Getting People to Work CW (Yet Another Take)

On the Elecraft mailing list a couple of months ago, there was a thread about commenting on the NPRM that proposes to eliminate the Morse Code requirement. I opined that it was a done deal no matter how many commented that it should remain, and that instead of wasting time on the NPRM, we should start working on recruiting and training more CW ops. Steve, AA4AK replied:

I agree that in all likelihood the FCC will drop the CW requirement for all classes, and Western Civilization will not collapse as a consequence. However, I think it is useful to file comments, in the unlikely case that the FCC just might listen.

Nevertheless, as several people including you have mentioned, the real issue for us CW jocks is peopling the bands and encouraging non-CW hams to take up the mode.

I see several specific steps that could help:

  1. The idea that Wayne brought up half in jest, of having an award for lots of CW contacts might be useful. I wonder if maybe some respected institution like QCWA might sponsor such an activity. In fact, I may bounce it off some of my friends in QCWA.
  2. KX-1 owners (I’m not one now, but expect to be soon) could show off (i.e., actually demonstrate) their rigs in club meeting programs, hamfest forums, field days, SETs and so on. Nothing is quite as impressive as showing people that you can do effective communications with a rig you can fit into a shirt pocket.
  3. I think it would be especially useful to have KX-1 owners participate in organized emergency drills. Here in Maine, emergency communications is extremely popular. It occurs to me that having several KX-1s in a drill is a dramatic demonstration of “here’s how we do it when the repeater goes down.”
  4. I’ve been discussing with some colleagues of mine in the UNE Psych department a radical new strategy for teaching the code by harnessing the brain’s natural synesthetic abilities. If I get the kinks worked out, I may try it on some of the local club members who have expressed an interest in learning the code. If I get it right, it will make learning the code far easier than conventional strategies.

I like these ideas a lot, especially the one about using KX1s for emergency communications demonstrations. As for the CW awards, FISTS already has a bunch of them, but if Steve can get the QCWA to sponsor some more, all the better.

Another suggestion is to have “open shack nights.” Invite guys over to your shack and teach them some of the finer points of CW operation. Last night, three guys came over my shack, and we talked about keyers, paddles, iambic modes (and the Ultimatic mode), CW abbreviations, and all kinds of things. One of them even made his first CW contact!

This was very cool, and I expect it did a lot more to promote the use of CW than my comment on the NPRM will. It certainly was a lot more fun to do.

Update 11/2/05:
This morning, I received an e-mail from one of the guys who came over Sunday night. Here’s what he had to say:

Thanks for your hospitality on Sunday, it was fun to see the maestro in action. It was, to be honest, the first time I could see that CW might actually be fun, rather than a painful rite of passage to get the General. So…would you be able to give me some information on how I can get set up?

Showing guys how much fun CW can be will do way more to promote the use of CW than any amount of complaining about the elimination of the Morse Code test.


  1. I agree completely.

    Dropping the CW requirement will do nothing but attract more people to the hobby, and this is something that we all need – whether we use CW or not.

    Also, as most code requirements have been at counterproductive speeds, a lot of people have given up CW even before actually getting to the point where it’s practical to use it.

    After the requirement is dropped all over the world (it’s been years since it was dropped in Norway), CW will be used and promoted by hams who actually LIKE it. All for the better – I’m convinced that Morse code is about to have its renaissance.

  2. Joe Saul (KD8CEH) says:

    Just as a newbie experience report… I just passed Element 3 and the Code test last weekend. I did the code test with a relatively short period of study using Morse Mania (Mac only, but I know there are similar Windows programs). Taking the test was stressful simply because (1) it’s a test, and (2) I’d never heard a QSO before since I’d been training on groups of random characters. I could easily have failed, because I rushed it, but given a little more prep time it would have been a breeze. (I hadn’t initially planned to do the Code test, but had some spare time over Thanksgiving to prep so I went for it.) But learning code wasn’t as bad as I’d feared.

    What worked for me was using the Koch method (um, modified slightly by cramming the day before the test…). I can copy code reasonably accurately at 13wpm now, and can understand it quite well at 20 if I have a longer spacing between the characters. It only took me around 6 hrs of training over a couple weeks to get to the point where I could pass, and I’ve done a bit more since then to get more solid on the characters I had to rush. (Koch introduces the characters one at a time, though as I said, I pushed it a bit.)

    Now, of course, I have to figure out what to do with it given that all I have is an HT so far. Is there much CW traffic out there these days (assuming I get an HF-capable radio)?

  3. Congratulations, Joe!

    There is still plenty of CW activity on the HF bands. As Mark Twain might have said, “The death of CW has been greatly exaggerated.

    Here’s one suggestion. I have a 10-meter mobile radio that I bought at Dayton this year. We could set you up with this radio and a simple ground plane or dipole antenna. That would allow you to try out some CW on the 10m band.

    One problem with this is that the 10m band is rarely open because we’re at the bottom of the sunspot cycle. We could, however, work each other and perhaps one or two other guys who I think we could convince to join us. And who knows? You just might get lucky and work some DX during a rare band opening.

    Another thing we could do is get you to build one of the PicoKeyer kits that I’ve described elsewhere in this blog. Hook it up to your HT, and we’ll work CW through the ARROW repeater. Give me a call and we can talk about it.

  4. Joe, KD8CEH says:

    Thanks very much! I’ll give you a call.

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