Some Tips on Being
A Net Control Station
Geoff Haines, N1GY
As a frequent participant in nets in my ARRL Section, I have had plenty of opportunity to listen and respond to Net
Control Stations. As an NCS myself, I have learned a few techniques that I find useful when running a net.
Most importantly, relax. The operation of a net is not rocket science, nor is it brain surgery. If you make a mistake,
as all of us do from time to time, the world will not come to an end. In order to minimize the frequency of those mistakes,
use a prepared script or "Preamble". This is simply a short, usually one page, document that tells you what to say and in
what order. I have included an example in Figure 1.
The "Preamble" is not intended to be slavishly adhered to, but merely a recommendation of what should be included in
your operation of the net. Generally, the script starts out with identifying yourself (plus your call sign) and identifying
the net you are about to run. The next item should be to ask for any priority or emergency traffic before you continue with
the net. I usually ask twice before continuing, just in case. If someone has just witnessed a traffic accident or other emergency,
you don't want to launch into a long-winded explanation of how the net will operate, leaving the emergency call un-sendable
until you are done.
If there is no emergency or priority traffic, the next order of business is to transmit the information about the repeater
or repeater system you are using. Someone just scanning through the band may need to know what tone the repeater uses for
access, or in the case of a linked system, what repeater pair is closest to their location.
At this point I usually ask for various groups depending on which net I am NCS for. In the case of a National Traffic
System Net, I will ask for Net Liaisons coming from or going to another net. Then I will ask for Section Officials, and then
for Announcements and/or Bulletins. Finally I ask for stations with formal written traffic. In the case of the Technical Net,
which I also act for as NCS, I would ask for Technical Specialists first. Once these categories of stations are checked in,
one would then continue to general check-ins.
There are a number of different ways to arrange general check-ins to keep the net from becoming chaotic. You can ask
for check-ins by local areas such as counties or towns. You can ask that they come by alphabetical order of the first letter
in the suffix of their call sign and then divide the alphabet into groups. Here is an example: "We will now ask for check-ins
Alpha through Hotel". When that group is complete you would continue "We now ask for check-ins India through November" and
You might, depending on the type of net, ask that stations checking in add their first name, whether they have any
traffic for the net, and/or their specific location etc. I usually advise that stations should wait to check in until I have
acknowledged the previous station, since trying to log multiple stations on the same segment can be confusing. Whatever system
you choose, or the net manager has chosen for you is important to make it easier for the NCS to operate the net. Use whatever
method has been chosen and start accepting check-ins.
At some point during the net, it will become necessary to have a station repeat a call, or a name or something. Received
audio quality varies widely with the location of the transmitting station relative to the repeater, the power level the station
is using, the quality of the radio, and many other factors. This is normal, so expect it to happen. When it does, just ask
the station to "say again please" and ask if the station could raise their power level or reorient their antenna. You can
also ask for another station to relay the weak signal if possible. Always remain unfailingly polite and cheerful. Never disparage
the other station's equipment or on-air performance. The same is true if you encounter deliberate interference. Remain polite.
If you can continue the net over the deliberate interference, do so. The interfering station will soon tire of their game
and move on.
Once all of the stations respond in whatever check-in system you utilize, it is time to ask for "any station, anywhere"
or some variation on that theme. You may be surprised to find out that your signal has gone considerably farther than you
expected. When atmospheric conditions are favorable, I have received stations checking in from as far away as Tallahassee
Florida, Key West, and Jacksonville. All this on a VHF/UHF repeater system around Tampa Bay. I have even had stations check
in briefly from Georgia and Texas on rare occasions.
At the conclusion of the net, it is considerate to thank all the stations for participating in the net and invite them
to return for the next edition of the net. If another net is going to occur later in the evening, remind the stations about
that net also. It is also "good form" to thank the operators of the repeater for allowing the net to function on their repeater.
A last comment "we now return this repeater to normal amateur radio use" and sign off as usual with your call sign and "73".
One of the important adjuncts to the operation of any net is to have an easy way to log everyone and everything in.
This can be as basic as a sheet of paper and a pencil but there are better ways. Your Net Manager will usually want a report
as to how many stations checked in, how much traffic was handled (if applicable) and how long the net took to run. These figures
will be sent up the line to develop reports to the Section Manager and eventually, the ARRL. I created specialized net logs
for each of the nets that I run. They all have some parts in common, with unique sections for the particular net. I have examples
of these in Figures 2 and 3.
As a Net Manager, I also have created Statistics sheets that are compiled monthly to reflect various items on a month
by month basis such as total number of check-ins for the month, total time of the net, number of announcements, number of
technical presentations, and so on. These figures can be used for the monthly reports to a net manager or other official.
(See Figure 4)
All of the above begs the question: Why should I, as a ham operator, participate in nets and/or become a Net Control
Station? I have several answers to that question.
1. Amateur Radio is supposed
to be about Communication. Nets are an important way to communicate, to other amateurs, information on many different aspects
of amateur radio. The use of an NTS Traffic net is obvious; the purpose of an Information Net can be to keep hams up to date
with the latest bulletins from your club or the ARRL. It also serves to inform hams about coming special events such as ham
fests, community service events, DX contests and other activities. Our local Section's Technical Net serves, in part, the
function of a Section-Wide "Elmer" where hams can pose questions about anything technical or operational to an array of Technical
Specialists and the other participants in the net. Often, the answer comes not from a TS, but from another amateur who has
gone through the same problem and found a solution.
2. Since other amateurs in your
local area are willing to be Net Control Stations, it follows then that you should be willing to help out as you are able.
Do an ARRL Web Site search for the term "The Amateur's Code". Written in 1929 by W9EEA,
it remains just as valid as it was 70 + years ago.
3. Checking in to a net, and
better still, operating as a Net Control Station will seriously improve your skills as an operator. The concentration necessary
and the coordination of operation of your radio together with recording the information on paper or computer will enhance
your operating techniques at any time.
4. Probably the most important
reason to participate in nets is the same one that got you into this marvelous hobby in the first place. IT IS FUN!
I hope that this brief article on being a Net Control Station has piqued your interest. Even if you do not choose to
become a NCS, please check into your local and regional nets as often as you can. The more hams that check in, the more effective
the net becomes and this serves to advance the art and the science of amateur radio even more.