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Author Topic: Why use CW?  (Read 4122 times)

Posts: 24

« on: March 12, 2008, 06:25:11 AM »

I used to know code years ago, albeit transmitted visually.  I've been playing with the code sites and found that much of it is coming back to me.  It's difficult since its audio, but I'm picking it up.

My question is why?  My license hasn't even shown up on ULS yet, so this may be a stupid question.  What can I do with code that I can't do with voice, beyond the "neat" factor?

Posts: 550


« Reply #1 on: March 12, 2008, 07:39:03 AM »

> My question is why? My license hasn't even shown
> up on ULS yet, so this may be a stupid question.
> What can I do with code that I can't do with
> voice, beyond the "neat" factor?
That's an excellent question.

It's alot of work to learn CW, so I don't blame
you a bit for posing it.

o CW is significantly more effective on a signal-
to-noise ratio basis than using voice transmission.
In fact, you would need to run between 10 and 20
times more power running SSB to have comparable
communications quality to CW.

o It's significantly easier to build equipment for
CW than for the voice modes. So you can build
simple projects, learn as you go, and use the
products on the air. Some extremely cool projects
will be forever useless for you if you don't
know morse.

A few of many examples:

o About 37-40% of HF activity takes place on
CW (judging by recent Field Day results; the
most popular on-the-air operating event in
north america). All that activity will be
a "closed book" to you if you don't know
morse code.

o There is a "subculture" of CW within ham
radio that you will just never "get" if you
never learn the mode. Knowing CW is a
tradition going back to the earliest days of
amateur radio, which began around 1908.

o You will have an opportunity to chat with
retired military and railroad telegraphers
(yes, there are still many around).

o Many amateurs enjoy collecting old keys,
bugs, and old radios. Almost any old radio
can be used via morse code (except spark
gap transmitters, which are illegal to use
on the air).

o There is a level of camaraderie among those who
know and use CW that I think you will find is
rarely equalled elsewhere in the hobby.

o It's a joy to communicate effectively using
a skill that you have carefully cultivated. To
get the full effect of this, you should seek out
an experienced Morse operator and watch them
operate. ARRL Field Day would be a good
opportunity to do this.

Hope this helps. I'm sure others will offer
reasons of their own.


Posts: 209

« Reply #2 on: March 12, 2008, 08:06:19 AM »

Nothing to add.

Posts: 13

« Reply #3 on: March 12, 2008, 11:35:40 AM »

Little to add to Scott's comprehensive reply.

If you want to use hf ham radio while backpacking/hiking, a complete CW station can weigh only one or two pounds. Since voice modes need more power, they also need bigger batteries and a voice station of similar effectiveness and endurance would weigh 20-30 lbs.

CW works even when the op on the other end speaks no English, as there are common abbreviations.


Posts: 21758

« Reply #4 on: March 12, 2008, 02:15:41 PM »

Scott's reply was great.

I'd add that CW is the "great equalizer" when it comes to cultures.

Many foreign hams know no English at all but we chat with them all the time using CW, because you really don't need to spell anything out.  Using CW you can't tell if the other op is male or female, young or old, or much of anything unless they choose to tell you.

A lot of hams, mostly old-timers but a few young ones as well, use very old WW2 surplus gear that was "CW only" and doesn't work any other mode, and have an absolute ball.  I chatted with a "kid" a few months ago on 40m CW who said his rig was five times older than he was.  He wasn't kidding.  He was 12, his rig was 60 years old.  


Posts: 24

« Reply #5 on: March 12, 2008, 02:56:20 PM »

Hmmm.  Maybe I should look at what I need for a CW rig and antenna.

Posts: 4283


« Reply #6 on: March 12, 2008, 07:06:30 PM »

Maybe I should look at what I need for a CW rig and antenna.

Sounds like you have a lot to look into.  

