If you’re reading this, you probably know the boilerplate elements of a standard ham-radio QSO: signal report, QTH and name, generally followed by your station equipment and maybe a word about the weather.
A lot of hams never go past that, and that’s fine. But what if you want to have a real conversation — a “rag chew,” as we hams call it?
These illustrations, taken from the late Doug DeMaw’s “W1FB’s Help for New Hams,” first published by the American Radio Relay League back in the 1980s, accompanied some very good advice. (The book is out of print but easy to find via Amazon and other online booksellers.)
For one thing, keep it short and to the point. There’s nothing like dueling monologues to kill a QSO. DeMaw wrote:
Some hams are so enthusiastic about the prevailing conversation that they tend to “windbag” when it is their turn to talk. Excessively long transmissions may annoy the other people in the QSO, especially if they have never met you before.
Another thing is not to belabor the obvious. Better yet, why not ask the other ham a question to engage him? DeMaw suggested asking your contact about, say, his signal strength to get the ball rolling, writing “(Don’t) bore him by repeating dull information about that may be of little interest to him.”
Are any topics off limits? As a matter of law, very little is forbidden. Still, common sense ought to guide you. DeMaw wrote:
I recognize and honor our 1st Amendment rights, but I feel that coarse language, profanity and bigotry have no place in Amateur Radio … An important part of our amateur credo is to promote good will rather than animosity. Even though the FCC allows the use of several unsavory four-letter words on the air, you will fare better and earn greater respect by “keeping it clean.”
Restraint, in general, is an excellent rule with regard to the tone of your conversation during a QSO. Although each of us has the right to discuss such topics as politics and religion, some points of view and statements may seriously offend others with whom we chat … Certain frequencies in our HF bands are regarded by some as cesspools, because of the language that’s used and the suggestive nature of the conversations. It’s best to avoid involvement with these groups in the interest of avoiding guilt by association.
Remember, unlike social media, where to some extent you can restrict your audience only to friends who agree with you (or at least tolerate you), amateur radio is essentially a party line. Anybody can listen to you, at any time. You have to assume anybody, licensed or not, may well be listening — and what you say may represent the entire hobby to others, even if it’s only your personal opinion.
Even though I discuss politics vigorously on my personal Facebook page (I’ve worked as a journalist and have drawn editorial cartoons in the past, so I’d like to think I know whereof I speak), I really value amateur radio as neutral turf. Some aspects of the DeMaw book are dated — does anyone actually tune up their transmitters these days? — but other aspects are timeless. How to conduct a rag chew, in my opinion, still rings true.