All About Ham Nets (Feb, 1960)

Reading through this I found my self continually wanting to make everything “.net” instead of ” Net”.

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All About Ham Nets

By George Hart, W1NJM

Yes, there’s a place for organized “rag chewing,” but the byword of most ham nets is “service.”

ALL over the amateur radio bands you can hear them—between 500 and 1,000 groups of operators calling themselves “nets.” You might hear, for example, one station say: “Old man, you’re interfering with the Podunk Net. Wonder if you’d mind standing by or moving to another frequency so we can clear our traffic.”

The offending station may or may not move. He doesn’t have to. A ham can operate anywhere in any amateur band (providing he has a Conditional Class license or better), and he has as much right to a particular frequency as the Podunk Net. Usually he will move since amateurs are courteous.

What Are Nets?

When a group of amateurs all get on the same frequency and one station at a time transmits while the rest listen, we have a “round table.” Usually they just take turns and each, in turn, talks about anything or about nothing. When one of the stations assumes charge and tells the others when to transmit and to whom, this station is called the “net control station” and the whole group operating in this fashion becomes a “net,” or network. Sound regimented? It is, to a certain extent, although no one has to be in the net if he doesn’t want to be.

Nets operate for a number of reasons such as preparing to provide emergency communications, or handling traffic (third party messages). There are training nets, such as those attempting to build up code speed. Some nets involve special interest groups within or outside the field of radio, such as doctors, dentists, teenagers, YLs (young ladies), or fraternal organizations. And some of them operate just for the good old fun of yakking together.

Some nets include only amateurs in a particular city or radio club, some extend through county or state, and some even spread from coast to coast and beyond!

Depending on what it does, what it is for and who is in it, a net might operate by voice (‘phone), Morse code (CW) or radioteletype (RTTY). Amateur TV nets are also on the horizon. CW nets may be slow, medium or high speed, depending upon the proficiency level of the net members.

How can you identify a net when you hear one? Almost without exception they begin with a “call up.” The net control station comes on at a prearranged time with a general call to all net members, something like this: “Calling the Podunk Net, calling the Podunk Net, this is K2ABC, net control station. The Podunk Net operates daily on this frequency starting at 7:30 P.M., Central Standard Time, for the purpose of emergency communication in the Podunk area. Amateur stations operating on or near this frequency are re- quested to stand by or move to another frequency while the net is in session.”

He then invites net members to “report in,” stating their location, any messages they have to send (or “traffic on the hook”). This “reporting in” may be at random, by alphabetical or prearranged order, or by roll call.

On CW nets the procedure is similar, except that abbreviations are used because it takes longer to say things via CW than by voice. The CW net control might send, for example: “PN (Podunk Net) PN PN DE (from) K2ABC K2ABC K2ABC QNN (net control station) QNZ (adjust your frequency to mine) QND (the net is directed) QNI (stations report into the net) QNA (by prearranged order) K (go ahead).

Long ago amateurs discovered that they could be useful in providing emergency communications during floods, fires, storms, and explosions which would wipe out telephone and telegraph lines, isolating communities. A ham or two in the stricken area would crank up their rigs from batteries or gasoline generators and establish a communication with the outside world. As this kind of thing became more frequent, the amateurs decided that it could be done more effectively if they were prepared and trained for it.

So about 25 years ago the ARRL organized the Amateur Radio Emergency Corps and encouraged amateurs to form local groups, prepare equipment, lay plans and conduct operator training for this specific purpose. Today there are about 1800 amateur Emergency Coordinators and over 40,000 amateurs “signed up” in the Emergency Corps.

Radio amateurs in this country can do something that amateurs in most countries are forbidden to do: handle messages for third parties. What kind of messages? Why, any kind at all, just so they don’t get paid for it. They are usually written and handled in a standard amateur message form, not unlike the Western Union form. These messages are called “traffic,” hence the nets that handle them are called “traffic nets.” The idea is to get the message from its point of origin to its destination in the least possible time by passing it from one amateur to another.

Traffic nets are generally well organized and some of them are set up in “systems.” One such system, sponsored by ARRL, is called the National Traffic System and consists of about 100 nets working together in chains covering the entire U.S., its possessions and Canada. In emergencies, these traffic nets and systems are often the means for handling important point-to-point traffic.

In a sense, the above nets are training nets. Whatever their primary purpose, a great part of it is in getting trained to do a job.

Newcomers to the amateur ranks via the Novice license need training, especially in Morse code. The Novice speed requirement is only five words per minute. You can’t handle much communication at that speed, hence the purposes of many Novice nets are to increase code speed and teach net procedure.

Sometimes a group of amateurs with something in common will get together in a net. Doctors, dentists, religious groups, engineers, pilots, etc., have been known to form nets. A year or so ago a group of doctors formed a net to discuss latest medical developments. Teenagers discuss rock ‘n roll, scouting, sports, television shows (real crazy, dad!). The YLs have their own nationwide fraternal organization, the Young Ladies Radio League (YLRL) and have a number of nets consisting strictly of members of their own sex (no men allowed) , such as the Ironing Board Net, the Nylon Net and the Tangle Net.

