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Tips for Becoming a Ragchewer

Jarrad Mitchell (VK3BL) on May 4, 2017
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Recently there was an article 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.

Calling CQ:
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 equipped 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.

Lastly, Be Courteous:
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 polarizing topics, and keep any discussion of politics to journalism rather than editorializing. 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 / healthcare 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 honored 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 honored, 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.

Anyway, 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 on these forums. 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.

73, Good DX and Good Ragchewing,

Jarrad VK3BL

Member Comments:
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Tips for Becoming a Ragchewer  
by ONAIR on May 4, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
Great article! It's OK to hear "You're 5-9", but we definitely need a little more ragchewing!
RE: Tips for Becoming a Ragchewer  
by N4OI on May 4, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
As a CW op, I don't operate phone. But I observe that nearly all QSOs have a person giving a lengthy monologue before turning it over to the other party who does the same, and so on. This is certainly odd conversational behavior! I mean, in a normal conversation do you write down topics while the other person is speaking? Is this round-table style rooted in the days when it took some time and work to switch between transmitter and receiver?

If so, most all radios today have a very effective VOX that enables a more normal exchange, like talking on the phone or sitting around a breakfast table. Perhaps there would be more QSOs with interesting, back-and-forth banter if folks used VOX and interacted in a more immediate cadence...

RE: Tips for Becoming a Ragchewer  
by K4LSX on May 4, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
Good Points…!  
by VE3CUI on May 4, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
EXCELLENT tips re. getting the "…guy at the other end" to open up a little…

In normal face-to-face encounters, the thing that most people like to talk about --- and that they are most knowledgable in --- is THEMSELVES: ditto Ham radio. Get your QSO partner to open up a little, & then be amazed at how talkative he/she really is --- and how interesting your QSOs might become…

Heck, you might even actually LEARN a thing, or two, yourself!

As in "regular" life, strive always to be a good listener. As the old saying goes, "…You have TWO ears, and only ONE mouth, for a good reason."
RE: Tips for Becoming a Ragchewer  
by W9ZIM on May 4, 2017 Mail this to a friend!

The problem with trying to have a "natural" conversation over the radio is that ham radios are generally simplex devices, so unless the other party releases the mic key, he's not going to hear you. Besides, not everybody has VOX.
RE: Tips for Becoming a Ragchewer  
by N4OI on May 4, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
W9ZIM replied: "The problem with trying to have a "natural" conversation over the radio is that ham radios are generally simplex devices, so unless the other party releases the mic key, he's not going to hear you. Besides, not everybody has VOX."

Of course, there is no need to release a mic key with VOX, and I believe setting a very short VOX delay could help mitigate the simplex issue. But yes, those without VOX may cause some doubling...

RE: Tips for Becoming a Ragchewer  
by K0UA on May 4, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
A very good article. And if more ham's followed even some of this advice, there would be many more "happy QSO's" and feelings of goodwill in the ranks. 73 to all.
RE: Tips for Becoming a Ragchewer  
by W3TTT on May 4, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
I would offer further advice. Unless you want a "private" QSO chat (and nothing is private on ham radio) why not offer a chance to "check in" or "contact" between every few overs?
I like to listen to conversations, and perhaps offer a few related comments, but trying to connect is sometimes difficult. If the participants in a rag chew QSO would just ask if any stations would like to join, (AND ASK OFTEN) it would be nice!
RE: Tips for Becoming a Ragchewer  
by K6AER on May 4, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
A really great article. This subject is long overdue.

I always check to see if the ham has pictures that can leads to other conversational subjects.

Put pictures in QRZ for your new contact to see. It opens conversations.

Also leave a 2 second gap before you transmit. Your receiver or the one on the other end, can have the AGC throttled down from a strong station and you might not hear a weaker station. Leaving a gap allows breaking stations to inter the group.

Welcome a breaking station right away.

I have noticed many stations will break into a conversation but admit they don't call CQ.

