QUICK-START

ORCA DIGITAL NET – QUICK-START GUIDE

ORCA is similar to all Amateur Directed Nets with the exception of mode.  This overview outlines net operations and what you need to participate. Digital nets are conducted by computer keyboard instead of a CW key or microphone.  Otherwise, they are structurally similar to other Amateur Radio nets and intuitive to learn and engage.  Digital operations are computer dependent. Digital modes REQUIRE basic computer skills. Handling digital traffic often entails operations within the computer file system.  For emergency operations, it’s important to have enough computer knowledge to resolve technical issues quickly.

ORCA DIGITAL NET is based on the FLDIGI (Fast and Light DIGItal modem program)  NBEMS (Narrow Beam Emergency Message System) software suite developed by Dave W1HKJ.  We use FLDIGI, FLMSG, and FLAMP every session. The net is brisk and interactive; NCS will engage you numerous times during the net.  If you’re not yet familiar with digital traffic-handling, check-in to ‘Monitor-only’ by sending, ‘CALLSIGN QNX’ (Monitoring/In&Out).  Or, simply monitor w/o checking in. The main event is the weekly FLAMP exercise.  NCS sends a short message in FLAMP, takes copy REPORTS in rotation, and Fills missing Blocks as needed.  It’s a simple and direct Exercise.

The FLAMP exercise also contains an OPTIONAL exercise.  If you complete the OPTIONAL exercise, you’ll have a practice message for the Traffic round.  You can work the weekly FLAMP Exercise and complete the Optional exercise within as a Monitoring station (QNX) too.  New ORCA Ops should NOT work this Optional Exercise until they have successfully worked the primary exercise numerous times.  The FLAMP Exercise is complex and brisk.  If you’re unprepared, you’ll choke the Exercise for others. ORCA is a Training Net and we’re error-tolerant; we also anticipate you making your best effort to prepare.

TRAFFIC does not necessarily mean ‘formal traffic’.  Any message or image is traffic and we pass it directly on the net frequency in the Traffic Round.  We’re learning and practicing digital traffic-handling protocols.  Most Traffic Round messages are created by the Optional exercise within the preceding FLAMP Exercise. We don’t seek or list Formal Traffic at Ck-In; we’re not a Traffic net (emergencies excepted).  Because our focus is training and practice, we pass practice traffic on the net frequency so everyone can monitor the process. If you create practice messages for the Traffic Round, they should be brief; <90sec. Practice traffic is NOT required in Traffic Round.  No Traffic?  Send, ‘QRU’ (no traffic).

Visitors/Monitors are welcome.  NCS logs first-time stations, ‘QNX'(in&out).  Monitoring (QNX) stations are inactive (not-engaged) during net. New stations should check-in ‘QNX’ long enough to work the net smoothly.

ORCA Agenda:
Early Check-In, 30-45min
Check-In
Following , Check-In NCS transmits three files:
1) A gray-scale image to help assess band conditions (30sec)
2) Ck-In/Rotation list.  (keep it handy to know your position)
3) Announcements

The weekly FLAMP Exercise is our Main Event. Pay particular attention to this exercise.  The message, usually instructions for an Optional advanced exercise, is brief; the exercise moves briskly.  Following the message, NCS goes quickly around the roster for FLAMP REPORTS,  prompting each station in order with their Callsign.  Know your place in rotation and wait for your Callsign, then Press the REPORT button or send ‘No Copy’.  Mode may change numerous times;  have RxID active.  NCS will send all missing Blocks, or have them relayed. See the FLAMP EXERCISE tab for more detail.

Next is the Traffic Round where stations send practice traffic in FLMSG or FLAMP.  NCS calls each station in rotation.  Digital traffic practice is the sole focus of this round.  All traffic in the Traffic Round is sent to NCS and only NCS REPORTS and Fills FLAMP traffic.  Stations wishing to CONFIRM Traffic Round messages may do so following the net.  Ops will usually stay a few minutes for fills. Practice messages should always be brief; <90sec. Most traffic in this round is generated by the Optional exercise within the FLAMP Exercise.

A Comment Round follows the Traffic Round with reception reports, comments, questions, observations, etc.  Here, you can keyboard live or use FLMSG BLANK Form as you like.  We’re interested in how well you received the other stations. You can add reception info to the rotation list you received from NCS and resend it during Comments. Or, keyboard live if you prefer. See Keyboard tab. Following the Comment round, the net closes.  We hold a brief session for Monitoring stations to Fill or CONFIRM Exercise files.

