This page is written to assist you, a new user of the PNWDigital network. It is organized in the typical order than a new DMR user would need to follow to get up to speed sooner than later. Digest the bullet list with your radio handy, over time if you wish. If your radio has been programmed for use on PNWDigital, then you are ready to test and step through this guide.

DMR is not your typical FM repeater or repeater linking method. It is more complex and requires some effort on your part to enter into the DMR world, sometimes called the “Dark Magic Realm”. DMR itself is relatively simple but the networking and operational side is more complex. But with some time with this page using your radio to reinforce the text, you will quickly build your DMR basic knowledge. Please reach out for help, ask or make an effort to enlist aid from our users.  We were all new at one time, just as you are.  If we hear a new user, our members are requested to reach out to help you, so please, do not be shy, let us know you are just starting out on the network.  We want you to have a smooth entry and to enjoy DMR.  So please say more than your call if you want a response and certainly if you would like additional help or information.

We have a weekly Check-in and Tech Net every Wednesday at 1900 local on PNW Regional 2 (31771).  Please join our PNWDigital.Net group.io support list.  If you become a regular user of our network, you must join the group.  There is no cost but want you have have access to this important resource.  New users or non-members may not have TX privileges on the network until they join the group.

Our c-Bridge Call Flow page will help you understand how DMR handles voice traffic over 2 timeslots via PNWDigital’s repeaters and MMDVM servers. You may wish to deviate there first before working through this Quick Start page.

PNWDigital suggests that you read the more general New User’s Guide-W2XAB and/or The Very Basics-K3NXU if you have not already.  They have been written as generic booklets for new users to DMR rather than for a specific network such as PNWDigital.Net or Brandmeister.  These guides are optional but do provide more background on Ham DMR generally, while our pages on this site are more specific to the PNWDigital.Net flavor of DMR.

We assume that you have access to PNWDigital.Net’s main talkgroups and that you have programmed your radio correctly (need a codeplug?; see bottom of page).  If you do not yet have a radio, our recommended entry to a moderate level VHF/UHF HT is the Anytone AT-D878UV and our Community Codeplug. We have access to pricing well below MAP too.

The flow of this page is arranged in order of what should be helpful to know to get started on PNWDigital.Net.  Important basic information is included but may be a tad short on the finer details. The list below is a quick entry list of PNWDigital.Net items you should know. There is a bit more information after this list that might be of interest as well.  As you gain experience on our network, you can read elsewhere to learn more about DMR specifically as implemented by PNWDigital.Net. Try our Site-map and select something that sounds interesting to you.

