Ham Radio 101: Caught Up in the Net

Looking for a place to hang out on the air? Want to know what’s going on locally in amateur radio? Find the net!

Net is shorthand for network. Networks can be defined as groups of individuals or organizations acting together to share information. A typical amateur radio net will have a net control station (NCS) who will make general announcements, take check-ins, and play the role of moderator to keep things organized.

The first nets were likely formed as soon as hams discovered each other on the air. Sometimes the nets are strictly for chatting about topics such as radio equipment and contesting, or sharing information of interest to hams. Other nets are geared toward function, such as those for traffic handling (passing messages), emergency services, and reporting severe weather.

Working the Net

Amateur radio nets are gathering places for ham radio operators. They’re virtual meeting locations on the airwaves, often conducted on VHF/UHF repeaters or on a simplex frequency. Some can also be reached on HF frequencies or digitally through the Internet. Nets can be organized by a club, service organization or individuals—open to all or with a specific purpose.

In the spirit of the Highlights Magazine motto, nets should be fun—with a purpose. The job of the NCS is to keep things moving and make sure all check-ins are recognized. A net shouldn’t be overly long and should strive to be interesting to the participants. The brain can only absorb what the keister will endure.

Wait until the NCS calls for check-ins or visitors before you transmit. Give your call sign once—phonetically if you’re using voice. If the NCS doesn’t copy your call sign the first time, repeat your call sign again. Net control may ask one of the listening stations to relay your call sign if there’s poor reception.

Formal vs. Informal

There are two broad classes of nets. A directed net is formal and has a set of rules, and you need to get permission before transmitting to other stations. The NCS is like a traffic cop, directing who does what and when. A net control station gets the net started, keeps it orderly, manages net activities, and closes the net down when it’s finished. All communications must go through the NCS. If one station has something urgent or needs to speak to another operator, they call the NCS.

The directed net structure minimizes interference by ensuring that only one station is transmitting at a time—at least in theory. You may hear multiple people transmitting at the same time during check-in. This is the dreaded double. But even here, the NCS is in charge and should sort things out. Tight control is needed, since directed nets are generally used in emergency operations, such as those done by Skywarn, ARES, and RACES.

The informal or undirected net is another example of net format. Participants may contact other stations directly without intervention. Informal nets can be like an extended roundtable chat among stations with no NCS. If a net control is selected from the group, the NCS can set the level of formality needed with informal net guidelines.

Public service events such as parades, walkathons, and races often run as a loosely directed net, especially when experienced operators are involved. These are also great training opportunities for new hams in a more relaxed setting.

Club nets are generally a very informal, semi-directed activity. Net control will log check-ins and give direction as needed. If you have announcements or other traffic, inform the NCS during check-in. He or she will acknowledge your request and fit you in.

Casting a Wide Net

Nets can provide training and a variety of services to amateur radio operators. There are nets on the HF frequencies, local repeaters, and even the Internet using your digital HT or smartphone. Here are just a few examples:

Morning Coffee Break: Every morning from 7:30-10 am PT, almost any subject is on the table— technology, trivia, RVs, camping, fishing, brewing, astronomy, photography, kit builds, and much more. It’s available on the 145.430 repeater in Auburn, CA, and also through the Internet worldwide through AllStarLink, 51018; Echolink, 4128; and Wires-X, W6EK-2M-ROOM (62545).

3905 Century Club Net: If you want to earn your WAS (Worked All States) award, or other fun awards, this is the place to do it. They run nets on 20, 40, 75/80, and 160m in SSB, RTTY, PSK, and CW modes, and also offer more than 40 awards.

Cleveland Amateur Radio Club Slow Speed CW Net: Are those 30 wpm CW operators leaving you in the dust? This net was created for the learning and advancement of Morse code using slow speed—something to build your confidence. It’s held the first, second, and fourth Thursday of each month at 7 pm EST/EDT on a frequency of 3.562 MHz +/-.

7290 Traffic Net: This public service traffic net operates on or about 7290 kHz, handling formal written traffic and informal messages, as well as operating extended sessions during emergencies or special needs. All amateur radio stations licensed to operate on this frequency are welcome to check in with or without traffic and are not required to take traffic in order to participate.

Everyone Welcome

Repeater nets are accessible to all license classes—someone with a Tech license can participate or even run a net using the 2m or 70 cm bands. Many local clubs sponsor nets for their members, which are also open to all licensed hams. A good place to find these is to check the websites of nearby clubs for frequencies, times, and dates.

Get the word out. Make sure your club members know about the net. An announcement should be in every club newsletter and emailed to your members weekly. If your repeater has the capability to do announcements, make sure information about the net is transmitted frequently.

After the net is concluded, reply to the earlier announcement email with a list of who checked in and what you discussed. If someone sees that their friends have checked into a net, they’re more likely to check in the following week. If they see a topic of interest was discussed, they might tune in for the next net night.

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