This post is going to get me into trouble!

John KK4ITN left a comment on my post "Conditions" over at Here's a line from it:

"Seems when the bands are down every person with a ‘bug’ is out calling cq. Wish they would put code oscillators and dummie loads on sale. Dits at 20 wpm and dahs at 5 wpm."

I guess it's not directly related to band conditions, and I'm not sure that John's claim is 1,000,000% accurate, however - he makes an excellent point.

Not to dump on bug users, because I have a bug. I like using a bug. Using a straight key makes the arthritis in my hands go "Hey! Stop that!" But unless I've practiced with my bug (off the air) for a while .... my sending can be pretty bad.  So I try to make it a point to take the KX3 "off the air" and practice sending with my bug on a regular basis.  Not as regularly as I should, but I try to keep in decent practice.

I agree with John and I would posit that listening to someone use a bug (or even a straight key or paddles, for that matter), who doesn't know how to use it properly, is akin to listening to nails being scratched across a blackboard. NB: For any younger readers, a blackboard is what we used in school before the advent of whiteboards and smartboards.  If you scrape your fingernails across the surface of a blackboard, it makes a sound unlike anything you've ever heard. It literally hurts to listen to it.  It will make your teeth ache. There's something about human fingernails and slate that just don't mix. Listening to someone scratch a balloon is almost as bad. But .... I digress.

The phrase, "Dits at 20 wpm and dahs at 5 wpm" resonated with me.  Morse Code sent like that is not only unreadable - even worse, it's unbearable.  No one is asking that all Morse be sent so that it sounds like it's coming from a keyer or a computer - but for Pete's sake - at least make sure your sending is copyable!

I would suggest that anyone who is inclined to use a bug perform this little exercise.  Send some Morse and record it, either with a tape recorder (do they still make those?), or, I believe most smartphones have a voice recorder feature. Do it off the air. Either send your RF into a dummy load or turn off your "VOX" - that usually will put your rig into code practice oscillator mode.

Send some Morse, listen to it, and copy what you sent. Be honest and critical with yourself. If you can honestly copy what you've sent, then you're probably good enough to go live. It might even be a good idea to wait a day or two between the sending part and the listening to yourself part - just in order to make it a bit more objective.

I can tell you for a fact, that I have done this - I have listened to my own bug fist - and have said, "Oh my!".  It was a rude, but necessary awakening. I am totally glad that I did not subject my fellow Hams to what I had thought was decent sending.

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!
Larry Makoski, W2LJ, is a regular contributor to and writes from New Jersey, USA. Contact him at [email protected].

6 Responses to “This post is going to get me into trouble!”

  • Pat VE9ES:

    I completely understand, it is someone learning a new language and skill. That said, as someone who is trying to make the leap from phone to CW, it is these types of comments that make me even more nervous about ever trying to send CW on-air. It goes along with the mouthy op who felt like expressing his opinion in a very condescending and negative way when I transmitted on a frequency they were camping on because I heard them cease talking for a few minutes. I would have loved to join in or at least get comments on my signal. Of course, none of them identified when talking to a “new” station per regulations, but *I* was the bad guy because I dared be on a frequency they feel they “own” for extended ragchews (even when it was quiet). I have names for people who hide their identity when feeling obstreperous. Luckily, this doesn’t make up the majority of my experiences, but it does go a long way to explain why there aren’t as many new ops and why the new ones tend to stick to VHF/UHF and when they make the foray into HF, they prefer voice and digital modes. Too bad HF is what is used in a lot of public service work here and what I’m trying to get more used to using. I am still nervous getting on the air unless it is a Net of people I know and often just sit on the sidelines listening as a result.

  • Andor PA9D:

    even worse then that is the fact that if you can’t even immediately recognise your sending is absolutely horrible, how non-telegraphy professional must your receiving skill be?
    In other words, how did you teach yourself CW to which level of proficiency?
    I’ve gotten into that discussion a lot with fellow hams who can read CW only if they concentrate very hard or write everything down and still mis parts.
    Precisely the reason I will not subject fellow hams yet because I find myself not proficient enough in copying code, let alone sending it.

  • Larry W2LJ:

    And here we go into another related, yet touchy subject. Back in the day, when the US had it’s Novice class of license – we were segregated into a sub-band. It was not a curse, it was a haven as all of us newbies learned together, and from each other. Our fists were not expected to be good! And they weren’t! But we got on the air and we made QSO after QSO after QSO. We were all learning together and from each other at the same time. Many times, upper class licensees would come down into our world and patiently help us. And after enough QSOs – we improved.

    So what do you guys do, who missed out on that wonderful opportunity and experience? I would recommend hanging out in the old 40 Meter Novice subband area around 7.120 MHz and thereabouts. You will find others with less experience that you can work. And don’t be afraid – sending slowly is different from sending badly, and that’s what this post was supposed to be about. A learner’s fist is not necessarily a bad fist! We all have to start somewhere.

    Now, remember this post was about bug fists – these are people who should know how to send good code, but for whatever reason, don’t. This is not, was not, a rant about folks who are learning and are slow senders. I will always QRS down to the speed that a person is sending to me. That is only simple common courtesy.

    Also, hang around the SKCC and FISTS frequencies around .055 and .058. You will find plenty of people willing to work you who are patient, kind and understanding. And DO, by all means the “off air” practice. Listen to W1AW or any of the code practice programs to develop an ear for good code. It’s easy to spot and you’ll know it when you hear it. Tape yourself, you’ll know whether or not your sending is OK.

  • Larry W2LJ:

    Added thoughts:

    If you’re making the transition from phone to CW, your first dozen or so CW QSOs will be the hardest. For these, I would recommend “canned QSOs”. Get used to sending your name, QTH, RST and all the basics, off the air, so that when you do engage in a QSO, it will seem more natural for you.

    After about 5 or 6 of these, you should feel your confidence building. I repeat, it’s NOT a sin to send slowly. Remember the FISTS motto, “Accuracy transcends speed.”. It’s not about sending it fast, it’s about sending it correctly.

    But as you are learning, try to make a QSO every day or so. Nothing will teach you as well as actually getting on the air and making conversation. You WILL run into jerks. Sorry, I wish it weren’t true, but it is. I’ve been at this for 36 years now, and I still run into them. Don’t let that discourage you! There are 100 great guys for every jerk out there. They are in the minority, believe me.

    And lastly, one of the key things in learning to send great code is the same as learning to copy code. RELAX! Don’t obsess about being perfect. Don’t worry about making mistakes – we all do. Take a deep breath, have fun and before you know it, you’ll be sending at a speed you will be comfortable with. Oh, and you’ll instantly come to recognize the bad bug fists, too! 😉

  • Peter kg5wy:

    I COMPLETELY agree with Larry.
    When I call CQ and get a drunken bug back, I can’t respond.
    I am not the best sender either, but who in the world can copy that stuff.
    I just quickly tune away.

  • Peter kg5wy:

    For Pat, VE9ES.
    I have also run into those frequency police.
    Before I call a SSB CQ, I clear the frequency 3 times. “Is this frequency in use”? I must sound like a nut saying it three times, but then after I begin calling CQ after a few more minutes, I have had people come back to me a swear at me for interfering with them. Then they will not ID themselves. Oh well.

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