CW on NPR

The Sunday morning puzzle segment on NPR’s Morning Edition show has a CW theme this morning. All of the answers are comprised of two words, the first starting with “C,” and the second starting with “W.”

For example, Will Shortz, the puzzle master gave the clue: “What is a good material for electrical conductor”?

The answer, of course is “copper wire.”

The podast of this segment hasn’t been posted yet, but when it is, you’ll find it on NPR’s Sunday Puzzle page.

Field Day Story #2: CW Fun and Inspiration

This story is from Lloyd, K3ESE, via the qrp-l.org mailing list:

I haven’t been on the air much of late; busy sailing my little sloop, playing the viola I bought with the proceeds of most of my ham-pelf, parenting my three lively and lovely children, fishing, doing yardwork, doing work-work…you get the picture.

But this past FD, I found myself once again driving to where the local club had set up, to offer my services as a CW op, which are generally well-received. This time was no different; they set me up with a Kenwood 570 @ 20 times the reasonable amount of power any sane person would want, and I set to work. Had a lot of fun for a few hours.

There I met the new club president, a ham who’s been licensed for only six-eight years or so, who got his General ticket as a no-coder.

BUT!

He LOVES CW. He was working a straight key at about 18 wpm when I got there, said paddles were too much of a challenge, but that he learned code to get on HF when he was still a Tech. There was an old chrome Bencher paddle there, which I adjusted as well as I could – and then I sent some test code to try it out, a CQ at about 25 wpm. He was very quiet, and I said, “See? you need to do this – what would you have to do with your entire arm to get these results, and how about the fact that I’m just moving one finger and one thumb, ever so slightly?”

He got it! He’ll be going there – and so will his wife, a newly-licensed Tech, and I offered to provide whatever elmering I can. It was heartwarming to this old CW hand to be around these folks who didn’t care that CW was “dead,” and who so obviously “get it!”

73/88 & cheers!

LL/K3ESE

Field Day 2009: Stuart Makes His First Contact

One of the great things about Field Day are the stories. Every year, I add a story or two to my repertoire. This year is no exception.

Story #1 starts about 1:30 pm on Saturday. I was at my post at the public information table/GOTA station. We had been ready to rock and roll for at least a half hour, so a group of us were just sitting around chewing the fat when Stuart and his mother strolled up to the table.

Her son was a little on the shy side, so his mother explained that Stuart had seen a listing of our Field Day site on the Internet and had asked her to bring him out to see us. She mentioned that Stuart had been listening to ham radio operators on his little Yaesu handheld scanner for several years and was very excited to actually meet some ham radio operators and see ham radio in action.

Not only that, she said that he had taught himself Morse Code. A kid after my own heart! I quickly volunteered to give them a tour of our Field Day site. First, I showed him our VHF/UHF station, and he seemed really impressed with the five single-band radios.

Next, I took him into the 40m phone station. I asked how fast he could copy Morse Code, and he said 30 words per minute. I cranked the receiver down into the CW portion of the band, and sure enough, he could copy anything that I tuned in.

At this point, it was still only 1:45 pm, so I told him, “Let’s go over to one of the CW stations, and we’ll see if we can make a contact.” We marched over to the CW #2 station, and after getting clearance from the station captain, I tuned around for a clear frequency, then called CQ. Immediately, N5VV, replied.

At this point, Stuart was so excited, he was shaking a little bit. Since the contest was just about ready to start, I kept the contact short, but that didn’t matter. Stuart had finally gotten to see ham radio in action.

Stuart’s mother then inquired about taking the test. I explained that our Volunteer Examiners give the test every second Saturday of the month and gave her the URL of our website. She said that Stuart had been studying and was ready to take the test.

Unfortunately, they had to leave at that point. I told Stuart’s mother that we’d be there through 2pm Sunday and to come back any time. She said that they’d definitely be back the next day.

Stuart Makes His First Contact
Stuart and his mother returned about 1:30 pm on Sunday. He wanted to see the VHF/UHF station again, so that was our first stop. He took a couple of photos of the setup, and then I suggested we go over to the GOTA station. When we first got there, someone was at the mike, but shortly afterwards, they got up, and Stuart and I took the controls.

When we first sat down, I made a few contacts using my call to show him how to use the paddle. I noted that holding the levers down produces a series of dits or dahs, and that by tapping the other lever while holding down the first, you can produce a dit between dahs or a dah between dits.

Then, I asked him if he’d like to try it. He said yes, so just to see how it would go, I tuned up to above 7100 kHz. There was no activity up there, so I set the keyer speed to 15 wpm and told him to send my callsign a few times. He reached over with his left hand and sent it perfectly. Now, remember, this is someone who’d never touched a paddle of any kind before. Not only that, he even sent the K (dah-di-dah) iambically! That is to say that he held the dah paddle while tapping the dit paddle to slip in a dit between the two dahs.

