Teatime Morse with Bernard and Tom (QUA 33)

Hello everyone, the end of a strange year is approaching and I’m quite sure looking back twelve months we wouldn’t have believed we’d be talking about lockdowns, face masks and social distancing. All relative new influences on our activities but ones which have had such a devastating effect on everyone’s lives and general well being.

But out of all this mayhem it’s been good to see, and hear, the initiative developed by Tom and Bernard growing into a regular feature on the society calendar and has seen a number of new members attracted to us as a result.

The daily 80 Metre nets continue to provide many operators with the opportunity to learn and improve their morse code skills. How many have benefitted we’ll probably never know, but with the steady flow of emails to the dedicated address and operators calling in at the end of the sessions it is clear the nets are enjoyed by many. 

One such operator is Simon M0AAV who took the trouble to email…….

Hello Bernard and Tom,

I heard your stations for the first time today at 16:00hrs on 3.564.18MHz! My QTH is north west London in an area with much QRM. Notwithstanding the QRM constantly at S9, your signals came through very clearly with only occasional fading.

A fellow radio ham, who lives in Wembley, London, told me about the Stockport Radio Society and the Teatime Morse.

I would love to know what speeds you were sending at? I could read whole words / sentences at the slower speed but at the higher speed, which was too fast for me to write down, I could read the odd letters. I searched the Stockport Radio Society website but could not find details of your sessions or the recordings.

I was really amazed to hear such a clear signal from the North West in the afternoon on 80M! I would love to love to know what antennas you were using and what power you were running.

By way of background, I am 70 years old and one of my lifetime ambitions was to get my amateur radio licence when I retired, which I achieved in 2016. My other ambition was to master CW I suppose a driving factor was that my dad was a radio operator in the Western Desert during the war and even 30 years on could still read CW. Unfortunately, this is still an ongoing mission and that was why I was so pleased to hear your QRS this afternoon because I find it quite difficult to find stations sending readable QRS.

My radio is an FT – 450D and my antenna is a 25.6M W3EDP end-fed antenna wrapped around my small garden.

Thank you for keeping CW alive and for the afternoon session as it is not possible for me to listen to other QRS stations that are listed on the RSGB website which mainly operate in the evenings.

Kind regards,

Simon M0AAV

As you can see, Simon is not a local lad but notwithstanding the distance has since joined the society swelling our numbers even more during this period of uncertainty. Welcome Simon and I hope to hear from you on the net soon.

On his recent trip to North Wales before their “circuit breaker” kicked in, our resident Aussie, Evan joined us as MW0TJU operating portable from various spots around Caernarfon and the Lleyn Peninsula. Despite the difficulties experienced on 80 Metres in the late afternoon, Evan was generally a good signal from his various operating spots. A daily competition ensued between us wondering where Evan would surface each day. Such locations as Caernarfon Airport, Porthmadoc and Pwllheli were on the menu.

In our September edition, regular net participant David M0WDD put into words his journey into the world of Morse Code. David has been and still is a regular participant in the net virtually from the outset and those listening will have heard how he has progressed since those early days. I am sure there are many more out there following a similar journey.

Well, I’m pleased to say David has put pen to paper again to further document his passion for learning and developing his techniques. So, sit back, pour yourself a coffee or may be something stronger and enjoy David’s further adventures with Morse Code.

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

My five golden rules of learning CW

This is an update of my CW adventures since joining the great SRS afternoon CW net about seven months ago. In that time, I have discovered five golden rules about learning CW. Of course, CW operators already know these rules and many more. I just learn them the hard way.

To start, I will recap what I see as the benefits of the SRS CW net, how it is organised, and what I have gained from the net. Then I will mention some of the CW learning materials I use to practice CW copying.  My five golden rules of learning CW summarise my experiences as I continue to learn CW.

What are benefits of SRS’s afternoon CW net?

Just to recap, why might you join this excellent net? Well you might be starting to learn CW, trying to start, or wanting to brush up your CW skills.  Like me, you may have tried learning CW several times before or even given up. I know everyone is welcome. I found many benefits of joining the CW net, from daily practice, copy practice at different speeds, a live QSO with Ben at any speed you like, and encouragement and feedback. Should you enquire further and contact the net team, you will be welcome I think.