Basics – Step by Step

  1. Motorola DMR MotoTRBO repeaters are used exclusively and can support 2 simultaneous conversations via 2 separate “timeslots”.
  2. The 1 or 2 after a PNWDigital.Net talkgroup name signifies which timeslot carries that talkgroup (in most cases).
  3. Timeslot 1 tends to carry the main PNWDigital.Net talkgroups.  Timeslot 2 tends to carry most of the other network’s talkgroups and they are generally on PTT (push-to-talk) so there are many more talkgroups available on timeslot 2.
  4. If you are using a portable radio, please use High Power unless you know your signal is perfect into the repeater.  The digital noise sounds very bad to the listeners and that weak signal noise (BER) is bothersome.  This much more an issue if you use an HT inside a vehicle on only a rubber dummy load.
  5. It is very important that your radio provide you with with “Talk Permit” tones when you key up your transmitter. The network provides a go-ahead signal in about half a second that tells you that it is now ready for you to speak out over the entire network. You may use Local 1 to test without affecting anything else on the network. Test out the features of your radio.
  6. For your first contact, try out a statewide talkgroup (Washington  1) or the QSO talkgroup: Washington 2 and make a call, announcing that you are calling on that talkgroup.  Ask for a radio check or mention that you are a first time or new user.  We all were newbies at one time so don’t be shy. Wait for a response! 30 seconds is about right and do not channel hop too quickly. Example: “This is WA7HAM on Washington 2 asking for a radio check.” You don’t need to say “over” as this is not HF.
    1. When making a call, it is generally a good idea to announce which talkgroup that you are calling on as most users are listening to many talkgroups and likely will not otherwise know which talkgroup you called on. Stay on the talkgroup for at least 30 seconds.  A responding user may need to reach for his radio and select the correct zone and talkgroup.  Talkgroup hopping is confusing to all users as that activity sets and resets talkgroup timers as you rapidly switch and key-up on multiple talkgroups, one after the other without the courtesy to pause and listen for a moment. So take it slowly.
  7. Washington 2 tends to be the busiest PNWDigital.Net talkgroup and has the most users listening, so call there first as you are most likely to get a response.  Washington 1 is also heavily monitored.  Both are good options for first time users as well as long time DMR operators.
  8. You may also test on the Parrot 1 talkgroup.  It is an echo server and will also provide feedback as to your voice quality, level and breath puffs into the microphone opening (confuses the vocoder and makes the users voice more difficult to understand or monitor).  The Parrot’s echo back also confirms that you are programmed correctly and the the network is functioning correctly.  Good audio is VERY Important and has always been an issue as users program differently, sometimes incorrectly as well as speaking and holding the mic differently.
  9. Use our network tool: Callwatch to see how the network is operating and how your radio appears on the network.  Callwatch shows you who is talking, which talkgroup, RF signal strength and more. You might enjoy Bridgewatch also.
  10. If you don’t get a response, ask for a radio check.  Radio checks or a request for a demonstration will generally get a response while simply tossing your call out, may not.  We have many listeners but fewer talkers so you might need something “special” to draw their interest to get a response.
  11. Allow a few seconds of dead air before keying up after the last ham unkeys.  Rapid key-ups don’t allow other users to connect into or disconnect from, the conversation on your talkgroup. 
  12. We have our weekly Gathering (over-the-air Net) for network announcements and updates as well as informal check-ins as well as question/answer period geared to our newer DMR users. Check the Calendar for specifics but currently it is Wednesday evenings, 1900 local, on Washington 2.
  13. Talkgroups do more than carry voice calls.  Talkgroup activity can control or manage all the DMR connections via timers and routing paths. So kerchunking (PTT’s) are common. Allow time between transmissions while in QSO for others to PTT in or out.
  14. If you are shy, use Local 1 or Local 2 as these talkgroups don’t reach out beyond a single repeater or specific group of repeaters making them a great option. But they are also quiet with few listeners, so you would not likely get a response for a QSO there.
  15. Use of statewides are primarily for use within the state.  Interstate use is permitted but should be moved to a TAC talkgroup for longer or regular QSO’s.
  16. If you are in a long QSO, it is courteous to ask if anyone else would like to use the timeslot from time to time.  A user may wish break in, so remember to pause a few seconds before keying up.  The TAC channels are the best place for longer QSO’s as they tie up far fewer repeaters, leaving unneeded repeaters available for others to use on different talkgroups.
  17. Not all talkgroups are PNWDigital.Net belong to our network.  Many are managed by other who share their talkgroups with PNWDigital. Other networks may have their own rules and idiosyncrasies.  You are expected to know their rules but those rules are far beyond the scope of this quick start page.  Check the PNWDigital.Net talkgroups page or ask on our IO Group for more info,
  18. Join the PNWDigital.Net Groups.io Forum.  It is the “Goto” forum to ask questions, learn more about the PNWDigital.Net network and networks beyond. Check out our Membership page too. Please include your name, call sign, radio ID number and location in your profile if you decide to join us.
  19. APRS-Digital is now supported.  See our APRS Information (pending publication) and our APRS-D/SMS Gateway.
  20. PLEASE: NO or little discussion of religion or politics or other hot button topics. These hot button topics can be polarizing and are not considered appropriate on PNWDigital and over the air.
  21. Do NOT Use Encryption or other active servers or beacons.  You will be warned when discovered…if you continue, you may be banned from the network.
  22. Our network is funded by a very few members. Please let your local repeater owner know you appreciate their efforts to grow DMR in the Pacific Northwest.
  23. Currently, the Anytone line of DMR radios are the most popular and best supported radios. We encourage their use and can point you to our preferred vendor who makes significant deals on the Anytones.
  24. We are not a Brandmeister network.  We have a few TG’s that are connected to BM. A hotspot may be a better approach for BM contacts if you are a regular user of BM.

So are you ready to QSO? 6 things to keep in mind

  • Monitor Callwatch to look for activity on the network.
  • Pause a few seconds and listen before keying up (KerChunk).  Key up again and listen to be sure
  • When initiating a call, say your call sign, announce the talkgroup you are using (your location and repeater are optional).
  • Minimize rapid talkgroup changes with kerchunking, pause to listen for traffic or responses.
  • Be mindful when using wide area talkgroups that it uses significant resources.
  • If you wish to start a conversation, say more than your call for a response from the lurkers (friendly repeater). Say something compelling.

