Dave Richards AA7EE

January 14, 2010

The Art and Skill Of Radio-Telegraphy

As anyone who reads this blog or follows my Twitter knows, I have an interest in SDR. At this stage in the game, I would imagine that almost anyone with an interest in radio, whether amateur radio or any other kind of serious listening, would find SDR very compelling.

Ever since Flex sent me a copy of PowerSDR on CD about a year ago, I haven’t been able to get it to work on my PC.  Long story short, it turned out to be a soundcard configuration problem and once I figured that out a few days ago, I’ve been happily playing with PowerSDR in conjunction with my SoftRock Lite II on 40M. While perusing the FlexRadio website for documentation on using PowerSDR, I came across a free download of a fantastic publication called “The Art & Skill Of RadioTelegraphy” by N0HFF. I’m sure that most CW types are well familiar with this 241-page tome, but it’s a new one to me.  It is subtitled  “For those who are interested in telegraphy, for those who would like to learn it, for those who love it, and for those who want to improve their skills in it” and to anyone who is interested in furthering their skills in CW,  it’s a fascinating read.

William Pierpont N0HFF

There is much space given over to the discussion of high speed reading and copying, including interviews with several very accomplished high speed code operators.  When discussing high speed code, Bill Pierpont mentions that as you progress and are able to read and copy at higher speeds, at some point (I believe the range of around 50wpm was quoted) , it becomes impossible to think of code as being made up of separate letters.  At that point, you’re not really consciously even decoding whole words, but listening to the flow and rhythm and just knowing what is being said. The author quotes examples of operators who couldn’t recall individual words or phrases that were used, but knew precisely what information was being conveyed. This is a truly proficient operator; the code has become transparent to him.  It is analogous with the point where you finally get the hang of riding a bicycle.  You no longer concentrate on pedalling and keeping your balance – you just do it relatively effortlessly.

I found that interesting, because even at my much lower speeds in the range of  10-20wpm, I have moments where I experience block and cannot read code. If I relax, my ability to read comes back. This morning while making the first cup of coffee of the day (a wonderful moment!) I was listening to a mini pile-up on 40.  I heard one fairly loud station calling and wanted to know his callsign. I don’t know why, because he wasn’t sending fast, but I had to listen intently to his callsign several times before figuring out that he was W6AUG.  At the very moment that I consciously decoded his callsign, I realized that I had already known who he was. The unconscious part of my brain already knew it was W6AUG.  The only reason I kept consciously trying hard to decode it was because I wasn’t trusting myself.  Interesting stuff, and it backs up a fairly common experience I have; whenever I experience a block in reading or copying code, all I have to do is relax, and the ability to read it comes back.

If you have the slightest interest in morse code and haven’t yet read it, I highly recommend this free download.  Googling “The Art and Skill of Radio-Telegraphy” will give you links to many places you can get it. I got mine by going to the downloads section of the FlexRadio site and searching for “manuals”. It’s at the bottom of that list of downloads. This edition was revised in 2002. As Bill passed away in 2003, this version is probably the most up to date one available.

And now if you’ll excuse me for a moment, it’s time for my second cup of coffee of the day!

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2 Comments »

  1. I don’t agree with your first paragraph, Dave. SDR is certainly interesting technology but I don’t find it compelling at all. Quite the reverse in fact. Only a tiny number of people are clever enough to be able to understand and develop SDR software, reducing the rest of us to the role of end-users. And I don’t see a lot of interest in that.

    Comment by Julian, G4ILO — January 14, 2010 @ 6:00 pm | Reply

  2. Thank you for reminding me of The Art & Skill Of Radio Telegraphy. It’s one of those books which I’ve been intending to read, but never seem to get around to (thanks to my lovely procrastination). I’ve downloaded it so I can get started. I find my CW skill level to be very similar to yours, so what you said really resonates with me. Good luck on your CW journey; I hope that both of us find much success in that area.

    As a quick aside, I do find SDR quite fascinating; both from an end user side and an coder/engineering side. I encourage you not listen to luddites who might decry that it’s not “real radio”, and keep exploring it!

    Comment by Jason Milldrum, NT7S — January 15, 2010 @ 9:06 am | Reply


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