we are spelling a word phonetically and then the mind locks up on trying to remember the ITU phonetic word for a letter and it is just not coming. It happens and you find another word that you can substitute.
The one alternative phonetic word that should never, ever be used unless you are talking about a unit of power is “kilowatt”. I get worked up every time I hear some one use it. So much so I want to reach through the radio and slap the word out of the operator’s vocabulary.
Why should operators avoid this phonetic? It is very confusing. If you are net control for a net and you have a station check in as “kilowatt 7 alpha bravo” is the call sign K7AB or KW7AB? Being net control can be stressful enough, don’t make it harder for net control or any other station that you are working with. Just don’t use kilowatt as a phonetic.
I swear that if I continue to hear “kilowatt” used as a phonetic I am going to start to use “knife”, “pterodactyl”, “tsunami”, “pteria”, “gnu”, “czar”, “mnemonic”, “bdellium”, “hour”, “aisle”, “psoriasis” and “chthonic” as phonetics. If this does happen, then I will have been converted to one of those that just wants to watch the world burn.