Saturday, October 09, 2010

Are CW Veterans Killing CW?

This is the article du jour at eHam.

Normally, I take anything I see on eHam with a grain of salt.  Obviously, this little article was written with the intention "to push buttons".  I guess I was supposed to get all bent out of shape by the premise of the article and the accusations being made.  I think I laughed more than anything else.

For years it has been, "CW is killing Ham Radio".  The requirement was downsized to 5 WPM and then eliminated.  Now the mode itself is being killed by the veteran ops who "just won't slow down" for the newbies.  This statement, IMHO, is a "hasty generalization" as I know that there are veritable tons of veteran ops out there who never fail to QRS when asked - and maybe even do so when not asked.

I'm getting tired of all the whining.

If you scroll down the page, I posted a response.  It's there to be read by one and all.  I still stick with my answers - the Morse Code has never been more easier to learn than it is now.  Now before you jump all over me, I don't mean that actually learning the Code is easier than it used to be - what I mean is that there are more resources and learning tools than there have ever been before.

Back when I learned it, you had few choices.  You had the AMECO LPs, or those unwieldy Instructograph machines and paper tapes, or you had cassettes from the ARRL; or if you were really lucky, you had an Elmer who would tutor you.  I didn't have that kind of Elmer; but I did have a cassette player.  I got up to the necessary 5 WPM  in a few weeks.  I got my ticket and cut my teeth in the Novice "sub-bands" with all the other newbies.  We communicated amongst ourselves and the higher class licensed holders who ventured forth into our little world.  We kept at it, working other stations and listening to more higher speed code tapes and W1AW.  It took time and was hard work; but we kept at it and we upgraded.  And we knew one important tip that used to be stressed often; but never seems to be stressed now.  If you want to increase your speed, you have to work ops who are sending just a bit higher than the speed you are comfortable with.

So let's get down to brass tacks. These days, there are a plethora of Morse Code learning tools.  The absolute best method is a fantastic trio of programs from fellow blogger G4ILO, Julian Moss.  Morse Machine, MorseGen and MorseTest are a triumvirate of software programs that are the ultimate tools for teaching yourself the Morse Code or for helping you improve your copying ability.  If you can't get it done by using these programs, then I'm not sure what to say.

But wait, there's more!  As if those aren't enough, there's Koch Trainer by G4FON. There's also Morse Academy, and Super Morse, and Nu-Morse.  There's also Morse Runner and RUFZ, which are excellent programs designed for the sole purpose of helping you to increase your speed once you have mastered the Code.

Just about all of the learning programs allow you to make practice cassettes or CDs or MP3 files for your iPOD or whatever MP3 device you happen to own.  It has never been easier to custom tailor a learning program to your own specific needs.

That all said and done, however, the hard work and desire remain.  In these days of instant gratification, if you want to learn Morse Code or increase your code speed, then you'd better get used to the fact that you are going to need patience, desire and time.  There are NO shortcuts.  You are going to have to slog it out like the rest of us.  And unless you have some kind of physical (hearing) limitation or learning disability; then you should be able to meet your goal.

To this day, some 32 years after learning the Code, I still keep a CD in the car onto which I have burned some 40 WPM code practice.  When I get tired of listening to the chatter on VHF/UHF, I pop the CD in and continue to push myself to stretch the limits of the speed that I can comfortably copy in my head.

And as a Newbie, once you get on the air, there are even resources there!  Get involved with FISTS, the Straight Key Century Club or the North American QRP CW Club.  Each of these organizations have members who are more than willing to get on the air with you and help you increase your speed.  There are slow speed traffic nets out there with just this purpose in mind.  The help IS there, you just have to be willing to swallow your pride a little and look for it and ask for it.  It's not going to fall out of the sky and land in your lap.

Are the CW veterans killing CW?  No.  But maybe frustration, lack of patience and unrealistic expectations and maybe (I daresay) laziness might.

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!


  1. When I upgraded (the plan was Novice to General), the coastal stations were still on the air; I tuned an SX-28 at work into whichever one was the most active at the time and just let it play. Every so often I'd try to copy a little.