Running power makes the copy much easier for the other ham. Receiver respond differently to signal strength. I run 100 watts and I am told I am a S5. Run 1500 watts and I am S9+5. When you have a strong signal, you will throttle the AGC in the other receiver down and it make that hams receiver much quieter. Most hams live in high noise environments.

I always call CQ with the amp on. If they can't hear you they won't call you.
Tips for Becoming a Ragchewer  
by KF5THB on May 4, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
I would like to echo the comments of JOE W3TTT when he suggests leaving a bit of air in the conversation so that others will be able to join-in. I'd further the point to suggest that often times others are in fact listening in on the conversation and are looking for an invitation of sorts to ask questions or seek clarification. (I find myself there a lot, especially when the conversation is of a technical nature, not many elmers in my area) On the point, I call a Wednesday evening net and make sure that I expressly invite folks to join into the active conversation and do so often. (of course, it's a net, right) At other times as well, when we have an interesting conversation going, I make a point, as I am asking others to do, to say, "if anyone wants to join in, please do!"
Thanks and drop by our FB page: Bigfoot Radio Net Wednesday's about 2000hrs central time! 73's�����������������������������������
RE: Tips for Becoming a Ragchewer  
by W7ASA on May 4, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
Good information - especially about regional propagation (NVIS on 80/40) is where I find most of my conversations. You are right-on with your observations about being long winded. That ham habit of long monologues can be a difficult one to break, but it yields a far better flow'. You also point out the often neglected part: the fellow on the other end. After the rig, weather and antenna, ask >and respond to< questions. I find that in CW this works very well and have many great conversations with interesting people on the air.

73 de Ray ..._ ._
Tips for Becoming a Ragchewer  
by K6CRC on May 4, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
No magic here, just be yourself. Many to most 'rag-chews' will end up with a 'got to go answer the door (or walk the dog). You have nothing in common. That is fine, you will not with 80% of people you meet on the air. No worries.

Also, there will be the alligators, who will not stop talking about themselves and whatever pops into their little minds. Gracefully exit. But, be aware there is a reason they are like that, probably loneliness. So be nice.

Then, there are the few that you have something in common with or that are great listeners. I like to ask simple questions, like how did you get started in Ham radio, what was your first system, etc.

There is an excellent possibility that the other guy will NOT ask about you, your system, or when YOU got started. Unfortunately, we have become lousy listeners in our evolutionary process.

For a good primer, read the ageless book "How to Win Friends and Influence People' And remember the sage advice of every sales training class, dating website, and recovery group ... to have to get out there.
Tips for Becoming a Ragchewer  
by KB2DHG on May 5, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
It's kind of funny that there has to be an article on how to have a conversation on HAM RADIO?

The radio Hobby is all about communication.... Seems funny to me that we have to have discussions on how to have discussions on the air! LOL!
Tips for Becoming a Ragchewer  
by HA7WX on May 5, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
KB2DHG : you're so right, but if you listen to the bands i think this article must awaken some HAM fellows. In Europe as well, i miss true QSO opportunities and will not get into the 59 only "conversations".
Fortunately while one can still have a pleasant QSO (more challenging in EU due to the diversity of languages), i feel like less and less people take the time to just ragchew.
It just reflects our societies of today as they change too.
So, yes, let's take the time to ragchew and build up friendships.
73, Chris ha7wx
Tips for Becoming a Ragchewer  
by KE4ZHN on May 5, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
Sad times in amateur radio when articles need to be written explaining how to communicate.
Tips for Becoming a Ragchewer  
by W2FKN on May 5, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
I almost never use voice, but have never had a lack of a good rag chew as warranted. Advice is great. The real challenge is to have a good rag chew on cw - my preferred mode on the air. This really takes a lot of time and patience, but NOT impossible. Have had great QSOs with more than the usual 599 cu agn sn. Have even met people at the other end of the key from such encounters. Again, advice is right up there!
Tips for Becoming a Ragchewer  
by KA4KOE on May 5, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
Show an interest in the other guy/gal and don't just talk about yourself!
Tips for Becoming a Ragchewer  
by N8FVJ on May 5, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
Good article but hard to read as it takes two pages right & left.
Tips for Becoming a Ragchewer  
by HB0PET on May 5, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
It is funny when somebody talks about conversations on air, but isn't able to keep his article short lined.
Tips for Becoming a Ragchewer  
by NN2X on May 5, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
I have absolutely no issue with a rag chew no matter the band, or mode..

