(Now a bi-weekly program)

October 2, 2012

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Morse Code ... Dying Art or Thriving Specialty?


On any given night, especially on weekends, and amazingly so on contest weekends, seemingly thousands of CW stations can be heard on just about any band.  Where are they coming from?  We've heard that CW ops are dwindling in numbers.  Code is no longer even required for new licensees. And it seems that appliance ops using FM HTs can barely spell CW anymore. 

In this episode of CWTD we'll explore a bit of the background, overview the various equipment out there for CW operation, and then hunker down on what makes a CW operator tick.  What his tips and tricks are.  If you've never considered using CW mode and Morse code, or or if you've let your fist drift away over the years, or even if you are currently active and in the A1 operator club, we think you'll find the discussion of the "original mode" interesting and eye-opening. 

73, George N2APB  & Joe N2CX

Audio Recording ... (Listen to the MP3 podcast)

Discussion Notes:

<20:21:21> "Al K8AXW": Joe, I had the pleasure of being one of those CW "spooks."
<20:24:46> "Charles WC5MC": Jerry Ziliak, KB6MT "High Speed Code" Audio Course (I'm not affiliated. I just think his course is superb.) http://www.visradio.com/cata/ars.htm
<20:25:22> "Ray K2ULR": http://www.bencher.com/
<20:25:24> "Terry WB4JFI": I have a Norcal kit 1/2 put together
<20:27:24> "Joe N2CX": Bencher is still run as an independent company - they bought out the Butternut line of antennas.
<20:32:10> "Pete - WB2QLL": "The Hallicrafters Model HA-1 T.O. Keyer employs digital circuitry, similar to that found in modern digital computers, to form perfect code characters at any speed."
<20:32:13> "Joe N2CX": K1JDV also sells a very inexpensive keyer chip.
<20:33:20> "Nancy - NJ8B": Bencher still makes the iambic keyer. They acquired the Butternut antenna line in the 1990s.
<20:33:32> "Paul - wa0rse": I remember building a keyer with solenoid-based relays... late 70's?
<20:33:59> "Charles WC5MC": Oh yeh I have used the K1JDV. Very nifty little keyer chip indeed.
<20:35:35> "Pete - WB2QLL": And then there's Ultramatic mode.
<20:39:41> "Ray K2ULR": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YSf93g0heUA
<20:41:04> "Al K8AXW": ZL1AZS---- Google Titanic's last transmissions..... there are examples of what spark sounded like..... very interesting.
<20:41:32> "W3SFG": Another spark example: http://www.hammondmuseumofradio.org/sparkx2.AIFF
<20:54:29> "Paul - wa0rse": meteor scatter uses ultra high speed cw, doesn't it?
<21:02:38> "George - N2APB": Yeah, so the transmission gets through before the reflecting meteors change or travel enough to stop the reflection!
<21:10:51> "Joe N2CX": Atlanticon warbler effort used Digipan software to copy pileup. Dave Benson and I logged the received signals.
<21:20:19> "John ZL1AZS": Thanks Al
<21:22:13> "Terry WB4JFI": Thnks again guys!
<21:22:17> "Frank N3PUU": thanks guys! 73!
<21:22:57> "Terry WB4JFI": Does anybody know of an Arduino project that decodes morse code from audio?
<21:23:28> "Ray K2ULR": 73
<21:24:18> "John ZL1AZS": Fascinating session guys! Thank you and GN
<21:25:52> "Pete - WB2QLL": reverse beacon network www.reversebeacon.net
<21:26:25> "Pete - WB2QLL": Anyone who wants to see my video on the fully automatic (as opposed to semi) bug I designed and built need just look on YouTube under my call.
<21:27:29> "Armand WA1UQO": Thanks again Joe & George - great as always - see you in two weeks!


