Getting Started

If you are interested in passing messages by radio relay, volunteering for service in the National Traffic System (NTS) is the way to do it. As a "local" net, the Central Ohio Traffic Net (COTN) is a group of stations that serve a local area. If you can reach the frequency where we're meeting, you're "local," and welcome to join.

Getting started isn't difficult. There are things you can do before you get on the air to get familiar, then things to listen for, and finally a few points to remember once it's time to get on the air.

Before You Transmit

Just as you will want to know the rules of the road before you drive, you'll want to know the rules of the net before you start transmitting. If you are studying to be a new amateur radio operator, these are things that you can do even before you have your license.

You will, of course, want to check our references and in particular the NTS site and manual for traffic handling. In the beginning you'll want to pay particular attention to its Appendix B, the Methods, Procedures, and Guidelines. That appendix is also organized into chapters. Look first at the introductory chapters, particularly the Foreword to the NTS MPG, then Chapter 1 on the ARRL Message Format, and Chapter 2 on the sending of messages by voice. Chapter 4 discusses how nets are conducted and explains the jargon used to manage the pattern of activity. Be sure also to look at Chapter 7 to learn about points accumulated and how and why to report your station activity.

The more that you read and understand the MPG the more comfortable you should feel.

You will also need to listen on the right frequency at the right time, so be sure to check the net schedule and get the information on the frequencies and the tones you'll need for your transmissions to make it through the repeater system so other stations can hear you.

Listen!

Hearing how the net is actually conducted can help you to make what you've read seem much less abstract. In fact, some people find it easier to listen to the net and then after hearing a few sessions to go back to the NTS manual to find answers to questions about what they're hearing. Listening also helps you to understand things like the rhythm of the net and the flow of handling traffic, announcements, comments, and queries.

You can find out answers to common questions by reading our Frequently Asked Questions page.

Checking In

COTN sessions are directed nets, which means that the Net Control Station (NCS) is in charge. If you are checking in for the first time you will not have traffic, and will need to listen for the right time to check in.

NCS will call for stations to check into the net in an organized fashion, starting with emergency or priority traffic. This means formal messages that require urgent relay to address disasters and literally matters of life and death. Next comes the call for liaison stations, which are stations that can join other nets and pass traffic between COTN and those other nets. Next is the call for stations with traffic, which is to say formal radiograms ready to send to others.

Finally comes for the call for stations with or without traffic. Now it's your turn. After NCS calls for stations with or without traffic, hold your push-to-talk button, take a breath to give the repeater system a chance to recognize your incoming signal, and say your callsign slowly and phonetically. Suppose that you're KD8TTE. Here's how it should work:

NCS: Stations with or without traffic?
KD8TTE: Kilo Delta 8 Tango Tango Echo. No traffic.
WA8EYQ: Whiskey Alfa 8 Echo Yankee Quebec. No traffic. 
NCS: Kilo Delta 8 Tango Tango Echo. Whiskey Alfa 8 Echo Yankee Quebec. Good evening. We have you both in with no traffic. Further stations with or without traffic?

When you hear NCS say your callsign, you are checked in. If something didn't go as expected, do not panic. 

What if NCS got my callsign wrong? 

Once NCS breaks (probably after asking for further checkins), simply state your callsign suffix and add the word correction. Here's how it works.

NCS: Stations with or without traffic?
KD8TTE: Kilo Delta 8 Tango Tango Echo. No traffic.
WA8EYQ: Whiskey Alfa 8 Echo Yankee Quebec. No traffic. 
NCS: Kilo Delta 8 Tango Echo Echo. Whiskey Alfa 8 Echo Yankee Quebec. Good evening. We have you both in with no traffic. Further stations with or without traffic?
KD8TTE: TTE Correction.
NCS: Station with correction, go ahead.
KD8TTE: Callsign correction. Kilo Delta 8 Tango Tango Echo.
NCS: Kilo Delta 8 Tango Tango Echo. We have your callsign corrected and without traffic. Further stations with or without traffic?

