Why learn CW traffic handling?

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Ward Willats:
I'm a new ham and find I really enjoy CW and have been slowly building my speed for the last 2 years. I just finished building a K2 and can comfortably copy 15 WPM and even big parts of 20 WPM+.

I was reading in another forum thread here an inquiry about slow speed CW nets, and someone suggested a traffic handling net, both for the CW practice and to learn traffic handling. I've seen this suggested as a "good idea" in other places several times before as well.

Now, I've been known to check into the Elecraft CW net, and I can see why you'd join the 3905 Century Club CW nets, and the like, but I'm not sure what the value is of learning CW traffic handling in 2004.

The NTS CW nets I've listened in on have a handful of check-ins, and never seem to pass much (if any) traffic.

I can understand that  a traffic net would probably be fun (like CW -- another anachronistic pleasure!) -- and the abbreviations and procedures for efficiently coordinating a bunch of CW operators have general application in other sorts of nets, but what sorts of other benefits would I gain from learning CW traffic handling, and is the system actually used for anything beyond the odd birthday greeting or demonstration message? In an emergency, would a CW net actually carry health and safety traffic?

I'm not trolling, really! I'm just trying understand the _current_ value of CW traffic nets (both social and personal) before I jump aboard or take a pass.

-- Ward / KG6HAF

Steve Katz:
Those seriously interested in public service should certainly be trained in fast and accurate operating of any mode they can handle.

I hate to think of it, but modern or future warfare could come down to generating EMP blasts that disable most modern electronics, while some older vacuum tube gear survives just fine; if so, it could come down to traffic handling via 40 or 50 year-old equipment that only works CW.  Not likely, but a possibility.

And of course, there's always the old sinking ship possibility, too.  (Speaker, microphone, anything that works voice, under water and rendered useless, but key still works...)  These are long-shots but make interesting stories, at least.

I think it will be a long time before CW proficiency, in traffic handling and otherwise, becomes obsolete.  When it does, we'll have digital modes and equipment that's so common *everyone* will have it, to replace CW entirely.  


Steven E. Matda:
There's a lot of different angles one could take with this question.  

I have always felt that ham nets were limited in scope by mode.  A voice net always ran voice, a CW net always ran CW, etc.  Imagine if the net was coordinated in voice, but traffic flows over, say RTTY or PSK31 or very high speed CW.  Or suppose propagation croaks halfway through the net and the net switches from SSB to CW.  That's a lot of versatility from just one microphone and one key, bug, or keyer.

I think as a person's code speed increases, its' utility also increases as well.  All of us hanging around the 12-17 WPM range hear of "conversational CW" and can only dream, practice, and hope for the next 10 to 15 WPM to come to us.  

Maybe once we get there, the question of CW traffic handling will change from "Why?" to "Why Not?"

Dee D. Flint:
Traffic nets are usually more structured than other nets.  By participating in them, you learn the techniques of the more formal style of net.

Yes it is true that normally they will handle very little traffic and that it is inconsequential in nature.  However handling such traffic under a no/low pressure environment lets a person learn how to do so.  Then if it is ever needed in a major emergency, the skills are already there.  It's probably true that the likelihood of this happening is slim.  Yet if you are at all interested in CW's potential use in emergencies, the traffic nets make a fine training ground.

Dee D. Flint:
Whether a CW traffic net would end up carrying much emergency traffic is unknown but is possible.  The solar storms we had in September and November certainly knocked out HF voice several times and the computerized digital modes at least once. The computer can't handle the ensuing distortion of the signals.  CW did continue when this happened.  Yes it was distorted too but the human brain is more flexible and capable than a computer and can handle a much higher level of distortion.  It is unpleasant to copy a distorted CW signal but it can be done.

All modes have their advantages and disadvantages.  And yes there are even times when CW won't hold up.  Then all you can do is turn off the radio.


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