Getting on the air is one of the hardest things for a new radio operator to do; the fear of the unknown, fear of embarrassment, that feeling of unfamiliarity, these are all things that happen to new hams. A good way to get over this is with Ham Nets, or just "nets", these regularly scheduled on-air meetings are happening all the time and if you don't tune in you have no idea. Most clubs will post a schedule of their Nets, along with relevant information such as frequency, offset, PL tone, and time.
Example from Central MO Radio Association
Schedule: Weekly, Wednesday, 21:00
Offset: (-) 600 KHz
PL Tone: 127.3
Nets are running on almost all the bands and modes at different times for different purposes! Check the websites for the various clubs near you and see what you can hear.
Join the Net
After you listen to a couple Nets, and it seems not so scary, take a chance and get on the air. Most Nets are run by a local club, but not limited to the club members, they want you to hop on the call and join the conversation. Since you've listened to a couple Nets be run, you should be aware of what type of Net is being run, Formal or Informal.
An informal net may have a net control station (NCS), but lack some or all of the formalities and protocols other than those used in non-net on-the-air operation. Or, it could begin at the designated time and frequency in an ad hoc fashion by whoever arrives first. Club nets, such as ones for discussing equipment or other topics, use a NCS simply to control the order in which participants transmit their comments to the group in round-robin style.
A formal, or directed net has a single NCS that manages its operation for a given session. The NCS operator calls the net to order at its designated start time, periodically calls for participants to join, listens for them to answer (or check in), keeps track of the roster of stations for that particular net session, and generally orchestrates the operation of the net.
A different station might be designated NCS for each net session. Overall operation and scheduling of NCS assignments and net sessions is managed by the net manager .
Run the Net
Once you're comfortable participating in Nets, you should try running one as the Net Control Station. Usually you will want to be a member of the club whose repeater you will be working with, as well as coordinating with the club so you are in the rotation as NCS. Becoming the NCS means following some basic rules, and if the club runs Formal Nets this could also mean reading from a Preamble (or script). The rules to keep in mind:
- The net control station (NCS) transmits a net callup promptly at the pre-established net meeting time.
- Stations reporting in indicate their function or the destination(s) for which they can take traffic, followed by the list of traffic on their hook, if any.
- Time-consuming pleasantries and other superfluous matters are not to be a part of the procedure while the net is in session.
- Net stations follow the direction of the NCS without question or comment if such directions are understood.
- Explanations of any kind are not transmitted unless they are absolutely essential to the net's conduct.
- Stations reporting into a net are held for 15 minutes, after which they are excused if there is no further traffic for them at that time. Stations in the net do not leave the net without being excused and do not ask to be excused unless absolutely necessary.
- All nets follow the general precepts of net operation outlined in the ARRL Operating Manual.
Now, these do sound very official and ominous, but they not hard to follow. If you have already listened to a couple of Net session, and hopefully participated, then these should make sense already.
Example Net Conversation
This is (your Call sign and name) in (name of town), calling the (area/town name) Emergency Net, calling the (area/town) Emergency Net. This is not an emergency, it is the regularly scheduled (day name) night net of the (club name). We are calling the net for practice and training. This is a directed net. All amateur radio operators are welcome to participate in this net. At this time the net will standby for any emergency or priority traffic, please call now.
(Pause to give time for response)
Emergency or priority traffic can break this net at any time. Anyone with routine or numbered traffic please call now.
(Pause to give time for response)
We will now take regular check-ins starting with mobile, low power and short time stations. When you check in, please give your call sign, name, and location. Also, when you check in, if you have announcements for the net, please say “announcements” when you give your call sign and name. Any mobiles, low power or short time stations for the net please call now…
(Roll call those stations that checked in, but don’t ask for comments from those who said “for the count only”, just acknowledge their check-in and go on.)
Anymore low power, mobile or short time stations for the net?...
(like above) This is, (Your call sign) for (area/town name) Emergency Net, we will now take regular check-ins. Anyone, anywhere, please call now for the (area/town name) Emergency Net.
(take the first group and then get comments.)
This is (Your call sign) for the (area/town name) Emergency Net standing by for additional check-ins, please call now.
(after taking a second group of check-ins, ask individuals for announcements if they said they had any)
(after announcements ask for additional check-ins)
This is (Your Call Sign) closing the net and returning the repeater to normal amateur radio use. Thanks to all who checked in tonight.