by Steve Ford, WB81MY, Assistant Technical Editor
QST October 1993 p.63
All revved up and no place to go. You know the feeling….and so do I. You just unpacked your first 2-meter FM transceiver and you’re dying to use it. You punch in the frequency of the local repeater and listen. Silence. This is the moment of truth. You key the microphone and, in your most confident voice, announce, “WB81MY listening.”
The repeater transmits for a few seconds, then stops. Surely someone is reaching for their microphone. They’ll call you in just a few seconds…won’t they?The seconds stretch into minutes. “WB81MY listening,” you announce again, this time with added urgency.
Again the lonely minutes pass. Maybe you just picked a bad time. You’ll try again in an hour or so. As you reach for the POWER switch, the repeater suddenly comes to life.
“WB81SZ this is WB8SVN. You around, Dave?”
“WB8SVN from WB81SZ. I’m here. Did you just get off work?”
Now you feel a new emotion–anger! It’s a safe bet that one of these two guys were listening before. Why didn’t they answer you? Is it because you’re a new ham’?
The Shy Communicators
Hams pride themselves on their ability to communicate, yet there is an odd contradiction: Many hams are painfully shy! If you don’t believe this, go to any hamfest. Chances are, you’ll see hams whose call signs you recognize–hams who are constantly chattering on the local repeaters. So why are these same hams wandering around so quietly’? When you approach them, why do they seem so ill at ease and reluctant to talk?
The answer lies in the nature of Amateur Radio itself. With the exception of visual modes such as ATV, no one can see you when you’re on the air. You could be holding a conversation with someone while wearing little more than your underwear. They’d never know! In other words, ham radio allows us to hold the world at arm’s length while still maintaining contact. It can act as a filter and a shield for those who are uncomfortable with close, personal communications.
Breaking through the shyness barrier to communicate with a stranger is difficult. Think back to your school days. When the teacher asked for student volunteers for a project, why did you hesitate? Perhaps you wanted to see if anyone else was willing to join you. No one wants to be the first to raise their hand!
Asimilar situation occurs on repeaters.When you announced that you Were listening,a dozen people may have heard you. No one recognized your call sign, though. You’re a stranger, an unknown. It’s as though the teacher just got on the repeater and asked for volunteers to speak to you. Who will be the first to step forward?
For manY hams, the familiar line of reasoning is, “Hmmm…l don’t know this guy. What would I say to him? Nah…I’ll wait. I’m sure someone else will give him a call.” The problem is, when all the hams on the repeater feel this way, no one replies!
And so it goes on repeaters throughout the country. The problem isn’t you per se, it’s that fact that you’re a stranger. So how do you make the transition from stranger to friend?
Breaking the Ice
if you keep announcing that you’re “listening,” someone is bound to come back to you eventually. This could take a long time–especially if you’re trying to start a conversation during less popular hours. To really break the ice and shed your “stranger” label, you need to assert yourself on the air. That is, you need to become part of an existing conversation.
Listen to the repeater during the early morning and late afternoon. That’s when it’s likely to be used the most. As you hear stations talking to each other, listen for an opportunity to contribute something–even if it’s just a question. Let’s say that you find two hams discussing computers…
“KRIS from WRIB. Well, I’m definitely going to pick up some extra memory at the show tomorrow. I figure I need at least two megabytes .”
“I don’t know, Larry. I think four megabytes would be a better choice for the kind of software you’re running.”
Even if you don’t own a computer, I bet you can think of a question that will give you an excuse to join the conversation. In the pauses between their transmissions, announce your call sign.
“Well, there’s a new voice. Ah… WB81MY…I think it was…this is KRlS. How can I help you’?”
“Hello. My name is Steve and I live in Wallingford. I’m thinking about buying a computer for my Amateur Radio station, but I’ m a little confused. You guys seem knowledgeable. Can you give me a recommendation?”
Perfect! Stroking a person’s ego is the best way to get them talking. With luck, these fellows will be more than happy to show off their expertise. Just keep the questions and comments coming.
If you engage in enough of these conversations on the same repeater, you’ll gradually melt through the shyness barrier. In time, your call sign will be as familiar as any other. When you say, “WB81MY listening,” you’ll have a much better chance of getting a response. After all, they’ll know you.
Another way to establish yourself is to become involved in club activities. Look for a local club that’s active in public-service events. Attend the meetings regularly and be prepared to volunteer whenever they ask for help.
Don’t worry about your lack of experience in public-service operating. Believe me, it isn’t that difficult. You `ll be told exactly what to do and, in most cases, an experienced ham will be nearby.
My first public-service activity was a canoe race in my home town of Dayton, Ohio. I was the new face in the club and I was new to ham radio. When they asked for volunteers, it took a great deal of courage to raise my hand. Boy, am I glad I did!
The race organizers needed “checkers” at various points along the river. It was our task to make sure that each canoe passed our checkpoint safely. I was stationed with my FM transceiver at an isolated rural bridge over the Miami river. As each canoe passed beneath me, I checked it off my list and relayed the information to the net-control station. The sun was shining, a gentle breeze was blowing through the trees and I felt terrific ! Here I was, an Amateur Radio operator, doing an important job with my fellow team members.
After the race, we all met at a local pizza restaurant and swapped stories. Someone asked if I wanted to be part of the communications team for the March of Dimes walk-a-thon the following weekend. Why not? After participating in several public-service events, everyone knew me by name and call. There was never a shortage of someone to talk to on the repeater.
Some Tips to Try
- Try asking for a signal report rather than simply stating that you’re “listening.” A report request gives an otherwise shy ham an extra incentive to call you.
- Join a club that’s active in public-service activities. Volunteer for as many events as possible.
- Active contest clubs are also good prospects. offer youl timc to assist in several major- contests at the club station.
Whatever you do, don’t let social fears keep you from enjoying Amateur Radio to its fullest. If lhe locals are to shy to talk to you, reach out and contact them. You’ll both benefit from the experience !