To a novice it could sound worse. But to a seasoned operator I’ll bet is sounds like the equivalent of a rusty nail being used to score poorly formed tones in your ear hole. I’m referring to my CW style.

When I say amateurish I mean it in a couple of ways, firstly I am a radio amateur. This means I’m not getting paid for it (which, as my wife points out, is good as I would be bankrupt quickly). I’m also not a high performing (but talented amateur) mixing it with the pro’s. This means I’m somewhere down the peloton. Holding the latern rouge.

To carry on my cycling analogy. Mostly because I ride a bike as well. My gear isn’t a pinarello dogma, its not the latest shimano Di2. But its adequate, its circa 2007 and it works. My fitness is average but I can, when pushed, climb some steep hills.

The steepest hill I could find it morse code. So far I have spent nearly every lunch time since Christmas using LCWO to attempt to copy at 15wpm. This week marks the end of the letters. I can pretty much copy them all without too much trouble providing there is enough thinking gap.

I thought I’d have a go at sending tonight (Thanks Ian MW0IAN for the ear). CQ sounded like CQ in my head, but came out like QQ, T, K and a few other characters that I hadn’t intended to send but I’m hoping an operator on the other end will see through this. Just like when I hear bad practice or mistakes with SSB I hear operators ignoring their mistakes I’m hoping the same will happen with CW.

So forgive me. I have created some shocking characters. But stay with me because one day this year I will complete a QSO without making any mistakes. That much I promise! If you want to join me in rubbish CW then I can recommend it as a way to diet. I’ve enjoyed the learning so much I forgot to go for something to eat a couple of times. If you hear me calling CQ and respond only to get a seemigly random response, don’t worry its not you, its not me, its my novice brain not getting it right all the time.


Alex Hill, G7KSE, is a regular contributor to and writes from Cumbria, UK. Contact him at [email protected].

4 Responses to “CW QSO’s”

  • Frank ON6UU:

    Hi Alex,

    just continue practicing. Use G4FON software, it is free and has a lot of add ons which can be very usefull. Hearing CW from a computer is not the same as hearing it on the radio, you will notice. CW is also not only learning to decode, it is also learning to send, whether it is with a normal key, bug or paddle. It takes time but once you get the hang of it you’ll see it is one of the best modes to do.

    Don’t get nervous, continue practicing daily, you will become better day by day.

    And if you want a slow qso, alsways ready to help out.


  • Ernest AA1IK:

    Ditto, on the G4FON Software. It has some very useful features. One of them is to listen to common words at a speed you are comfortable with. You can also use a text file of your own making to send code. I suggest going right to 20 WPM and don’t look back. Start with small 3 letter words, then 4 letter words and so on. I composed a file from those common words but repeated each word 25 times.

    Listen to the rhythm of the word. In only a few minutes, you can distinguish between the words, even at 20 WPM> If you’d like to have a copy of my repetitive word files, I’ll be happy to send them to you in an e-mail.

    I also highly recommend sending to improve your speed. Get a favorite magazine and send the text, include punctuation. Paddles are great for sending. Learn to send iambically, you’ll be glad you did.

  • Alex, g7kse:

    I found myself ‘encoding’ car number plates on a long journey the other week. Made for a more interesting 3 hour drive.

    G4FON has now been downoaded and I’ll be carrying on the practice. especially the QSB, S1-5. I’m fairly sure that people get turned off cw, like I did, because its hard to start but seems to get easier as you get the alphabet sorted.

    The on-air sound is much harder to decode but fortunately most qso’s are to a set routine which makes it easier.

  • Bill W5NI:

    I agree with most of the previous commenters but thought I would give a tip or two as well. The G4FON software is very good and my tip here would be to set the character speed to as fast as your ear can distinguish the characters and space between the characters and words to slow the words per minute to give yourself time to determine the characters or words. As you gain speed, reduce the spacing to improve the speed. As your characters become easier to distinguish, then speed up the character element speed as well. Practice regularly for only about a half hour at a time or so to avoid mental fatigue. If you feel you want to get more practice time in a day, just do more half hour sessions.

    If your goal is to copy characters accurately, copy random code groups that you can’t anticipate. If you are wishing to copy normal text, as you copy, try not to anticipate words if you are copying text. When your anticipated work turns out to be in error, it will cause a hiccup in your brain and you will probably miss the next two or three words before you recover.

    If you are going to try for higher speeds, it is a good idea to learn to touch type and take code on a keyboard. Most people can’t write more than about 20 wpm. At the higher speeds most operators copy behind, and this is a challenge I have never been able to master, but wish I could have. I do like to listen to a good operator going 25 to 45 wpm or so, but I can’t write it or type it, however I can usually follow the conversation well enough to enjoy it while driving down the highway.

    I worked a gentleman some time ago and had a very hard time deciphering what he was saying. I thought he was a lid, but his spacing and characters were not bad at all. The problem, I discovered, was that he couldn’t spell. My tip here is to learn to spell.

    I have been running on, and you probably wonder why I haven’t mentioned the requisite to learn to send. You must learn to send, eventually. In my opinion, and that’s what all this is, you should never touch a key of any kind before you learn to receive proper sounding characters at reasonable speeds. How can you expect to send a properly formed character if you don’t know what a proper character sounds like?

    Once you have mastered the alphabet, numbers, punctuation, and prosigns, then go out and buy yourself a good quality, sturdy, straight key and practice rhythmic sending of characters. The old J-38 key is what I use, along with my Vibroplex Lightning Bug (vintage 1953), and I consider them the best for me. Many keys, manual, semi-automatic, automatic, iambic, and electronic, have been produced, many good, some not so good, and you will have a lot to choose from, so choose wisely.

    Master the Straight key before using anything else, your rhythm will be much better later. One normally can send faster than one can receive because one knows what one is going to send, and one doesn’t know what is going to be sent to them. There are several theories on the order the characters should be learned, and it might pay one to study these theories and see which one makes more sense to you. I prefer learning those characters beginning with the element dit, then the ones beginning with dah, which is said to eliminate half the character set after the first element is received, and half of what remains of those after the second element is received, and etc. For instance, E, I, A, etc. laid out as a horizontal pyramid. It is theorized that this helps the brain become more efficient and speed will increase. But, that’s not the only way, so use whatever you feel comfortable with.

    It takes a lot of physical practice to get to where your characters are formed correctly and your spacing is correct. Don’t send with your fingers or lay your wrist on the table, learn to grip the key knob correctly and use your whole arm; you should be able to pick the key up with this three finger grip. The key should not slide around on the table. It might help you to send into a code reading device, since these devices are not very tolerant of improper character and word spacing. Once the machine code reader can copy you, your sending will be readable to nearly everyone. Don’t forget to listen to yourself send, because if it doesn’t sound good to you it won’t sound good to anyone else. After you are proficient and comfortable, you can listen or not as you choose, but I still listen to what I send most of the time.

    I’ve only been at this for 60 years or so, and I’m still learning and practicing. Don’t give up. CW is fun, and it is just another language. CW is the first form of digital communication, and it will be around for a long time. Knowing International Morse is a great accomplishment, something you should be very proud of because precious few people upon this Earth speak this language which makes you unique!

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