Blogger's note: I would like to thank Ken Bush, KB5YBI, for helping me co-present this subject on the net.
I’ll admit it.
I’m a control freak. I’ve been one all my life. I like things neat, orderly and done my way. It’s a tough cross to bear, but it is what it is. It has its advantages, too, depending on the situation.
Take net control, for instance. My net control training started early on in my ham life.
As a brand new baby ham, I was desperately struggling to get over mic fright. (Unless you’re just a ham-radio savant, most hams are familiar with the concept of mic fright.)
My first net control experience happened about 20 days into my on-air life. It was absolutely one of the scariest things I have ever done, but also one of the most rewarding.
No discussion of net control can start without the definition of a net. So, what is a net? A net is an on-air gathering, a meeting if you will, of amateur radio operators. Most take place at a pre-determined time, day and frequency and they usually have a shared interest or common goal in mind.
Remember the expression, "There’s an ap for that!"? The same concept applies to nets.
Whatever you’re into, you can probably find an applicable net. There are nets for cooking, YL nets, high-frequency nets, regionally-linked nets, contesting nets, club nets, distance nets, Echolink nets, traffic nets, weather nets, astronomy nets, digital nets, specific band nets, swap nets, training nets -- you name it, there’s a net for it.
All nets will fall into one of two categories -- controlled or uncontrolled nets.
Controlled nets, or directed nets, use a net control station to manage the net’s operations. Basically, the net control station organizes and runs the meeting. They bang the gavel and call the meeting to order at the appropriate time, establish the rules for the net, call for participants, listen for participants to check-in, and generally control the flow of the meeting. In a perfect world, there is a different net control station every week. There are even situations where there might be two net controls for a net, such as when training new net control operators or when nets cover a very large geographic area (like the continental US) and one net control station may not be able to hear the whole area. Directed nets are typically very formal in nature.
Uncontrolled nets, are less common and very informal. They may or may not have a net control station to get everything started. They are more of a "group think" in that participants show up at a designated time and take turns round-robin style discussing a topic.
There are two very specific types of directed nets I would also like to discuss, tactical nets and weather nets.
Tactical nets are orchestrated around a specific event or operation, such as a parade or bike race. Typically, the net control station has a special tactical event callsign specific to the event.
Weather nets are activated by the National Weather Service or the Emergency Management Coordinator during times of bad weather. Weather nets can be RACES (Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Services) or ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Services) or neither. In order to check in on a RACES net, you must be RACES certified. Any ham can participate in an ARES net, but it's a good idea to take Skywarn training and two online classes available through the ARRL website.
When tactical or weather nets begin, all participants check in with their name, callsign and location. Your job as a checked-in participant is to keep net control apprised of any information that is critical to the mission or emergency at hand. If you are going to step away from your radio, even for a few minutes, inform net control.
Also, this ain't the Hotel California. If you check-in, you are expected to check-out. This is particularly important in the case of weather nets when a dangerous situation may be present. To check out, address net control and ask for "permission to secure your station".
During either of these nets, transmissions should be kept brief and to the point. Also, if your radio has a a Voice Operated eXchange switch (VOX) turn it off to avoid what can be referred to as "spurious transmissions". If net control addresses you, respond promptly and answer any questions as directly as possible.
If you have emergency information to relay to net control, you may break into the conversation with "Break, break, break" followed by your callsign. Wait for a response from net control, then come back with "This is (your callsign) with emergency traffic". Conversely, if you are net control, remember that "break" signifies emergency traffic. Answer immediately with "Go ahead (callsign)".
So, there's a brief explanation of nets. Let's talk about training for net control.
Net control can seem very daunting, but it's like that eating an elephant thing, when taken in small bites, it's very doable.
You don't have to completely "wing it". All nets are start with scripts. There's a few opening paragraphs called a preamble which set up the "rules" of the net. The preamble is followed by a very rough outline such as "call for check-ins", "Net announcements", etc. There is also a postamble, which is a few paragraphs of "thanks and come back next week" statements. Anytime you run a net, you will be given a copy of the script. And other than check ins, for the most part, all you have to do is read the script. And the further you get on your path as net control, the less you will be glued to the script.
It is my personal opinion that net control training should be done in concert with another, seasoned net control operator. I'm not sure how most net control operators are trained, but that's what worked for me. When I volunteered for net control for the first time, I volunteered for the Johnson County News Training and Information Net and I was lucky enough to work with net control operator, Ken, KB5YBI.
Working as a team gave me a chance to run the mic for a bit and then hand it back to Ken when I needed a break. (Translation. I was so scared I couldn't find any air for my lungs.) It was extremely comforting to know that there's a seasoned operator there to take over should you feel you need it.
Let me tell you folks, Ken is bullet-proof and flame-proof. Nothing bothers him, including hyperventilating. (Don't ask me how I know!) Also, the amount of information I learned at the elbow of YBI is astronomical. Like, "There will never be a perfect net." And he's right.
Life is messy. Net control is messy. And the nerves never completely go away.
An interesting sidenote: I had run net control for YL NTX a solid eight weeks before I finally got up the nerve to take the Johnson County Sunday night net from home. And of course, the only thing that held me back was fear. The difference these day is the fear used to be immobilizing, but now it's energizing.
I'm a big fan of challenging myself. I've found in my short ham life that the more I challenge, the more I push my limits, the more my limits expand. Which means, by default, the limits are... limitless.
Wow, that was deep.
So, if you're interested in learning, KB5YBI has graciously volunteered to train anyone interested. There's a shortage of net control operators, male and female, so no matter who you are, there's a need. I cannot say enough good stuff about YBI. The Johnson County News Training and Information net is every Sunday night at 7:30, so there's an opportunity for weekly training. But if for some reason, you'd rather try this net, I would be more than happy to work with any YLs interested in training for net control at my house.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to schedule training with either of us.
Till next week~!