A few groups operate just for the sheer pleasure of getting to know each other. Usually started quite spontaneously, they might call themselves the Gum-Beaters Net, the Idiots Net, or the Hot Air Net. No telling what you might hear them talking about.

Most nets are deliberately set up by responsible amateurs for a specific purpose, usually emergency preparedness or traffic handling. These hams are bent on doing something useful with their hobby. -$-

  1. jayessell says: April 28, 20109:51 am

    If only one of the regular reader/responders with an interest in
    amateur radio could see this article.

  2. KD5ZS says: April 28, 201010:14 am

    I still check into a daily net, except now I get an email of the roster of operators that check in for the day.

    Computers have replaced the old mechanical teletypes.

    Incidentally, I’ve held Advanced class for 30 years.

  3. George says: April 28, 20104:50 pm

    @KD5ZS, your id sort of hinted at that probability. “I’ve got one of those funny 2X1 calls,” said Tom Swift with Extra Class.

  4. aufdeutsch says: April 28, 20106:33 pm

    I’m actually a licensed amateur radio operator. I got into in because of my dad (and I’m a girl..which doesn’t mean much but it is a little different). I haven’t done much in the past few years, but once I have more free time I’m thinking of studying and going up a level since they dropped the morse code requirements.

    KD5ZS, you’ve held that class longer than I’ve been in existence.

  5. TimE says: April 28, 20109:23 pm

    I always thought a ham net was the thing that left that crisscrossed pattern on a ham…

  6. Richard says: April 29, 20105:05 am

    I hold a UK full amateur licence – you’ll hear me mostly on 17 and 20 phone as M0GDU

  7. KD5ZS says: April 29, 20102:43 pm

    Aufdeutsch: that means that you are a “YL”

    Richard: I would enjoy having a QSO with you, except that I don’t have much in the HF department because I live in a condo. I’m mainly on 2 meters and 70 cm as those bands don’t require huge external antennas. When I move to a detached home, HF antennas will be the first to be put up!


  8. Richard says: April 30, 20107:53 am

    KD5ZS: I have exactly the opposite problem, I’m surrounded by hills so there’s little vhf/uhf coverage from here, so those bands have to be handheld well away from home unless I use a repeater.
    I’m in a ground-floor duplex, and as it’s a corner plot I get an ‘L’ shaped garden… no room for anything bigger than a multiband ‘cobweb’ as some fool put the building in the way, but I can cross the pond with it most days.
    By the time you get your HF antennas we ought to have a few sunspots to play with as well. 🙂


  9. KD5ZS says: April 30, 201010:49 am


    What is your actual call?

    I also need to upgrade to a 100W exciter for HF– I’m using a 5 W FT-817 now (great for travel!) or get the old tube radio running.

  10. Richard says: May 2, 20104:08 am


    My call is M0GDU, Mike Zero Golf Delta Uniform

    I run an FT-840, no linear – that would be asking for trouble in this location. 🙁
    VHF/UHF I now use a VX-7 handy, which is an absolute pig to programme from the keyboard but simple with the PC, and well-nigh indestructible… as it needs to be with me around…


  11. KD5ZS says: May 2, 20102:12 pm

    Thanks Richard– I did not realize until last night when reading in qst that “G” land was now issuing “M” prefixed calls (learn something new everyday!)

    I’ve been a Yaesu man for years, but then took a plunge and got a Kenwood tri-band HT. Lot of fun!


  12. Richard says: May 3, 20104:27 am

    KD5ZS: M0 is the current full license call, 2E0 is the intermediate call, and either M3 or M6 the foundation licence call.
    There are regional modifiers too, inserted as a second leading letter, M for Scotland, W for Wales etc.

    To complicate matters, there are still a lot of the older ‘G’ calls in use – more than you’d think too, because it’s possible for a licensed relative to take over a ‘cherished’ old call from an SK amateur


    will bring you up to date, ready for your HF adventures.


  13. John Savard says: May 3, 20106:20 am

    I am not too familiar with amateur radio myself, but I was surprised some years back when I learned that originally, the letters beginning radio station call letters were allocated based on the existing allocation of the letters at the start of the semaphore flag signals which identified ships.

    The idea was that a ship’s radio call letters would match the flag signal that identified the ship.

  14. Richard says: May 3, 201010:21 pm

    John Savard: That makes a lot of sense – when you’re referring to a particular vessel in the 3rd person everybody would know without ambiguity which vessel you were referring to, regardless of how ‘they’ were communicating with it.

    Amateurs in the UK, and presumably elsewhere, often do the same when referring to other amateurs in the 3rd person – they’ll use the trailing letters of their call pretty much like a surname rather than just their first name as it’s a lot less ambiguous than ‘John’ or ‘Pete’ when there might be several hundred ‘Johns’ within the area covered by a net.
    If KD5ZS was telling you about my new antenna, he’d likely refer to me as Richard GDU if he was using speech, or my full call without the name if he was using CW/morse as it’s shorter.

    Of course, we’ll always use the full call when we’re chasing after a specific amateur on the air, and our own full call to identify ourselves regularly – that’s a legal requirement.

  15. SSS says: May 18, 20106:33 pm

    And, of course, airplane tail numbers appear to have a similar origination and usage pattern.

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