It is great to see new members joining SRS, and some who may want to develop their CW skills. For example, SRS has been very pleased to welcome Simon M0AAV based in Northwood, Middlesex, who is keen to build on his CW skills. The 80m net may be difficult for Simon to join due to the distance, but the CW net team are assisting Simon by email with guidance on learning materials, practice exercises, and signposting to the net MP3 audio files on the SRS website. I look forward to having a CW QSO with Simon when the time is right.

How the CW net is organised

The afternoon net is organised by Ben G3SHF, and helped by Tom M0DCG and Nigel G0RXA. This takes place at 4pm every afternoon, currently on 3564 Khz. Nigel and Heather M6HNS record and upload the WAV audio files to the SRS website daily. This CW net teamwork reflects the spirit and values of this club in supporting new and existing members I think. I myself have received great support from Ben, Tom and Nigel, and from Chris 2E0KJC and Keith 2E0JPY who were fellow students when I first joined.

What I learned on the CW net

Right from my first net, I learned basic CW QSO structures from listening to exchanges between Ben and Tom, and I practised this in my own QSOs in the net. This basic QSO consists of exchange of callsigns, signal reports, names, and station locations. Since joining the net, I have had many on air QSOs like this. As my CW confidence increased, I have learned also to include rig, power, antenna and weather details for a fuller QSO. Now I have my own on air QSOs with either version.

Sometimes I have a QSO with an op with whom I have already had the basic or full QSO exchange.  Then it can get more interesting. We then have a short conversation in CW. Boy oh boy that is stressful! I frantically write down what I plan to send, whilst also trying to write down the gist of what the op is sending to me. For future such ragchews, I’ve written down lots of words and short phrases I can glance at when I need to send CW outside my standard QSO scripts. It seems surreal trying to write down both sides of a CW QSO but it works for me. 

As well as my daily CW net participation, I also have a daily practice session using different CW learning materials. I tend to go on air for live QSOs in the evening. The next day is the same regular routine, but I do duck out Sundays for family time.

So what are my five golden rules of learning CW? I will start with the first.

Golden Rule One: Just about anyone can learn CW.

I have discovered you do not need a special brain, or special aptitudes to learn CW. I know ops who are gifted with music or language abilities who have learned CW, and found these gifts very helpful. I also know ops with no such special gifts, who have mastered CW.  I can see some such gifts can be helpful, but are not a requirement.

I suppose the gift you really need is dogged determination. For me this has meant keeping trying, making many mistakes, nearly giving up and wondering if you are making any progress. Then sometimes you discover you can copy some more CW today compared to yesterday. For me that makes it worthwhile. None of us is born with CW skills, as far as I know, so we must learn it.

Golden Rule Two: The aim in learning CW is Instant Character Recognition (ICR).

This aim for Instant Character Recognition is at the very heart of learning CW. It is tough to achieve though. Put it another way, listening to CW, you need to learn to recognise every CW character from the sound pattern, in the space between each character. Of course it is a tall order, but please remember golden rule one, just about anyone can do it. The difficult part is to find the most effective way to learn CW to achieve this.

Everyone learns differently. So how do you achieve ICR?  The aim is to get your brain to learn the CW sound patterns by listening to them so they become second nature. It is all in the listening and letting your brain do its work of memorising in such a way that the memorised sound patterns become part of the subconscious. This just means that when you hear a particular sound pattern, you instantly know the character WITHOUT THINKING ABOUT IT. Easier said than done as I say.  So the real trick is to find the right way to learn CW that works for you to achieve ICR. Then you can practice in the most effective way.

Golden Rule 3: Learn characters in CW fast with slow word spacing.

I do appreciate that Ops wiser than me may disagree about learning CW characters at a relatively fast wpm rate. I have only ever learned CW at a character speed of 20wpm or so, on my CW Ops Level 1 course. The was all about learning the CW sounds of individual letters, numbers, grammar symbols and special character combinations called prosigns, at 20wpm character speed. There was no hiding from this. We memorised each character sound pattern of dits and dahs. We practised listening to these sound patterns and writing down recognised characters.

Later we progressed to short words with characters still at 20wpm but with larger gaps between short words at say around 10wpm. This was written as 20/10wpm. This progressed to reduced gaps between words with the same character rate.  So we progressed to learning short words at 20/15wpm, then 20/20wpm and so on.

So my early CW learning experience was about first memorising all the characters audio sound patterns, and then listening to CW sound patterns such as characters and short words. We listened   to recognise the characters from the patterns, and not to count individual dots and dahs.

