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Issue #20: Let's Ditch the One-Minute QSO!

By Dave Jensen, W7DGJ

Overcoming the Fear of Hitting PTT

I had a lot of trepidation about actually getting on the air when I came back to the hobby after a couple of decades. I was always a radio enthusiast, that never left me. I would read all the great stuff out there on the hobby, watch the YouTubers talk about their experiences, and I even found that I could still copy code at a decent clip after decades of being away. But for some reason, I was "mic shy" or "key shy." For me, being comfortable with on-air radio and being knowledgeable about radios were two different things, separated by an anxiety that I could never pin down.

My new ham life went great . . . I relicensed and moved quickly to Extra Class, and I joined clubs and started associating with hams who were very active. There was a ham lunch every week, club meetings, I became an active VE for different clubs and opened myself up to be an Elmer if someone needed me. And yet, in the back of my mind, I was still cautious about hitting push-to-talk. I started chasing POTA in short little QSO's that got me out there and back on the air. 

As I spoke to other hams about this, I began to pick up vibes that there were others who had the same experience. Perhaps they were relatively new Tech's or General Class holders, and they had the equipment ready to be on the air, but they found themselves fine-tuning the shack or rewiring the ground cables instead (or building a little kit, assembling an antenna and so on). That's OK, of course, it's all ham radio! And, as we're the only hobby that's actually about a dozen hobbies in one, all those activities count.

But they don't get you on the air, do they. Not until you click the PTT button or hit that paddle. I'm beginning to think that POTA and the digital modes, while great fun, are not really exposing newcomers to the joys of good, old-fashioned communication via radio.

When I am at a social event -- let's say a banquet with a bar and lots of socializing -- I will usually find myself off to the side with a good friend or two. I have just as much fun as others who are out there mingling and dancing, but my activities are a bit quieter, a bit more focused on my small group of friends. That's OK -- I guess it shows that I'm somewhat of an introvert. And Ham Radio, as it always does, reflects all the elements of society. You've got people engaged in aggressive contesting, people enjoying a quiet ragchewing session, and even some bullies who might not be your favorite QSO of the week. The airwaves are for everyone! 

But the best way to make new friends is just to stick your neck out and start looking for them. Calling out a CQ and hanging in there until you get some decent responses is the radio equivalent of "working the room" through that cocktail party where you walk from group to group, clearly open for friendly conversation. That's tough to do for the introvert, but easier when only audio is involved. In this issue, I'll offer some ideas that come directly from the great ragchewers, about how to re-establish the "communication element" of amateur radio.




Four Tips to Great Radio Conversations

A few months ago, my friend Rich Moeson (W2VU), Editor of CQ Magazine, wrote an editorial* about his concern that we are losing our ability to truly communicate. I read it with interest, and now share many of his concerns that QSO's have changed over the years. POTA, contesting, and digital modes, combined with the way that DX stations often communicate (5-9 signal reports only), are teaching new hams that a minute or two is a perfectly normal exchange. It is not -- or, perhaps better said, historically Amateur Radio is about establishing long-term international friendships. You can't do that in one minute clips.

Maybe the problem is made worse because there are a lot more introverts out there like me. (Please pass along your comments on this topic in the forum thread at the bottom of the issue.)

Here are some of my thoughts about jumping into true "conversation" on the radio, ideas that come from a variety of my ham radio friends. They are tips that will be good reminders for how important it is to reestablish that original ragchewing spirit, whether it's via a Mic or a Paddle.

  1. Do you and a few friends have a regular meet-up on the air? If so, are you welcoming to newcomers? There are generally a lot of people reading the mail when a friendly discussion is ongoing. Some will have interesting content and they’d like to jump in. How do you treat them when that happens? I’ve had two unfortunate incidents, on both 20 and 40 meters. In these, the group “policeman” jumps in with questions about whether your license class allows use of the frequency or in general makes it uncomfortable for you to be there. Regular meet-ups like these need to lose the policemen and alternate the “in charge” coordinator so that everyone’s style can add to the life of the conversation. My friend Brando (W3TKB) has a great suggestion. He likes it when, at each 10 minute station ID, someone adds "If there's anyone listening who wants to jump in, you'd be welcome."
  2. Have you been learning the code and practicing, but it’s just SO hard to jump into live QSOs? I know this one well, as I came back within weeks of relicensing as a “practice master” at a reasonably high WPM. But what happened when I’d get into live radio? I froze. Once I missed one character, one word, I would start thinking about it, and all the future code coming at me was lost until I recovered. This is simply a part of becoming comfortable with CW, and the only way out is to just do it. Literally pick up any conversation, even if it’s an ultra slow-speed saunter, and run with it. Great tips abound in the book reviewed several “Short Takes” ago from Chris Rutkowski (NW6V).
  3. Don’t make your CQ recording into spurious RF. There’s a character on the 10M band who puts his recorded CQ announcement on and sits there all day with his CQ running, walking away for long stretches when unknowing hams around the world try to reply back to him. He’s a real ham and occasionally you’ll hear his station respond, but for the most part his lengthy recorded CQ call is just like spurious RF. You tune away as fast as you can. While some people feel it’s a good idea to use a recorded CQ, I would prefer to hear a live operator calling CQ and changing it up a bit on each PTT. That person is immensely more satisfying to connect with.
  4. Take your QSO's beyond the few "normal" topics. In CW, that's a signal report, your name and QTH. On a phone QSO, that might be a signal report, your name and location, and your operating conditions. I enjoy seeing what happens when I interject something completely off the wall in a QSO. (In some cases, you may stump the other operator who only knows enough English to provide the basics.) Weather doesn't count, but it's better than nothing. I love to talk about the wildlife I can see out my Arizona window (the Javelina, a Bobcat, Roadrunners Lizards etc.). Ask about the geography near the other station, their other hobbies, talk about kits you've built or old boat anchors you love to collect. Push the conversation on the edges with unexpected topics and see what happens. My friend Woody (K7CQX) is a ragchewer par excellence, and he loves to talk about EV's and the future of cars. In fact, over time he wore me down and I bought one!

Perhaps I'm beating a dead horse with the topic this month, and if that's the case you can nail me on the forum attached below. But I do think there are a lot of people currently stuck in the one-minute QSO syndrome who might enjoy breaking out of that rut and into a style used by our early ham radio operators. Back in the 1920s or 1930s, just reaching out and landing a conversation with a new friend in another State was a big deal, and cause for celebration. Hams would send each other cards to mark the occasion, do you remember that? While much of this has gone away, I think that there's a certain new ham who might welcome the chance to build friendships and lifelong international acquaintances by adding another couple of minutes to the one-minute QSO. More power to you!


73 for now,


PS - I love POTA. My title this month is part of my quest to establish longer and more meaningful communication between hams, and not to diminish our love for the Parks on the Air program. Please see the forum discussion for an original reprint of the CQ Editorial about this topic, with the kind permission of Rich and CQ Magazine.

Thanks to Tom Ritter and Linda Jensen for the photos in this month's column.


Have a comment? See what others are saying now in our Forum discussion!


Dave Jensen, W7DGJ

Dave Jensen, W7DGJ, was first licensed in 1966. Originally WN7VDY (and later WA7VDY), Dave operated on 40 and 80 meter CW with a shack that consisted primarily of Heathkit equipment. Dave loved radio so much he went off to college to study broadcasting and came out with a BS in Communications from Ohio University (Athens, OH). He worked his way through a number of audio electronics companies after graduation, including the professional microphone business for Audio-Technica.  He was later licensed as W7DGJ out of Scottsdale, Arizona, where he ran an executive recruitment practice (CareerTrax Inc.) for several decades. Jensen has published articles in magazines dealing with science and engineering. His column “Tooling Up” ran for 20 years in the website of the leading science journal, SCIENCE, and his column called “Managing Your Career” continues to be a popular read each month for the Pharmaceutical and Household Products industries in two journals published by Rodman Publishing.

Articles Written by Dave Jensen, W7DGJ

This page was last updated June 16, 2023 04:23