Teatime Morse with Bernard and Tom (QUA 32)

September already, where has the year gone?

Looking back at 2020 it’s so far been an extraordinary year but one which has helped many focus on aspects of our hobby they’d like to either learn or improve. Morse code in particular seems to have been one of those modes to have benefited during the lockdown period with old hands and new seeking out the delights of the CW portions of the HF bands.

Cast your minds back to March and you’ll recall Bernard G3SHF and Tom M0DCG came up with the idea of holding daily Morse code nets with the aim of improving their CW skills. Six months later and the daily net has continued with a band of members joining in.

One in particular and new member to the society is David, M0WDD who has documented his Morse code journey, but more about this later. Also joining in to further their skills have been Keith 2E0JPY, Jeff M0IKI and Chris M7CJK who as I type is sporting his new 2E0KJC callsign.

But, it’s not just our own members who have become involved. On many occasions Bernard and Tom have engaged in QSO’s with other operators from around the country. Once such was Peter G4LHI from Huntingon who took the trouble to email Bernard (Ben).

Hello Ben & yes vy sri abt the condx & we could not complete the QSO, but I got most of your info ok

You are doing a great job with your practice sessions & a very good idea to finish off on a QSO with each, gives them a good understanding of the correct procedure. I do the same with my pupils but we do our practice sessions on 2 mtrs, practice text on Mondays & proper QSO procedure on Tue & Wed evenings, & now & again find some of them on the HF bands.

The HROs were what I was using when I was in the army in Cyprus on my National Service, the HROs we used to receive & the transmitters were remote miles away from our camp, I was what they called a Spec OP & had to do a 31 wpm test for that hi, cant & would not want to do that speed now, I was only 18 then, now I am 93 hi

Look out for you again Ben & keep up the good work, there are too many of the Hams going over to Digital & leave good old morse code alone hi

Keep safe

73 Peter G4LHI”

If you’ve time, take a look at Peter’s QRZ page which is a very interesting read with some good historical photographs too.

I mentioned David M0WDD earlier who is a regular participant and who has put his experiences with “the code” into words.

My experiences of the SRS afternoon CW net 3564Khz, by David M0WDD

Why I joined the CW net

CW just was not working for me and I needed to do something about it. That’s my background to joining the club’s afternoon CW net.  A couple of years ago, I completed CW Ops level 1 online training, and learned the Morse code sounds of letters, numbers, and some punctuation. The CW Ops way is to learn character sounds at 20wpm with Farnsworth spacing for words.  I quickly found this worked fine for single characters, but I just could not copy more than one or two short words at a time, no matter how much I tried.  I understood the need for “practice, practice, practice” but it did not happen for me.  I practiced a lot, and tried some live QSOs. However, each time I heard CW coming back at me, my brain seemed to freeze and I just could not copy QSO exchanges. The experiences were awful.

From these early CW QSO experiences, I realised that people learn Morse code in different ways, and that what works for one person may not work for another. I needed to find the ways that worked for me to get the sounds of Morse code really into my head, so I could recall them instantly. I had already taken on the advice to learn through listening to the code sounds, with no visuals, no readers, and to keep listening, to memorise the character sounds. Instant Character Recognition was and still is my goal.

Since then I have tried some of the many online Morse code training websites, such as LCWO and Morsecode.world, and I use Just-Learn-Morse-Code on my laptop and HamMorse on my iPhone. There is now of course a vast choice of free Morse code learning resources available. Even after this, I still could not copy a stream of words, such as a QSO, even though I kept practicing.

So I was faced with the simple choice – give up, or try something different.  This is why I joined the SRS afternoon CW net, run by Bernard G3SHF and Tom M0DCG. My experience of this net has been excellent, and my CW copying is slowly improving. As well as this, I have managed live QSOs without the brain freeze effect.  Well mostly.

My impressions of the CW Net

When I joined the CW net, Bernard was welcoming and encouraging right from the start, particularly when I nearly quit before I had even begun. I immediately liked the mix of training in the net, of first listening to code at different speeds sent between Bernard and Tom, and then having a real live QSO with Bernard. This mix of learning through listening to CW and then having a live QSOs was new to me, and challenging. Right from the start Bernard was always encouraged me, never criticised, and would always coax me to take my next steps in CW. 

I also found out that Nigel G0RXA records each CW net session, and Heather M6HNS saves the files to the club website, to provide a key learning resource for those learning CW whether members or not.

Listening started at 5wpm and this turned out to be relatively relaxing after a while, like sitting in a waiting room listening to a conversation, waiting for the main action to start. For me this was my first experience of really listening to (slow) CW and comfortably copying and writing the characters, without the high stress I had experienced before. The slow practice CW covered the basic structure of a CW QSO, which became a familiar pattern in each daily net, and easy to remember. An interesting ham radio topic followed at 5wpm, which I gradually found I could head copy. Then came the faster code practice, and for me the higher stress.

In this next part of the net, the challenge for me was to listen and copy a stream of characters and spaces at 13wpm, and to write down the characters. My written characters mostly became words. I had always failed at this stage in the past.  So I concentrated on just listening to the faster 13 wpm code and scribbled away, doing my best to keep going. I learned not to pause, even for an instant, and to move on always, even if I missed something. I needed such intense concentration that initially it seemed exhausting, but it gradually got better as I copied more, and the stress gradually reduced.

