Welcome to Handiham World!
This week has been a challenging one for the Handiham Echolink net. Jim, WB4LBM, a regular net control station, is in the process of moving and is not available to take several net sessions per week as he sometimes does. Of course this has left the net control duties to a small group of stations, and I have heard some grumbling about how the net is run and how the few net control stations really could use some more help. We have attempted to schedule regular net control stations for given days, but that has not worked. Howard, KE7KNN, our net manager has been willing to assist operators who need help learning their net control basics, but he has not been able to recruit enough qualified stations to fill net control positions through the week. Believe me, I have also gotten plenty of advice about how the net should be run. Since the net is a Handiham Radio Club activity, I think it is reasonable for club members to weigh in at the next club meeting, which will be at radio camp in May. Until then, my advice would be to "lead by example", by which I mean that if you have specific ideas about how the net should be run, you should feel free to contact Howard and arrange to take a net day, even if it is not every week. Perhaps you would like to simply be available from time to time to fill in as a net control station, which is certainly helpful. In fact, operators who are flexible like this can be very valuable to any regular net. After all, we never know when a scheduled net control station will be unable to take his or her regular session due to other commitments, equipment failure, illness, or emergency. Every net has this need for flexible operators who can step in. If you do so, you have an opportunity to showcase your ideas on how the net control station should run the net.
We have few rules, which makes stepping in to run the net relatively easy. It helps to have a preamble describing what the net is about and what your expectations as net control station are. One of the best preambles I have heard is from net control station Paul, KD0IUA. When you hear him taking the net, listen to his clear, concise preamble. When you have heard it, you certainly know which net is on the air, who is the net control station, and what the net control station expects of you as you check in. These are preamble basics that you can use to help set the tone of the net. As I said, you may have your own ideas about how to run a net and your specific preamble can reflect those ideas. Some people will find it necessary to write their preamble down so that they don't forget anything. Others will be able to rattle off their preamble from memory. The key is to figure out what works for you.
Perhaps we should consider simply having fewer net sessions each week. Yes, I know this has been brought up before and it has not been resolved. One concern that I heard is that the regular daily net format is a social gathering that is now well-established and has its own momentum. Having fewer net sessions would break that momentum and make it difficult for our members to remember to check in. When something happens every day, it just seems to be easier to maintain a regular schedule, doesn't it?
One thought that I had was that we might abandon the daytime net schedule and instead have a daily evening schedule. Matt, KA0PQW, pointed out that the repeater schedule is pretty well booked up in the evenings, so we would not be able to have a daily net at all unless we stick to the daytime schedule. The Wednesday evening net time is very good from the standpoint of working people, many of whom cannot take time from their jobs or be close to their stations during the daytime net. The Wednesday evening net allows North American stations whose operators work regular jobs to have an opportunity to check in weekly with us.
For example, our 7:30 pm Wednesday net plays out around the world at these times:
Eastern: 8:30 pm
Central: 7:30 pm
Mountain: 6:30 pm
Pacific: 5:30 pm
Hawaii: 3:30 pm
GMT: 01:30 am the next day
Tokyo: 10:30 am the next day
Middle East: 4:30 am the next day (Qatar)
Australia: 12:30 pm the next day (New South Wales)
You can see from this schedule that the Wednesday evening net offers completely different opportunities for stations around the world and here in North America to check in and share their comments. I like the idea of offering the evening net on Wednesday, which appears to be the only practical day from the standpoint of available repeater time here in the Twin Cities. We need to put our best foot forward with experienced and dedicated, preferably scheduled, net control operators on the Wednesday evening shift. This is the net that is going to earn the most listeners and participants around the world. It won't do to have a newbie running this net and making mistakes. Let's save the daily daytime net for those stations who need a little bit more practice. Yes, this will be a change from our previous philosophy of having training going on on Wednesday evenings. The way I look at it, we have the potential for many listeners in North America on various repeater systems able to tune in because they are home from work. If we have our most tightly-run net sessions on Wednesday evenings, we will earn a good reputation for ourselves. Does this make sense?
The daily daytime net happens at a time that does not really earn it a "prime time" following. Therefore, why not schedule net control operators who are newer to the hobby for daytime sessions to help us fill all of the available sessions? Furthermore, if a net control station cannot be found, why not simply start a QSO on the net frequency and make it a completely informal roundtable of Handiham Radio Club members and anyone else who simply wants to join in?
Suppose, for example, it is a Thursday and time for the daily net, but there is no net control station. Anyone listening on that frequency would then be free to call "CQ Handiham roundtable" and simply start a conversation with anyone who wants to join them. In a roundtable situation the stations checking in don't have a net control station to report to. Instead, stations typically check in when they want to and then remember the order of the stations checking in and the conversation is simply passed around the circle from one station to another. So let's say that I am listening on frequency and there is obviously no net control station. I might decide to put out a call like this: "CQ Handiham roundtable". Jerry, N0VOE, comes back to me and we start talking. During a break in the conversation, Ken, KB3LLA, throws out his callsign. If Ken throws his callsign out just as I have finished speaking, Jerry might then acknowledge Ken and finish what he has to say before then turning the conversation over to Ken, KB3LLA, for his comments. Now we have established a three-station roundtable. The order is as follows:
When Ken, KB3LLA, finishes speaking, he turns the conversation over to me like this: "WA0TDA, this is KB3LLA". I then say what I want to say, which is probably going to be related to what Jerry has mentioned and any topic that Ken has brought up. When I am finished with my comments I am ready to turn the conversation over to Jerry by saying, "N0VOE this is WA0TDA". Jerry then takes his turn as the conversation develops on whatever topic is being discussed and he turns the conversation over to Ken when he is finished talking. Thus, the round table proceeds in this same order with three stations until someone else enters the conversation by giving their callsign during a break. The thing to remember in Echolink operations and repeater operations is that it will be necessary to leave enough time for more stations to join the roundtable. You may have to discipline yourself by counting mentally until you learn to leave enough break time in the conversation before you take your turn. If a fourth, fifth, and sixth station join the conversation you may think this can become confusing. Well, all you have to remember in the roundtable is the station that comes before you in the conversation and the station that comes after you. The station that comes before you should always turn the conversation over to you. The station that comes after you will expect you to turn the conversation over to them. So it really isn't rocket science, but it does take a little bit of practice.
So I would like to propose the concept of a Handiham roundtable to take the place of the daily net when a net control station is not available. In some ways, a roundtable can be even more fun than a regular net session. In a roundtable, one thing that you have to expect is that it may take a while for the conversation to come around to a point where you can check in with the group. For stations with little time to spare during lunch hour, it may be difficult to wait around for the right time to get in. On the other hand, a short-time station can still check into a roundtable to say hello and state that they cannot remain in the group conversation. In those cases, the short time station simply checks in with the group and right back out again and does not take a place in the rotation.
Some roundtables will run quite smoothly while others will be plagued by operators who can't keep the order straight or who talk far too long, monopolizing the conversation. Believe me, this goes with the territory and you simply have to expect a few bumps in the road like these when you participate in a roundtable. On the positive side, the roundtable situation is friendly, informal, and often more fun than a controlled net. A controlled net may be able to check in far more stations, but this is done at the expense of interesting and meaningful conversation. There is nothing wrong with this; it is simply a trade-off that we have to understand and learn to live with.
So what do you think?
For Handiham World, I'm...
Patrick Tice, firstname.lastname@example.org