59 QRZ?

What is your preferred operating style?
– Are you a rag chewer?
– A contester?
– A DXer?
– A POTA/SOTA activator/chaser?
… or do you prefer to let a computer do the talking?

Your operating style probably matches your personality. Some people love to chat while others follow the maxim: “never speak unless you think you can improve on the silence”. Or how about “a wise man once said nothing”.

If you listen – yes, just listen – to a rag chew QSO they often follow a pattern. There is a customary exchange of signal reports, first names, weather reports, type of rig, antenna etc. Some QSOs end there but dedicated rag chewers pursue the dialog even further.

Ham radio has been referred to as the original social medium. Real rag chewers like to dig deep and learn as much as possible about their newly discovered “friend”.

Talk About Nothing!

We aren’t supposed to discuss religion, politics or anything of any real significance outside the scope of our hobby. It is better that it stays that way. There is so much happening in the world but if we use amateur radio to talk about it we risk losing the privilege of free use of our allotted slice of spectrum.

Let’s say you just met someone at random on the air. He has a callsign but you know nothing else about him. A quick lookup on QRZ.com might give you more information, but many QRZ.com profiles are all but empty.

So you launch into a chat with the other ham; it turns out he is not a technical sort of guy, but he really is friendly. How much do you want to tell him about yourself? Would you pick up the phone, call a random number in another country and tell the person on the line all about yourself?

QRZ.com might reveal your full name, age, home address, email address and, if you fill out the biographical section, what equipment you have, some information about your family perhaps. How much information does somebody require to steal your identity, or visit your home in the dark of night and relieve you of your radio equipment?

Hear All About Me!

Hey, it might not even be the person you are talking to. Just remember your conversation is very public and may be monitored by thousands of people around the world! Okay, call me paranoid (“help, help, the paranoids are chasing me”) but we live in a dangerous world.

Of course there are other less dangerous ways to be a rag chewer. You can get to know people by checking into nets regularly. I have made a lot of friends on the air and have never met most of them. But we often chat, or belong to the same online hobby groups. Slowly we learn enough to trust each other.

There is another aspect to rag chewing. I call it attention span. If you are the type of person who enjoys conversation for its own sake, you are a true rag chewer. True rag chewers can effortlessly engage each other’s attention for extended periods.

“59 QRZ” types get bored quickly. Try to engage one of them in an extended chat about insignificant trivia and you will see their attention drifting away. Read the body language or, if its a radio QSO, watch out for the signs.

“Sorry I am getting some deep QSB on this end, better sign with you before I lose you”. “XYL is calling me for supper, better say bye”. Try to be understanding. The other guy may be freezing his butt off on top of a mountain trying to get his required 4 QSOs for a SOTA activation, you never know.

And One More Thing …

Oh Where Did You Go?

I once met an overly friendly fellow kayaker on an Ontario lake. He insisted on chatting at me and wasn’t taking any clues. I tried being direct: “Sorry I’ve gotta get back to shore now” – still he carried on chatting. I tried steering away from him and was caught by a rogue wave, tipped out of my kayak and plunged into the depths of the lake. That ended the conversation. I told you rag chewing could be dangerous.

I like “59 QRZ?” types. You know what I mean. DXers are typical “59 QRZ?” types. They call CQ DX and, if they are in a sought after country, they usually get a pile-up. HF propagation being what it often is, they sometimes have to ask for multiple repeats to get a callsign copied correctly. As soon as they have it in their log they respond with a hasty, meaningless “59” (or “599” for us CW types) then “QRZ?” and on to the next caller.

On Top of Old Smokey

SOTA and POTA activators are the same. No time for a rag chew there. Pile-ups are the norm. Both programs have become so popular that activators can almost guarantee to be working a pile-up as soon as they are spotted. Brief additional conversations are sometimes possible, like when I was activating a park for the POTA program and somebody from my own club responded.

“59 QRZ?” works for two kinds of people; those with short attention spans and those who are not naturally chatty people. I suppose we could also add “mic-shy” new hams.

That brings us to the final category of amateur radio operators – those who like to let their computer do the talking. Oh, I am sure digital modes operators aren’t all mic-shy. But the way in which the modes are often used does point the finger of suspicion in that direction. Let me explain.

I have had periods during which I tried digital modes. PSK-31 was my favourite of yesteryear (it is not much used anymore). It was a great mode. There were no automatic features – no “heartbeats” and the like – to allow unattended operation. You used PSK-31 when you wanted to chat and that’s all there is to it.

Critics of PSK-31 pointed to the use of macros to automate common exchanges. I am a clumsy typist so I depended on macros a lot. Why struggle to type in your basic information, time after time, when a simple mouse click will do it for you?

Then I moved onto HF APRS Messaging pioneered by UK company Cross Country Wireless. I was really excited. The software would automatically send my coordinates to the APRS network by transmitting them on the 30 metre band. But I was really hooked on the idea of being able to send APRS messages on HF. I planned to use that on a cross-Canada camping trip I was planning.

Only trouble is, other users would leave their system unattended, beaconing their coordinates and nothing else. I lost interest. The company abandoned further development because another digital mode was doing the same thing but better.

That other digital mode was JS8. I tried JS8. Yes! It did the same thing as HF APRS Messaging. And so did its users. JS8Call (the mode is JS8; the software is JS8Call) contains a “heartbeat” feature. You can set it to send out a very brief ID signal at regular intervals of your choosing. You can also set it to automatically acknowledge other people’s heartbeats.

Is an exchange of heartbeats and acknowledgements a QSO? It all happens without any requirement for the two operators to actually be in their shacks. There is no “control operator” and the computers don’t have amateur radio licences. Some say this is a good way of checking propagation conditions. How about keying up your radio and calling CQ?

JS8Call is a fine piece of software written and actively maintained by Jordon Sherer KN4CRD. The software has a lot of potential for routine QSOs and even emergency messaging. It is a derivative of WSJT-X which supports the exploding FT8 digital mode.

Ah, FT8! It’s a Marmite mode. Marmite is an edible yeast by-product, in case you aren’t familiar with it. It has a very intense flavour and people either love it, or hate it. I have tried both the mode and the product. I love one of them.

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