Morse Code – The Key to Lockdown (QUA 31)

Stockport Radio Society and Morse Code have been amiable bedfellows for many years. 

The society from its early years has always encouraged members to embrace the original mode of wireless communication and use it to the best of their ability. Over the years there have been many members who have used the code both individually and within teams to great effect evidenced by our success in contest events notably the annual National Field Day where we have achieved first place on many occasions.

In our 100th year it’s worth just thinking about some of those personalities from SRS who have successfully used this most simple of modes. There’s Ray Gerrard G3NOM, Eric Forsyth G3GMM, and of course Jim Barlow G3VOU to name but three all of whom are sadly no longer with us. However, still ploughing the morse code furrow are the likes of Barry Simpson G3PEK/VK2BJ, Carsten Steinhoefel G0SYP/DL1EFD, and of course Bernard Naylor G3SHF.

All of you reading this article will be aware of Bernard’s exploits especially with the contest group but will also know of his endeavours to promote morse code’s use by members and the society as a whole. Do you remember Bernard, or “Ben” (the alias he uses when on the air) featured in the BBC North West Tonight interview alongside Jim Barlow back in 2008 when the use of morse code was highlighted to viewers in the North West of England.

Well, Bernard’s latest project, along with Tom M0DCG and assisted by this period of lockdown is to improve their own morse skills and in turn help members “listening in ” into the world of morse code. But before we hear about that, let’s first hear from the man behind the key and how he got into morse and this hobby………

CW From the Beginning……

It was a warm day with my bike up turned and rear wheel spinning wildly. The spokes were glinting in the sunshine as I knelt in the grass firmly grasping a pedal in my left hand and a pencil in my right.

My pal Alan was 50 yards away in exactly the same situation looking for some inspiration.

We were 13 or 14 years of age in the same class at the same new Secondary School boasting a library that held 2 books on radio that were now in the hands of Alan and I for long periods.

Both of us were looking forward to leaving school at 15. Alan had a place at Fleetwood Nautical College planning to become a ship’s radio officer, while I planned to take the RAE (Radio Amateur’s Examination) and become a radio amateur.

We used the upturned bikes with tyre powered dynamos to feed cycle lamp bulbs linked with old WW2 field telephone insulated steel wire connecting the two bikes with morse keys made from box wood, strips of tin for contacts and elastic bands. I recall the College required 20 wpm from the students but we managed to get up to 12 wpm with flashing lights rather than audible dits and dahs. QSB was easy – turn the pedals slower!

Following success with the RAE my father took me to a room at the very top of the Liver Building in Liverpool where I was seated in front of a Morse key and asked to send a text at 12wpm. After a minute I was stopped and told that was enough as I’d passed!

N.B. On Liverpool waterfront, the building with the big birds on the top is “The Liver Building” and as a matter of interest the middle one is called the “Mersey Docks and Harbour Building” and the third one is called the “Cunard Building”. Collectively, they are known as the “Three Graces”.

The rest is history as they say! 

I’m not sure what happened to Alan but I like to think he went on to have a long successful career at sea dining regularly at the captain’s table and visiting exotic lands all round the globe….

Bernard (Ben) G3SHF…………

………So, we’ve heard a little about the man, but where did the idea for the daily sessions come from. As we’ll see, it was from a discussion at an SRS meeting.  

Lockdown Tea Time Morse….The Project.

At the last SRS general meeting (March) Tom (M0DCG) and I were discussing the problems the likely lock-down would cause. Of course, a problem is usually accompanied by an opportunity, so looking around the room we spotted Evan and his Slow Morse corner and our thoughts alighted on the idea that rather than once a week club practice we could start daily QSOs using slow morse that may well attract others to call in and form a Slow Morse net.

Discussing how this would work, 80 metres and 2 metres were thought to be favourite but as I have no gear for 2 metres we decided we would try 80 at least at first until we figured out how to make  things work on 2. We’re still working on this!

Tests on 80 the following day proved OK so we announced a start on 23rd March using 3541 kHz. The first day gave us a problem from the start. Would you believe it, a station was calling CQ on our chosen frequency! The caller was the only station on the band but a quick QSY to 3542 plus a message on the SRS server solved the problem. The following day we tried 3542 again only to find an RSGB CW contest taking place. So again we QSYed out of the way this time to a quiet spot at 3564 where we have remained ever since. Maybe by now we’ve scared everyone else permanently off that spot on the band!

Our QSOs settled down to the first 20 minutes sending slow Morse at 5 wpm (words per minute) to each other aimed at getting ourselves back in practice – Tom felt he was so very rusty with the code! This was followed by 5 minutes at 10 wpm slipping in some punctuations in regular use in CW contacts, followed by 5 minutes at 12 wpm.

As it’s difficult at times to know what things to send to each other that’s of continuing interest on a regular daily basis, we often have to fall back on radio technical data as well as quoting from our diaries – all pretty exciting stuff…but it keeps our hand in!

While we have kept up our daily QSOs with each other, to our delight we have now been joined by 4 others who had been listening to us, each calling in for a QSO, so we have developed a small net. As the weeks have passed by, the quality of our sending has improved and our send speed has been increased to match improved receiving skills. Indeed one member of our net is now making QSOs on 40m CW while a couple more have indicated they are ready to make a start on their own.

Throughout the period we have received emails from 20 or so SRS members plus one new member who has joined SRS after listening to the Slow Morse QSOs. Word certainly gets around! Currently we have a dozen members regularly listening to the sessions plus Tom’s brother on Orkney who listens out for us when conditions permit. We’ve even had a G4 calling in at the end of a net, saying how much he had enjoyed our exchange.