Those Pesky Talkgroups are not so basic

You can digest this information later but it is shown here as it is an important part of DMR operation. Understanding talkgroup operation details and how PTT controls the network, can enhance your DMR experience and reduce your operating frustrations.

Talkgroup control can be an advanced topic. But simply starting out in DMR requires one to understand basic talkgroup operation. So some detail is necessary even for a quick start guide.

You are using a large network of repeaters…not all repeaters repeat all talkgroups all the time.  The network is complex so start out on Local 1 or Local 2 or any of the Statewides.  Washington 2 is a great QSO talkgroup.  Locals are just that, not networked to other repeaters or DMR networks (generally). 

Statewides connect together all the repeaters located in that state.Statewides are on full time on all repeaters in that state.  Statewides on PNWDigital.Net were intended to be calling channels but longer conversations tend to occur.  QSO’s are acceptable but be aware all repeaters in that state are made busy while you are in QSO.

Other statewides (outside of your state) are part time talkgroups (PTT), so you must kerchunk to “wake up” another state’s Statewide.  This is known as PTT, Part Time Talkgroups or Push-to-Talk.  PTT timers generally run 15 minutes of on time after the last key up on that talkgroup on each repeater by a local user.

PNW 1 and 2 are our primary calling talkgroups, connected to ALL PNWDigital.Net repeaters full time. They are seldom used except for hailing but are our “GoTo” talkgroup to find a PNWDigital.Net listener.  Users should add PNW 1 and 2 into their Rx Group list and/or Scan list or enable digital monitor.  You own statewide talkgroup should be included also.  Our statewides are primarily on TS 1, so using TS 2 where possible allows for normal statewide traffic to continue as needed.

Think of a talkgroup like a home that your visiting as a guest.  If you enter either with invitation or without, conduct yourself as if you had just entered the home of someone you do not know.  Sometimes it is best to learn more about the people in your town before you go into their homes.  So read at least the talkgroup page so you have some idea what the purpose is of a particular talkgroup of interest.

Certain talkgroups have specific purposes and time limits for their use.  Our statewides and Locals are perfect for use to get some air time to become more comfortable with DMR as well as gain more familiarity with the PNWDigital.Net network.  We suggest that you only listen to the other Networked talkgroups (DMR-MARC has strict rules) until you have a good working knowledge of how PNWDigital.Net functions and have a grasp on the rules of engagement on the other networks talkgroups.

For very long QSO’s with a buddy located on a different PNWDigital repeater, typically you would use the TAC talkgroups as they bring up the fewest repeaters possible to enable that QSO.  There are talkgroups that bring up thousands of repeaters (Worldwide) while others bring up only a single repeater.  So you need to be aware of which talkgroup is appropriate to use at any given time. 

QSO’s on the PNWDigital.Net statewides or locals with other PNW hams will help to get a handle on this extensive network until you learn the fundamentals of using other network’s talkgroups.

On PNWDigital.Net, we use TAC 1-3 as PNWDigital.Net only as they are connected only to the PNWDigital.Net network.  TAC 310-312 are worldwide TAC’s with Brandmeister connections.   Each network has their own rules and peculiarities so it may be better to stay on PNWDigital.Net talkgroups until you learn the lay of the land.  The TAC talkgroups are the exception and may be used at any time, for any length of time though our nets do have priority when active.  You should also factor in some consideration for other PNWDigital.Net users in that, when you are using a talkgroup, that no one else is able to use the that timeslot on that repeater that you are using.

Some talkgroups have rather rigid rules that you are expected to be aware of.  The other concern is that you can busy out our local PNWDigital.Net repeaters with these QSO’s.  Please be aware that PNWDigital.Net is a shared use network with many hams listening but not necessarily actively talking.  So kerchunking a major talkgroup can have major impact on many of the PNWDigital.Net repeaters and our users who may be passively monitoring.  This is a concern as is nasty transmit audio, weak signal digital noise can sound terrible and now those passive users must quiet their radios.  If they are in a quiet family environment, it may drive other PNWDigital.Net listener’s to turn off their radios or change talkgroups from what they otherwise would prefer.

If you have questions or need a clarification, simply ask on the air, search messages or post to the IO Forum. Or, you may send your questions to: Support@PNWDigital.net

Now that you have made it to the end of this “Not-so-Quick-Start” page, proceed with more “light” reading on our PNWDigital.Net Talkgroups to get more involved in the complexities of the PNWDigital.Net network.

First Published: September 20, 2021 Last Updated: 2 months ago by Mike – NO7RF

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