Now simply called "CW", radio communication by Morse code was the only way to communicate for the first decade or more of Amateur Radio. Radiotelegraphy, the proper name, descends from landline (wired) telegraphy of the 19th century, and retains some of the old culture, including a rich set of abbreviations and procedures. Morse sent by spark gap transmitter was the first wireless communication mode. These "damped waves" were very broad and inefficient for communication. They were soon replaced by "Continuous Wave" (CW) transmission, using vacuum tube oscillators that were capable of a very pure note. Today, modern Amateur Radio transceivers use solid state components and microprocessors to support a variety of communication modes including CW, voice, image and many digital data modes. ... http://www.arrl.org/cw-mode

Samuel Finley Breese Morse (April 27, 1791 – April 2, 1872)

was an American contributor to the invention of a single-wire telegraph system based on European telegraphs, co-inventor of the Morse code, and an accomplished painter.


On the sea voyage home in 1832, Morse encountered Charles Thomas Jackson of Boston, a man who was well schooled in electromagnetism. Witnessing various experiments with Jackson's electromagnet, Morse developed the concept of a single-wire telegraph, and The Gallery of the Louvre was set aside. The original Morse telegraph, submitted with his patent application, is part of the collections of the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institution.[9] In time the Morse code would become the primary language of telegraphy in the world, and is still the standard for rhythmic transmission of data.




Hand Keys


Single contact closure turns on oscillator, or biases a buffer stage to allow the RF oscillator to pass on through to the transmitter











  HB Bug QST



Keyers and Paddles







    Single Lever











Iambic Keying? 

(from http://morse-rss-news.sourceforge.net/keyerdoc/modeab.pdf)

An iambic keyer is normally used with a dual lever paddle. It consists of two separately actuated switches. I am right handed and use my thumb for the dits and index finger for the dahs. You can also use a single lever paddle with an iambic keyer but you won’t be able to take advantage of the iambic properties of the keyer. Single lever keying is sometimes called slap keying since you can only depress either the dit (slap to the right) or dah (slap to the left) switch - you can’t depress both at the same time. Finally, some folks “slap” a dual lever paddle - this is OK, too!

The difference between mode A and B lies in what the keyer does when both paddles are released. The mode A keyer completes the element being sent when the paddles are released. The mode B keyer sends an additional element opposite to the one being sent when the paddles are released. The original Curtis chip is mode A - the WB4VVF Accu-keyer is mode B. You can tell the basic difference between the modes with the letter C. In mode A you could squeeze both paddles (dah before dit) and you would let go of both after hearing the last dit. With mode B, you start the same BUT let go of both paddles after hearing the second *dah*. Here is a diagram of sending a C with mode A and with mode B:



    More on Iambicitynousishness ...



Morse via Keyboard






Morse Readers


  Free Standing



           MFJ-461 ... http://www.radioinc.com/oscmax/catalog/product_info.php?products_id=878


 Built-in KX3, NUE-PSK, etc.









    Algorithms: Goertzel




Advanced Morse techniques


    CCW -- Coherent CW ... http://www.njqrp.org/ccw/index.html

Amateur Radio Coherent CW was invented by Ray Petit, W7GHM. He is also the inventor of Clover now manufactured by HAL Communications. The first amateur QSO was by Andy McCaskey, WA7ZVC using a Ten-Tec PM-1. CCW was promoted by Chas. Woodson (Woody), W6NEY a professor at Stanford University. Woody published a newsletter in the eary 1970's. Ade Weiss, W0RSP wrote some articles in CQ and Woody, W6NEY publish a series of articles in QST in 1979 - 1981 period. In February 1994 VE2IQ published his circuit for CCW using a PC and DSP techniques. Peter Lamb, G3IRM wrote a newsletter on CCW techniques in the early 1990's.

CCW moved on to BPSK techniques and is presently being used on 80 meters. A lot of this work, software, etc. is available on the web. The ARRL had information in the 1980's handbooks and still has some material in the current issues.

Amateur CCW was developed before we had nice microprocessors, DSP and other current technology. It's been around for 25 years, is only as complex as an SSB transmitter, and certainly within the building ability of all most all amateurs. One does not need power ... it is a QRPp mode.

