Losing the Novice Accent

I’ve been off work for six weeks now and have fallen into a fairly comfortable pattern. Up at 6am, feed the dog and cat, make the coffee, then retire to the shack to spin the knobs for a couple hours until it’s time to take Brenda to work. These ‘forty meter mornings’, as I’ve taken to calling them, have provided me a rare opportunity — to listen.

Look, when your life is busy with work, family and other obligations, you might – maybe, be able to carve out an hour or so for ham radio. And that’s probably not on a daily basis. Grabbing that semi-rare opportunity to disturb the aether puts most of us in transmit mode. We have some time, let’s make contacts — and why not?

But when time moves a tad slower, and shack time isn’t so limited, opportunities to tune the bands and just listen, without transmitting, can become instructive episodes. I’ve bumped into nets I never knew existed and eavesdropped on long conversations between familiar and popular call signs.

And since I’m primarily a CW operator, I’ve started making notes about the way procedure and the format of how we communicate has evolved. I came to Morse in the long shadow of the “Your Novice Accent (and what to do about it) era”. That seminal document provided the now familiar pattern for conversation for an entire generation of Morse enthusiasts.

It was written a long, long time ago (1956) so it comes as no surprise that changes would creep into the vernacular of brass pounding. Still, I’m convinced that if you plucked a CW operator from 1959 and plopped him down in the 40 meter band today, he would get along just fine. The formula hasn’t changed all that much.

Even so, nothing about amateur radio has been so perfectly honed that there isn’t room for improvement, even after a century of practice. For instance, I’ve always believed one of the advantages of CW was brevity. Good operators can exchange a wealth of information using Q signals and a few common abbreviations.

But listen close, and you will notice that plenty of applesauce has crept into our key-to-key conversations. This was also true in 1956 and W6DTY was quick to put the blame squarely on the Novice:

“Signals for period and comma were practically never heard on the ham bands until the novices got going. They are still not in use except in the novice bands. All punctuation can be handled by the question mark and by the [BT] (dah di di di dah). What do you need with a comma? Nothing! Don’t bother to use it”.

I’ve managed to completely expunge my own use of the period on CW, but the comma seems embedded deep enough in my gray matter that whenever I send my city, it wants to inject itself before my state. I’ve made myself a sticky note in the shack to stop that nonsense and it’s helping, but in this matter, I’m not fully reformed.

When you sign over to the other station make it quick and easy and use one of the standard methods. I have heard novices say, ‘… NOW I AM TURNING IT BACK TO YOU SO HERE IT COMES …‘ Long winded guff is okay in its place, but it shouldn’t become a habit on CW. Some of the boys are now sending, ‘… SO BK TO YOU …‘ — this is an improvement, but it’s not universally understood because “BK” means BREAK, not BACK. All you need to say, really, is “HW?” or “WATSA?” Either signal indicates to the other fellow that you are through for the moment and are about to sign over to him“.

Damn. Another sticky note.

Far and away the sin of pedantry is the worst for a CW op. The crazy long, sappy sentimental goodbye at the conclusion of a QSO. It just shouldn’t be. There’s really no need to explain why you suddenly need to go QRT. Stuff happens. The phone rings, someone knocks on the door, the dog needs to go out, etc. There’s no reason to explain it. A simple ‘MUST QRT NOW TU FOR QSO ES CUL’ is fine by me and should be with everyone. It isn’t rude, it’s practical!

If it is your last transmission it is customary to part with a certain amount of love and kisses. Don’t drag it out into absurdity. Haven’t you heard some featherhead send, ‘WELL BILL NOW I MUST QRT AND WISH YOU MANY 73S 73S TNX FOR THE SWELL QSO BILL AND 73S BEST OF LUCK AND LOTS OF DX AND BEST WISHES TO YOU AND THE FAMILY SO 73S AND I WILL SEE YOU AGAIN SOON BILL 73S … etc?‘ All you have to say after you’ve told Bill you must QRT is something like this: TNX QSO OM 73 GN [VA] WN4YYY DE KN6ZZZ

Examples of questionable practice by featherheads are in no short supply on the bands but you get the idea. Read the article several times over a six month span and your ears will become finely tuned to the many little nits that taint the efficacy of Morse.

Author: Jeff Davis