Then, I asked if he’d like to make some contacts. He said yes, so I said, “Let’s switch seats.” We switched seats, and I said, “OK, tune around a little and find a strong station calling CQ.” We found K2ZR, and I coached him a little on how to reply. “Now, remember,” I said, “we’re going to use the W8PGW callsign.” When I gave him the nod to send, he reached over with his RIGHT hand and sent W8PGW perfectly! When K2ZR replied with our call and the exchange, I coached him to reply with “4A MI.” Not only did he do that, but he slipped in a “R” to denote that we’d copied the exchange. When K2ZR replied with a “TU,” I showed him how to log the contact.

That’s all the coaching I needed to do. After the first contact, I said, “OK. Now, tune around for another station calling CQ, and we’ll make another contact.” He was off to the races. As soon as he made a contact, he jumped up to type it into the log. His arms weren’t long enough to reach the computer from where he was seated.

When we started, the keyer speed was set to 15 wpm. After a couple of contacts, I asked if he might want to send faster. When he said OK, I bumped it up to 18 wpm. After a few QSOs with only a couple of mistakes, he asked if we could go faster, so I set it at 20 wpm. Again, only a couple of mistakes, so we bumped it up to 22 wpm. There, he started making more mistakes, but let me repeat, he never touched any kind of key before in his life. I have no doubt that with a little practice, he could easily do 30 wpm.

Overall, he made 12 contacts in the 21 minutes he operated the station. Not a bad rate for someone who’d never sent a character of Morse Code in his life, don’t you think?

As it turns out, Stuart can’t take the test in July, but his mother said that they would definitely do it in August. He has even picked out a vanity callsign. The kid is going to make a great ham radio operator. I can’t wait to get him in the operator’s seat next Field Day.

Block Capitals for Clear Copy

Mike, K5MGR posted this chart to the ARRL PR mailing list.

blockcapitals
Click image to view full-size image.

He writes:

Hello everyone!

I posted the image below as available after a fellow on the “boatanchors” listserver asked for a copy of it.

It’s from my 1957 copy of the League’s Learning The Radiotelegraph Code.

The League got it from earlier Signal Corps publications.

It shows the “right” way to form block capitals for speed and clarity when copying code.

Remember, military nets generally went at about 15 wpm since copy conditions were so variable, and so much of what was sent was cipher groups rather than “plain text.” Plus, other personnel had to be able to read the copy.

If you’re going to have any CW operation on any Field Day or other event you’ll be publicizing, a “blow-up” of this chart, a little text of explanation, and you’ll have an interesting, informative display piece.

High-Speed Telegraphy on the World Stage

Just because I’m a CW guy….

From the 6/5/09 edition of the ARRL Letter

The October 1936 issue of QST reported on the first official “Amateur Code Speed Contest” ever held. Eugene A. Hubbell, W9ERU, took home the silver trophy with his wining speed of 52.2 words per minute. Held at the ARRL Central Division Convention that year, the contest required operators to decipher plain language text for two minute intervals that ranged in speed from 25 to 52.7 words per minute. “Only bona-fide amateurs, holding at least an amateur operator’s license, were eligible” to compete in the contest, the article stated.

Fast forward to 1995. Competitors from 15 countries on three continents traveled to Siofok, Hungary to show off their CW operating skills in the first IARU High Speed Telegraphy (HST) World Championship. According to Barry Kutner, W2UP, HST has long been considered a sport in Europe, especially Eastern Europe, similar to chess or an Olympic sport. Kutner was the sole US representative at the 2005 HST World Championship in Macedonia. In 2009, he is leading a team of seven this September to Obzor, Bulgaria for the Ninth High Speed Telegraphy IARU World Championship.

Kutner said that most of the participating IARU Member-Societies hold a national competition in their country, seeking members to field and sponsor a team to the World Championship. “In some of the eastern European countries, where they take this very seriously, there are team and/or individual coaches, too,” he said. Competitors must be licensed Amateur Radio operators, except entrants in the younger categories may be SWLs. The IARU HST World Championships follow rules set forth by the IARU Region 1 High Speed Telegraphy Working Group.

In the US, Kutner said those who wish to participate in the World Championship do so at their own expense. “In past years, there has either been one — myself in 2005 and Ilya Kleyman in 2007 — or no US participants,” he told the ARRL. “This year, we have a team!”

The US team consists of shortwave listener Brana Kleyman (category A, women 16 and younger); Kody Low, KB3RUP, and Cal Darula, K0DXC (category B, men 16 and younger); Ilya Kleyman, KE7OPG, and Ken Low, NV1P (category H, men age 40-49), and Gary Schmidt, W5ZL, and Kutner (Category I, men 50 and older). “The 2 OM categories are full,” Kutner said. “But we are always looking for younger hams, especially young ladies!” There are nine categories, and each country can only send two competitors per category, for a maximum of 18 competitors.