Of course after trading the usual suspects, QTH, signal report, and equipment, I typically ask what they do for a living, That typically will spark a rag chew..or tell them about other aspect on the Ham hobby that you been exploring (Digital modes)...Or ask the questions about an area you don't know or have no expertise in

I lived in 69 countries, so that is a neat topic, sometime the other receiving ham operator has been to those countries, or better I am working DX and tell him or her, where I was in their country.

Or I ask I they got into Ham radio..

I can assure you, if you have a QSO with NN2X, it will be a QSO for sure (Rag Chew!)..

See you all on the bands

Tips for Becoming a Ragchewer  
by KH6AQ on May 5, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
Ask questions of the other station.
Tips for Becoming a Ragchewer  
by VK2NZA on May 5, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
Thanks for a very well thought out article Jarrad, as a ragchewer myself, (preferred use of the bands for me)
I find myself consistently entertained and informed by the contacts I have, often find myself meeting up with those I meet on the airwaves when interests and mind coincide.
I had been away from amateur radio for 30 years until about 5 years ago.
Previously having obtained a WN3 call sign in my teens when living just out Washington DC and becoming involved with the Bethesda Chevy Chase high school amateur radio club.
My first CQ after setting up my dream station here in VK was with a ZL (my country of birth) who proceeded to give me a short shift because he could'nt see me on QRZ,and left me feeling nervous about making a further contact.
Luckily my next contact a full 2 days later I had a great QSO with a VK2 on a cattle station just outside Nygan NSW and we had a great contact as I had worked in the area travelling around the stations in the area.
My point is that for some of us it is initially a brave move to enter the airwaves, especially when one has yet to get the call procedures, jargon and smooth Id's as yet.
One point as with any new social contact, be wary of discussion of politics or religion as this can be problematic until you know someone a little more.
There are often subtle references or allusions that gives an operator a sense of someones position or belief however I find it sensible to avoid these subjects.
Thanks for your well worded post.
regards Ross .

Tips for Becoming a Ragchewer  
by K4FMH on May 6, 2017 Mail this to a friend!

My PhD is in Sociology and Statistics and I'm Professor Emeritus. Currently, I'm an Editor-in-Chief for a major scientific publisher. I give this background to applaud your notation about differences of opinion just being the logical expression of ideas and the like rather than being a personal attack. Hear! Hear! could use an infusion of this perspective in spades. Thanks for the statement.


Tips for Becoming a Ragchewer  
by K6BRN on May 7, 2017 Mail this to a friend!

Thank you for posting great advice on rag-chewing. I will do my best to follow your suggestions. For some, amateur radio is all about contesting, to others, its all about playing with technology and for those who rag-chew, a lot of the hobby is about talking - politely - to other people - a social element that has been a little neglected over the past few years. Hope to hear you on the airwaves, soon!

Best Regards,

Brian - K6BRN
RE: Tips for Becoming a Ragchewer  
by GM1FLQ on May 8, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
The problem is the rise of the "professional" amateur - whereby station assembly is most often facilitated by a credit card and they have nothing to talk about.

You will often see the "professional" amateur describe themselves as being "competitive" - they seemingly think this is some kind of virtue to be proud of when in fact "competitive" usually means they are needy in the external recognition department.
Tips for Becoming a Ragchewer  
by KG7YSE on May 8, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
As for me I am a ham of only 2 years, just upgraded to General a few months ago. This last weekend I installed a new wire antenna that RECEIVES great and the few transmissions I made it is getting out really well. The issue I have is I seem to be Mic Shy. Sometimes I have a little anxiety since I am a newbie I don't want to come across as a dork.