Whilst all this was going on, other net members, Chris M7CJK and Keith 2E0JPY encouraged me during 2m net chats, and by email, as well as Ben and Tom. Overall, I found the net members really supportive and helpful, which seems to me how the club works as a whole, welcoming and supporting new members and each other. I also felt that as Ben and Tom were prepared to run this net, every single day, I was going to keep at it too, and keep pushing my CW skills.

After quite a few daily nets of concentrating on the 13 wpm part, I gradually managed to copy more, and sometimes the copying flowed here and there, but not always.  Slowly I began to copy words, and then sometimes a whole sentence. That was a great feeling.  Now I am at the stage of really concentrate on the 16 wpm part. The copying is slowly starting to improve, but I miss lots at 16wpm at the moment.

As my copying skills slowly improved, I realised another basic CW truth. This was that even if you think you know the sounds of all the Morse code characters, this does not mean that you really do.

So when I stumble for a moment over a character, I realise that is one I did not know well enough. So I keep up my daily CW listening practice outside the net, with the aim of Instant Character Recognition for all characters. And of course, this takes time.

I continue to practice listening to different Morse code training websites, changing the sites now and again to keep the material fresh and my brain focussed. I also listen to the ARRL Morse code training archive files. I listen to example text at a faster wpm than I can cope with, and then reduce the speed to the level I can cope with. Then I try gradually moving the speed up a notch every so often.

The QSO with Bernard

I had not really paid much attention to sending practice with my paddle, thinking that would all come later. However, I welcomed Bernard’s approach to live QSO practice as well as listening, during every net, right from the start. This has really worked well for me in building my confidence, and I have really enjoyed this. Bernard suggested I write down practice scripts, which I did and have now written a set of cards with written phrases, which I can glance at when needed. This worked really well, and I still use these cards for live QSOs.

My paddle keying has progressed from a stuttering start to a more reasonable regular pattern at 12-14 wpm, even though I make mistakes. No one seemed to mind and this gave me confidence.

My first QSOs outside the net

I had been reluctant to have QSOs outside the net even with Ben’s encouragement, as my previous QSO experiences were not good. However, as my copying improved, I had no excuses and just I had to do it. After all, this for me was the whole point of why I joined the net.

So one evening whilst listening to CW on 20m I heard a CQ, and no one answered. I have been in this situation before, and in the past I had tried answering, ending up with a brain freeze, or I had passed it by. This time I called back, with the usual exchange.  Then I heard my callsign coming back at me. I remembered the QSO structure I had learned on the net, and I had my cards to hand.  So somehow, I struggled through that first “proper” CW QSO, got to the end, and hey presto it all worked, down to the last exchange of e e.  I was delighted.

What the CW net has done for me

I have been in this excellent net for three months now, and since joining, I have now made 48 QSOs outside the net, nearly one a day since that first one, gaining in confidence all the time. I do try for at least one CW QSO a day so I keep using my new CW skills. One quiet evening I even called CQ when a slow CW frequency was quiet, and was just about to give up, when I got a call back. That was high stress time again, but I got through it, and had a good short QSO. That’s another hurdle overcome.

Now my fear of a live CW QSO has faded, my CW confidence has increased, and I’ve learned to use my scripts cards when I’m stuck. I still get the occasional brain freeze, but my scripts help in this situation.  I have also learned how to make a quick polite exit if I need to, such as after answering a faster CQ than I can cope with, and find the op does not slow down for me. I know that is entirely my own fault, but I have found the vast majority do slow down, and I always appreciate this. For my part I recently heard a couple of CQs on different days calling at a slower rate, even slower than my slow rate. I slowed down, and answered both. We had good short QSOs, and I was pleased to show the same courtesy of slowing down others had shown to me.

My next steps

My copy speed is still around 12-14wpm, so I’m working on 16 wpm in the net.  This is gradually improving. Occasionally now I can now get whole words and a short sentence, so I am progressing, but it’s hard work. No one says it is easy, but I realise I can get there.

My aim now is to increase my copy speed to 20wpm, to learn how to head copy at around 15wpm, and of course to keep making new ham radio contacts and friends. I would also like to achieve CW Ops Level 2 and maybe Level 3 in the future, and see where the hobby takes me.

To finish I would like to say many thanks to Bernard and Tom for running the daily CW net, and to Nigel and Heather for making the audio recordings available on the club website.  I would certainly recommend it to any member who is interested in starting to learn CW or to build on existing skills. I would say there is a great welcome for you in this net and lots of support.  I look forward to catching you for a CW QSO in the future.

Best wishes and 73, David M0WDD

Thank you David and it’s good to know that members and non members alike are appreciating the opportunity to hone their skills whether it be from being a complete beginner or an older hand.

……and finally…

Whilst we never know how many people are listening it’s good to know that as someone said “we are not alone”. Regular feedback, comments and reports on the transmissions are always welcomed and can be emailed to morse@srs.co.uk. Alternatively, if you are able why not call in at the end of the session and join the band of participants exchanging reports, etc.

Don’t forget there’s a dedicated page within the our webpage (accessed from the main menu) where information relevant to CW operating can be found along with a library of recordings and texts from the sessions which have taken place since the net began back in March..

So, until the next time, 73’s take care and stay safe.

Bernard Naylor G3SHF

Tom Spence M0DCG

Nigel Roscoe G0RXA

Email:- morse@srs.co.uk