A Revelation

But first a story…

Foreign languages have never been one of my strong suits. When I entered seventh grade, French was a required subject. Try as I might, I just could not grasp it. I couldn’t speak it, read it nor decipher it. For a 12 year old who was used to getting pretty good grades, this was a very stressful time in school. So much so that my other grades began to suffer. Fortunately the administration was sympathetic to this and I was able to drop the class.

Years later I was reminded of this after hearing a story by comedian Steven Wright, who had just returned from Paris. He said, “It’s like those darn French have a different word for everything.”

So now fast forward to 1991. I had become interested in getting my Amateur Radio license and that meant learning CW…Morse Code. To me, another foreign language. But after all, it was only 5 words a minute and there are only 26 letters in the alphabet, plus a few Prosigns. How hard could it be? I wasn’t 12 anymore…I was an adult. Piece of cake. Mistake number one.

I found a study guide and code tapes in a used bookstore. The first thing I did was write all the letters on an index card with the corresponding dits and dahs. I spent countless hours reading through the list trying to commit it all to memory. Mistake number two.

You see, CW is aural not visual. We decode it by hearing it, not seeing it. Furthermore, if we are doing it correctly, we decode the sound a series of dits and dahs make. We shouldn’t be decoding the individual dits/dahs and then doing the translation in our heads…that takes too much time. By the time you do this, a couple more letters have gone by, no matter what the speed.

Here’s a quick example… a dit and a dah, in that order, is an A. But rather than thinking that a dit followed by a dah is an A, we should be listening to the unique sound that they make… didah…didah…didah. A A A.

Unfortunately I learned these lessons AFTER I was studying. I did manage to struggle through 5 WPM in my first sitting in March of 1991. And I did put this into practice while preparing for my 13 WPM General license…which I failed the first time but passed a week later.

And here comes Mistake number three. It was April 1991 and I had obtained my Advanced Class license. I NEVER operated CW…EVER…not even in contests. It was SSB and RTTY all the way. This went on until January of 1992 when I decided I wanted to upgrade to Extra. It was a goal I had set early on. I wanted Extra within a year of my first exams. But that meant 20 WPM…

For 2 months I lived CW. I listened to QSOs, listened to contests, listened to W1AW broadcasts. I bought the Extra Class code tapes and listened to the 25 WPM practice sessions. I remember driving to Newport the morning of the exam session, CW playing from the car cassette player all the way. The correct studying methods paid off and I walked away with my Extra Class license.

CW became a larger part of my operating and it continues to be. There were now many more contests to participate in. DX was MUCH easier to work with low power.

I don’t want to gloss over this part as it is one of the reasons I’m writing this. If you are chasing countries and running low power or using low antennas, or both, commit this to memory. IT IS MUCH EASIER TO WORK A STATION WITH CW THAN WITH ANY OTHER MODE. THE SIGNAL GETS THROUGH!

My experience backs this up. Prior to my last station upgrade I have always had low antennas…either wires or small yagis and have run low power. I have more countries confirmed on CW than any other mode.

Granted, CW is no longer a requirement for obtaining an Amateur Radio license. But that doesn’t have to stop you from learning it. You don’t have to get to the level of being able to carry on a QSO on CW. Personally I have no desire to do that. And with today’s computerized interfaces, you don’t have to become proficient in sending…I’m certainly not.

All you need to do is be able to copy your own call being sent back to you and a signal report or contest exchange. That task is not all that difficult. I guarantee you will work more DX, your country count will skyrocket and your overall ham radio experience will be enhanced.

So this has been a long road to the point of my story…A Revelation…

I usually dabble in at least one contest each weekend. I will enter in the Mixed Mode category, SSB and CW, so there will be plenty of stations to work. In CW, I always work Search and Pounce so I have plenty of time to know who I’m working and what exchange is being sent.

This weekend during the Worked All Germany contest I tried something different. As I tuned up the band and heard a CQ I would send my call immediately. I wouldn’t wait until the station worked someone else so I could hear his report. I relied on my own ability to get it the first time.

At one point last evening I found I was automatically typing in the call of the CQing station…no conscious thoughts at all. From the ears to the keyboard. I said “WOW” out loud. I had finally obtained a goal that I have been shooting for a long time. I have “turned a corner” and feel pretty darn good about it.

Doug - K1ZO