Buddy Up to Learn CW


The CW Operators Club has started a program called CW Academy to help people learn Morse Code. Their Web page says,

The program addresses all levels of enthusiasts; from those aspiring to become licensed operators with a desire to learn Morse Code, all the way to veteran operators wanting to increase their CW activity, skills, and code speed…A CWops member/advisor will be assigned to each registrant as a mentor and on-air contact.

I really don’t know all that much about the CW Operators Club. It seems little snobbish to me—to join you have to be sponsored by three current members—but that may be because I’ve not been invited to join.

FISTS, another CW club, without any sponsorship requirements, I might add, has a similar program they call Code Buddies. According to the FISTS website,

K3NEM, The Amateur Radio Club of the National Electronics Museum members are the volunteers handling the Code Buddy Program. Contact them at Box 1693 MS 4015, Baltimore, MD 21203, or Email Nick at K3NY@arrl.net. We need ELMERS and Buddies, please volunteer to be a Code Buddy!! You don’t have to be a speed demon to be a Code Buddy, lots of people just want someone to practice with, just like YOU! To volunteer or to get a Code Buddy, include what you need (teacher, student, practice buddy), what bands you can work, and what areas of the country you can reliably work.

Morse Code Makes Another TV Appearance

Stuart, KD8LWR, wrote me recently:

I just wanted to tell you about this Morse code I heard on this racing show my dad watches called Top Gear. The car was driving towards the finish line and then this 700 Hz 30 WPM Morse code was on (with zero Farnsworth), and I decoded both messages in one try. The first said “ME LIKE CHEESE” and the second said “STRICTLY IS CRAP”. I just thought you guys would like that (especially Dan KB6NU). I don’t get the second one, but the first is pretty funny because it’s off topic.

73, Stuart

Has anyone else heard any Morse Code on TV, radio, or in the movies lately?


American Morse Illegal on the Ham Bands?

As I’ve mentioned here, I’m half-heartedly trying to learn American Morse Code. Why? Well, while ham radio is keeping International Morse Code alive, there is not as big an outlet for American Morse. The Morse Telegraph Club (MTC) is perhaps the only organization keeping American Morse alive, but there are far fewer members of MTC as there are amateur radio operators who use Morse Code.

Now, I had heard of some amateurs using Americian Morse on the air, but not only are they few and far between, the American Morse that you would hear on the air is not the same as clicks and clacks of a telegraph sounder. And, now, on top of that, it is apparently illegal for amateur radio operators to use American Morse Code on the air.

This was recently brought to my attention on MTC mailing list, slowspeedwire. Chip, N3IW, noted:

Also, for US amateur radio operators we cannot legally use American Morse on the air. That’s because the FCC has defined the CW mode as using International Code only. There is no legal mode that can use American Morse on the air because of that definition.

Being curious about this, I tried to find out where this was so defined, but was unable to and asked for a clarification. In response, Jim, WB8SIW, MTC president, said:

The issue of the legality of American Morse on the ham bands is a fairly recent development. As I understand it, the issue arose when someone at the NCVEC conference asked a representative of the FCC if the use of American Morse Code on Amateur Service frequencies was legal. The FCC representatives present considered the question and stated that, in their opinions, the use of American Morse was illegal because Part 97 defines telegraphy as the standard International Morse Code.

This statement was reiterated and supported by Gary Johnston, W3BE, who writes a FCC rules column for the QCWA and perhaps other publications. Mr. Johnston has gone on record as being unequivicolly opposed to the use of the Amercan Morse Code on the ham bands. While he is retired from the FCC and his opinion has no official weight, the fact that he has pronounced it illegal influenes many radio amateurs.

I had some correspondence with Mr. Johnston in which I outlined the history of the use of American Morse on the ham bands and argued a contrary opinion. The result was essentially a terse note in response, which, in my opinion, I can only describe as being intended to “put me in my place.”

A couple of points are probably in order, however:

First, no one has ever tested the opinion that American Morse is illegal through a test case under the Administrative Law process. However, I suspect few of us have the time or money to do so if we received a Notice of Apparent Violation.

Second, the old rule of government regulation stands. When one asks a government agency to rule on a hypothetical issue, one will nearly always obtain the most restrictive opinion. Someone made the mistake of asking if it was legal, and, as a result, we have now been told that it likely is.

Still, I was not satisified, and because some of Johnston’s proclamations on the rules irk me so much that I can’t bear to read his column anymore, I searched again through the rules. This time, I found references to International Morse Code in 97.307(f)(9) and 97.307(f)(10), and those parts referred to the use of International Morse Code by Novices and Technicians. I also found part 97.305(a), which says, “An amateur station may transmit a CW emission on any frequency authorized to the control operator.” It does not, however, specify that the CW emission be in International Morse Code.

