Keep Calm and Move On

If you have struggled long to master Morse code, maybe it’s time to let it go?

move onAs a frequent sojourner in the land of ham radio mailing lists and club newsletters, I can’t help but notice the abundance of consternation created by the struggle to learn Morse code.

The perpetual question asked, “what is the best way to learn the code?” never seems answered to complete satisfaction. The answer is always “practice” which obviously isn’t helpful because the response to that is always “but how?”

It’s downright sad that this endless quest sucks so much time and energy from the global fraternity of radio hobbyists. Morse code is completely unimportant in this day and age, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t useful. It’s simply one mode — among many that we have at our disposal for communication.

My answer to those who have struggled for too long to learn it is simple: obtain one of the many hard or soft interface units that will decode it for you. Send code from the keyboard (or button on a memory keyer) and receive it from a screen. Who cares how you do it? The CW interchange with DX stations is amazingly brief and meaningless. All that really matters is the “contact” — there’s no bonus for head copying the DX at 50 wpm.

CW provides tremendous advantage over every other mode in this regard because it is more effective than voice and the BIG DXpeditions will use it while foregoing other digital modes. There is simply no reason to miss out on anything the mode has to offer just because you can’t copy or send it at any speed.

During the W1AW portable celebration event last year I managed to confirm 26 states on RTTY, a few of them on six meters no less, yet I’m not a RTTY operator. My ICOM IC-7100 has a built-in decoder and I queued several canned messages in its memory. When I copied a station sending CQ and standing by, I would hit one button that sent my call sign. I would receive my report and follow that with a second button push that sent ‘TU 73 de KE9V’.

Those contacts were perfectly valid and counted for the W1AW event as well as WAS. It doesn’t matter that I’m not a ‘proper’ RTTY operator and have no other gear or software in my shack that would identify me as one. If one of those stations would have asked me a question I would have been in trouble but they never did!

If someone would have told me that I’m “not a real ham” because of operating that way I would have laughed and laughed and then moved on. I don’t need the validation of others to prove my ham radio worthiness and neither do you.

There is of course many benefits to mastering the art and skill of Morse code and it’s certainly a worthwhile goal. But if you just can’t do it don’t kick yourself. It’s much like learning to play a guitar. Some people take to it quickly while others never do.

You can get better with practice, but contrary to what many will try and tell you, it’s not for everyone — and there’s very little to enjoy about a hobby that causes constant frustration.

Author: Jeff Davis


1 thought on “Keep Calm and Move On”

  1. Hi Jeff

    Using a decoder and ‘canned messages’, that is exactly what I have advised two local friends who had their reasons (excuses?) not to be active in CW at all.

    Guess what? They now log contacts with the mode set to CW! The OM who’s been at it the longest can copy most standard stuff by ear right now but feels confident with the decoder running along. Fine! He also makes hundreds CW contacts in CQ WW CW boosting his DXCC scores. And has added another layer of fun to the hobby.

    Learning CW isn’t all that hard. It’s a matter of discipline. Practice 10-15 minutes every day. Not more or longer, just do it each and every day. You will hit a wall several times. Don’t quit then. Just proceed and you will break through it sooner or later. There are tons of (online) tools available.

    So I hope anyone who recognizes him/herself in your reasoning, gives it a shot. Those in the know will most likely confirm that CW is a potent mode and all but obsolete on the HF bands! For me, if it weren’t for CW, I might have given up a long time ago.

    Thanks for shining your light on the mother of all modes HI.
    73 de Franki ON5ZO

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