Like everything else in Amateur Radio, CW has its supporters and its detractors. Me, I am neutral. I encourage those with the dedication to pursue proficiency with this mode and to be able to copy code at blinding speeds. I think it is great that this part of our radio heritage is preserved and that there is even growing interest today. Just like Boy Scouts who use two sticks to start a fire. Do they still do that or do they prefer the magic of a butane lighter today?
There was a time when I could copy code at 20 WPM with my trusty No. 2 Dixon Ticonderoga pencil. And after I got my general in 1955, I pinky-swore that I would always use CW as my primary mode. And you know that among kids a pinky swear is the most powerful swear you can make.
NOT! After a few months, I fell under the spell of AM and spent more and more time on the phone bands. I was running phone patches and participating in the AREC (the predecessor to ARES) emergency nets. Night after night was spent roaming the 20 meter phone band, searching for a new country. Pushing the envelope to see how close I could get to the edge of the band without a pink ticket; speaking in tongues and only to fellow addicts I met on the air. It was not a pretty sight.
There is something about CW that is the essence of ham radio. Like the “purity of essence” mentioned by General Jack D. Ripper, just before he blew his brains out in the movie, Dr. Strangelove. So when I came back to the hobby in 2009 after a hiatus of forty plus years, I promised myself that I would get back to the purity of CW someday. I am afraid that I haven’t made it back there yet.
In spite of the best efforts of my friends to coax me, support me, lend me a key and a keyer, challenge me with a bet and regale me with stories of DX contacts on the low end of the bands and listening to W1AW code practice sessions. I have to confess, the magic isn’t there. Somewhere along my path, I lost the purity of essence that CW represents. I surrendered to the Dark Side of the Force (SSB).
Its pretty good over here on the Dark Side you know. I have plenty of projects that need to get done and that challenge my skill set. Improving antennas, camouflage techniques, installing mobile HF, eliminating RFI, better grounds, more automation and improving my audio. All those are wicked diversions from the purity of essence.
There are plenty of pileups for rare DX or special events and contests, on sideband and CW. Though CW purists believe they can get through when SSB can’t, that is in a perfect world. A CW operator has to deal with bad manners, QRM, splatter and guys running 2 KW against their 100 watts too.
On the other hand, SSB can be a more personal mode. While in a CW QSO, you get to know the operator by their fist, its more like texting; only faster. On SSB you actually hear the other guy’s voice, their tone and timbre. The little nuances of speech that make them human. You are face to face, mano a mano. SSB contests take on the character of an old fashioned bar fight and some rag chew nets go on and on like old radio soap operas.
But, I promise that I will get back to CW someday.