After posting this, to the mailing list, N3IW did point me at the correct parts. He wrote:

The definition of CW and MCW are found in Part 97.3(c)(1) and 97.3(c)(4):

Part 97.3(c) The following terms are used in this part to indicate emission types. Refer to Sec. 2.201 of the FCC Rules, Emission, modulation and transmission characteristics, for information on emission type designators.
(1) CW. International Morse code telegraphy emissions having designators with A, C, H, J or R as the first symbol; 1 as the second symbol; A or B as the third symbol; and emissions J2A and J2B.
(4) MCW. Tone-modulated international Morse code telegraphy emissions having designators with A, C, D, F, G, H or R as the first symbol; 2 as the second symbol; A or B as the third symbol.

So, there you have it. These two parts conclusively define CW and MCW as being International Morse Code. It seems kind of silly to me that American Morse is not allowed, given that it’s such a well-defined code and that the rules allow the transmission of far more exotic codes using the digital modes. Anyone want to draft a petition to change the rules?

Another Method for Teaching and Learning Morse Code

On the SolidCpyCW mailing list, Martin, OK1RR, mentioned W0UCE’s method for teaching CW. This is an interesting method for learning the code. Unfortunately, it requires a teacher. That is to say, someone can’t use this method on their own, as there’s no computer program to step the student through the program. A couple of notable points:

  1. Learning takes place at 28 wpm. This is the philosophy behind the G4FON program.
  2. Sending is an integral part of learning. I advocate sending as well as receiving when learning the code.
  3. No more than 30 minutes per day is devoted to learning the code. Too often, those learning the code spend too much time on it in the beginning and then “burn out.” Once they do this, they often abandon the code.

When asked, I normally point prospective CW operators to the G4FON program or hand them a copy of the K7QO Code Course on CD-ROM or both. One of these days, though, I’ll give a face-to-face class a go and use this teaching method. Maybe the more personal approach will help them get over the hump faster.

ZLW a “Communication Lifeline” for Ships Serving New Zealand

On the 100th anniversary of the establishment of ZLW, the Wellington maritime radio station, Radio New Zealand broadcast this documentary. It features an interview with Clyde Drummond, One of the first operators. Drummond reminisced about ZLW’s role in World War I.

It also includes interviews with Peter Baird, Graham Turner, and Alan Burgess, operators who worked at ZLW from the 1960s through the 1990s. They discussed the HF setup that ZLW had during that time period. One interesting segment had to do with how telegram traffic to and from ships at sea was handled.

WWII Training Film Shows How to Use a Straight Key

If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you’ll know that I’m not a big fan of sending with a straight key. I find it very tiring, and my fist isn’t as good as I’d like it to be. Well, having said that, Ovide, K8EV, recently e-mailed a link to “Techniques of Hand Sending,” a United States Navy training film from 1944 on how to send good code by hand with a straight key.

It’s a very well-done film, and after watching it a couple of times, I can see where I’ve been doing some things incorrectly. For example, I think my arm and wrist are too tense when using a straight key. That undoubtedly is why my arm and wrist get tired so easily.

So, am I going to practice more often with my J-37 and join the Straight Key Century Club? Well, no, but who knows? Maybe someday in the future.

Techniques of Hand Sending

Operating CW is More than Just Communicating with Code

In response to my post on American Morse, a ham e-mailed me:

Interesting. With all you’ve written on ham radio, with all you seem to be involved in, and with all the help you’ve given me over the last several months, I expected you were a CW pro.

Now that I’ve passed Tech, and will be taking (and passing) my General exam in a little over a week, I, too, have decided to learn code. In fact, I bought a couple of keyer kits to “build my own” and resurrect the fun I had as a kid who built all sorts of Heathkits.

Nonetheless, I’m not sure whether I want to learn Morse, or just be able to “use it.” By the latter I mean there is, as you know, a bunch of hardware and software that will translate received Morse into text, and convert keyboard-entered text into sendable CW. So far my main stumbling block is that most of the devices and programs require a PC with a serial port, and I’m a die-hard Mac user.

Operating CW is about more than just communicating with Morse Code, though. Here’s  how I replied:

Take it from me, you really want to learn code and not just be able to use it with computer decoders.  There are several reasons for this.

The first is that even the best CW decoders aren’t very good when the signal being received is weak or when the operator on the other end isn’t sending perfect code. And even when the signal is strong, the character spacing has to be just so, or the decoding program will insert spaces between letters.

The second reason that you want to learn it rather than just use it is that it’s just more fun. If you’re going to use a computer to send and receive code, you might as well skip CW and operate PSK31 or one of the other digital modes. Seriously. For me, one of the real joys of working CW is using and developing the skill.




