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Dominic Smith

This content is archived. It is kept for historical reference only. It was last modified in July 2007. It will not be updated.

What do radio amateurs talk about?

This is a regularly asked question about the hobby and also one that is not the easiest to answer. The conversation can be one of many types and, if you are talking to somebody for the first time it is probably best to let him give you an idea of how much he wants you to say (best obtained by listening to others contact him first).

Basically, though, there are three main types of contact. The first is the 'ragchew', or traditional chat which, like any conversation, can be about pretty much anything.
Audio The late Ken, G0VUG, talks about fish on the GB3WD repeater
Audio The Royal Signals Amateur Radio Society, G4CCF, on 40m

The second, and probably most common type, is a fairly quick contact in which callsigns, signal strength reports, names, details of equipment and the weather are all exchanged.
Audio IZ1EGT (Fabio, Genoa, Italy) talking to SP8CR (Poland) on 20m
Audio The CUWS trip to St. Kilda Island in 1989

The third type is often considered 'impersonal' but is best for a contact with a rare station or during a contest, to give everybody a fair chance. This type is a quick exchange of callsigns and signal reports (almost always the maximum, '5 and 9') with a serial number if the contest requires it. In the case of the contest featured below, the exchange is of a signal report (59), serial number (370) and Cambridge's postcode (CB).
Audio Me talking to OZ/DL4LVB on Lolland Island off Denmark
Audio G6UW in the RSGB's 21/28MHz contest

To look for contacts, radio amateurs call 'CQ' and wait for a reply.
Audio IZ1EGT calling 'CQ' on 20m
Audio Amateur Radio Station R0MIR (The MIR Space Station) calling 'CQ' in 1996

Some of the speech to be heard in the Amateur bands is not in English (although most is). This is particularly true when freak conditions allow VHF signals from the near continent to reach our shores.
Audio F1BCU talking on the Lannion repeater in Brittany, France

Finally, remember that you won't only hear speech in the amateur bands. These are also common modes:
Audio Morse Code
Audio Slow-scan television
Audio Computer Data

Most audio files on this page in RealAudio format. Some are in RealVideo format to enable subtitles to be provided. You will need RealPlayer to play both types of file.

(This page was originally written by me for the Cambridge University Wireless Society website. © 2002 CUWS)