Posts: 2493

« Reply #7 on: March 12, 2008, 07:51:35 PM »

Also, if you look at most any DXpedition log (assuming they have CW operation) you will find CW contacts usually outnumber phone contacts. (I balance the 30 meter code only band with the much larger number of phone only operators.)

CW can get through to DX locations when phone may not, especially on the lower bands and with low sunspot activity. If nothing else it will certainly be easier to make the contact (as referenced by W5ESE above).

If your a DX'er, it comes in handy if someone goes to a needed country and they only operate CW.
So from a DX point of view, its possible it may make the difference between working a new one and coming away empty. (not all expeditions will be like VP6DX)  

Posts: 24

« Reply #8 on: March 12, 2008, 08:08:14 PM »

I DO have a lot to look into.

Posts: 8911


« Reply #9 on: March 12, 2008, 10:44:26 PM »

I've proven the ability of CW to get through when SSB can't to myself many, many times under fairly controlled conditions... VHF contests.

I'm in an area where I can hear a lot of big VHF contesters from the Carolinas up through Maine... these are guys with big antennas up high and high power.  I've got a 5 element 2m yagi and a 12 element 432MHz yagi on a TV rotator on my roof with 50W/20W 2m/432 from my FT-857.  Their SSB signals come in here very well because they're running quite a bit more power than I am.

Many, many times in the contests I can call them on SSB with no luck three or four times... just no response, they CQ in my face or, rarely, give me a "QRZ?"

But I just hit the CW paddles and put my call out there once and they come back to me no problem.  They usually come back on SSB, no need for them to switch modes if I can hear them.

It's a really good test.  I try the same station on SSB then on CW moments apart on a fairly stable propagation path, and the CW does the trick.

HF washes out the difference a little bit, but over time you'll notice it.  Weak signals and CW are meant for each other.



Monkey/silicon cyborg, beeping at rocks since 1995.

Posts: 700

« Reply #10 on: March 13, 2008, 06:46:58 AM »

Others have already touched on this -- so I don't have much more to offer. But if you want to work DX stations around the world, many hams in other countries speak little or no English. I speak a little Spanish and a few words of a couple other languages but that's it. Yet by using CW, I converse with hams in other countries on a practically daily basis. How? By relying on Q signals and the ability to send some commonly known ham terms and expressions via CW.

You can work lots of DX on HF with voice and digital modes only but you can work many, many more around the world by using CW too.

73, N4KZ

Posts: 24

« Reply #11 on: March 13, 2008, 07:02:02 AM »

Great advice by all.  I'm going to drive up to HRO today.  Waiting for the license come in is worse than a kid waiting for Christmas!

Posts: 45

« Reply #12 on: March 13, 2008, 10:33:19 AM »

Sometimes I just like to see where my signal is landing.  In other words I don’t feel like having an hour long dialog with a stranger in a different state on HF.  With CW, you can pack a lot of critical information in a 10 minute contact.  Ultimately it depends on what you want to do with amateur radio.  I am more interested in collecting cards and generally making contacts rather then chat with the same group night after night.  CW is perfect for this type of operation!

I usually work 50 watts into a dipole.  Lately it has been very easy to make contacts on my modest setup.  In a way, it makes me feel good that I can work DX on such a minimal setup while others are using very expensive radios/amplifiers/antennas.  That being said, I won’t be breaking up any DX pileups anytime soon but that is not where my interest ultimately lies.  

I hope you try it out!  I love it and being relatively young (31) I hope there are still people to talk to on CW when I am 60 :-)  73  Joe N0NS

Posts: 33

« Reply #13 on: March 13, 2008, 05:55:07 PM »

Interesting topic, I checked those links but looks like they all come in kits. Do you guys know where I can buy a cw only tranceiver off the shelve? mfj excluded please.

Posts: 2086

« Reply #14 on: March 14, 2008, 09:42:31 AM »

The best part is that the CW portion of any band is rather LID proof. In most cases if someone has the determination to learn the code and set up a good station, he/she is less likely to abuse the bands like a lot of phone only appliance operators.

73 de Lindy
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