This is not a lesson on the history of Morse code (CW) but an objective view from an amateur who has just decided that after 20 years ‘it’s about time’.
What I mean by this is that 20 years ago I passed the required 12 words a minute exam that enabled me to work on the HF bands. Back then passing the Morse code was the difference between being restricted to VHF/UHF (B Licence) and the world of HF (A Licence).
I was then the first of my era to have a M0xxx call-sign, to some I was not a real ‘A’ license holder having my heritage questioned on a few occasions, similar to some experiences when I had a G6xxx callsign.
To a new HF operator the addition of using Morse code can be pretty daunting. It is a bit like passing your driving test one day and doing nothing but motorway driving the very next. All those additional knobs and switches were very different to my channelised 2 meter setup. I didn’t have to worry about tuning, no atu, just press the PTT. So I took the easy way out and dropped the Morse.
Why CW now, is it not a dying antiquated art? You maybe surprised to find the answer is no. Experts estimate CW is about 13dB better than SSB. You do the maths – that’s a lot of equivalent power needed if you are using SSB. DX QSO’s are very similar to SSB; exchange names, QTH, RIG, ANT, WX and 73’s. But since operating CW I feel my world of radio has opened up, even under very poor band conditions. Morse code is described as musical; CQ CQ CQ in Morse has a unique musicality about it.
The problem is I’m now 20 years older with an old processer in the brain. I treated myself to a new straight key on the basis that if this renewed enthusiasm didn’t work, I can always put it on a shelf and just admire it as a piece of art. Back then nobody trained on a paddle or iambic key.
I started out with lots of listening, getting the feel for how the QSO goes and above all interpreting the list of abbreviations used. UR=your, HW=how, FER=for, TKS=thanks etc. I started recognising the pattern of a typical CW QSO. TKS FER CALL OM, UR RST is 599, OP NAME IS, RIG IS, ANT IS etc.
Then I took the plunge! Waited and waited for my chance with a Lithuanian special event station. I took a deep breath, exchanging call signs, RST and 73’s. Was I nervous? Sure, but I made my first CW contact in 20 years. Then once I’d had several similar QSO’s I sent and received a little more, a Polish station called me – we exchanged information then my mind went blank and I sent 73’s and ended the QSO quickly. Later that evening I received an email from the station, it appeared that I wasn’t as bad as I thought I was, he would have liked more from me but understood how I was feeling. I subsequently received a QSL card with more encouraging words on it. Can you be elated and nervous at the same time? The Polish station offered to hold regular schedules with me – this is what the hobby is all about. I now have regular QSO’s with a G0xxx station, he’s a cancer patient with time on his hands and lots of patience. I’m indebted to him as we help one another.
About a year ago I joined FISTS, a club for people interested in the code. FISTS list certain frequencies to use and encourage a code of conduct for operators not to exceed the speed of the lowest sender. So if I were to send at 5 WPM then the overall speed is exactly that. The great thing about CW is that you are joining a club of like-minded enthusiasts, like all walks of life there are good and bad but my experiences have been positive. The speed kings tend to use frequencies lower down the bands. “Keep it up – everyone makes mistakes – no one is judging you”.
I still have a long way to go before confidence and proficiency go hand in hand. I’m not at the point where I can have a natter; I need a script in front of me to work from. I suffer from moments when my mind goes completely blank.
For Foundation and Intermediate licensees’ you can work the world with your 10 or 50 Watts on a bit of wire. Plenty of evidence on Youtube to support this statement.
I’m writing this to encourage you, if I can do it, so can you as I have no natural talent for this wonderful mode just tenacity. Going back an age when I was learning the code, every Thursday evening I had my CW class on 2 meters. I think I started in the November and by the following March I’d passed the required 12 words a minute and the A licence was mine. You don’t have to do that now.
So what are you waiting for?
73 de M0AZE Mike
You tube links; the first is a series of clips from WWII and while the delivery is old the sentiment is spot on as it shows how to send as well. The next 2 clips are all about learning the code. Have fun!
There are many apps available, some free to download. Ask at your club to see if they run a CW class. Apps and programs are great but get someone to teach you properly. Once your up to 5 WPM go on the air under controlled conditions with your tutor or CW mentor/buddy. Don’t leave it 20 years before you try.