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Author Topic: Are fewer people using CW than 20 years ago?  (Read 11182 times)

Posts: 88


« Reply #15 on: November 27, 2012, 06:57:34 AM »

I would agree with many who have said that casual operating has declined from what it once was.
Yes, I agree. When I was licensed in 1985, I had a home-made xtal controlled tube transmitter and a Yaesu FRG-7700 receiver. I used to call CQ on 7 MHz CW and usually got replies which resulted in longish QSOs.  I had the same experience on 28 MHz SSB using a modified CB radio I started using in early 1986. Today such QSOs are the exception, and I believe the style of HF operation is deeply affected by the DX cluster.


Posts: 1400

« Reply #16 on: November 27, 2012, 08:58:18 AM »

   I can not speak for the QRO boys but as a QRP/CW operator on 20/30/40 meters I have never found any lack of dx or local rag chewers,most of them also QRP.I suspect a lot of operators that think CW is in a dry spell are not following proper band propagation or failing to take advantage of the grey line for DX.I have to admit that CW is obviously more popular and prevelent in countries outside the U.S.    Jim

Posts: 16


« Reply #17 on: November 27, 2012, 05:37:33 PM »

It's interesting how the opinions vary on this one. I was licensed in 1960 and I remember the 40-meter Novice band being really crowded, But, of course, my AR-3 had zero selectivity, so it didn't take many signals to make it seem crowded. Seriously, though, I think there is ever as much CW on the bands today as there was then. We've had a lot of days with lousy conditions the past few years, which may contribute to it seeming as though there is less activity. I work mostly QRP CW these days, and if conditions are anywhere near good, I rarely have a problem making a contact. Listen to the bands during any major contest. Holy cow! CW is still king.

Posts: 486

« Reply #18 on: November 27, 2012, 11:23:23 PM »

Been a ham for 48 years and operated a lot of CW on all the bands.  I think there is at least the same or more CW activity now, than back then, especially DX, contesters, and award chasers.  What has dropped off is message handling and nets.

I often find the new hams are curious about CW and do take the plunge and get on CW.

Also, the crowded bands after dinner hour don't happen now because everybody watches cable TV or surfs the internet or chats on their cell phones rather than fire up the rig.  That said, I still think there is just as much over all activity now as back 48 year ago.  And yes, not as many of us stay up late at 2AM chasing DX.

Posts: 261


« Reply #19 on: November 28, 2012, 03:07:36 AM »

I've been a ham since 1969, mostly doing CW. From 1999 to 2009 I did the "long QRX," was radio silent as family and work ramped up and radio interest ramped down.

When I got back on in 2009, the first thing I did was put the 2m radio back in my truck - and I was amazed at the lack of activity on the local FM repeaters. I thought maybe ham radio had really been killed by the Internet, cell phones, etc.

The next thing I did was get the HF station back up on the air - and I was amazed at how active the HF bands were, even in the trough while Cycle 24 took its sweet time ramping up. Especially on CW - not any decline I could see. And especially in the Extra band segments.

Maybe all those Technicians who only got on 2M FM got their Extras and their first HF rig and key?

73 John K3TN

John K3TN

Posts: 264

« Reply #20 on: November 28, 2012, 04:45:55 AM »

Probably similar total number of people.

But the percentage of all hams is probably falling.

Posts: 5714

« Reply #21 on: November 28, 2012, 04:52:02 AM »

I've been a ham for 43 years all CW and yes CW activity is down in general but up for contesting.

Posts: 123

« Reply #22 on: November 28, 2012, 07:00:10 PM »

Not according to CQ magazine, who find a way to promote their believe that "CW is up since they did away with the morse code test" into almost every article they publish.  I guess they figure if they say it enough, they will end up believing it.  Nice case of rationalization since they heavily supported removing the morse test.  Guess they needed more subscribers.


Posts: 847

« Reply #23 on: November 28, 2012, 08:39:43 PM »

Agree with earlier posts.  I was licensed 35 years ago at age 13.  After school and my paper route, I flipped on the rig to chase DX before dinner.  Nothing on TV (was there ever?), no Facebook/Twitter, and I was addicted to chasing DX.

I think the hobby has morphed into several general groupings today (with exceptions of course):

"Big Kahunas" - in it for the thrill of the hunt.  Contesting and/or DXing, maximizing time and money in the hobby.

"DigiBoyz" - PSK, JT65, etc., anything that can go beyond CW and SSB

"SSB rag chew" - 5 minutes or 5 hours, these ops are on all SSB segments for lengthy verbal exchanges

"VHFers" - meteors, moonbounce,'s all about 50 MHz and up

"EMCOMM" - disaster response, go-kits, anything related to emergencies

"QRP" - how low can you go and still make the contact?

"If you build it, they will come" - hands-on types who restore and/or build for the satisfaction.

These groups existed to one extent or the other before, but there were also high speed CW rag chewers when I got started, who lived for the thrill of having long conversations at 30 WPM and up.  THAT was fun! 

