The CW Culture – And how to join the fun

Being a podcast fan, I’ve loaded my podcatcher with a variety of fascinating ham radio podcasts. My three faves: ARRL’s The Doctor Is In, Cale Nelson’s Ham Radio 360 and Bruce, N9WKE’s DitDit podcast. Bruce, at this writing, is one of the relative newbies to the the podcast constellation. His program is dedicated to promoting enthusiasm for morse code, the keyed continuous wave communication that we hams call “CW”.

I recently listened to his conversation with Emily Saldana, KB3VVE. Emily became a star in the ham radio community during the League’s outstanding National Parks On The Air event in 2016, inspiring us with her determination and her developing fascination with CW. During her visit with Bruce, Emily described her love affair with the Code, how she overcame the initial fear we all have of touching the key, the creative ways she built her speed and her secrets for breaking through the radiosport pack in the midst of a contest pile-up.

I’ve been asking others who share the CW passion to share some of the tools that helped them grow from discovery to competency. Here is some of that wisdom.

Starting from Scratch: Learn from Ludwig Koch – The Koch Method is widely praised as a productive way to pick up this new language. David Finley, N1IRZ wrote Morse Code: Breaking the Barrier, He notes that Koch took a group of students from 0 to 12 words per minute in just 13.2 hours. Look up Koch Trainer in your favorite smart phone app store and you’ll find several that can get you started right from the comfort of your device. Here’s a website that works with your favorite browser. Learn CW On-Line,, has Koch trainers and tools to build your ability to decipher call-signs and code groups.

Get on the Air: Nothing beats getting knocking out some QSOs. Getting over the fear of that first contact can be liberating. Find a frequency on 40 meters in the old Novice portion of the band and send at a speed you are comfortable with. The Straight Key Century Club and have a number of friendly folks who monitor the bands and will come back to you at your speed. Don’t be afraid to send a QRS (please slow down) or RPT (please repeat) if you need to.

Practice Makes Proficiency: There are a ton of great ways to build your confidence. Emily set up a sked with a friend and they sent the text from children’s books to one another, a “Bedtime Story Net” of sorts. The CW Dimebank website broadcasts the latest CNN headline news at varying speeds. The ARRL had daily code practice both on the air and available for download, offering certificates as you pass words-per-minute milestones. When learning any new language, immersion is a powerful teacher. In time, letter groups will form words in your mind and before you know it you will be “head copying” with the best of them.

CW On-Line: An entire CW subculture exists on the Internet. MorseCode.Me, Morse Over IP and Internet CW are just a few examples of places where you can converse in code on line. And if you’re a maker, here’s a way cool telegraphy project you can construct with a Raspberry Pi.

Join The Club! The Morse Code is more than just a language for communication. It’s central to a fellowship of friendly people who share a fascination with all things CW. You will find them welcoming, patient and excited to help you become comfortable conversing in the oldest and most reliable method of technological information exchange. If you’ve never tried CW, come join the fun. And if your skills may have rusted a bit, the Morse family will gladly help you sharpen the saw and get back in the game.

How to make Field Day (or any remote operation) Great

In my days as a radio broadcaster, one of the most exciting things we did was a “remote”, where we took our gear and our talent out into the community to broadcast live. My good friend and legendary programming consultant, Gary Berkowitz, recently wrote a column about how to accomplish an effective remote. Realizing that Field Day, a Special Event Station, or any activity that takes ham radio into our community is an opportunity to promote our essential avocation, here’s my recipe for excellent execution, borrowing heavily on his advice.

1) Have a plan – Weeks prior to this year’s Field Day, I had the honor of attending the South Lyon Area Amateur Radio Club‘s monthly meeting. A good portion was dedicated to Field Day. They had a strong committee, headed by a strong and respected leader. They recruited a number of volunteers and had detailed plans for everything from set-up to food preparation. Sweat the details before hand and the execution is more than half done. Read the rest of this entry »

Amateur Radio During Word War II

What follows is a summary of the War Emergency Radio Service (WERS). Information was gathered primarily from “Fifty Years of ARRL,” an historical record of the League and amateur radio. It was originally posted on the AC6V website.

First a bit of background: In 1939 there were 51,000 US hams. In September of that year war came to Europe. Of the 250 DXCC countries, 121 of them immediately went off the air (including Canada and the UK). The US maintained the strictest sense of neutrality. This was re-enforced by the ARRL, which came up with a neutrality code for amateurs. Hams were asked by the ARRL to voluntarily abide by the code, which they did en masse; this earned additional support for the amateur radio service in governmental circles. Read the rest of this entry »

Earning ARRL’s Worked All States award in 12 months or less

Worked All States. It’s the first significant milestone for a radio amateur after passing the General Class exam. No matter what your gear, it’s an achievement that can be earned in a year or less if you play to win.

Here’s how.

Every state has its own QSO Party, a weekend where there’s an organized effort to make as many contacts with stations in that state as possible. MSUARC member, Joe Levine – W8JRK is one of the best at grabbing the rare ones and racking up contest points. He recommends participating in as many QSO Party’s as possible. Here’s a link to a complete calendar. Read the rest of this entry »

What we learned at the Collegiate Amateur Radio Forum in Orlando

It’s no secret that recruiting a new generation into our essential avocation is a challenge these days. Technological innovations can diminish the wow factor of amateur radio and the time constraints college students face make it tough for them to get actively involved in ham clubs. But it turns out that the same things that enticed many of us more seasoned souls to engage are still important, and still work.

A group about 20 of us gathered at the 2017 Orlando Hamcation as part of the ARRL’s Collegiate Amateur Radio Initiative. Tom Gallagher, NY2RF, opened the conversation, expressing the league’s total support for our efforts. He’s doing a terrific job at the helm of an evolving organization that must walk a tightrope to serve an eclectic and often opinionated constituency.

Then it was time for the conversation.

We covered a number of topics which I’ll try to collate into some common buckets. Read the rest of this entry »

Revitalizing Your College Ham Club

Matthew Beiz recently asked the members of the Collegiate Ham Radio Operators Facebook page for ideas on how to build interest in our essential avocation among a young audience dealing with lots of technological distractions. Here are a few thoughts from our work to rebuild the Michigan State University Amateur Radio Club:

Screen Shot 2016-08-30 at 9.55.35 AMGo where the action is – Build a robust Facebook presence, Twitter identity and a dynamic club website. Make sure they are regularly updated with relevant content. Engage in social media conversations with other hams. Read the rest of this entry »

Early Television

From 1945, a documentary aimed at returning service men and women, describing the advances in “electronic television”. Thanks to N8FMQ for the link!

The Thrills and Agonies of Radiosport

Scott WestermanBy Scott Westerman – W9WSW

How many of us remember Jim McKay’s introduction to ABC’s Wide World of Sports? “The thrill of victory… And the agony of defeat!” Such are the joys and frustrations for enthusiasts of Radiosport.

Radiosport, the term coined for the dogged pursuit of the many certificates and awards available to those who love injecting watts into a wire. Many still call it contesting. My XYL would call it an addiction in our house. Any way you slice it, it can be great fun! Read the rest of this entry »

Meeting the Media – 7 Steps to Building Productive Relationships

Scott WestermanBy Scott Westerman – W9WSW

The best way to build your network is before you need it. That’s why we practice emergency communications skills at events like Field Day and participate in Radiosport. That was the motivator for the famed Rocky Mountain Hams to build a state of the art broadband microwave network to facilitate high speed multimedia modes. Smart people who are thinking of a career change, get to know people who can help them before they come above the radar.

And so it is in the public relations realm. We live in a world where relationships rule. It’s crucial to get to know the key media contacts in your area before you need them. Here’s how to do it. Read the rest of this entry »

The ARRL 2016 Hurricane Preparedness Webinar