CCW is slow ... 12 wpm CW. You need a good freq standard, but today we can use GPS timing (see TAPR web site). It works in noise and under poor conditions and has been proven to work on the ham bands.


    QRSS -- Extremely Slow CW ... http://www.w0ch.net/qrss/qrss.htm

QRSS is a derivative of the CW Q-Signal QRS for "Please lower your code speed". By using extremely slow CW, it is possible to use a computer sound card and special software to extract CW characters from below the audible noise floor. Morse code element lengths of 10 to 30 seconds (or even longer) per dot are commonly used.

Amateur VLF operators have used QRSS techniques to span the Atlantic at 136 KHz and to receive very weak VLF beacon transmissions from distant locations. By adopting these same techniques, QRP operators can push the envelope of very low power HF communications.

On the receive end, the audio output from the station receiver is fed into a computer sound card. When processed by special QRSS software, the magic happens and signals in the receive "window" are displayed. QRSS morse code character elements are visible as horizontal traces in the slowly scrolling display. In effect, the computer becomes a very narrow bandwidth filter by which coherent CW signals are extracted from the non-coherent receiver noise.


In the photo above, the characters "" and "C" of callsign WCH are visible. This Spectran screen shot was taken by AA4XX on March 2, 2002. The mode was QRSS30 (30 second dots) and the WCH 30 meter transmit power was 1 milliwatt for this test.


Learning to use Morse on the air ... <www.netwalk.com/~fsv/CWguide.htm>


Typical exchanges

    Ragchew exchanges

    DX exchanges

    Contest exchanges





Q Signals




Newbie practices vs OT practices


-        Being too “wordy” and not using common abbreviations and prosigns


-        repeating K2XXX de W3YYY when handing back over to the other station


-        not needed with strong signals BK is fine since you only have to identify yourself every 10 minutes



Getting familiar with CW exchanges


-        Write down typical exchanges


-        practice sending them to a Morse reader


-        look at how your fist is copied


-        repeat until comfortable with what you will be sending


-        Use (???) software to generate typical replies to your exchanges and send them to you in Morse


-        make up a number of them with different content


-        receive them and write down what you copy to get practice in the process


-        find a “buddy” at your same level of experience and practice making contacts with him using code practice oscillators


-        find on-the-air contacts and copy them on paper to get comfortable with how a contact is conducted.


SAMPLE QSO  (click on the yellow QSO string to hear the audio!)

(Thanks to John Shannon, K3WWP ... http://naqcc.info/cw_qsos.html ... for the format of this whole sample QSO!)


So in this sample QSO, we'll use a fictional contact between George N2APB and Joe N2CX.  N2APB does the initial 3x3 call of a CQ and Joe answers. Here's the way it goes:


And Joe replies to me ...


That's 111 characters including spaces that have conveyed 3 important pieces of information. Let's analyze it a bit more in conjunction with my comments before the QSO example.

N2APB DE N2CX let's the other station know you're answering him. The DE means 'from' so you're saying N2APB from N2CX or it can also be taken to mean N2APB this is N2CX. It should always be used when sending both calls.

GM TNX CALL means Good Morning, thanks for answering my CQ with your call. Obviously this could also be GA - Good Afternoon or GE - Good Evening depending on the time of day.

UR 599 599 means your signal is being received 599. That's the RST report, as described a bit earlier on our whiteboard here. You can also use the term RST as in UR RST IS 599 599, but I think that is superficial as it is really understood that you are giving an RST report when you say UR 599 or 559, 349, whatever.

IN BROOKLAWN NJ of course is giving your location. A pause between the town and state is sufficient to separate them. You don't need a comma. Alternately you can say QTH BROOKLAWN NJ which means my location is Brooklawn, NJ. The Q signal QTH means 'my location is' so it is incorrect to say my QTH is as then you are really stuttering and saying my location IS IS Brooklawn, NJ.