Funny thing is, I am comfortable yakking on 2 meters or 440 but on HF I seem to clam up. Something I just have to get over.
Tips for Becoming a Ragchewer  
by VK3BL on May 8, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
Thanks for all the wonderful replies! I'm truly sorry about the formatting; I didn't realise eHam had an issue with that sort of thing.

To all of those who are 'Mic Shy' - don't be! The trick to public speaking is realising that the other party(s) just want to be entertained. Make things fun! Don't be perfect! Make mistakes and joke about it!

To all 73 and have a good time :)
Tips for Becoming a Ragchewer  
by KB6QXM on May 12, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
One of the reasons why I entered the hobby of ham radio is to talk to people from all over the world, build on-air friendships and to understand how living in their country is like without having to physically traveling there.

Also in the past once you built the friendship with many hams world-wide would offer you to stay at their QTH, if you were traveling to their country. At a minimum, many of them would at least want to meet you for dinner.

Rag chewing is what ham radio is to me. I hear that rag chewing is a dying art on ham radio. I personally will be the one person to engage other hams in a rag chew. I will bob and weave around all of the "radio sport",DX paper chaser and misfit hams.

Now all of us as hams have to bob and weave around the CC&R's, HOAs and visual impact forces that help to undermine our hobby.

Tips for Becoming a Ragchewer  
by K0COW on May 18, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
I am someone who dislikes lengthy QSOs, and I wish there was some polite way to communicate that to someone who wants to talk for half an hour. I got into ham radio for the technical side of things. I'd be glad for a signal report, an exchange of the equipment being used, and then I'd like to go on to see what else I can do.
RE: Tips for Becoming a Ragchewer  
by KC4ZGP on May 24, 2017 Mail this to a friend!

Anyone for a chess game over the air.

Nevermind, that's too much work.


RE: Tips for Becoming a Ragchewer  
by K3ACE on May 26, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
Sounds as if some the digital modes might be for you. They are a bit more impersonal and a lot of experimentation with antennas and low power prevails. Good luck. -K3ACE
RE: Tips for Becoming a Ragchewer  
by K3ACE on May 26, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
My previous comment was for KE0CVJ
Tips for Becoming a Ragchewer  
by KC4ZGP on May 31, 2017 Mail this to a friend!

Chess via Morse anyone?

18.087MHz is always open.

_ _ ... ... _ _

Tips for Becoming a Ragchewer  
by WD4ED on May 31, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
Recommend not using the word "breaker". At least not here in the states.
Tips for Becoming a Ragchewer  
by WB8ROL on June 6, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
Nice article! Though I see several comments by others who are obsessed with using VOX and wanting others to do the same. I would suggest just the opposite. Turn off the vox and if it won't turn off get out your soldering iron and take it out of the rig.

Many of us are NOT afraid of listening to another single station and having a conversation. The last thing some of us want is another round table that starts sounding like a net or worse.

Real rag chewers may use a vox but it is NOT to invite others to become a round table. Turning a conversation into a round table is just another way to keep from having a real one on one conversation and to avoid having to talk very much.
Lots of hams like round tables but many of those folks SELDOM will call a CQ to initiate a conversation.
Tips for Becoming a Ragchewer  
by N2MWE on June 7, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
Few years back I was driving home from my family's house back to NY from PA. Turned on the HF rig and called CQ on 17 meters. Got ackniowledge by a G0 station. We rag chewed for the entire trip, alost two hours. Probably one of the most enjoyable QSOs I ever had.
Tips for Becoming a Ragchewer  
by WD9IDV on June 12, 2017 Mail this to a friend!
I just love the ham operators who endlessly chatter in one sided QSO's.

Can't bet the old timer who is going after a big DX pile up, and endlessly engages the DX operator in a one sided rant about his dog and his next doctors appointment to look at a boil on his ass.

All kinding aside, I like an good engaging QSO too.
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