There are three main competitive events at HST meets: Transmitting, receiving and receiving Amateur Radio call signs via RUFZxp; the sending and receiving portions of the competition are referred to as the Radioamateur Practicing Tests (RPT). There is also a pileup competition.

In the RPT, random letters and numbers are sent via Morse code — five characters at a time — at a high speed. Separate competitions are held for the reception of only the 26 letters of the Latin alphabet, only the 10 Arabic numerals or a mixed content of letters, numbers and some punctuation symbols. Competitors may choose to record the text by hand on paper or by typing on a computer keyboard. The competition starts with one minute of transmission sent at an initial speed defined for the entry category (usually 50 letters per minute for juniors and 80 letters per minute for the other age categories). After each test, the competitors’ copy is judged for errors. Subsequent tests are each conducted at an increased speed until no competitor remains who can copy the text without excessive error.

The transmission tests require competitors to send five character groups in Morse code as fast as possible. Competitors send a printed message of five character groups at a specific speed that is judged for its accuracy by a panel of referees. Like the receiving tests, there are separate competitions for sending five character groups of only letters, only numbers or a mixed content of letters, numbers and some punctuation symbols.

Kutner noted that 100 letters per minute is equivalent to 25 words per minute and 100 numbers per minute is equal to 36 words per minute. The mixed category of 100 letters, numbers and punctuation is equal to 29 words per minute.

The Amateur Radio Call Sign Receiving Test uses a software program called RufzXP that generates a score for each competitor. Rufz is the abbreviation of the German word Rufzeichen-Horen that means “listening of call signs.” In RufzXP, competitors listen to an Amateur Radio call sign sent in Morse code and must enter that call sign with the computer keyboard. If the competitor types in the call sign correctly, their score improves, and the speed at which the program sends subsequent call signs increases. If the competitor types in the call sign incorrectly, the score is penalized and the speed decreases. Only one call sign is sent at a time and the event continues for a fixed number of call signs (usually 50). Competitors can choose the initial speed at which the program sends the Morse code and the winner is the competitor with the highest generated score.

There is also a Pileup Trainer Test that simulates a pileup situation on the air — numerous stations attempt to establish two-way contact with one particular station at the same time. This competition uses a software program called MorseRunner. In this test, more than one amateur radio call sign is sent at a time via Morse Code that is generated at different audio frequencies and speeds, timed to overlap each other. Competitors must record as many of the call signs as they can during a fixed period of time. They may choose to do this either by recording the call signs by hand on paper or by typing them in with a computer keyboard. The winner is the competitor with the most correctly
recorded call signs.

Kutner said that each US team member practices on an individual basis, using both on-the-air and computer generated CW. As the team gears up for Bulgaria, “we are in frequent contact via e-mail, exchanging tips and ideas,” he said.

HST has definitely come a long way since 1936 when Hubbell dazzled the crowds with 52.2 words per minute; competitors at the IARU HST World Championships consistently have speeds of more than 500 characters per minute — 100 words per minute. While it’s too late to join the 2009 US team, it’s not too early to think about upcoming events. If you are able to copy and/or send CW at dizzying speeds, why not think about attending the next IARU HST World Championship? For more information on HST events, contact Kutner via e-mail.

20m CW

Saturday, I worked 20m CW for a while. I had an interesting QSO with a guy in Mineral Wells, WV. I heard him calling CQ, and to be honest, his fist really sucked. Even so–being the good FISTS member that I am–I called him and we began the QSO. Well, after the first exchange, he came back, and not only was his fist excellent, he was sending somewhat faster as well.

As it turned out, he was using a straight key for his first transmission, and since he learned to send CW using a keyer, he was really bad at using a straight key. The reason he was trying the straight key–a $200+ model no less–is that he wanted to take part in Straight Key Night, held every New Year’s Eve. That’s quite a switch, as most hams learn to send using a straight key and have the reverse problem of learning how to use a keyer.

After another exchange, I told him to go ahead and use the straight key, and we struggled through another exchange or two before calling it quits. I do hope he sticks with and masters the straight key. As I said, he had an excellent fist with the keyer, and probably could develop one with the key as well. I’ll be looking for him again next time I get on 20m.

That QSO prompted me to try out my new paddle. I built a cable for the paddle that lets me use it as a sideswiper, and even connected it to the rig. I was so bad with it, though, that I went back to the straight key. I’ll have to hook the paddle up to my audio oscillator and practice for a while before getting on the air again.

I also note that my old Heathkit keyer has an input for an external paddle, so I might try hooking it up to the Heathkit. Unfortunately, I have a problem with the Heathkit in that the output doesn’t seem to be switching correctly. I’ll have to dig out the schematics and see if I can figure out what’s wrong with it. In the meantime, though, it does work great for code practice.