The Unthinkable

Think CW is alive, well and finding plenty of new adherents?

In the aftermath of the rule change that removed Morse testing as a requirement for amateur radio licensing in the United States many years ago, hams went on a roller coaster ride of emotion.

At first, we fretted and freaked out that the change signaled the beginning of the end for our favorite mode. But as time went on, the popularity of Morse seemed to grow. Or at least that’s what we told ourselves and anyone who would listen.

We looked for reasons to believe that version of reality and found clues in contest results that indicated CW was growing in popularity. Logs from Field Day operations confirmed that Morse was alive and well.

That belief has become so pervasive that the popular meme among CW enthusiasts goes something like this — with the testing requirement removed, more hams are taking an interest in CW — because they don’t have to.

But for one scary moment, allow yourself to consider that radio contest enthusiasts are in it to win it and almost all contests, including Field Day, offer a healthy bonus for CW contacts. Remove the bonus, and you have to wonder if those contest scores would still reflect a healthy growth in the use of Morse?

Maybe. Maybe not. But here’s another data point to consider.

According to the ARRL, 136,000 NPOTA contacts have been logged so far this year. Of those, 88.4% have been via voice while only 10% have been via CW. This seems significant. It’s an operating event where phone and CW contacts are on an equal footing with the result that phone is preferred by almost 9 out of 10 operators.

Despite the fact that most trail-friendly equipment is CW only.

That seems odd considering our belief that CW is alive, well, and finding plenty of new adherents. Unless of course the meme is a shared delusion.

On second thought, forget what I’ve written here. Let’s all take another blue pill and keep believing that all is well — I’m certain we’ll sleep better.

Author: Jeff Davis


4 thoughts on “The Unthinkable”

  1. Jeff, if you go to the NPOTA FB page, you’ll see a lot of these NPOTA activations seem to be a lot more involved than “trail friendly”. A lot of them look like mini Field Days, complete with canopies, banners and information tables. That’s a good thing for sure. And it also seems a lot of the “newer” licensed Hams are also enjoying the heck out of NPOTA. I am disappointed that is not as much CW activity as I would like, and I’ll do my best this year to do a few more CW activations. I hardly think this is an indication of the popularity of CW, though.

  2. Thanks for the comment Larry. There are of course plenty of reasons to believe Morse enthusiasm hasn’t ebbed, perhaps as you say the NPOTA event is simply an outlier in the data. In any event, it will be up to you, and folks like you to keep the tradition alive. I’m just waiting on Heard Island before I go QRT on HF. Keep fighting the good fight!

    73, Jeff KE9V

  3. Let’s looks at another popular, portable operation…SOTA. CW beats SSB. Adding FM puts phone just over CW, but not nearly with as much margin as the NPOTA stats:

    CW : 1,539,545.00
    SSB : 1,230,754.00
    FM : 657,031.00
    SSB+FM: 1,895,294.00

    Can you judge popularity by QSO count? I think it’s more complex than that.

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