Recently there was an article on http://www.eham.net expressing the opinion that the art of conversation on the radio bands is dead, and whilst I can certainly understand that perspective, I never seem to find myself short of a QSO and thought I might share some thoughts on the matter.
The tips vary from practice, to courtesy, to the art of station building, and I hope there is some value in them to those wishing to rag chew more.
For whatever reason, there are a bunch of hams that don’t like to call CQ. Why this is the case is perhaps for a bunch of PhD candidates, but it is of little importance to this article. The fact of the matter is if you can pluck up the courage to call CQ, you are extending the hand of friendship. If there is one thing I have noticed on air, its that those that call CQ are never short of a QSO.
Choose Your Band:
Some bands are better for ragchews than others. 80M & 40M are ragchew bands par excellence, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the very nature of their propagation means you are more likely to be heard by other locals, and not only that, you are more likely to be heard by them on consecutive weeks and months. That allows you to build up friendships, and there is nothing better than talking to a friend. The higher bands can of course be great for DX ragchews, but you are likely to need a well equiped station.
Choose Your Antenna:
Not all antennas are equal. On 80M & 40M, the ragchewers’ weapon of choice should be a fairly low Inverted-V or Flat Top dipole. The height should be no more than 60ft for 80M, and 30ft for 40M. This may seem a little strange to DXers and those who have studied antenna theory, but the truth of the matter is that ‘cloud burners’ that point all their gain upwards are great for putting out a whacking big signal to your fellow countrymen, and likewise, hearing them. If you don’t have one, setup a cloud burner! And avoid Verticals; they’re not a ragchew antenna.
Put “Fire In The Wire”:
Seasoned ragchewers and CQ callers know that the more power you radiate – everything else being equal – the better you will be heard. No one wants to have an extended QSO with someone who is just above the noise, so the more power you can put in the direction of your fellow countrymen, the easier they will be able to copy you through QSB, QRM & QRN, and the more enjoyable the QSO will be for them. Running power is not about egos – its exactly the opposite – its about making things as easy as possible for your QSO partner. And that feeds into the next point.
Have Good Audio:
Now I don’t mean super wide eSSB or anything like that. Whilst that might be an interest of yours, the fact is that traditional communications grade audio with its limited bandwidth has a higher signal to noise ratio than eSSB, so you will get more ‘talk power’ for your watt. It doesn’t end there, however; you also want to be nice to listen to. Who on earth is going to talk to someone for hours if they sound terrible?! Don’t be afraid of a little bass, but always make sure you’ve got +2 or more on your highs. Ask a buddy to make some recordings of you on air, and listen to yourself; you can’t do this just using the monitor function of your rig as not only is it often not accurate, there is a thing called ‘jaw bone conduction’ that changes how your hear your own voice when you talk. When you are in a ragchew, if someone mentions fading or QSB, perhaps turn the compressor up a few notches and ask them if they are able to copy you better. Basically, learn to make the most of your radio, and do what you can to help the other party.
As you may have noticed, a common theme in the advice proffered here is that of utmost importance is the experience of the person you are talking to, and that is not limited to the technical aspects of the hobby. When you’re having a QSO, use a notepad to write down things the other party(s) have said, so that you remember to further the discussion of them when it is your turn to talk. If the party talks about a project they or their spouse is undertaking, write it down in your log so you can ask about it next time. If they tell you about the setup (radio, antenna etc) they are using, make a note of it in the log. Basically, show interest in the other person and their life.
The other part of being courteous revolves around skills we should all have in everyday life. Don’t discuss taboo or polarising topics, and keep any discussion of politics to journalism rather than editorialising. By that I mean, its OK to state that XYZ party has just been elected or similar, but HAM radio is not for discussing the merits of said party of politician. Its probably ok to discuss how social policy effects you, e.g. ‘these new pension or heath care cuts are making it hard for me’, but you should NEVER try to persuade someone else or tell them what to think. If in doubt, avoid politics and religion; the best ragchewers’ discuss neither. Avoid cuss words, misogyny, racism, and all those types of things. You may think you know someone really well, but perhaps you do not know that their son or daughter is homosexual. You certainly don’t know who is listening. Do your very best not to offend.
This may seem a little like the pervious tip, but the formal side of etiquette plays a big part. There are little things you can do that make it more likely for people to want to join the group. For example, most ragchewers’ hold down the key for a minute or more, so ID on every over, that way listeners know who is participating. Be ready for breakers, and try to remember to leave a little gap if you can. If someone does break in, its good form to say ‘acknowledging VK2QA’ or ‘acknowledging the breaker’. Some operators will hand it over to the breaker straight away, but I prefer to wind up the present discussion in a timely manner and then throw it over to the breaker. I’m not sure there is a best approach, but I have found that my way of going about it doesn’t seem to offend anyone.
Most Of All, Encourage Further QSOs:
Let the other person know that you value the fact they have returned your CQ. If its the first time I have spoken to someone, I will almost always let them know that it was my pleasure, and that I would feel most honoured if they would like to talk to me again in the future. I also go a step further, and let them know that the people I regularly ragchew with share similar values, and that they should always feel welcome to break in to one of my QSOs. I assure them that not only would I be honoured, but so would my fellow participants. At the end of the day, human beings want to feel valued, and I recommend going out of your way to make sure every new person you make a contact with feels valued.
This list of tips got quite a bit longer than I intended, so hopefully it has been of interest and of value.
As always, if you hear me round, say hello, even if we have had a difference of opinion in the past. I was educated in Philosophy, and we learnt to argue our points of view without it being personal. In that vein, any disagreement we may have had in the past was from my perspective just a robust exchange of ideas, not an attack on someone’s character; I never mean to offend.
This article is dedicated in no particular order to: VK2QA, VK1MTS, VK7FRJG, VK3FCMC, VK2WOW, VK3AWO, VK3QD, VK3FEVT, VK2BXE, VK3OJ, VK5PAS, KE0HWZ, KU8X, W7EDC and anyone else who I may have forgotten. I enjoy each and every moment we catch up on air, and the cordial spirit you bunch bring to the hobby adds immensely to my enjoyment of Ham Radio.
73, Good DX and Good Ragchewing,