Will the Kids of Today Ever Experience That?

k8kemAs a young man, I was a CW Radio Operator aboard a U.S. Coast Guard Cutter (CastleRock/NBZF), I was thrilled everyday to go on watch. It led to me getting a ham ticket in 1955 and thereafter, enjoying the hobby. I always stayed a “CW” operator and never enjoyed the 2-meter FM “thing” as it seemed more like CB to me!

Later in life I got the opportunity to work on Merchant Marine vessels, and after some 30 years, with the exception of Telex, not much had changed.. CW was still alive and well, though many of the shore stations began closing down (i.e. WCC, WSL, KPH, etc.).

The writing was in the wall when more and more ships traffic went Telex.. Frankly, because of the length of a majority of these messages, including ship food stores and engine room parts, my keyer would have blown up!

Then not long after, they brought cell phones aboard — the beginning of the end for the ship’s Radio Officers. In 1999, most of the remaining Coast Guard and commercial Maritime stations went silent.

All I can tell you is that while it lasted , it was a great job. But it’s hard to call something a job when you have loved it all your life.

I am very concerned about our hobby these days: no CW requirement. Why would today’s generation want to study for a test when all they have to do is get online and they can communicate all over the world with no QRM, QRN, QSB etc.?

I can see the increase in FM 2-meter and 450 MHz FM for emergency help and that is great, but on the other hand is it actually “hamming” or “quasi police work?”

This is the trouble we older hams have, we live in the past trying to eek out a weak CW signal from some far off country.

With my 100 watts and dipole antenna, I had nightly CW QSO’S with ZL2LI from Christchurch, NZ while I was in Cleveland, Ohio. We could barely hear each other on some nights pushing the “cans” closer to my ears. But it was a thrill each and every time. Will the kids of today ever experience that?

On 7035 kHz., every night we had high speed CW ops from the “CFO” required minimum speeds of 45 WPM and nomination came from at least 2 CFO operators. This club was started by Jim Ricks. W9TO who had invented the famous Hallicrafters “TO” keyer. There are over 1,500 members.

But most of the ops like me are aging.. We need new young blood to keep the organization going.

The fact of the matter is we need new young ops in our most wonderful hobby to learn and use CW So that this art is NEVER lost.

David Eisenberger, K8KEM, is a special contributor to AmateurRadio.com and writes from Ohio, USA.

12 Responses to “Will the Kids of Today Ever Experience That?”

  • jeff n1kdo:

    Many people consider letterpress printing to be obsolete.

    My great-grandfather was a newspaper compositor — a typesetter — and I’m sure he could not imagine how printing would change in 100 years.

    Today, letterpress printing is a boutique business, people like how the type embosses the printed page. It has become a craft business, with people who like working with type to produce this style of printing buying old machines and setting up specialty print shops. There are people who enjoy this craft. On the other hand, newspapers have not been printed with movable type for many, many years. Except for the boutique printers, the art of type composition is gone.

    I think the same is true for CW. CW has its aficionados, despite it being technically obsolete.

    However, just as you can print a newspaper without a compositor, you can transmit messages over amateur radio without CW. You can even do this in S/N conditions that might make CW communication impossible.

    My point is this: Amateur Radio is not just CW.

    Today’s kids may not experience the thrill of a CW contact to the antipode with 100 watts and a wire, but they can and do experience the thrill of satellite QSOs, including workig the ISS, and even payloads the students built themselves. They can see their 100 mW WSPR transmissions picked up world-wide in near real time. They can build and launch payloads on balloons that transmit video to the ground from near-space. They will learn new things, things that will help them relate to today’s technology, and perhaps pursue a career in technology.



  • W3FIS, Paul:

    I don’t think CW is going to go away, and I really believe it is on the increase. Digital modes get boring (let the flames begin). The “Maker” movement has gotten a lot of people into looking a “build it yourself” electronics. Ham radio is clearly part of this.

