The Endurance of CW in Amateur Radio

CW Spans a Century

I've enjoyed using my "new" GRC-9 radio for making CW and AM contacts over the past month.  During that time I've also discovered which has magazine articles about radio dating back to 1919.  Reading about amateur operators building and using equipment at the time where CW (continuous wave) was beginning to replace spark-gap operation in wireless communication made me consider just how enduring the ability to communicate using CW and AM have been. 

Prior to the introduction of continuous wave transmitters and receivers, the detector used for spark gap communication would have made it difficult to hear a CW transmission (lacking a BFO). So, even though wireless transmission and reception of International Morse Code dates back earlier than 1919; employing CW (continuous wave) to send Morse Code seems to have began its popularity around that time.  AM (amplitude modulation) phone mode was also in use at the time, and grew in popularity during the 40's and 50's until more efficient voice modes overtook it in popularity for voice communication.

Radio Telegrapher School for Enlisted Specialists 1921

What other modes have remained as popular standards using standard ham equipment and continuously in use by amateur radio operators as CW?

My GRC-9 was designed near the end of WW2 (circa 1945), and was in continuous production for various armed forces around the world until around 1974 (3 decades is a long production run).  My particular unit has a receiver manufactured by Telefunken in 1955 and a Lewyt manufactured transmitter from 1966.  I have made CW and AM QSOs with other amateur radio operators whose equipment ranged from home-brew xmtr/rcvrs, Drake and Collins radios as well as shiny new Icom 7300 and Flex radio systems.  

A modern amateur radio (typically a HF model) can be used to communicate with radios built 100 years in the past. The same might be said for AM fone (phone), but that mode has become a niche for a much smaller set of enthusiasts.

There are lots of new and exciting modes of communication in amateur radio.  Many are pushing the boundaries of weak signal reception, or alternatively allow for high transfer rates of data. But it is somehow comforting to me to consider that amateur radio hobbyists have kept one mode in particular, CW, popular and in continuous use for over 100 years using equipment that remains compatible to communicate with one another.  I wonder if that will be the case in another century?

That's all for now, so lower your power and raise your expectations

Richard, AA4OO
Richard Carpenter, AA4OO, is a regular contributor to and writes from North Carolina, USA. Contact him at [email protected].

4 Responses to “The Endurance of CW in Amateur Radio”

  • Jim Smith K3RTU:

    I know that the elimination of the Morse Code requirement for an Amateur Radio license has probably made a tremendous increase in the number of new Hams. However, with that said it has done little or nothing to make Hams more prepared for any emergency. I know that the newer digital modes have advantages over CW, but CW is such a very basic form of communication that it does not require all the trappings of the other digital modes; namely a computer. Some newcomers aspiring to this avocation unfortunately do not want to learn Morse Code because it is either too much trouble or outdated . I got my Novice License (I realize that many reading this never even heard of this class of license) in 1961. It took me a few weeks of effort to learn the code well enough to pass the 5 word a minute test for the Novice license. I have always been happy that I did so and what’s more I have used it to make many, many contacts with other hams all over the world who either weren’t into digital or SSB. Remember to make a CW contact all that is required is a key, a very basic transmitter capable A1 transmission and an antenna. Anyone who tells you that CW is dead does not appreciate its capabilities.

  • Marty Szumera WN2DX:

    Great article, and for me it’s CW Forever!

  • Dan Schwartz K9WRP:

    I still have a fond nostalgia for CW. I got my Novice license at the age of 11, and even after getting my General a year later, I still preferred CW. As a Merchant Marine Officer and then ship captain in the 1970s on into the mid 1980s, I used to entertain myself on late night bridge watches, copying the U.S. Coast Guard weather synopses that were, at that time, still being broadcast on 500 KHz, even though our ships were beginning to be equipped with NAVTEX automatic weather receivers and weatherfax machines. I still have a HF rig on our family’s boat, a 32 foot trawler. Occasionally, late at night, anchored in a distant cove, I tune the CW portions of the ham bands and work a station or two…or just listen in to keep my ability to copy code from atrophying.

  • Gerard O 'Sullivan:

    C.W. is the same tune the world over but many voices (operators).
    Using C.W. as a communications tool will be with us for a long time to come.
    If and when modern communications collapse communications will be back to basics very fast. There are many receiving aids today do not be afraid to use them.
    I was at sea in the Irish Navy in the year 1975 to 1979 it was all C.W. then.

    If you listen to 21.438 MHZ call sign RCV from Sevastopol Ukrain. The Russian Navy Black sea fleet still receive C.W. in groups code format.
    When Russia are using C.W. still today it will be with us for a long time.

    Any new learners of C.W. do not give up it will come to you and you feel on top of the world.
    73 Gerard EI3EA

Leave a Comment

Subscribe FREE to'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'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!

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: