QST QST QST
What is a net anyway?
A net is a group of ham radio operators having a conversation “on the air.” They may be formal or informal, directed or ad-hoc (rag chew) and may meet at a prescribed time on a specific frequency or pop up spontaneously. Nets often have a theme or purpose. Some are all business and others are purely social. There are several nets that meet on the VHF and UHF bands in the Sangamon Valley area. Other nets meet regularly on the HF bands. Each has its own guidelines for participation. Often, all you need to do is listen to the net in progress to get an idea how it operates.
The local nets in the Sangamon Valley area are mostly social in nature. Certain nets such as traffic nets, public service events or Skywarn, however, are more formal and focused on a specific purpose.
Nets have a net control operator who moderates the conversation during a net. The net control operator opens the net, provides the day and time of the net, the frequency, PL tone and (positive or negative) offset when conducted through a repeater and explains the general purpose or topic of the net. The net control operator will ask for ham radio operators (or stations) to check in. Net control will specify the information needed for check in. Generally, check ins are limited to basic information such as call sign and location. Once everyone is checked in, the net control operator will call each station that checked in and invite them into the topic of discussion. Rag chews don't have a net control operator but often have regular participants.
Here are some phrases you are likely to hear in the Sangamon Valley area nets:
“QST QST QST” (calling all ham radio operators)
“Is there any emergency or priority traffic?” Some net control operators ask for emergency or priority traffic before proceeding with the net. Net control is not generally expecting to hear any emergency traffic, however, this statement serves as a reminder that emergency traffic always takes priority over net traffic. A net may be interrupted for emergency or priority traffic.
“This is a directed net, please pass all traffic through net control”: Each station (radio operator) directs his or her comments to net control. If wishing to contact another station, for example, tell net control, “I would like to contact <call sign> about <topic>.” Net control usually grants permission with “Call your station” or provides some other instruction depending on where the net discussion is going. When the exchange is finished, say, “back to net control <your call sign>.”
"Go direct": Some stations wishing to contact a station directly ask net control for permission and will say something to the effect, "I would like to go direct with <call sign>". This is just a variation on the example listed above.
"Standing by for check ins or rechecks, please come now": Throw out your call sign and other information as requested by net control. If you think of something else to say after you have already had your turn, add “recheck” to your call sign when net control asks if there are any other check ins or rechecks. Occasionally one station will "double" with another when checking in. The net control operator often can catch part of someone's check in but may need for you to try again. Some net control operators will ask for "additions or corrections." Try again if need be.
"In & Out" or "No Traffic": The station has nothing to say and only wants to “get on the list." It's equivalent to saying, "Hi, I'm present but just listening."
"Mobile": Mobile stations have priority because they are traveling. Band conditions may change, obstacles (buildings, hills/terrain, etc) may impede transmission or the station may be traveling away from the repeater and subsequently, the station might experience a reduction in signal quality while waiting to be called on otherwise.
"Back to net control": The radio operator indicates to net control that he or she has nothing further to say. Remember to include your call sign at the end of your transmission: "This is <call sign>, back to net control." And yes, net control may pepper you with questions which means you are not finished with your transmission after all. Each time you think you may be finished, include your call sign!
"Machine": Some refer to the repeater as a machine.
"I’m going to let this drop": Either net control or a net participant will say this and release the mic button long enough for the radio and/or the repeater to reset so that the transmission does not time out. This phrase tells everyone that the radio operator has more to say. Some of us can be long winded and might otherwise time out the repeater. Take a breath once in a while and let your transmission drop if your monologue goes on for more than a few minutes!
"73": Best regards. It is pronounced "seven three".
"Full quieting": Perfect signal, no noise or static in your transmission!
"I'm on QR-Zed": This is a reference to QRZ.com, a ham radio website.
Tips & Tricks
- Have a pen and paper (better yet a notebook) handy so you can jot down the call signs of check ins. This will help you learn the local ham community. Plus, using a notebook is a way to record helpful information for future reference.
- If you are feeling adventurous, go to QRZ.com and set up a free account. This is a wonderful website for hams to look one another up by call sign. Many hams are not willing to give their email addresses over the air but will list an email address on QRZ. It's a great way to follow up with a ham following a net.
- It's good practice to use the correct phonetic spelling of your call sign and name. Local band conditions on 2 meter and 70 centimeter do not usually require stations to deviate from the standard phonetic alphabet. It's more common to find hams using alternate phonetic spellings of call signs when HF band conditions are poor (i.e. zulu and juliet may sound too much alike when there is a lot of static in the transmission).
- Ham radio operators do not use citizen band (CB) lingo. We do not use ten-codes (10-4), nor do we have "handles." We use our call signs along with our first names. Take a look at helpful terminology to learn ham radio terms. Save the "good buddy" language for the Smokey and the Bandit crowd on CB.
- Don't worry about mangling someone's call sign. We've all done it, and the ham community is quite forgiving on this. Eventually you will learn the call signs of local hams by heart and will have no trouble with them.
- When you are mobile, just skip the pen and paper. Your priority is to drive safely.
Even seasoned operators experience technical difficulties with transmissions from time to time. Here are some common problems and possible solutions:
You hit the PTT (push to talk) button and transmit but no one seems to be able to hear you. It's nothing personal. It's a good idea to request a signal report prior to the start of the net to check your radio settings.
- If participating in a net using a repeater, check your PL tone, offset and shift direction. Programming the tones and offsets vary by radio brand. Feel free to ask an Elmer for some assistance in setting up the repeater frequencies. You can also program the local repeater tones and offsets using Chirp software: a free, open-source tool for programming ham radios (chirp.danplanet.com).
- Speaking of offsets and shift direction, you will often hear net control describe the offset in a shorthanded manner, i.e., "postive (or negative) offset." Net control assumes that you recognize the offset based on the receive frequency. For 2 meters, the offset is 600 kHz. For 70 centimeters, the offset is 5 MHz. The shift direction is described as positive or negative which means you will have to determine whether to add or subtract the offset to (or from) the receive frequency (RX) to get the correct transmit frequency (TX). If this seems confusing, a quick shortcut is to download the Repeater Book phone app into your cell phone. This app will search for area repeaters based on your location and give you the receive and transmit frequencies as well as the tones for area repeaters.
- You are told your transmission is weak, nearly unreadable (scratchy or dropping out) or completely unreadable but others on the net can tell you are trying to transmit. Net control will acknowledge the attempt and ask you to try it again.
- Check your power. Often a problem occurs when the battery is low.
- Check your antenna. Hand held radios (often called "handy-talkies) may need a better antenna than the stock rubber duckie antenna. Check into a better antenna such as a J-pole, slim jim, or a mag-mount antenna. A mag mount antenna on an old steel cookie sheet is often effective. Just make sure it's not an aluminum cookie sheet.
- Check your location. Sometimes moving a few feet in any direction may help.
- Speak clearly into the microphone: hold it close to your mouth but at an angle so that your breath does not create wind directly into the mic.
- You are told your transmission is readable but has a whine or buzzing quality.
- Are you running a battery charger on your radio at the time you are transmitting? Charge up the battery, disconnect the charger, then participate in the net.
- Your mobile radio may have ignition noise or alternator whine. A filter may be needed to reduce radio frequency interference (RFI).
- Mobile transmission is "picket fencing" which may occur while moving in an area that causes multi-path interference (tall buildings for example). Driving away from downtown areas can improve your signal.
- You may be too close to a computer or other electronic device. Step away from electronics. A choke filter may also help.
- SWR (standing wave ratio) may be too high. Check your outside dual band antenna for loose connections and/or rain water soaking the inside of the antenna. This problem demands your immediate attention; excess SWR can damage your radio.
- Other net participants may offer to check your signal "on reverse." This means they are listening to you on the transmitting frequency through simplex. This way, they can tell who is trying to hit the repeater and may have some suggestions on what you can do to improve your signal. If you still have difficulties, don't sweat it. Try again and then try again. Contact an elmer prior to the next week's net to try to resolve the problem. Success often comes via trial and error.
Nothing beats being polite on the local nets. Please remember the following:
- Scheduled nets do not “own” a frequency or time slot. However, if a net control operator joins your conversation in progress and mentions that a net is due to start soon, please consider wrapping up your conversation and joining the net. It’s not required, but it’s the polite thing to do. Some nets have been meeting regularly for decades. You will have a lot of hams listening to your rag chew and wondering when you will end the conversation so the net can start.
- Keep your comments on the net relevant to the topic of the net. That said, social nets are pretty loose and flexible for discussion topics.
- Listen to the net before jumping in. Different net control operators have different styles. When in Rome, do as the Romans do…
- When finished speaking, say “back to net control” so the net control operator knows you are finished.
- Avoid controversial topics; be polite.
- Thank your net control operator for hosting the net. Being a net control operator is a commitment of time and resources.
- Be willing to try hosting the net if the regular net control operator is unavailable.
- Always follow the FCC rules for ham radio operation and provide your call sign at the end of your transmission. But don’t be afraid of making a mistake. The ham community is very supportive and will help you get it right.
- You can join informal rag chews by throwing out your call sign or saying “information” when you have something to add to the conversation. Someone in the rag chew will generally acknowledge you when they finish their comment. This is not much different than joining a group of people talking around a table.
- When you hear, “I’ll be clear on your final,” the operator is hoping to get off the radio before another conversation gets started. Supper could be waiting.