  • Harry K7ZOV:

    CW… The original text message system… I got my Novice in 1963 while in HS. Blew the chance for the General do to he timing. Phoenix was testing once very 4 months and I was sick that day and no one to drive me. (I was in HS with no driver license). So my Elmer tested me for a Tech..No Tech Plus so needless to say I lost what little CW I knew… Marriage, school, 50-80 work weeks and I got my general by default and passed the Extra..Makes me an Extra Lite operator…. Now I am ‘unlearning’ the way I learned CW and relearning at 68 yrs old. I don’t need CW, I have a killer K3 SSB setup and a FT-991 digital. Add to that really bad hearing. So why? Because there is still something magical about CW. Many people I know who never needed CW are also getting interested do to radios like the KX3 and FT-817. Peanut whistle power radios with a hung of wire. A few because digital is fun, but just lacking something personal.

    IMHO CW will never die, just morph into just another way to make contacts. I read tons of stories on different blogs and sites I am on about people doing like me, re-learning or learning for the first time. With no pressure of 13 wpm or 20 wpm the biggest complaint is too many old pharts won’t QRS. Contest is 30-50 wpm…. We QRS people sit back and have had few laughs because we have all caught speed freaks CQ TEST at 30-40 WPM with no answers and for whatever reason drop down to 15 wpm or less and get a instant contact….Then blow back at 30-40 wpm and are too dense to figure out that this is not the world of old where CW was king.

    No CW is not going to die and in fact it is growing. It will just never be like it was in 1963 when I got on and it was wall to wall music… QRS 8-15 WPM will be the new norm, with probably most making it to 20-25 WPM. But the 30-50 WPM may die out in time, since the world that once was all CW or nothing is no gone….

  • David Eisenberger:

    I fully agree! Yes CW is not just Ham Radio.. There are so many more modes now.. But if you are just using modes that you can see in a screen, then why not just use the Internet? In an emergency, other than voice, CW is the only mode when there is no access to a computer screen. Ham Radio is a whole bunch of things and there all fun, building, putting up many different kinds of antennas, designing. As far as those who won’t QRS, in life we have all
    Kinds of people. Some are very helpful, some with large ego’s. Because someone has a ham ticket does not automatically make them a “good” person. We take the good and bad and deal with it. There are many more good people then bad, so we’re in luck. Though I prefer fast CW, I NEVER failed to QRS.


    David. k8kem

    [email protected]

  • Bill Taylor KC5DPJ:

    I hope it never fails although I never learned cw. time on the flight deck of carriers and a life time of noisy factory work I can’t distinguish the difference in dits and dahs. But I do love to hear the melody of a good operator. I’m sure there will be some younger ones that will pursue cw.

  • Driss CN8VY:

    Hello David,
    I don’t agree with you. However, I do understand your point and where you come from. I got you because I am a radiomateur who is crazy about wireless and RF. But, I must also consider the best tactics we should use to attract Bright and Interesting people to our hobby. I am afraid CW may act as a deterrent to the young adults nowadays. They prefer talking about drones, robotics, green tech, space exploration, emmergency comms (thank you Kathrina!), etc. Nobody(or few) gets excited about ham radio while watching a video about CW.
    In conclusion, my point is twofold: OK for CW as a great segment of our hobby, NO to CW as a requirement or a marketing tool to recruit new amateurs.


    PS I am moroccan, so please pardon my poor English.

  • Kyle N4NSS:

    Long live CW. http://www.qsl.net/n4nss/cw.htm
    “In days of old, when ops were bold, and sidebands not invented,
    The word would pass, by pounding brass, and all were contented.”
    Author Unknown

  • Bud Martin KV4FR:

