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The Rag Chew – The Art of Conversation?


Ask any Ham and they will tell you what their favorite aspect of Amateur Radio is to them. Some are in it for the tinkering and only ask for a realistic readability and a signal strength report,  others are Contesters, others are avid DX-ers.  I could go on and on listing all the different aspects of our wonderful hobby that different Hams prefer above the others.


My favorite has always been “rag-chewing”.  I came to Ham Radio as many did, as a Short Wave Listeners (SWL) as a youth.  Yes, I even put together a crystal radio set once upon  a time. Even today I tend to listen a great deal more than I speak.  I already know what I know, my purpose is more to find out what other people out there in the Aether think about the world.


I’m sure that anyone who has given a long listen to “conversations” other than the exchange of RS numbers and grid references has bumped into the occasional Ham that thinks that his radio is actually a “soapbox” and promotes his particular world view on the rest of us (many times this is reminiscent of the Chicken Little folk tale “the sky is falling, the sky is falling, cried chicken little”). In Ham Radio (as in “real life”) too many people are more interested in “talking at you” rather than “talking to you”.


Then there are Hams that don’t seem to have anything to really talk about some days.  Their conversations tend to be about the recent local weather and its comparison to local weather patterns for the past 50 years, what they just ate and what they intend to eat later that day and to agree heartily with any cliché you might come out with.  Mobile conversations are full of “well, I’m going to the store” eventually followed by “well, I just left the store”.  I understand that every conversation can’t be substantial and ponderous, but maybe sometimes these guys can throw something else into the mix?


Sometimes you just might get what you wished for and realize that you made the wrong wish.  The most detailed conversations I have heard on the Radio are often not a technical discussion on some aspect of Radio Theory, but what has been given the sobriquet “Organ Recital”.  I was taught, as most people, that “Hi! How are you” was a mere rhetorical greeting.  The next time someone passes you on the street with that greeting, try to engage them with a description of your hemorrhoids and the numerous unsuccessful attempts you’ve made to lessen the problem and count on your stopwatch how many seconds it takes them to excuse themselves.  Vague responses to the  greeting are fine, as most responses to “how’s the weather there” (“it’ raining”, people usually don’t offer the projected precipitation at hourly intervals for the next 24 hours).  If you ask “how are you?” to some “private kinds” of people while they’re hooked up to life monitors and have sundry tubes going in and others going out, lying in a hospital bed, they will sometimes reply “fine, how are you?”. I have heard people give their medication list and dosages, their scheduled injections of insulin throughout the day and recommended coverage dosages to guys on the other end of the country. TOO MANY DETAILS. Often after a long description of their ailments they end that chat and engage another Ham on the same frequency and repeat all of the previous details. This is a common phenomenon on Repeaters. We are all sorry you’re not doing too well, but this isn’t a medical consultation, it’s a chat between two people who may not know each other and that will probably only meet “on the air”! Perhaps we should consider ourselves fortunate that the same “organ recital” is not done for the Ham’s pet cat, or dog, or even his pet parakeet.  Perhaps this article shouldn’t give anyone any new ideas?  I think, on the subject of chronic health problems, brevity is the soul of wit. Others may disagree.


I have heard some Hams that were so adept at “interviewing” the other guy in the conversation that they could have done it professionally.I was able to get a sense of who that man was, what his likes and dislikes were, how he saw the world and how he saw himself in that world – it was a mini-revelation. One particular Ham-Interviewer was a Police Detective before he retired and he seemed to have learned a lot more than to play “good cop, bad cop”.  It’s a skill like all things and maybe rag chewers should invest a little effort in honing that skill?


Perhaps I am expecting too much.  Some people have their radios tuned to Repeater frequencies and use the audio output as background noise through the day, often not really registering what is being said, by whom.  Whatever works for you, eh?


Just remember to have fun!


– The (Cranky) Editor –

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