What if NCS didn't say my callsign?

If NCS did not say your callsign back to you, then you are not checked in. You can try again. It's possible that you "doubled" with another station. Sometimes two stations will try to transmit through the system at one time, which results in a garbled transmission. Sometimes NCS can understand through the garbling. Sometimes NCS can hear one station but not the other. And sometimes NCS can't understand anything. Simply try to check in again using the normal procedure.

If you think you doubled with another station, don't try to correct it immediately! Sometimes NCS can make sense of doubles. Do not transmit again until NCS has had a chance to acknowledge stations checking in, does not acknowledge you, and makes another call.

If NCS does not acknowledge you even if no one else is transmitting, your signal might not be going through the repeater system. Be sure that you have the correct CTCSS (also known as "PL") tone set, that your offset is correct (so you are transmitting on the right frequency, which for repeaters is different from the frequency you listen to), and that you have sufficient power, location, and antenna to make it to a receive site. In general if you can hear us we should be able to hear you.

Transmission Etiquette

Remember that airtime is valuable time. Before you press push-to-talk, know what you're going to say. Say it clearly and slowly enough that it will be understood so you don't need to say it again. One slow transmission is faster than a rushed one that needs to be repeated. Say just what you need to say for the listener to get the message or to take action. COTN is not a ragchew net; we are stopping whatever else we were doing to meet to handle traffic, to discuss traffic handling, and to answer questions about traffic handling. The net session is the wrong time to tell us about your new antenna, even though most of us are interested and would be happy to talk about it after the net closes.

What If I Have a Question?

We encourage you to ask your questions on the air. There are always new stations listening so even if your question seems basic, it's likely that someone else listening has the same question.
If you have a question you'd like to put to the net, you're welcome to do so. Queries, announcements, and other net business are not "traffic"; that term is reserved for formal messages to be relayed from one station to another. You will need to let the Net Control Station know that you have a query, which you can do by adding the word "query" to your checkin. NCS will acknowledge your query and then tell you when it's time for you to ask. If you think of something to ask after you check in, you can add the query when NCS asks for further stations with or without traffic.

Consider this example. Earlier in the net, KD8KBX relayed a message number 123 to WA8EYQ, with the text of
PLEASE CALL ME AT 614
555 1234

A new station, KD8TTE, was copying the traffic as others were passing it to get practiced at copying traffic before volunteering to handle real traffic. KD8TTE also checked the number of words and counted the number of words in the text as five. He also noticed that KD8KBX read the preamble's "check" field as seven and that WA8EYQ said "roger" at the end, meaning that he got all of the words and that his count of words matched what KD8KBX read in the preamble. Since he counted five words, KD8TTE does not have the message right but needs to be able to get the messages right before he starts to accept real traffic. This is the time to ask a question -- this is the training part of being a training net!

NCS: Further stations with or without traffic?
KD8TTE: KD8TTE Query.
NCS: KD8TTE.
KD8TTE: I counted five words in message 123 sent from KD8KBX to WA8EYQ. Why was the check seven?
NCS: WA8EYQ?
WA8EYQ: This is WA8EYQ. Phone numbers in the message text are broken into separate words for area code, prefix, and the last four digits. So 614-555-1234 is not one word. Word five is 614, word six is 555, and word seven is 1234. Does your count now match the check?
KD8TTE: It does, thank you. KD8TTE.
WA8EYQ: WA8EYQ.
NCS: Further questions or comments on the topic?

What If I'm Lost?

If you're just lost or think that you need a conversation rather than just one question to understand something, you can tell NCS you have some questions for after net. How does it work?

NCS: Further stations with or without traffic?
KD8TTE: KD8TTE Query.
NCS: KD8TTE.
KD8TTE: I have several questions for anyone who can help me after net.
NCS: I am happy to help and will be on for a few minutes afterward and invite other stations to stay as well.
KD8TTE: Thank you. KD8TTE.
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