This week I had the opportunity to check into the Pacific Area Net (PAN), as a sub for one of the regular operators. I've probably been listening to PAN, when I get the chance, for almost a year now. It was starting to make some sense ...
The National Traffic System (that somewhat anachronistic group of hams who shuttle short messages - radiograms - around the US & Canada) nets has a definite structure. Local nets feed & draw from Region nets, Region nets feed & draw from Area nets, etc. There are definite liaison roles that people take, that do this feeding & drawing. On Wednesday, my role was "6T" (6th Region Transmit) ... I took messages from our 6th Region net (RN6) to PAN, where I gave them to the appropriate TCC operator. TCC stands for Transcontinental Corp - they take the traffic between Area nets.
PAN covers basically the western one third of the US & Canada. There is also a CAN (Central) & EAN (Eastern).
On RN6, I am used to being sent by the Net Control to another nearby frequency, to do the actually traffic passing. The volume of traffic is fairly small, up to perhaps 10 messages per session & there are only five roles (NCS = Net Control, P1 = 6T, P2 = 6R = 6th Region Receive, NCN = Northern California, which includes Nevada & SCN = Southern California, which includes Hawaii). If you understand Morse at about 20 WPM, it's not too difficult to understand what is going on. It is very rare that more than one secondary frequency is used.
On PAN, the prevailing code speed is 25 to 30 WPM (words per minute). There are no pauses. There could be upwards of 20 to 30 messages involved. The cast of characters is larger, amounting to (up to) 12 hams (NCS, 6T, 6R, 7T, 7R, TT = Twelfth Region Transmit, TR, Foxtrot, Golf, Hotel, India & Juliet - the last five being the TCC ops). There can be three or even more secondary frequencies active. Net control does not expect to be repeating instructions if you don't get it right the first time. An hour is allotted for PAN, but generally, it is done in 20 minutes.
I didn't go into it completely cold. The guy I subbed for clued Net Control in that there would be a green operator. I got a welcome & my instructions were slower than 25 WPM. Both NCS & the other operator waited to hear the "G" = "Going" from me, to indicate that I understood. I was probably checked in for less than 10 minutes & transferred three messages: one for TWN (12th Region) & two for Juliet, the TCC for EAN.
There was only one slight hitch & that occurred on RN6, 45 min before, where I was Net Control. P2 (called 6R on PAN) - also a sub - didn't show up. For a brief panicked moment, I was afraid I would have to go to PAN as "BOTH" (6T and 6R). But I managed to get a volunteer.
It was fun. I'd do it again.