A Short History of NZ Net

By Neil ZL1NZ

When I started the NZ Net in March 2019, I had three aims:

1. To encourage CW operation
2. To provide training and experience in CW net operation
3. To provide training and experience in CW message handling

At that time, there were several slow-speed CW “training” nets in New Zealand, but nothing to train and develop the more advanced operator.

CW ragchewing was rare, and the few New Zealand amateurs who knew Morse tended to use it for working DX and contesting only. Unfortunately, this required little more than sending “5NN TU”.

As well, the concept of traffic handling was not well-known in New Zealand, as radio amateurs here had not been permitted to handle 3rd party traffic until well into the modern era of cheap long-distance calls, mobile phones and the internet – by which time the general public had no need for amateur radio message services.

Neil's early ham radio station
My station in the early 1970s, fully equipped for multi-mode traffic handling with QSK and PTT,
My own experience of CW had been quite different. I was licensed in Toronto in 1970 and, even after upgrading to an Advanced licence which allowed me to use fone on the HF bands, I still worked a lot of CW. Every evening I would check into a local 80m traffic net (part of the ARRL’s National Traffic System). Occasionally I would get a radiogram to deliver, which I did by telephone, saving the sender the cost of a long-distance call.

Traffic handling appeals to me for a couple of reasons:

  • Traffic handling is accessible to all CW ops, because it isn’t about speed, although it is excellent training for those who want to increase their speed. Rather, it is about accuracy and precision. If you don’t copy something perfectly, you simply ask the sending operator for a “fill” and you keep doing that until you can QSL with confidence. Nobody gets impatient if you ask for fills. Rather, it is a sign that you are committed to getting the message word-perfect. The sending and receiving of traffic is a true partnership between the operators.
  • This focus on precision is also reflected in the operation of good CW net, whether or not it handles traffic. Listening to a high-functioning CW net is pure joy to me. The communication between stations is crisp and unambiguous. We use the Q Signals, because they save heaps of time. Traffic gets handled efficiently and when the “work” is done, Net Control closes the net and the friendly chatter between ops often fills the frequency.

In 2015, about 45 years after my early exposure to CW nets, I ran across a small group of Australian amateurs running a traffic net. I joined in, and my enthusiasm for traffic nets was quickly rekindled. Moreover, the experience was even better than I remembered. The leader of the VKCW group, Lou VK5EEE, had refined the net system and radiogram formats, incorporating some of the approaches used in commercial and maritime services. Lou’s ideas made sense to me, and I began checking in regularly on the 80, 40 and 20-metre nets.

Unfortunately, propagation was often poor (although this was a great opportunity to practise weak signal copying, which can be surprisingly successful). I wished, however, that we could have a CW net where the signals would all be good (e.g. covering all of New Zealand on 80 metres) and we could focus on developing the other skills mentioned at the top of this page.

In February 2019 I sent out an online survey to people who had participated in the New Zealand Straight Key Night, which I manage. As well as questions about improving SKN, I threw out the idea of a CW Net that might include some traffic handling. Eight operators expressed interest, and information about the proposed NZ Net was then shared with the New Zealand FISTS email list (thanks to David ZL2WT, the coordinator of the FISTS Downunder group in NZ). The FISTS email elicited an enthusiastic response from Dave ZL4LDY, who had moved to New Zealand from the USA many years ago. Like me, Dave cut his ham radio teeth on NTS nets, and was even still checking into some via remote stations in the USA.

I opened our first net on 25 March 2019 at 2100 hours local time on 3535 kHz. I wondered if anyone would answer my “CQ NZ NET” and I was really pleased to have a total of four stations to kick off this new venture. For the first few weeks, Dave and I took turns as Net Control Station. Our Net Control operators would soon include Grant ZL2GD, Steve ZL2KE and Gerard ZL2GVA.

I published the first edition of NZ Net News on 6 April 2019. This fortnightly email newsletter now goes to amateurs all over the world, as well as our NZ Net “regulars” and many readers contribute articles too. You can subscribe by contacting me.

In November 2019 I started a weekly NZ Net Trivia radiogram to encourage people to receive and send formal traffic.