Since joining the CW net, I have learned to listen to and write down streams of words in CW running up to around 15 wpm. I have also learned to send up to the same speed with my paddle. And have really appreciated the chance in the net to send and copy CW in the same timescale. This then meant that I could have real QSOs in the net right from the start. Excellent.

Golden Rule 4: Daily practice

I do try for daily CW listening and sending practice. I’ve summarised here my current CW practice sources. I do find my brain gets stale practice from any one source for any length of time. This is not deliberate, as it is just me. So I regularly switch to keep my brain active, and I enjoy finding out about different CW learning resources.

Someone recently said to me that this is a golden age for learning CW. This seems so true. There are so many websites, online courses, apps, downloadable practice files, Facebook groups, discussion forums and much more available. The hard part is to find what source or combination of sources works for you. I can tell you here what has worked for me.

ARRL website Code Practice MP3 files. Early in my CW learning, I realised I needed to learn to copy CW as a stream of words, and not just one word at a time. This website is full of text pieces, which suits me just fine. The ARRL site has very many MP3 audio CW files at just about the speed you want.  I can play any file at any speed without repeating the same file, so there is no possibility of accidentally learning the content copy. This is truly a great website.

CW Ops Basic Course; CW Ops training courses are online, and all training materials are also freely available for downloading, so as an alternative you can work through the courses directly yourself. CW Ops courses run in conjunction with the Morsecode World website mentioned next. I preferred the self-study option for the next course after CW Ops Level1, which is CW Ops Basic, as I did not have the confidence of progressing with CW copying of more than one word at a time.

Morsecode.world website

Morsecode World website supports CW Ops training courses with exercises and practice files. You can also pick and mix the various features to organise your own learning. For example, you could focus on numbers, or words, or short phrases. There is lots of configuration available including setting practice material to speak in addition to playing CW audio. Again a truly great website.

Morsecode.ninja website

Definitely worth looking at, and again a vast amount of CW training exercises from a structured CW training programme, to CW exercises in words, phrases, sentences and much more. CW exercises play as You Tube videos. All the CW exercises are freely downloadable as text files. I like the fact that practice files also speak, and again there is a wide choice of CW practice speeds. What another truly great website this is.

G4FON and Just Learn Morse Code training software applications. These are traditional Windows applications and I think both are excellent. Each  has a host of built in CW, text, numbers, prosigns, words and short phrases to play at many different speeds CW copy practice. All their practice exercises are freely available, and you can play your own text files as CW in these applications. So both are truly great applications.

Golden Rule: 5: practice listening faster than you can copy

This is not as ridiculous as it may sounds. This technique is used to trick the brain into trying to learn CW at a faster speed that you are currently comfortable with, and then to drop back the CW slightly, but still higher than the speed you were comfortable with.

This is a technique used to get CW copy speeds over speed barriers frequently encountered.  So to push myself past the 15wpm barrier I think I am now at,  I will be practicing CW copying at 20wpm. I wonder if this will work.

My future CW Learning

Well the CW learning never stops. I have joined FISTS CW club, and plan to spend some time learning more about this great club. I also plan to continue in the great SRS CW net as long as I can, work on my Head Copy skills. I am also plucking up the courage to apply for a place on a CW Ops Level 2 online course. So lots of CW to keep me going.

I also want to consolidate and build on my Instant Character Recognition (ICR) skills. I just saw mention in a CW Facebook group the other day, mention of Instant Word Recognition (IWR). That cannot be right!


David M0WDD

Thank you David. We will join David again next time to follow his ongoing journey and perhaps pick up some more tips he has gained along the way.

So, just a reminder the “Teatime Morse with Bernard & Tom” net takes place daily on 80 Metres with each session being recorded and the text circulated around the society’s mailing list as soon as possible after the event.  Time is left at the end of each session for anyone to join and exchange a short QSO with Bernard and Tom.

Comments and signal reports are very welcome either on air, via email to the dedicated address or a message can be left using the society’s dedicated phone line.

If you find it difficult to hear the net due to conditions at the time then may I point you to the Jodrell Bank WebSDR maintained by G0XBU. This is an excellent facility where each regular member of the net can usually be heard. The WebSDR also provides a recording facility so if you wish to record the net from a different perspective to our own recordings then this is available.

Finally, just a reminder to visit our dedicated webpage which contains some useful information including abbreviations and Q Codes commonly used by CW operators. The link can be found below.

Teatime Morse with Bernard & Tom

So, until next time.

73’s es gud dx de Nigel G0RXA ar sk ee