The Perfect CW QSO

I’ve started the packing process for my sojourn to Southern California (see previous post) and it looks like this particular move will be the most enjoyable so far.  I’m putting much of my stuff into storage in the Bay Area and moving down to So Cal with a small truckload of belongings.  Because I’m a QRP’er,  there will be no big heavy radio gear, and due to the tall trees at the property I’m moving to,  a roll of dacron antenna rope, a couple of hundred feet of stranded insulated wire and a pulley or two will pack into a small space and should make for a great antenna (with the help of a slingshot to get it up there.)

The ham radio gear at this end may well be some of the last stuff to be packed.  It gives me a good diversion from packing every now and then. Trust me – you don’t want to own 10,000 CD’s – it’s more music than anyone can properly take in during a lifetime, and all those boxes weigh a lot.

So while plonking CD’s into the umpteenth box this afternoon, I heard a very weak but fully copyable CQ on 7030 from KG6SNV. I called him back and we had a brief but very enjoyable QSO.  I gave him a 519 (he gave me a 529), but it was armchair copy.  I don’t have an S-meter on the Norcal 2N2/40 but band noise was probably at about an S4.  His sigs were almost imperceptible at an S1 (and below the band noise) but due to no QSB, no QRM and his excellent sending (his speed and rhythm were perfect for the conditions) copying him was a breeze.

I’m not sure how to put this into words, but any CW operator reading this will be able to identify with these sentiments. There was something very satisfying about receiving a signal so weak that I was able to copy with ease. There was nothing groundbreaking about our QSO; we were only 61 miles apart, in adjoining counties.  Mario was running 10 watts into an indoor vertical at 20 feet (apartment antenna maybe?), and I was running 4 watts to an outdoor vertical also at 20 feet. The thing that made this QSO so much fun was that I was able to take such a weak signal and decode it in my head. For anyone who is either thinking of learning morse code, or who has started and is having trouble becoming fluent, take it from me that your effort will be rewarded many times over if you keep on plugging away. Your brain has an amazing number of built-in algorithms and a lot of  “filtering”, and using it to decode CW signals is fun.  Just think – free DSP!

I’ve had one or two e-mails in the past from folk reading this blog who are learning the code and have taken inspiration from some of the blog posts here. I hope that if you’re on the fence about either beginning to learn, or continuing, that you’ll take heart from reading this.

Incidentally,  I’m no veteran CW op.  My speed lies somewhere in the 10 – 20 wpm range and I have a long way to go with the code, but I’m on course.  I guess a good analogy would be with learning the guitar.  Let’s just say that I’ve taught myself to play 3 chords and can bang out a lot of rock n’ roll songs at this point. I haven’t learned to play like Mark Knopfler or The Edge yet though.

On a side note, it looks like the Fort Tuthill 80M Direct Conversion CW Transceiver Kit is days away from going on sale and I hope to bag one of the kits in this first run of 100. Dan N7VE has just uploaded the assembly manual to the Yahoo Group and this looks like it’s going to be one fun rig to build.


3 thoughts on “The Perfect CW QSO

  1. Dave, you’ve touched on something that is as hard to articulate as it is real. I don’t know what to call it, but the sense of satisfaction I get from any CW contact is absent on other modes and always has been. Even when I upgraded to General back in ’79 and could finally use a microphone, contacts didn’t have the same enjoyment. Same for the digital modes – the computer does all the heavy lifting, removing any sense of personal accomplishment.

    I think it must stem from when I heard Morse as a kid on my grandfather’s Transoceanic. There was no BFO but you could still tell a dot from a dash and since I didn’t know the Code at that time, my imagination filled in the blanks of what the ops might be saying. And according to my imagination, one op was on a ship at sea half a world away, describing a life-threatening storm to a shore station. Of course they were probably just hams saying “wx hr is sunny es mild, OM”.

    But since then, the Code has always had a sense of mystery or secrecy to it that appeals to me, giving it a sense of achievement over other modes that anyone can do.

    John AE5X

  2. I still use CW. It does have a bit of mystery to it, and it does take mastery. The folks seem nicer on CW, too. It sounds strange, but CW Ops can be real ragchewers…

    Marc, KA3DNR

    1. It doesn’t sound strange at all Marc. I have to admit that rag-chewing isn’t my style. Most of the time I prefer a brief exchange of basic info and a few personal details – maybe a comment or two between us, before signing off. My average QSO is about 15 minutes long. However, I hear the ragchewers, and it’s a wonderful sound to hear on the bands. I prefer it to the sound of SSB, to be honest!

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