Sunday, December 18, 2011

Tha magic that is CW and how I got there ......

It is funny how unintended events have a way of shaping our paths.  I was pondering this yesterday, as I was discussing with my good friend, Bob W3BBO, concerning our mutual fondness for sending and receiving Morse Code.

For me, at least, it wasn't always that way.

Like many of you out there, my quest to become a Radio Amateur began when I was in high school.  I happened to take a course in electronics under the tutelage of Bob Benson, K2IB where I was exposed to Ham Radio in depth.  I had heard about Amateur Radio before and was always interested in it; but Bob was not only an electronics teacher at East Brunswick High School, he also "ran" the station that was at the school.  He introduced us to Morse Code and the all the fascinating things about the hobby.  Bob was my first big exposure to Ham Radio and fortunately for me, he planted a seed.  The seed didn't sprout immediately, but it didn't die, either.

I was 16 when I first tried to learn Morse Code and my brain wasn't having any of it!  I went to the local Lafayette Electronics store and bought myself on of those AMECO code practice 33 1/3 LPs.  I listened and listened and listened.  I don't know if it was I was too preoccupied by my other subjects, or what - but my brain would just not cooperate.  After many months of trying, I just grew weary and gave up.

After college, with a new job and a lots of "disposable time" (but not necessarily disposable income) I read in the local newspaper one day, where the Continuing Adult Education Department of North Brunswick was offering an evening course where you would end up with a Novice license.  It was open to all county residents, so I immediately signed up.  The seed that Bob had planted, while dormant for a while, itched to come to life again.  I decided this time that I would "win" and I would conquer the code and earn that license that I had wanted for so long.

And just about this time of year, back in 1978, I did end up learning the code and did, in fact, earn my Novice Ticket.  I was restricted to CW only and while I didn't HATE it, it wasn't my first choice, either.  My Novice time was spent learning, getting experience and starting the process of upgrading to General.  The General ticket was my dream.  I would shed the shackles of Morse Code that I had erroneously thought were binding me.  Once I had voice privileges, I was going to be a "Real Ham", kicking back at the operating table, with my feet up on the desk and microphone in hand, working all the "rare ones"  - just like something out of a Gil cartoon!

I upgraded in June of 1979. It just so happened that the FCC  had come to the hamfest put on by the Morristown club that year.  My sister drove me to the hamfest, as I was sick with a fever and was feeling miserable; but I was bound and determined to earn those voice privileges. And I did - fever or no, I passed the 13 WPM code test first and then the theory test.

In the meanwhile, I had procured for myself a pair of Kenwood Twins - the R599D and T599D.  I was going to be one of the "Big Boys" now - a member of the fraternity that I has so longed to belong to.  I ran up to my shack, which was on the second floor, tuned up the transmitter for the phone section of the 20 Meter band (ah, Nirvana!) and proceeded to transmit.  I don't know if my signal was heard anywhere 'round the earth; but I sure was being heard through my parent's TV set, loud and clear - TOO loud and clear.  And no matter what I tried to do to fix the problem, it wouldn't go away entirely.  I know now that the problem involved the lack of a true and proper RF ground.  But then, I was licensed for less than a year, and while I was a General, I was still quite green behind the ears.

I also knew better than to mess around with my Dad's TV viewing habits.  So I faced a decision - as I saw it at the time, I had two options.  I could still pursue SSB operations and instill upon myself "quiet hours", where I would not operate until AFTER my Dad had gone to bed for the evening, or I could go back to using mainly CW.  Whenever I used Morse Code, I did not interfere with the family TV.

I had my own job to go to now, so quite frankly, not operating until after 11:00 PM or so, wasn't much of an option. I chose the Morse Code option and quite frankly, have never looked back!  If you take all my logbooks from 1978 to the present day, you would see that my QSOs break down pretty much this way - SSB 1 or 2 percent - Digital modes maybe 3 percent, CW is 95 percent or better.

The unintended consequences of the RFI interference and not having enough knowledge to overcome them made me the CW op that I am today.  And quite frankly, I have no desire to use either SSB or the digital modes.  DO NOT GET ME WRONG - there is NOTHING wrong or bad with those methods of making QSOs - they're just not for me. 

So that's my story - and I'm sticking to it!

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

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