With other pursuits, distractions, and restrictions our hobby has changed.  I submit that CW is a constant through all of that...and will still be so another 20 years from now.

Posts: 854

« Reply #24 on: November 28, 2012, 09:44:02 PM »

WD4ELG, you are right on the money!

I have found the same thing in ham radio these days.
The operators have sort of stratified into layers, and in some cases there is very little mixing.

For example, DigiBoyz (funny!) and old timer SSB ragchewers seem to be a mutually exclusive group.
But QRP, Digiboyz, and CW seem to have a reasonable area of intersection.

The interesting thing is that it does not seem particularly age related.
There are many many ops I work on Digimodes who are Octogenarians and even some Nonagenarians.
However, I mainly work DX, and like to rag chew on PSK31 or CW - SSB is very seldom used in my shack.

Looking at the replies and personal observations of many guys on this thread, it seems like the old tale of a blind person trying to describe an elephants trunk.
It is very much a case of personal experience, bands and perhaps even time of day, as to whether you consider CW is less used these days.

I have a range of ham buddies, of various ages, and I am the only one who uses CW.
They all have the intention of learning it - but you know how that goal recedes into the vanishing point with other commitments.
So, I suspect, we have a reasonably static population of CW using hams, with a few new entrants from time to time.

Like some others have said, it also depends on which continent you reside.
If you want to work CW just about all the time, go to Europe, it is pretty well entrenched there, especially in Eastern Europe.
I don't know if that is just a statement of the national character or a legacy of the cold war "Radiosports" culture - but it works well for CW ops.

In any case, it has been a fascinating discussion, and it is nice to read observations and so many different points of view.

73  - Rob

Posts: 88


« Reply #25 on: November 28, 2012, 10:45:52 PM »

...especially in Eastern Europe. I don't know if that is just a statement of the national character or a legacy of the cold war "Radiosports" culture - but it works well for CW ops.
In Russia there are still military CW stations and, therefore, a continuous influx of professionally trained Morse code operators.

Posts: 550


« Reply #26 on: November 29, 2012, 10:35:28 AM »

One thing I can say; ARRL Sweepstakes CW participation peaked at 1667 entries in 1958. Hasn't equaled that level since, although it came close in 2009 (1553 entries that year). In fact, there were 1436 entries in 1939, and that would be considered a good level of participation even today. I have most of the participation levels summarized in the xls file attached to the page at:

Posts: 0

« Reply #27 on: November 30, 2012, 08:31:28 AM »

One thing I can say; ARRL Sweepstakes CW participation peaked at 1667 entries in 1958. Hasn't equaled that level since, although it came close in 2009 (1553 entries that year).

Looks like the 11 year sunspot cycle is more present in the interesting data then the decline in population of CW operators. (Possibly due to the fact that contests don't need proficiency at all. with DX clusters, and computer aided communication "5nn tu".)


Posts: 20408

« Reply #28 on: November 30, 2012, 09:39:12 AM »

I work CW quite a lot and have been licensed 47 years (continuously active).

My observation: CW activity is very good today, but it's more common for hams today to be using better equipment with lesser antennas than ever before due to various restrictions.

When I was a kid, almost anyone could install a good 80m dipole outdoors and up high enough to work.  Now, I think maybe 20% of all hams in the U.S. really can.

So, I work a lot of guys using antennas in their attics, small loops, heavily loaded antennas, verticals without real radial systems and all sorts of stuff that "works," but not as well as bigger, better antennas will.  Our equipment is mostly better but often the antennas are much worse, and the antennas are more important.

Also, from my POV there's more QRP activity today than ever before!  That's a good thing, and there's still a lot of homebrewing, kit building and experimenting going on -- which are all very good things.  But those 5W signals, especially to compromised antennas, can be pretty weak and others with similarly compromised antennas may not even hear them...leading to "less activity" by observation.

I never have a problem getting answers to my CQs on CW, if I'm on a band having any propagation at the time.

Tonight is the first half of the ARRL 160 contest -- all CW.  I guarantee the band will be very packed with signals very close together.  And 160 is probably the hardest band of all to erect a decent antenna. Cheesy

Posts: 62

« Reply #29 on: December 01, 2012, 10:20:16 AM »

This has been an interesting discussion. Thanks to all of you for your thoughtful replies and the benefit of your long experience. Really great comments!  Grin

My .02:
  • CW contests do get a big turnout. My log from the recent CW SS shows an awful lot of old calls, though. Maybe it's just that the retirees have the time, money, experience, and territory to be a bigger presence? I'd love to see some hard data on the average age of CW ops. I'd be willing to bet that it's advancing and that CW SKs aren't being replenished at the rate they're disappearing.
  • I miss hearing and talking to the novices trying their wings on the old 40 meter novice band, and the other casual, low-to-medium speed ops not hunting QSL cards or a higher score, but just wanting to try out a new setup and chat for a while. The feedback I've gotten here tells me that there are still CW contacts to be found, which is encouraging. Maybe I just need a better antenna and to look harder.

Thanks again for the great answers!
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