The past few weeks have been good ones in terms of progress on some of my operating goals. An important one since the very beginning of my involvement in Amateur Radio has been to learn morse code and to operate CW. Many folks have made good suggestions on how to go about learning the code and I used a combination of these suggestions to get to the point where I am now. The first tool that I used was Code Quick to learn the alphabet and get some initial practice. This course is a good one because it uses the Farnsworth Method to teach the sounds of the letters and discourages thinking in terms of “dots” and “dashes” which severely limits one’s ability to copy code at speed. The second tool that I used was Gordon West’s Morse Code CDs to get some practice copying sentences and words. The final tool that I used was W1AW’s Practice Code Files to get some additional training on copying sentences and words.
The Thanksgiving Holiday here in the U.S. afforded me some time to really practice hard for several straight days and I finally got to the point where I was able to make a few QSO’s on the air. My first was CW QSO was with K4JYS, Bill in North Carolina on 160m. Bill must be one very patient Op as a combination of nerves and very limited CW skills made my first QSO pretty difficult. I did a few more QSOs over the next few days after some more practice, I improved my skills a bit more (I also completed about 30 QSOs with my dummy load to practice my sending skills. I am awaiting QSL cards from these QSOs to complete my WADL – Worded All Dummy Loads – Hi Hi).
Anita (AB1QB), my XYL after observing all of this, suggested that I enter the CQ WW CW Contest. At first, I thought that this was not practical given my limited CW skills. Later that evening, I was reading through the manual for my Elecraft KX3 Transceiver and noticed that it had a built-in CW decoder. I headed to the shack to try this out and found the KX3’s CW decoder to be excellent. After a little thought, I decided to enter the contest with the assistance of the KX3’s decoder to get some more practice copying CW on the air. After some thought, I settled on entering the contest in the single band 10m QRP category unassisted. I chose this category for several reasons. First, 10m only operation was positive in two respects – if the band was open it would make my 5 watts QRP go much further than 5 watts on the lower frequency bands and second 10m would be out at night which would give me a chance to take a break from my crash course in CW and get some sleep. I choose the unassisted category because I wanted to learn to tune through the band looking for CW signals and I choose QRP in the hopes that the contest would help me towards my goal of working a DXCC Award QRP.
The CW WW CW Contest score is a combination of points from QSOs worked, Countries worked, and CQ Zones worked. My final count for the contest (all on 10m using 5 watts) was 125 QSOs, 49 Countries and 20 CQ Zones worked. This brought my total DXCC QRP Count to 83 Countries worked – within striking distance of the award. I worked 24 new Countries’ QRP that I did not have before the contest, with several being all-time new ones!
The best part of working the contest was the practice I got listening to higher-speed CW. Most contest operators work at about 25 words per minute or higher speeds and it was a real challenge to copy code this fast in the beginning so I had to rely on the KX3’s decoder. After a while, I learned to “hear” the sound of commonly used words in the QSOs like “CQ”, “5NN”, “TU”, and my call sign. I think the practice from the contest really helped my ability to copy CW at more realistic speeds. While it probably seems like diving into the deep end of the pool, I can recommend working a CW contest with the aid of a decoder as a good tool to help learn CW. There is nothing like running a lot of QSOs to help improve operating skills and I doubt that I would have 150+ CW QSOs under my belt at this point without participating in the contest.
I am continuing to practice CW and complete QSOs on the air. While I am a long way from where I want to be as a CW Op, I am very happy to have gotten to this point. Interested in some history of Morse Code? Check out this article that Nicole, a student in Wyoming has created.
– Fred (AB1OC).