With this information in mind, you can monitor enough sessions to learn net routines.  The weekly FLAMP exercise moves quickly, similar to a busy Traffic or Emergency net; stay focused.  FLAMP is flexible, powerful, and easy to operate.  Working the Exercise silently as a Monitor is the easiest way to prepare to participate.

TIP: After reading this guide carefully and monitor a few sessions.  Then, read the guide again.  It will increase your retention and understanding.

Prerequisite Digital Skills

Digital operations are technical . They require sufficient computer, software, hardware, and radio knowledge to configure and sustain a digital station. You will be well poised to succeed at ORCA if you can:

Maintain and update your computer Operating System,  resolve technical issues
Install, uninstall, configure, update, and troubleshoot software applications
Configure communications equipment to engage the OS and NBEMS software
Work a Directed digital net
Obtain technical support
Implement written instructions

Monitor the net a few sessions and you will know if you’re prepared to work

Participation Path for Incoming Operators

When you’re new to ORCA, we’ll log you QNX for a few sessions.  Stations logged QNX are not engaged during net. They are Monitoring the net silently, learning net conventions, routines, and protocols.  They work the FLAMP Exercise on their own.  Following the net, we hold a special short session for Monitoring stations.  We FILL and/or CONFIRM their FLAMP Exercise files.  When new Ops are able to work the Exercise reliably, they can ck-in to participate.  NCS will make this determination with you.

The FLAMP Exercise is actually two exercises in one file.  Reporting CONFIRMED for the exercise file completes the Primary exercise. The text of the primary file contains a 2nd OPTIONAL Exercise.  This exercise is more complex and requires more time to complete.  Usually, it requires you to work between the NBEMS software and the computer file-system.  Sometime it also includes a Text Editor.  You may have to COPY from the RX buffer and PASTE text into an FLMSG form, concurrently maintaining focus on your place in Rotation.  The FLAMP Exercise progresses quickly, like a busy Traffic or Emergency net; you need to be focused and ready to respond to NCS.  NCS may ask you to Relay Fill Blocks.  Do not work the OPTIONAL Exercise until you’ve mastered the Primary Exercise and are checking-in to participate.

PRE-TONE

Pre-Toning is a prime digital networking tactic.  Pre-Tones help prevent doubling.   A Pre-Tone is sent before your message with a brief activation of the FLDIGI ‘TUNE’ button in the upper right corner. A brief tone alerts other Ops that you are about to TX.  Wait a second or so after the tone to be sure the frequency is still clear. This simple convention will eliminate most doubles.  Doubles are more troublesome in the data modes because both signals are usually garbled.  On CW and Phone, you can often catch enough of the signals to understand some of each.  Not so in the data modes.  Doubling stations must resend and often double again.  Always send a brief pre-tone when doubles are likely.

For example, when NCS calls you, reply w/o pre-tone.  The net is expecting your response.  When NCS asks, ‘Can anyone relay that weak station?’, doubles are likely, so you send a pre-tone first.  There will still be doubles with weak stations that don’t hear everyone on the net,  but using pre-tones avoids the avoidable. The automatic pre-tone feature (Pre-Signal Tone) should be disabled.

The ‘Pre-Signal Tone’ feature on the Config/ID/RxID tab sends an adjustable length tone before your transmission.  It cannot pause for you to check the frequency for traffic, but follows the tone directly with your transmission.  You’ve warned others of your intention to transmit, but you cannot hold your transmission if the frequency is busy.  It’s similar to honking your horn when approaching an intersection, warning others you’re about to zip through, but having no intention or ability to avoid collision. The correct use of Pre-Tone is the mark of an experienced digital Operator.  Send it manually, then Stop, Look, Listen before sending.

Check-In/Out

For your first ORCA Check-In, send CALLSIGN, NAME, QTH.  After that, we’ll remember you; send only your CALLSIGN.  To log in as a Monitor, send ‘URCALL QNX'(in&out). Monitoring (QNX) stations are logged on the roster, but not engaged during the net; we hold a special brief session for Monitoring stations following the Postamble.  ORCA is a Training net; we don’t list Traffic at ck-in.

Whatever your Ck-In status, keep it on a single line. Please don’t send more information at ck-in. It’s a busy time for NCS. We’re replying to your ck-in request while copying and pasting the Roster between two applications.  If you’re compelled to send more, maybe your QTH changed, keep it on one line.  And, be sure to leave a little time between calls so we have time to process the last station. You’re contributing to an orderly and efficient check-in by not Coat-Tailing the previous station.