American Morse Code Chart

For some strange reason, I’ve decided to learn American Morse. One problem with doing this is that  there seems to be only one chart on the Web that shows the dots and dashes for Amercian Morse. This low-resolution scan is small and hard to read.

Yesterday, I decided to start practicing again, but I couldn’t find the printout I’d made of that chart. Since it was hard to read, I decided to make my own chart instead of just printing another copy of the old one.

At right is my chart. Click on the image and you’ll get the full-sized chart. If you want a PDF version, click here.  If you want to make changes to it, e-mail me, and I’ll send you a Mac Pages or Microsoft Word version of the chart.

Happy Morsing!


I’m Going Buggy

Last year at Dayton, I bought a used Vibroplex Original bug for $50. The stainless steel plating wasn’t in the greatest shape, and the silver contacts needed cleaning, but I thought I’d gotten a pretty good deal.

Well, I never could get it to work quite right. I thought it was just that I didn’t know how to adjust it properly. Whatever the reason, it just didn’t work quite right, so while I played around with it from time to time, it mostly just sat on the bench.

About a month and a half ago, I decided to once and for all to figure out what was going on. I played with the adjustments, but again didn’t get good results. I did notice, though, that the contacts were in really bad condition. It looked as though someone had taken a file to them. That’s a real no-no for key contacts.

Fortunately, Vibroplex has a relatively low-cost service for contact replacement. For $40, they’ll send you a complete set of new contacts. There are a couple of caveats, though:

  1. You have to send in two contact posts so that they can replace the contact point on them.
  2. The order form on their website has the wrong address on it.

Both of these issues caused a delay. I first sent the order to the wrong address, and it took a week for the Post Office to return the letter to me. Then, I didn’t understand that I had to send in the posts, so that delayed my order.  The second issue was my fault, but the first is Vibroplex’s fault.

I finally got that all straightened out, and the parts arrived on Wednesday. I put the bug back together yesterday, and now it works like a charm.

The only problem is that the dits are very fast. I’m going to have to experiment with ways to slow that down. Vibroplex makes a thing called the Vari-Speed that does this, but it costs another $35, and I’m not sure I want to spend that much more. In any case, I’ll be practicing with the bug and hope to “get buggy” on the air soon.

Last Saturday on the Radio at KB6NU

I had a busy ham radio Saturday here at KB6NU. It started early Saturday morning as I headed out to the Ann Arbor Mini-Maker Faire. It’s a small, locally-organized version of Make: magazine’s Maker Faires that take place in San Francisco, CA and Austin, TX.

This year’s exhibits included:

  • Learn to Solder
  • DIY Satellites
  • See neural electrical activity
  • Silkscreen what you’re wearing
  • Electric Allis-Chalmers Tractor
  • Marshall Stack Touchscreen Jukebox
  • Hands-on activities from the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum
  • Amateur Radio
  • Sustainable Technology
  • Pedal Power Pavilion
  • Return of the Giant Vortex Cannon
  • Electric Scooters
  • Robots
  • Paper folding and pop-up books

Basically, it’s a bunch of geeks showing off the geeky things they’re working on and demonstrating the geeky things that they like to do.

I organized the amateur radio exhibit, which, like last year, consisted of me getting people to send their names in Morse Code, and Dave, N8SBE, demonstrating the capabilities of his Elecraft K3. Dave’s K3 was really the hit of the show, with its panadapter and digital modes display.


KB6NU trying to get yet another person to send their name in Morse Code at the 2011 Ann Arbor Mini Maker Faire. It was pretty hot in the shed we were in, and right about this time, I was ready for a nap.Photo: Roger Rayle

This being a geeky kind of event, I was quite successful at getting people to send their names in Morse Code. After showing them how to use the touch keyer that I’d brought, a lot of them really got into it. I even managed to amaze a few of them, when after they’d sent their name, I was able to say, “Well, nice to meet you Sally or Joe or whatever name it was they’d sent.”

All in all, there was quite a bit of interest in our display, amongst both kids and adults. We had one girl, for example, who I’m guessing was about 11 or 12, come by several times, looking at everything we had with intense interest. One time, she even dragged her parents along with her.

After all was said and done, I ended up passing out quite a few brochures and handing out quite a few business cards. As far as PR goes, it was a very successful event.

You can see more of Roger Rayle’s photos of the event here.

More Stations Whose Callsigns Spell Words
After the Faire, I went out to dinner with my wife and in-laws, but later that evening, I got back on the radio. I tuned around for the AL QSO Party, and only made about a dozen contacts, but two of them—W4HOD and W4CUE—are stations whose callsigns spell words. Both are club stations, too. My cards are in the mail, and I’m hoping to get their replies soon.