Rag Chewing is Overrated

Amateur radio is a reasonably well populated hobby that numbers in the millions worldwide. With that many people comes many opinions, ideas and notions. And for a lot of poorly documented reasons, the notion that something’s mortally wrong, something destined to kill the hobby, resides perpetually at the top of the list.

One of the most popular of those threats seems to be this business about rag chewing, or more precisely, the lack of it. Especially via Morse code where the two-way radio exchange has become little more than a predictable exchange of name, signal report and location before the 73, profuse hopes to CUL, and dit-dit’s begin to fall like rain.

Apparently, without long, scintillating conversation, this activity is simply not enjoyable enough for the hobby to continue. At least according to those who worry about such things.

But that notion discounts an entire century of radio. Billions of boring, unremarkable two-way exchanges between one radio ham and another has been the norm since Marconi and the Elders began disturbing the aether. It brushes aside the idea that radio can be about radio — that building, learning, and exploring is without merit if it doesn’t result in sparkling conversation.

I understand the notion, even if flawed. That you have the power to communicate wirelessly at your fingertips it seems only logical that you would use it to communicate on some deep, spiritual level with other human beings. But it simply doesn’t happen that way. Never has. Probably never will.

Oh sure, there have been times when I’ve really enjoyed a particular on-air conversation. And when it happens, just like with a great book, you don’t want it to end. But these are rare and that may be what makes them so special. It can happen, but it’s not the norm. Those old magazine advertisements that promised that the shortwaves were the “open sesame” to learning about other cultures through long distance conversations just flat out lied.

Besides, CW is not a great mode for long conversation. Morse is all about brevity. We’ve created Q-signals and a litany of other cryptic abbreviations to cram more information into smaller bites than could be done via phone. CW is perfect for rapidly exchanging data between fading signals and rapidly changing band conditions. It’s less than optimum for long, involved chats.

And who cares anyway? Honestly, I don’t care what kind of rig or antenna you’re using – unless maybe it’s some restored antique or something you home-brewed. I don’t care about your weather – I can look that up in five seconds on my computer. On top of that, I’d prefer that you just call me “OM” as opposed to us wasting dits trading names, or worse, coming back to me with my name like we’re old buddies when in fact, your logging program coughed it up.

I take pleasure in making brief contacts via CW. I want to work you often, but not necessarily for hours at a time when we do. Just a quick exchange with a like-minded soul who also still marvels at the magic that is radio. The conversation just isn’t that important to me. And apparently, it’s not very important to most of us — because I frequently hear that ham radio is dying because no one chews the rag anymore…

Author: Jeff Davis


2 thoughts on “Rag Chewing is Overrated”

  1. I usually don’t care too much about the other guy’s rig or the weather in Peoria, but I do like to know more about the other guy, the town he lives in, perhaps what other activities he’s involved in. I’ve had lots of great conversations, and as you know, I make most of my contacts on CW. The abbreviations and Q-signals are used to transfer the most information you can in as short a time as possible–not to make the QSOs shorter.

    Having said all that, I don’t think it’s a sin not to ragchew. I do like to get into contests from time to time, and as I’m typing this, I’m also using N1MM to call CQ CENT on 30m. I just think that the guys that don’t ragchew at all are missing something.

  2. I’d estimate about 1 in 20 of my CW contacts result in more than just “the exchange”…having a 30 minute conversation in CW used to be somewhat more routine, say 15 years ago. I can go either way. If the op has a good fist and is easy copy for me, I can chat all day about anything. I only hope my fist and readability is just as good for them. Being a QRPer, sometimes we’re just thrilled to make “the exchange”.

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