Between net events, NCS calls for late Ck-Ins; you can Ck-Out (QNX) early at these points too.  ORCA is interactive and brisk; when you miss Ck-In, please monitor until NCS calls for Late Ck-Ins.   Remember, ORCA is a Directed Net. If you have to leave early, be sure to Ck-Out with NCS.  You can get our attention at any time with your callsign between transmissions or with your VidID at 2000wf.

Ck-In examples:
New Station = K7DV Dave Pine Valley,ID
Known Station = W1EEP
Monitoring Station = KD7CL QNX

Whatever your status, Check-In with a single line, sending only what we ask.

Some long-term ORCA Stations will occasionally check-in with an (*) after their callsign, ie: WA7HHE*.  These stations are not called for the FLAMP Exercise or the Traffic Round.  They are called for the Comment Round as usual.  These are seasoned digital Operators that occasionally skip the FLAMP Exercise to make room for newer Ops.  As check-ins increase, it becomes difficult to engage every Active station in a reasonable amount of time.  We try to keep the nets to an hour and no longer than 1.5hr.

Please don’t change net-mode during ck-in. NCS determines net-mode.  If you can’t work NCS in net-mode, you won’t be able to participate.  You’re welcome to change mode for your traffic in the Traffic Round. If you do, be sure to enable TxID. If you forget, you’ll be the only station in your chosen mode.

FLAMP

FLAMP is a file transport program. We use it every session.  FLAMP breaks messages into BLOCKS to reduce the need to resend an entire file.  It works very well and has additional features useful for bulletin broadcasting.  It doesn’t auto start, so you should have it configured and running before transmission begins.  FLDIGI can be configured to auto-start FLAMP from the Auto-Start tab.  Long files are compressed by FLAMP; they cannot be read in the FLDIGI RX buffer; some can be read in the FLAMP ‘Data’ window when complete. They also open normally in their native  program.  FLAMP can process almost any file type, including images and music files.

FETCH and RELAY are important features on the FLAMP Receive tab.  FETCH copies all missing BLOCKS into the ‘blocks’ window.  RELAY transmits these BLOCKS.  If the ‘blocks’ window is empty, RELAY sends the entire file.  Fills don’t have to come from the originating station.  Stations needing fills may  better copy a stronger station that has verified the BLOCKS.  You can erase BLOCK numbers from the ‘blocks’ window to send the entire file, or enter BLOCK numbers in the window as needed.  When FLAMP indicates it missed the ‘Preamble’, enter a ‘0’ (zero) in the ‘blocks’ window to resend the Preamble.

WEEKLY FLAMP EXERCISE

ORCA’s main event is the weekly FLAMP exercise.  NCS sends a brief file in FLAMP.  This file contains an Optional advanced exercise in file management. There are two distinct Exercises. The basic Exercise is decoding the file 100% (CONFIRMED). The Optional Exercise within is an Advanced Exercise in file-manipulation.  It’s more complex and requires you to create a new file by working in your PC file system while maintaining focus on your position in the net. New Ops should work the Exercise silently, as Monitors until they can do it reliably.  Then, Ck-In to participate and also work the Optional Exercise.

After sending the Exercise file in FLAMP, NCS prompts members for a reception REPORT with their CALLSIGN only.  Stay aware of your position in rotation.  When prompted, press the REPORT button to send your report.  If you didn’t copy or have FLAMP issues, send NO COPY.  NCS will send fill BLOCKS to CONFIRM your file.  Or, NCS may ask another station to RELAY the BLOCKS you need.

This exercise moves briskly.  Stay focused; be prepared to send your REPORT.  NCS will prompt you in rotation with your CALLSIGN only. After monitoring a few sessions to learn the routine, you’ll be ready to participate.  FLAMP is a remarkable application.  It saves resending the entire file when copy is incomplete.  In difficult condx, NCS will switch to a more robust mode to fill your file. Have RxID active during nets.  We’re learning to match mode to band condx; the mode may change numerous times each exercise.

The Optional advanced exercise within the FLAMP exercise gives practice manipulating files in your PC file system. With practice, it can be done in time to use it as practice traffic in the Traffic round.  You can also use last weeks Optional exercise for this weeks Traffic round. The ‘Optional’ exercise prepares you to manipulate files on your PC during Traffic and Emergency nets. Again, please learn the FLAMP Exercise while Monitoring the net.  You will then be up to speed when you participate.