You may ask where next and what are our plans. Clearly this depends on progress with the lifting of coronavirus lockdown restrictions, but for the immediate future we plan to continue with our regular QSOs. What could be better than an hour spent practising our skills during the long hot summer days!

We can be contacted at mailto:morse@g8srs.co.uk 

Tom M0DCG & Bernard G3SHF…………”

Four o’clock on an English summer afternoon used to mean “time for tea”, now it’s time for “morse with Bernard and Tom”.

It’s clear Bernard and Tom have made a huge impact by establishing the daily sessions which when we look back have been taking place each day at 4PM local since mid March. As Bernard says, whilst at the same time as helping themselves they have helped a number of members to develop their morse skills and actually “get on the air”.  

Keith 2E0JPY & Chris M7CJK comment as follows………

View from the otherside of the key……

Myself, Keith 2E0JPY and Chris M7CJK at the start of the current lockdown decided to try and learn Morse code. Chris purchased a Zach lambic paddle from the Czech Republic and I purchased a Vine antennas TP3 lambic paddle from Lamco. 

We then started to listen to Bernard G3SHF and Tom M0DCG on the daily CW net on 80 metres. After practicing a few basics call signs, CQ, etc we decided to join in at first we weren’t very good but Bernard was very encouraging and suggested we practiced a little each day and built up slowly which we did and persevered and started to join in on the net. 

We also have a daily practice between ourselves on a quiet band, anyone wishing to join us feel free, the more the merrier (email myself or Chris for details times,frequencies, etc).

After eight weeks or so we are both sending at 16WPM and I have been brave enough to make several international contacts on CW and we both thoroughly enjoy the mode of communication. Now I just need to concentrate on the reading instead of relying on the decoder on my iPhone and slowly but surely it’s coming unless someone sends ultra fast. 

So let me assure you if I can do it anyone can and hats off to Bernard and Tom for running the daily CW sessions which has created a lot of interest from quite a few members who are now thinking of trying It. 

So if you have ever wondered about trying CW, don’t be shy give it a try, it’s fun.

Best regards and 73 Keith 2E0JPY ……

Thank you Keith who along with Chris can also be contacted on the many SRS Nets presently taking place on VHF (usually 145.375MHz) and also during the daytime when the same  frequency is usually being monitored for any member wishing to have a chat.

After tea time clear up and my CW story …

The daily sessions are not the end of the story and as Keith comments Bernard’s advice is to take some time each day to practice whether it be receiving characters or becoming familiar with sending morse and in that respect I hope I have been able to assist interested parties.

My own background in Morse Code began in the late 80’s when having successfully passed the RAE and gained by “class B” callsign (G7IOR) I was encouraged by a friend Gary G0HJQ to join the SRS team taking part in that year’s SSB Field Day. Having enjoyed the HF experience I decided to get my “A” licence which of course at the time meant passing a 12 wpm morse code test. Guided by Rick Whittaker G4WAU at Avondale School I took the test which was managed by two further well known SRS personalities from the past, Harold Froggatt G3HQH & Neville Paul G3AUB. 

With a pass ticket under my belt and new callsign G0RXA secured I was at last allowed onto those  hallowed HF bands. But, looking back and like so many HF operators I’d treated passing the morse test as an obstacle to overcome rather than an opportunity to gain experience with the code, something I regret not doing.

In recent times and having witnessed the likes of Bernard and Carsten operating in the morse contests my interest in this mode has been rekindled and with Bernard & Tom’s tea time sessions taking place this is an ideal time to train and practice the art of morse code. I’m not there yet but getting there slowly.

Wanting to play a part in “Lockdown Morse” I quickly realised I could record the sessions and make these available to anyone wishing to listen again to what had been sent. A routine was quickly established whereby once the sessions are completed, Bernard sends the text of the slow morse sent between the two of them to me which is emailed to the SRS email mailing list and at the same time added to a folder containing the recording in “WAV” format. The “WAV” file usually contains the whole session including the following QSO’s.

A library of these sessions is slowly being built up and is available for anyone to use to help beginners and older hands alike and is maintained as part of the SRS website looked after by our secretary and media manager Heather Stanley, M6HNS.

Heather has prepared a dedicated page which contains information such as symbols, punctuation,  useful abbreviations and Q codes regularly used in morse contacts, plus there are links to sites of general interest and further information. Of course there is also a link to the library of Bernard & Tom’s “lockdown tea time morse sessions”.  This is a fabulous resource available to anyone with an interest in Morse Code, it’s history and it’s use today and in the future.

The link to the dedicated morse page is https://www.g8srs.co.uk/cw-nets-during-covid-19/

….and the link to the sessions library is https://www.g8srs.co.uk/cw-net-wav-files/

……and finally…..

Thank you to Bernard and Tom, to those who call in at the end of the sessions and anyone who has provided their comments and signal reports which are most welcome.

Bernard and Tom are always looking for suggestions as to how their sessions can be developed and if possible improved and I’m sure they’d also like to hear your stories of how you use the sessions, whether you’ve got on the air and perhaps with a photo of you and your gear and maybe a cup of tea or coffee too. After all, that seems to be Tom’s favourite after session tipple!!

They can be emailed directly to the team through morse@g8srs.co.uk

Until next time, 73’s de  Nigel  G0RXA.