Why Call "CQ"?

L. B. Cebik, W4RNL

This morning (June 19, 1998), a thoughtful and oddly interesting question arrived via e-mail: what is the deepest reason for someone to call "CQ" when that person has no idea of who may answer or whether anyone will answer at all? The following notes were my reply.


I do not know if there is any single deepest reason for calling "CQ." I can only guess at such deep motivations, but here are a few thoughts.

For the brand new ham, there is a sense of wonder at the possibility of having a radio signal actually being heard and responded to. That alone is enough motivation to try, just to see what happens. In a way, it parallels the SETI project efforts to listen to outer space, just in case there is something to be heard and the efforts to place special identifying materials on some deep probe space craft, just in case someone out there may someday find the probe.

I also suspect that as the new ham becomes experienced, two things happen. First, wonder turns into curiosity, especially as replies become routine, but from where they come and from whom they come remain unknowns until the reply actually happens. Second, the first response has an excitement that can become addictive in the sense of one wanting to repeat the first experience over and over again.

Although subsequent experiences are never quite like the first, since they do not have that initial anxiety of the totally unknown attached, new adventures into calling "CQ" have new dimensions, especially the human dimension. Every reply creates a new strand in a web of links among widely separated but still kindred spirits. Amateur radio, despite its internal disputes and diversity of activities, is still a community of human beings that cuts across all divisions of race, nationality, religion, and other things that divide us around the world. A "CQ" knows no such boundaries: our mutual interest in radio communications does not even break barriers: the barriers are simply not there. (I am sure this is truer in your region of the world, where boundaries are close in, than in the US, where a ham might spend his entire career talking only to folks within his own country.)

Interest in radio communications may offer a further contibuting factor to the motivation for calling "CQ." Such interest tends to mark a person out as an individual, someone a little different from most of his or her friends, neighbors, and co-workers. Hence, there is a natural desire for camaraderie, a sense that one is not alone, but linked to a community. That is why hams tend to form clubs and anticipate "eye-ball QSOs." That same urge for linkage results in calling "CQ' as an invitation to and a hope for a new strand in the linkage that tells us we are not alone and that hence gives meaningfulness to all our efforts to master the art, science, and craft of radio communications.

Linkage to a community brings out in us at least two different and opposing urges, and they occur in different proportions in different individuals. One urge is to compete with others in our broad community. so we compete in contests for points or for countries worked, or for anything else. The other urge is to help, aid, assist any other member of the community who needs what we may have to offer: advice, knowledge, materials, other links we may have to services not available--the list is endless. The only condition I have ever known a true ham to place on rendering assistance was this: NOT that the recipient repay, but rather that the recipient be prepared to assist some other who may someday need what can be rendered.

Both of these twin urges make calling "CQ" more meaningful, for we may never know in advance whether we might receive a reply that either helps our score or gives us an opportunity to help someone else.

I personally believe that the most mature reason for calling "CQ" is the chance to be of assistance, even if that is only to give another the pleasure of a QSO, but more if the one who replies needs more. That is why I maintain my web site--it is one way in which I can help those in our community of hams who may need what is there.

There are, I am sure, those who would like to invert my remarks by leaning too heavily on the idea of being alone and seeing the "CQ" as a way to merely relieve loneliness. But I think one can only make this move at the expense of ignoring the initial sense of wonder and the more mature and thoughtful dimensions of being a ham and calling "CQ." It is at root not a demand for an answer, but an invitation to communicate, and that communication is a sharing. Sometimes we share only perfunctory data; sometimes we share news, information and ideas; sometimes we share joys and successes; and sometimes we share needs and solutions. In short, we share all that makes us a community, although not too much at any one time. Granted, some few may make "CQ" into a demand for reply, or even into a desparate plea for a reply, but for most, it is an invitation and a question: How can I assist?

I do not know if this is responsive to your question, but it is how I think about "CQ." In fact, over my 45 years as a ham, I have not too often called "CQ" myself (except to see of a quiet band had any listeners). Instead, I have tended to listen for "CQs" and replied to them. Listening is also a way of being ready to serve.



Updated 6-20-98. L. B. Cebik, W4RNL. Data may be used for personal purposes, but may not be reproduced for publication in print or any other medium without permission of the author.

Go to Amateur Radio Page