Obviously NAME IS JOE JOE is just what it seems to be. Some folks, especially in DX QSO's for whatever reason like to use OP IS JOE JOE meaning the operator's name is John.

I like to send RST, QTH, and NAME twice each which gives the other ham a chance to be sure he copied right and to write the info in his log.

HW? means "how did you copy?" or "how are you copying?" Again it's common knowledge what you are asking and you don't really need to send HW CPY?

AR is the letters AR run together and is a procedure signal meaning that's all I have to say for this round or 'end of transmission'.

N2APB DE N2CX is turning things over to N2APB to transmit now and...

K means go ahead and transmit now. You can also use KN to indicate that only N2APB may transmit. No one is welcome to break in. A plain K is technically an invitation to N2APB or any other station to transmit and anyone is welcome to break in.

Now it's N2APB's turn to transmit and it goes:


Virtually the same format except Joe knows my name and says GM George  instead of GM TNX CALL.
On Joe's second transmission, it becomes much more free-form and virtually anything can be talked about now that the formalities of the first round are over. However the procedure part of the rounds stays the same:


Notice a couple of things. The beginning and end of the round is identical to the first round, and every round should be the same way. Although not necessary nor even required, sending both calls at beginning and end is a courtesy to others listening in on the QSO to know who they are listening to. Perhaps one is an old friend, and they will break in (if we use K instead of KN) or wait till the QSO is over to call one of us (if we are using KN between rounds).

R at the very beginning means "I copied you solidly". Never send R if you didn't. It is contradictory to send R BUT I MISSED YOUR NAME. That means I copied everything you sent perfectly but I didn't copy your name. Huh?

FB means fine business and is a ham catch all expression meaning great, wonderful, that's interesting, etc. Don't get into the habit of repeating everything the other ham said though like FB on your TS-570D and FB on your QRP and attic antenna. I know what I'm running, you don't have to tell me. It's fine to say something like 'I used to have a 570 here also and liked it very much' or other such indirect comments on what I said, but don't just repeat what I said verbatim.

BT or B and T run together means a Break in Text and is used as a catch all punctuation mark between thoughts. Or if your mind goes blank temporarily a good filler repeated several times - BT BT BT.

ES is shorthand (shortfist?) for AND. It comes from the American Morse where ES is the ampersand (&) symbol.
Let's get to the close of a QSO now. Some folks take forever to say good-bye while others say it so fast you don't know it's over. I prefer something like the following last two rounds as a good middle ground.



Pretty much self-explanatory.

TNX QSO - thanks for the QSO
HPE CUL (CUAGN) - hope to see you later (again)
73 - NEVER NEVER 73s - 73 means 'best wishes' - 73s means 'best wisheses' which is plain silly. I've never heard anyone say 'best wisheses' in regular speech, yet it is done all the time with the misuse of 73. If you want to emphasize a 73 say VY 73 which means 'very best wishes' and is perfectly correct procedurally and grammatically.
GE (GA, GM) - good evening (afternoon, morning)

The SK at the very end of the last transmission means 'I have no further transmissions from here'. It may be used by both stations for their final transmission in place of AR which means as I said 'end of transmission' or end of this transmission, but I have more coming.

Then there is the traditional 'cute' ending. Two dits, "shave and a haircut" "two bits", the rooster crowing, etc. I prefer the simple two dits answered by a single dit. This is nothing official or mandatory, just something carried over from the early days of land line telegraphy.
If in the course of your QSO, someone else happens to come on frequency while you are transmitting and you can hear them because you are using break-in or QSK, here is a little trick. It's possible the interfering station can't hear you, but may be able to hear the station you are working. So turn it over to the other station as quickly as you can. Perhaps the interfering station will hear him and move on. This works especially well if you are working a higher power station.


