Learning CW – The Beginning

I have decided to learn CW. Why? Because I want to, not because I have to.  Yes I am one of those no-code hams!

Most of this blog post is aimed at newer hams. If someone is thinking about trying to learn CW, I hope this post might help motivate them to go for it and give it a try.

Since I became a more active ham a couple years ago, from a non-active ham, I have thought it would be nice to have a very small portable battery powered radio, and easy & quick to deploy antenna and make some QSO’s when and where I can.

The next question, once I decided to learn CW, was how to learn CW? I know in the past, people used to use cassette tapes, learning at 5 wpm (words per minute). I looked online and found that the “tapes” can still be purchased, but now they are on CD instead of tapes. From the reviews that I have read, the content has not been updated but simply copied on to CD format. So it’s the same lessons that existed in the 60’s, 70’s, 80, etc, just in a little newer delivery format. My goal isn’t 5 wpm. It’s higher. More like the 20 wpm range someday. That then leads to some “newer” methods of learning. The “Koch” method is very popular. It starts with two characters, sent at 20 wpm but with more space between the characters, making the effective overall speed slower but still with faster character speed. The key is learning characters at a faster speed, introducing another letter when you learn the first two. You keep adding letters until you eventually have them all learned. There are many web sites and programs that use this and other methods. There are also a lot of phone apps that people use to learn. A friend of mine learned CW using these apps, and I sat with him on Field Day in 2013 as he worked without a microphone, only CW. He didn’t even bring his microphone to Field Day! He now works CW almost exclusively.

2016-02-15 17.54.27

After further research I came across The CW Operators Club web page, http://www.cwops.org.  I found that they have a CW Academy with 3 different levels. Level I is for beginners with no CW experience and Levels II & III are more advanced working on increasing speed and other things. I decided to enroll in their Level I beginner class. I signed up on their web site and weeks later, I was confined for the Level I class that started in January ’16, a few weeks ago. I am now 5 weeks through an 8 week class. The class meets twice a week, using Skype. There are five students in my class, which is lead by an experienced instructor. Homework consists of using a web based CW training program, for receiving practice. Assuming you have a key/paddle or something to send with, there are sending exercises as well.  The curriculum introduces the letters, much like the Koch method, at a 20 wpm pace, but in a different order than the standard Koch trainers. The first session consisted of four letters, and words using those four letters. If you would like more information their web site is: http://www.cwops.org

Is it working? So far it is working. Five weeks into the class, I now know the whole alphabet, the numbers 0-9 and a few punctuation characters. I say “know” them, but I am not very good at receiving yet. I miss a lot of characters when I try to listen so a real QSO on the air. Like learning anything like another language, it’s going to take some practice to get better at listening in real time. I have recorded a couple QSO’s from a websdr.org station and when I repeat it multiple times, I can figure it all out. Considering 5 weeks ago I didn’t know a single letter, I am making progress.

I’ll continue attending class, and practicing. I’ll post again later when I make some more progress and someday pretty soon, I’ll get in the air and attempt a real QSO!

Until then    – – . . .   . . . – –

PS   “- – . . .   . . . – -”  is morse code for “73” in case you wondered!

Wayne Patton, K5UNX, is a regular contributor to AmateurRadio.com and writes from Arkansas, USA. Contact him at [email protected].

Leave a Comment

Subscribe FREE to AmateurRadio.com's
Amateur Radio Newsletter
News, Opinion, Giveaways & More!

Join over 7,000 subscribers!
We never share your e-mail address.

Also available via RSS feed, Twitter, and Facebook.

Subscribe FREE to AmateurRadio.com's
Amateur Radio Newsletter

We never share your e-mail address.

Do you like to write?
Interesting project to share?
Helpful tips and ideas for other hams?

Submit an article and we will review it for publication on AmateurRadio.com!

Have a ham radio product or service?
Consider advertising on our site.

Are you a reporter covering ham radio?
Find ham radio experts for your story.

How to Set Up a Ham Radio Blog
Get started in less than 15 minutes!

  • Matt W1MST, Managing Editor

Sign up for our free
Amateur Radio Newsletter

Enter your e-mail address: