Nashua Area Radio Society Topics In All Forums CW and QRP Forum THE SECRETS OF CW Frank Merritt, VE7FPM

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    Layne AE1N
    Layne AE1N

    This is a summary of an interesting take on Morse Code. The author has some interesting takes on learning cw! I never thought about ‘Sleep Learning’ CW. Also I agree: one should become proficient at the straight key before moving on. Also the comparison of how typists learn is good…

    THE SECRETS OF CW by Frank Merritt, VE7FPM

    Many CW Amateur Radio operators never get beyond the very elementary mode of operation. In dealing with this fascinating situation it is necessary to go right back to the beginning with operating CW. In the beginning many operators just don’t like CW. We humans are individually programmed. The CW operators in-training used the punching bag to relieve the tensions of learning CW all day. Experimentally it was found that if a radio receiver was tuned to an RTTY signal the CW trainees would be gone in less than two minutes. The CW trainees were used to the random rhythm of CW and found the repetitive nature of RTTY to be very disturbing. The very nature of the CW signal was incompatible with the RTTY signal.

    The very interesting feature of this tale of subliminal conflict is that the sound of RTTY was familiar and acceptable to me but not those students of CW. Years later when I was studying CW to prepare for my Amateur Radio examination I found that as I accepted the rhythm of CW I no longer had any difficulty in learning CW. Those trying to learn CW virtually always have a mental block or pre-conditioning that causes a conflict when learning it. How many times have we heard prospective Hams say that “learning CW is just too hard”.

    The manner of dealing with this deep-seated emotional feeling is amazingly easy. When learning CW it is necessary to condition the mind to accept the rhythm of CW. A source of random CW is required that can be varied in both speed and volume.

    What is new is the way that the CW practice unit is used. By playing the random CW at a low audio level it is just barely perceived by the brain. Periodically change the selection of the random CW text. Make no attempt to recognize the CW characters. Sleep teaching? If using the unit for sleep teaching be sure that if you use a pillow speaker the level is very low. Years ago I jammed an old record player to continuously repeat a record and then used a record with random CW characters. The second problem was found to be that eventually the brain has the capability of memorizing an amazing length of random CW. Hence it is desirable to be able to select one of a number of random CW offerings.

    It will take time and perseverance. Little by little you will be able to notice an improvement with the ease that you hear and remember CW. Along with this practice it is wise to use a newspaper as a source and gain practice sending CW. In sending code the greatest emphasis should be placed on sending PERFECT code. Use a straight key for this practice. Learn to send perfect characters and words using the proper spacing of one space between characters and three spaces between words. This term goes back to the early years of CW sending in which the short muscles of the wrist get tired and the operator just has to stop sending. Just keep the wrist muscles taut without strain and do no pivot at the wrist. In a matter of time borrow a Ham receiver and tune in to the CW portion of the band that seems to work the best for you.

    First learn to send perfect CW with the hand key. It is a good training for learning to converse in CW with other noises within and without the car. Yes, there is still more to the mystery of operating CW. We now delve into the innermost byways of this interesting facet of Amateur Radio. The earliest forms of communicating intelligence by radio were by CW. The CW that we now use is a derivative of the land-line Morse communications. From CW the state-of-the-art progressed (?) to voice as with Amplitude Modulation (AM). There remained many operators who did not abandon CW in preference to voice communications. Many CW operators realized that there was something more to the International Morse Code than just memorizing the representations of the letters, numbers and punctuation.

    Typists find that there are different levels of typing. As proficiency increases it is found that the typist can read a bit faster than the actual typing. As time goes by the typist notices that there is a mental translation that permits the eyes to provide the input to the brain resulting in typing without any conscious action. Again, as time goes by the typist finds that he/she is able to read the typed text and edit it for typing errors. This diversion has nothing directly to do with our premise of CW operation but indicates the power of the brain.

    As time goes by in the practice of CW the operator becomes aware of small words at first that just “pop out” of the audio. The eventuality of this characteristic is that in a matter of time the operator finds that he/she is copying two to three words behind and that the word/words are mentally checked and corrected for errors.

    Each operator has what is called a FIST. In WWII this meant that radio intercept operators knew the fists of many of the enemy operators which provided a clue when the enemy moved units to a new location. It was quite common for the intercept operators to provide names for the enemy operators which sometimes were quite humorous.

    Perfect hand key sending is beautiful to hear. Also, it is easy to copy! This leads us into the problems that arise in copying CW. It is not uncommon that under some conditions a relatively good code operator may not be able to copy well if at all. It is obvious that the goal of every operator should be to send perfect code.

    To be sure there are countries that have developed somewhat unusual forms of CW but for the most part Amateur Radio CW operation is in English. The first contact of any operator is very challenging to deal with this new language of CW.

    The other side of the coin of CW operations is that for most operators WORK is
    required to master the art of CW.   In all CW operations there is a desire for brevity. This is why a number of codes have been developed to express more complicated statements or questions in the form of three letters of the code in question. The Q-code designation of QTH stands for the geographical location of the sender or QTH? Efficiency of transmission is a consideration of CW operators. CW may be sent and received with a bandwidth of 500 Hz or less! Of course, the other side of this equation is that a good stable and selective receiver is a great advantage in operating with CW.

    Operating with CW with a narrow bandpass receiver means that much undesired noise and the effects of other signals is just lost. This is a very great enhancement and makes CW operating much more pleasurable.

    Operating CW is an art as much as anything else. Some think that CW will just fade away. It is somewhat unfortunate that effort is required to become a CW operator. As operators in general realize that there is something more than voice or digital communications they become candidates for the art of CW. Time will tell.

    Layne AE1N

    Fred Kemmerer
    Fred Kemmerer

    Hi Layne,

    Great article – thanks for sharing it. You might also want to post this on our Blog so that folks outside of our club can view it as well.



    - Fred (AB1OC)
    President, Nashua Area Radio Society
    Visit us on the web at -

    Layne AE1N
    Layne AE1N

    Fred can you transfer it to the blog? I lost the file.

    Layne AE1N

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