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Net or not?
We have been urging our readers and listeners to monitor 14.305 MHz for activity before we begin a new Handiham HF net on that frequency. I have heard some stations on 14.305 in the early afternoon Minnesota time. Lyle, K0LR, suggests that an afternoon time might find the band conditions being "short", meaning that we could possibly get more stations checking in from the United States. If we were to look at evenings, I think the band has been dead as often as not, so we cannot wait until it is too late in the day. During the morning hours the band is open, but the skip is longer. As I write this at 09:30 local time, I hear a Spanish-speaking station on 14.305.
As important as band conditions is the question of when our members can get on board with the net! It does not matter if conditions are perfect if everyone is working at their jobs or otherwise busy and can't get on the air. The original net schedule was set up for 9:30 in the morning Minnesota time, but most of us are busy at that hour. I'm not saying that we should keep the morning hour schedule, but nothing kills a net like bad timing! Before we decide to just keep the 9:30 morning hour but shift frequency from 14.265 to 14.305, let me know your thoughts. One successful Friday evening schedule we used to keep was on 17 meters, and I can't call it a net, because the informal gathering started by Alan, K2WS, was a "non-net get together", as Alan always reminded us. After all, the unofficial rule is that nets do not belong on 17 meters, at least not formal nets.
20 meters is different and nets are all right, even scheduled formal nets. Can we narrow it down to daytime or evening? And what day? Monday? Friday? Saturday or Sunday? Remember, we want to pull in working folks, so scheduling it in the middle of the work day may not be the best idea.
One of our repeater hosts, Chris, KG0BP, mused that we might not really need a daily Echolink net if net control stations are too hard to find. So what about that? Do we add a few HF nets and pare down the daily Echolink schedule?
Also at this time we are asking for HF net control volunteers. You will need at least a General Class license and an HF station with a 20 meter antenna.
George, N0SBU, has pointed out that once nets are suspended for the summer as many clubs do with their nets, it is usually pretty difficult to get those nets going again. The lesson to be learned from that is to keep your nets running! Taking time off or reducing your net schedule means that you may never get those times and frequencies back again. George would also like to see the Wednesday night Echolink net be used more often for training purposes, maybe every Wednesday night.
A couple of you thought that having the Echolink nets every other day, Monday, Wednesday, Friday, then on Saturday would be enough activity to keep things running.
Every net needs to have a critical mass of users. This is a basic truth: If you don't have enough regular participants checking in, you will not keep your net running. That means paying attention to having the net on at a time when you can get people away from whatever they are doing and to the radio. Band conditions, in the case of HF at least, have to be suitable. If band conditions are not right, you may have few check-ins no matter how convenient you make the time and day.
Another concern is that we have competent net control stations. Every time a net is poorly run, we lose some stations who either give up while waiting to check in or simply get annoyed by the poor operating practices they encounter on the net. Every net has this challenge, too, not just ours. I have heard some terrible operating on HF nets whose participants were long-time license holders and whose net control station held a higher class of license.
As we continue with our planning for nets, keep these handy net control practices in mind:
- Begin your net with a preamble explaining the purpose of the net, who may check in, and anything else about how the net will be conducted. This is the time to tell participants if the net is formal or informal and whether you need to be a net member to check in. The end of the preamble is the place to tell stations how to check in, namely, "Check in with your callsign only", or other appropriate instructions.
- Call for stations in this order:
- Stations with emergency or priority traffic
- Mobile stations
- Portable stations
- Stations on "short time"
- Stations with announcements of interest to the net
- General check-ins (and limit the crowd by geography, type of technology used to check in, callsign area, or whatever.) Example: "I will now take check-ins from stations outside North America." or "I will now take check-ins from repeaters only."
- Be sure you have firm control of the net. Do not allow stations to simply give their callsigns and then start rambling on about the weather, their computer problems, and how their dog has fleas. Make it clear that stations checking in must give their callsigns and be recognized before the net control allows them to have their say! Do not let stations grab the air and take over. Net control stations should do the controlling.
- You can make the net more interesting if you have a net topic. Sometimes the net will enjoy discussing a topic introduced by one of the stations checking in.
- Don't forget to call often for stations throughout the net time. Always allow enough time for emergency check ins to get your attention. You never know when the system may need to pass emergency traffic.
- Be patient but firm, and always polite. Insist that everyone use their callsigns. This will help everyone keep track of who is on the air.
- When the net winds down, thank the participants and the repeater and system owners, and mention when the net will be on again, then sign off.
For Handiham World, I'm...
Patrick Tice, firstname.lastname@example.org