    After a month of that, it seemed pretty easy and WIAW practice confirmed I could copy 15 wpm, so I took the (13 wpm) test. Pencil copy. 100%. The VEs said I should take the 20; I laughed and figured why not -- then surprised myself. Guess the old salt ops were pretty fast! I still have the certificate from that; walked out an Advanced, too, and made Extra a bit later. :)

    Too few hams will immerse themselves in CW. They're missing all the fun!


  2. Hi Larry, you made a point. There is abolutely no excuse. I tried to learn CW several times, but didn't succeed. It takes time and effort. And that is what I don't have at the moment. Besides that I would like to play radio and there is so much to do these days in digital modes and contest, DX etc. I think these days you really have something with CW or you haven't. I certainly do not have enough with CW otherwise I already learned it. 73, Bas

  3. Hello Larry, everyone is hasty nowadays. But when I hear someone with low CW speed I always QRS to the speed of the opponent amateur. For DX-ing and contesting I use 30 wpm. 35 wpm is the limit. ;-) When I tried to get my CW ticket I must be capable of 12 wpm. That was needed to get the ticket. I had a tutor on 2 meter who learn me the code, every day an half hour, one year. 73 Paul

  4. Are Shakespeare readers killing literature?

    Are Chopin listeners killing music?

    Are NY Times readers killing journalism?

    I could go on. It is a dumbing-down of America's intellectual capacity...and appreciation...and willingness to make any effort of any kind to learn and advance.

    It has now extended to our political system more than ever.

    The Yahoos will eventually prevail.

  5. Perhaps there should be a slow CW calling frequency, like there is for QRP. Somewhere people could go to have a contact with someone who they know will also send at their speed, without making them endure the ignominy of sending "pse qrs." Because Bas is right, some people do find it hard, it's easy to give up practising when you aren't making progress, and being able to make some real contacts would give slow learners the boost to keep on persevering.

  6. Anonymous7:44 PM

    Hey Larry,

    Well put.

    Another learning source is Learn CW Online

    I too find it beneficial to just listen to CW in the background when I am doing something else - it helps train the brain to recognize characters and then words and phrases.

    I Learned CW many years and have been a very competent cw op for quite some time. I was one of those to which the skill came easily. During contests there are very few other ops sending at my limit but I tend to tone it down and work at 25 or whatever is comfortable and I always slow down to the speed that someone relies to me with or at the same speed that someone calls at - that is only common courtesy.

    Now, I am off to read the eHam bit.

    cheers, Graham ve3gtc

  7. Anonymous7:58 PM

    CW was for amateur radio what Latin was for the medical profession.Not to mention,it was the best mode for meteor scatter and aurora backscatter propagation.
    Still is...

  8. I haven't read the original article you reference, so I won't comment on that. But I will say that as a new ham, I'm very pleased with the amount of material available to help us improve. The Internet and ham software are a true godsend. I can't even imagine how much more difficult it must have been to become a ham 20, 30, 40 years ago or more. I feel like I have every answer I could possibly need at my fingertips, and it truly makes amateur radio that much more fun and rewarding for me.

    Out here in the San Francisco Bay Area, there's a twice-weekly slow speed CW net on 2m USB to help us beginners. It's a very new net, and obviously very local on 2m sideband, but already has 5-6 regulars on it. Code is sent using Farnsworth spacing, so dits and dahs are sent at 16-18 WPM speed, but the characters have spacing between them as if they were being sent at around 8 WPM. Very helpful. I'm sure there are many such practice nets around, probably more on HF. And if not, I'd encourage people to start one and put out the word on their local talk nets and mailing lists!

    Even though I've never had to take a CW test, I'm so pleased to see a continued interest in CW. I really think it's in no danger of dying out, and I hope it'll continue to be an important part of ham radio for many years to come.

    -Seth, KJ6HZC

  9. Good advice and words for the wise.
    Don't expect it to happen overnight but most can learn code, even if it's at a slow speed. Some people loose sight of the goal to "communicate" but common courtesy requires operators to QRS at the others sending rate. It's just common sense. Code is well worth the time to learn and opens a wide spectrum across the bands. It's a great advantage for those that spend the time to learn it. Good advice for all and a great post.