How to Identify a Ragchewer on Your Ham Radio

By H. Ward Silver

If you’re in the mood for a ragchew, and you’re tuning the bands on your ham radio, how can you tell whether a station wants to ragchew? The easiest way is to find an ongoing ragchew and join it. You can break in or wait until one station is signing off and then call the remaining station.

Look for a station that has a solid signal — not necessarily a needle-pinning strong station, but one that’s easy to copy and has steady signal strength. The best ragchews are contacts that last long enough for you to get past the opening pleasantries, so find a signal that you think will hold up.

One cue that the station isn’t looking for a ragchew is a targeted call. You may tune in a PSK signal and see “CQ New York, CQ New York de W7VMI.” W7VMI likely has some kind of errand or message and is interested in getting the job done. Perhaps the station on voice is calling “CQ DX” or “CQ mobiles.” In that case, if you’re not one of the target audience, keep on tuning.

Another not-a-ragchew cue is a hurried call or a call that has lots of stations responding. This station may be in a rare spot, in a contest, or at a special event. Keep tuning if you’re really looking for a ragchew.

Calling CQ for a ragchew

Although responding to someone else’s CQ is a good way to get started, it’s also fun to go fishing — to call CQ and see what the bands bring.

The best CQ is one that’s long enough to attract the attention of a station that’s tuning by but not so long that that station loses interest and tunes away again. If the band is quiet, you may want to send long CQs; a busy band may require only a short CQ. As with fishing, try different lures until you get a feel for what works.

On voice modes, the key is in the tone of the CQ. Use a relaxed tone of voice and an easy tempo. Remember that the other station hears only your voice, so speak clearly, and be sure to use phonetics when signing your call. Sometimes, a little extra information — such as “from the Windy City” — helps attract attention. Don’t overdo it, but don’t be afraid to have a little fun.

Be sure your transmitted audio is not distorted and that your RF signal is not splattering. Have a friend listen in and make sure you have a clear, clean signal. Take note of your transmitter settings and how the meters respond when you’re speaking.

Evaluate on-the-air technique as you tune across the bands. Consider what you like and dislike about the various styles. Adopt the practices you like, and try to make them better; that’s the amateur way.

Sharing a ragchew

Hams come from all walks of life and have all kinds of personalities, of course, so you’ll come across both garrulous types, for whom a ragchew that doesn’t last an hour is too short, and mike-shy hams, who consider more than a signal report to be a ragchew. Relax and enjoy the different people you meet.

If your radio has the capability to listen between CW dits and dahs (which your operating manual calls break-in or QSK), use it to listen for a station sending dits while you are CQing. That means “I hear you, so stop CQing and let me call!” Then you can finish with “DE [your call] K,” and the other station can call instead of waiting.

Roundtables — contacts among three or more hams on a single frequency — are also great ways to have a ragchew. Imagine getting together with your friends for lunch. If only one of you could talk at a time, that would be a roundtable. Roundtables aren’t formal, like nets; they generally just go around the circle, with each station talking in turn. Stations can sign off and join in at any time.