[Again, thanks to John Shannon, K3WWP ... http://naqcc.info/cw_qsos.html ... for the format of this whole sample QSO! - n2apb]



1. Iambic A vs iambic B Chuck Olson  <www.morsecode.nl/modeab.pdf>

2. Marshal Emm Debunking iambic keying <www.morsex.com/pubs/iambicmyth.pdf>

3. Learning to use Morse on the air ... <www.netwalk.com/~fsv/CWguide.htm>

4.  Morse Code Operators Bid Adieu to Dying Language: ... http://www.eham.net/articles/27092

Books and Publications

5.  Morse Code for Radio Amateurs, by Roger Cooke, G3LDI, 9th Ed., 2006

6.  Your Introduction to Morse Code (audio CDs), ARRL, 4th Ed., 2008


7. A Standard for Morse Timing Using the Farnsworth Technique by Jon Bloom KE3Z, April 1990 QEX pp 8-9.

8. The PicoKeyer--An Ultra Low Power CW Memory Keyer by Dale L. Botkin, N0XAS, December 2003 QST pp 38-40

9. Code-Practice Oscillator (beginner) ... ARRL Now You're Talking pp. 11-1 to 11-2.  This is a complete oscillator that mounts on a small piece of wood.  CPO Construction Steps.ppt Pictures of the oscillator being assembled.


10. ARRLWeb: Learn Morse Code (CW)!

11. Good cw reference … <http://www.zerobeat.net/tasrt/contents.htm>

12. History of Curtis Keyers … <http://www.arrl.org/history-of-curtis-keyers>

13. Zen and the Art of Radiotelegraphy ... http://www.qsl.net/ik0ygj/enu/ZART_r20101008m.pdf

13.  The Art and Skill of Radiotelegraphy .... http://www.qsl.net/n9bor/images/The%20Art%20&%20Skill%20of%20Radio-Telegraphy%203rd%20edition%204-02.pdf

14. Winmorse program to generate WAV audio from text files … <http://www.winmorse.com/>

15. AA9PW morse code practice page with ability to generate mp3 files of sample QSO …. <http://aa9pw.com/morsecode/>

vvv vvv vvv kw1ef de wg7h wg7h = gm tom = ur rst 555 555 = name tom = our qth is medford, oregon = i have a ft600 es using 400 watts = the ant is a dipole = hr wx is humid, temp is 93 f = been licenced for 35 years = my occupation is tailor = back to you tom = kw1ef de wg7h kn

16. Sample CW QSO … http://naqcc.info/cw_qsos.html

17. Calling CQ … http://naqcc.info/cw_cq.html

18. Another … http://vu2sgw.blogspot.com/2008/08/cw-sample-qso.html

19. Abbreviations … http://naqcc.info/cw_abbr.html

20. Q-signals … http://naqcc.info/cw_qsigs.html

21. RST … http://naqcc.info/cw_rst.html

22. Beginner's Guide to Making CW Contacts … http://www.netwalk.com/~fsv/CWguide.htm

23. Audio sample of CW Contact (not great) … http://jehoshabeath.livejournal.com/440105.html

24. Audio Files (all sort of modes & scenarios) … http://www.astrosurf.com/luxorion/qsl-audiofiles.htm


25. DXZONE … http://www.dxzone.com/catalog/Operating_Modes/Morse_code/


26. Making Your First Contact … http://www.arrl.org/making-your-first-contact


27.  Audio recordings of the last day of 500 kHz operation in France. ... <http://archive.org/details/Qrt-LastDayOf500KhzInFrance>


28.  Great 7 part series by Jeffrey Herman KH2PZ/KH6 on his work as a 500 kHz Coast Guard CW op in Hawaii!  Part 1 is at: <http://jproc.ca/radiostor/cw500pt1.html.  You don't need to know CW to appreciate this unique series of operator experiences.


29.  The "Lake Erie Swing"!  The unusual way-off balance of dit-to-dah weighting that can be done on bugs ... and still be understood!  ... <http://archive.org/download/W0bmuHowardtexHarveyW0bmu/lake_erie_swing.mp3>


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