    I recall my introduction to (old) A1 emission as a Midshipman at The Ohio State University in ’53. The communications instructor was CPO Morgan W4OSV, who set up K8NAQ club station in the tower of the Armory (since long burned down). “Chief Op” was another 4th-class midshipman, W8MEQ, with whom I spent many nights at W8LT working DX with a BC-610. I marveled at the skills of Morgan, who could read a pocket book, talk on the squawk box, and tell us what the high-speed CW was coming over the refrigerator sized surplus Navy transceiver–all at the same time. He was an advocate for the Japnese constructs, which he predicted their mini-models would become standards for Hams.
    The skill learned as KN8DJT was useful later in an adjunct capacity as a radio watchstander while serving with FleetAirWing4 on Whidbey Island; and with half a dozen other calls before the FCC finally got wise and assigned permanent ones when I lived on St. Thomas. 20m. CW is my backup aboard S/V DREMR (QRS,for everything is slower at 84). A couple of watts to a wet string will still get through when the satellite hand set fails.

  • Rob vk4ffab:

    Anyone who thinks morse is dying, is deluded and specifically, in my circle of friends and in other places it is on the increase. I have been licensed for just under 2 years, and started on a morse journey 12 months ago and CW is my primary DX chasing mode.

    One thing for certain is though, is that we are not top gun professionals and rag chewers, nor do we want to be, because the people who do those sorts of things tend to be exclusionist and elitist and will not give us the time of day. And yes, I asked lots of them to mentor me and pretty much got told to get stuffed. So much for the elmers huh. I got to where I am all on my own using all the wrong techniques because the professionals could not be arsed teaching anyone anything.

    But, 5nn tu 73 dx chasing and contesting, you find lots of us have taken to that because no one cares who we are or if we can rag chew at 30wpm, they just want a call report and serial and nothing more.

    5nn 73 tu de vk4ffab

  • Harry K7ZOV:


    You hit the nail on the head…. The older guys who were in the navies and other radio rooms who can do 30-80 WPM really do not have the time for slow chatting with CW. If they want to admit it or not, the fact of the matter is simple, they are a elite class of hams and don’t bother them until you hit 30+ WPM… The world of CW is growing and CW is not dying. I just see to class of CW hams the 20 WPM and less (more like 15 WPM or less) who are the new ones and most likely will stay QRS…And the elite class who did morse code as a living or in the military or for so long it is a language. And if you don’t speak that CW language fast enough they don’t care… No Elmers on CW are far a extremely few these days. Voice (SSB) is somewhat better but it there again they elite group of 1500 watt, $20,000 operators with antenna farms just don’t seem to want to help either. I have helped many beginners, esp with PSK31 and was thanked many times and told I was the only one that didn’t treat them badly…. Despite all of this negativity CW and ham in general is growing. The mentors and Elmers just seem to be more of those who are new themselves….

  • Frank ON6UU:

    My elmer is HA3HK, the ham operator who I had an SSB qso with in 2007 and told him I was coming to Hungary on holidays, an invite to visit him followed that same qso, a year later we did our first sota activations together. Why is he my elmer, he was the one who inspired me to start learning CW. The ease he does 35wpm and meanwhile still talking to me or others in our SOTA group did the trick for me, I wanted this too. I am not as fast as Zoli and never will be that fast but I’m having fun and that is all that matters.

    And yes, CW is growing, look at the SKCC numbers.

    What we need in radio amateurisme are inspiring people, people who do things others want to do also, being it maybe a bit more QRS like I do compared to my elmer.

    –… …–

  • Bud Martin KV4FR:

    CPO Morgan was at the end of his enlistment when at OSU in the ’50s. I think his most significant duty was at Port Lyautey, where he was CN8EE. Ham radio is a hobby, where one can develop special skills. It is a path to science built upon private adventures of connection to others of the ilk, and an integrating method of worldliness. When I was G5ACY (incidentally MARS Director, in U.K.), I was able to visit hams met on CW. I particularly recall another Captain in Denmark (call forgotten) who shared a smorgasbord of buttered goodies prepared by his wife that I will never forget. Contacts are what you make of them. There are elitists in every special discipline, and the way to become a member of their association is to practice, practice, practice. Nothing in Life is easy. Endure, and persevere in pursuit of your desires–hopefully without alienating others (who will then ignore you if you’re lucky).

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: