QUICK-START

ORCA DIGITAL NET – QUICK-START GUIDE

ORCA is similar to all Amateur Directed Nets with the exception of mode.  This overview will prepare you 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 navigate.  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 FLDIGI NBEMS software, check-in to ‘Monitor-only’ by sending, ‘CALLSIGN In&Out’.  Or, simply monitor w/o checking in. The first net 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 process.

The FLAMP exercise 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 while monitoring too.

TRAFFIC does not necessarily mean ‘formal traffic’.  For our training objectives, 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.  Formal traffic, ie: NTS traffic, is usually passed off the net frequency.  Because our focus is training and practice, we pass practice traffic on the net frequency so everyone can monitor the process. Practice messages for the Traffic Round should be brief, <60sec. Practice traffic is not required in Traffic Round.  No Traffic?  Send, ‘QRU’.

Visitors are welcome.  NCS will log first-time stations, ‘in&out’.  Monitoring (in&out) stations are inactive (not-engaged) during net. New stations should check ‘in&out’ long enough to learn net routines.  It’s not difficult and you will soon be exchanging digital traffic and keyboarding with veteran digital colleagues.

Early Check-In, 30-45min
Check-In
Following , Check-In NCS transmits three files:
1) A grayscale image to help assess band conditions (30sec)
2) The 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. Most traffic in this round is generated by the Optional exercise within the preceding 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.  Stations often remain on frequency to fill incomplete messages, explore various features of the FLDIGI suite, or resolve technical issues.

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.  When you’re ready, check in and practice digital traffic handling with us.

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

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) is not as effective as sending the Pre-Tone manually.

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, telling others you’re coming, but having no ability to avoid collisions. The correct use of Pre-Tone is the mark of an experienced digital Operator.

Ck-In/Out

For your first ORCA Check-In, send CALLSIGN, NAME, QTH.  After that, we’ll remember you; send only your CALLSIGN.  To monitor the net, send ‘CALLSIGN IN&OUT’. Monitoring (in&out) stations are logged on the roster, but not engaged by NCS; we occasionally call them after Comments when there’s time.  These two simple phrases are all we need to check you in.  Please don’t send more information at ck-in. It’s a busy time for NCS.  If you’re compelled to send more, maybe your QTH changed, please keep it on one line.  You’re contributing to an orderly and efficient check-in.

Ck-In / Ck-Out:  Between net events, NCS calls for late Ck-in and Early-Out.  You can Ck-In late or Out-Early at three points in the net.  ORCA is active and brisk; when you miss Ck-In, please monitor until NCS calls for Late Ck-Ins.   If you have to leave early, please Ck-Out with NCS.

MESSAGES (TRAFFIC)

Today, practice messages for the Traffic round are created by completing the OPTIONAL exercise within the preceding FLAMP Exercise. These message are brief and provide maximum practice experience in the shortest time. You can also create your own practice message for the Traffic round. It should be radio-related and short; <60sec.  But, traffic is not required.  You can send ‘QRU’ (no traffic) during the Traffic Round.  Brief messages provide similar training to long messages and enable the net to process more traffic without consuming too much time.  That said, occasional longer messages are OK.   You can help manage net length by keeping messages short or sending QRU when the roster is large or band condx hinder net flow.  The ideal messages for the Traffic round are the short files created in the Optional exercise within the weekly FLAMP Exercise.

Mode determines how long it takes to complete your message.  If conditions are poor and you switch from MFSK-32 to MFSK-16, your traffic will take twice as long.  You may also send small grayscale images.  They take longer than text, so they must be small.  Contact NCS before sending color images.  Remember that other Ops are waiting for their turn to operate. Numerous check-ins and/or difficult band condx means more waiting.  Brief, concise, and accurate composition is the standard for radio traffic.  Text messages should take a minute or less. B/W images should take <60sec.  Following these guidelines will help us manage net time.

When you complete the OPTIONAL exercise within the weekly FLAMP Exercise, you will have brief FLAMP traffic to send in the Traffic Round.

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, but can be read in the FLAMP window when complete. They also open normally in their native  program.  FLAMP can send almost any type file, including images and music files.

During the weekly FLAMP exercise we try to fill every station.  NCS prompts each station in rotation for their REPORT by sending their CALLSIGN only.  When prompted, press your REPORT button.  NCS will send the BLOCKS needed by all stations.  Or, NCS may ask another station to RELAY the needed BLOCKS. For FLAMP traffic sent to NCS in the Traffic Round, only NCS REPORTS and Fills. All other stations monitor.  Stations wishing to fill incomplete messages copied in the Traffic Round can complete them after net.  Most Ops will stick around a few minutes to send fill BLOCKS.

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

The main net-event is the weekly FLAMP exercise.  All active stations participate. NCS sends a brief file in FLAMP.  This file usually contains an Optional advanced exercise in file management.  After sending the 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 don’t have FLAMP active, 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. Be sure RxID is active.  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 in file-manipulation 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.

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 with the transmitter hot.  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 (-:

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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