Monitoring stations that work the Exercise can have those files Filled or  CONFIRMED by NCS

KEYBOARD

Your Keyboard is central to digital communications.  Once your station is configured, most activity is through the keyboard.  Some digital Ops compose their thoughts in the TX buffer before sending.  This insures the message is clear concise and spelled perfectly.  It looks great and sends our thoughts in their best form.  But, it takes a lot more time.   While you compose and edit, the other net Ops are idle.  On a busy net, these long pauses add up quickly.  Better digital comm strategy is typing into the TX buffer while transmitting.  We all make typos and mis-spell words now and then. Radio Operators can read around typos and mis-spelling easily, or they’ll question what they don’t understand.

If you’re not doing this now, begin in QSOs with your friends.  They’ll appreciate the brisker pace of the QSO.  Soon, you’ll be comfortable with the tactic.  We don’t like the entire net to see us back up and correct, but it’s more efficient than pre-composing and polishing each transmission.  Soon, your typing and confidence will increase and the skill will become subconscious.  Even though you may type slowly, you will reduce dead-air time. Your digital colleagues will appreciate your effort.

Q-Codes

Are  CW Q-Codes used on Digital Nets? Absolutely! Some Q-Codes are equally useful on digital nets as CW nets. We save time and bandwidth by using Q-codes to send standard questions and statements with only three characters. Here are the Q-Codes we us on ORCA:
QTH = location
QNX = request to be excused from net
QRP = low pwr, <5w
QRU = I hv no traffic
The addition of a question mark (?) creates a question, ie: QRU? = Do you have traffic?

Checking in to Monitor the net with ‘URCALL In&Out,’ is the same as sending ‘URCALL QNX’.  I want to ck-in and immediately be excused from the net. Brief and concise is a digital Operator’s axiom. To check in&out (Monitor), send, ‘URCALL QNX’.

In addition to  Q-Codes, we use a number of CW/Digital abbreviations and shorthand:
NCS = Net Control Station
BK = Break
BTN = back to net
TU = thank you
TNX = thanks
TX = transmit
RX = receive
HW = How
CPY = copy
VY = very
SRI = sorry
STN = station
FB = fine business ( great, good 2 hear)
RR = roger
NIL = none, nothing heard
OP = Operator
UR = your, you are
WF = waterfall
HV = have
FREQ = frequency
RADO = radio Op
HZ = hertz
SIG = signal
PWR = power
ANT= antenna
2 = to
4 = for

CALLSIGN Lookup by WM7D

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International SATERN Digital Net


International SATERN Digital Net transmits digital text, images, and FLAMP files via remote HF station. NCS and Net Manager is Ken Standard AD5XJ.

International SATERN Digital Net

12:00 NOON CT Sat
14.065 MHz USB
OLIVIA 8/500

FEMA Region X HF Interoperability Testing (60m)


FEMA Region X Monthly Interoperability NET, which comprises Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, conducts a monthly interoperability communications exercise on the 60-meter band. This exercise often includes a voice portion and a digital portion.

FEMA Region X uses the call sign of WGY910. The COMMEX occurs on the third Wednesday of the month from 1730 to 1900Z. Primary check-in is usually on 60-meter channel 1.

FEMA Region X Monthly Interoperability NET

3rd Wednesday 1730Z - 1900Z
Channel 1: 5330.5 kHz
Channel 2: 5346.5 kHz
Channel 3: 5357.0 kHz
Channel 4: 5371.5 kHz
Channel 5: 5403.5 kHz
1730Z Open net, delay check-ins
60M - CH1
1735Z NCS sends 1st dig msg
60M - BPSK31 - CH 2
1740Z NCS repeats 1st dig msg using alt mode
60M - MT63-2KL CH2
1745Z NCS calls for check-ins and reports
60M - CH1
1815Z NCS TX 2nd digital msg
60M - BPSK31 - CH 2
1825Z NCS reTX 2nd dig msg using alt mode
60M - MT63-2KL - CH 2
1827Z NCS calls for reports
60M - CH 1
1850Z NCS closes the net
60M - CH 1

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SHORTWAVE RADIOGRAM

Shortwave Radiogram transmits digital text and images on an analog shortwave broadcast transmitter. The program is produced and presented by Dr. Kim Andrew Elliott KD9XB. Shortwave Radiogram continues VOA Radiogram's tradition testing new modes and is an interesting source for Digital Ops wishing to practice more with FLDIGI & FLAMP.
 

Shortwave Radiogram Transmission Schedule (AM)

Fri 2030-2100 UTC
7780 kHz
9455 kHz
WRMI Florida
Sat 1600-1630 UTC
9400 kHz
Space Line, Bulgaria
Sun 2330-2400 UTC
7780 kHz
WRMI Florida
Mon 0800-0830 UTC
7730 kHz
5850 kHz
WRMI Florida

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