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Technician Licensees -- Why Not Try Low Power HF CW?

Created by Ron Stone, KA3J on 2014-08-12

Technician Licensees - Why Not Try Low Power HF CW?

Ron Stone, KA3J

Would you like to contact hams around the world using a simple antenna and a radio that isn't much larger or more costly than a VHF/UHF handheld? If you're willing to invest a modest amount of time to develop some new skills, consider using low power HF CW. What follows will prepare you for a successful introduction into this exciting facet of ham radio.

Why Learn CW?

Simply put, CW is a highly effective, engaging and elegantly simple mode. Relative to phone (SSB), CW can provide a 12-17 dB advantage - that's 2-3 S units! This means that a 5 watt CW radio can be as effective as a 100 watt SSB radio. While some digital modes (e.g., PSK31, JT65) are even more effective, a computer must handle encoding, transmission and decoding. This adds some cost and complexity and removes you a bit from the action. With CW, you handle the encoding and decoding which also enhances your sense of accomplishment. Plus, CW is conversational like phone and you're likely to enjoy the camaraderie that CW operators share.

CW's unique and rewarding user experience has resulted in its continued popularity. A quick tune across the bands will confirm this. Or, take a look at contest statistics. During the 2013 Field Day, CW provided 42% of the total QSOs, phone - 54% and digital - 4%. Similarly, during the 2012 Sweepstakes there were 500,739 CW QSOs and about 575,000 phone QSOs.

Is CW Difficult to Learn?

An eHam survey (5/6/2001 click here) indicated that about 80% of hams could learn it without too much trouble and most either found it easy (16%) or challenging but fun (47%).

To find out how it would be for you, spend an hour or two using one of the excellent, free training programs. These programs can be found on,,, and on other websites. If you enjoy the first few lessons, continue. Even if you find it a bit tough, keep one thing in mind. Some hams who struggled learning CW or even hated it initially now love it and use it almost exclusively.

Will Learning CW Require a Lot of Time?

The Navy's former training course required 80 hours to achieve a fairly high level of proficiency (18 WPM) and included learning to type. The time you'll need to become sufficiently proficient to get on the air will likely be somewhere between 40-60 hours. This is probably just a small fraction of the time you spend on the hobby in one year.

What's the Best Method for Learning CW?

You'll find a variety of theories and gimmicks on the Internet about how to best learn CW. In the end, it all comes down to learning the sound of about 40 characters (letters, numbers, and punctuation) and a few special symbols. The Koch method in combination with Farnsworth timing, which is incorporated into the training programs mentioned above, is a widely accepted approach.

To begin, try to practice about a half-hour every day. You'll learn one new character at a time and your initial character speed should be no less than 15 WPM. You can set the Farnsworth timing to increase your character and word spacing to reduce your effective speed to perhaps initially 6-8 WPM. This approach forces your brain to focus on the sound of each character rather than individual dits and dahs while providing you time to recognize and record each character. After you achieve at least 90% accuracy with a new character, you should adjust the Farnsworth timing to increase your effective speed. You can begin practicing sending at any time.

Does Low Power (QRP) Offer Significant Benefits?

While QRP (5 watts or less) won't appeal to everyone, an eHam survey (7/6/2007 click here) indicated that about 50% of hams use QRP at least part of the time. You may want to consider using it for one or more of the following reasons:

It can substantially reduce the cost of your station.

A new entry-level 100 watt HF multi-band, multi-mode transceiver with power supply will cost at least $700 - $800 (e.g., Icom 718, Yaesu FT-857) while a decent used radio and power supply will cost at least $400. QRP single-band crystal controlled transceiver kits start as low as $40 (e.g., RockMite - or around $100 for a single-band radio kit that is tunable (e.g., MFJ 9340K, TenTec 1340). A new, assembled single-band QRP radio will cost $150 (e.g., MFJ 9340W) or $200 for a multi-band radio (e.g., TenTec 506 Rebel). A small power supply or set of rechargeable batteries with charger will run about $40.

You'll also need to spend about $70 for coax, wire, rope, connectors, and homemade insulators to build a simple antenna like a dipole. Some portable antennas will cost a lot less because little or no coax is needed. In addition, you'll need a paddle or straight key that will cost at least $30 - $50 (see, unless you build your own. For example, my almost no-cost "paddle" consists of two momentary tactile switches mounted on my handheld radio or on a prototype board.

You can find many other equipment choices and learn about their strengths and weaknesses in the eHam product reviews.

It facilitates operating portable.

QRP is quite popular for portable operation because the equipment is very small, light and energy efficient. In fact, many hams use QRP just for this purpose. For example, I use my homebrew 1 watt 20 meter handheld radio with an 8 foot whip antenna at my favorite beach in Florida (see my page for details: click here). This past winter, I operated about 45-60 minutes per day on 82 days, had 222 QSOs and worked 34 states and 47 countries including Australia 7 times.

It may provide a more thrilling experience.

This is the key factor that may drive your interest in QRP. After using typical 100 watt radios for 28 years, I needed a new challenge and decided to homebrew a radio. I built a very simple 2 watt, 40 meter QRP transceiver that I used with a dipole up 50 feet. My initial low expectations quickly vanished as I casually worked all states and 86 countries while having many fine rag chews. I almost always made a contact within 15 minutes of turning the radio on.

QRP brought back the magic of radio for me and made operating exciting again. Now, 18 years later, it still amazes me that I can often communicate over thousands of miles with a simple antenna and a radio that fits in my pocket or hand. Every QSO feels special especially when I'm using a radio I built. This feeling is magnified when I operate portable, work a rare station in a pile-up, have a great rag chew, or work other QRPers.

So if you really enjoy developing your skills and seeing what you can accomplish with minimal gear, QRP may be for you.

Can a Beginner be Successful with Low Power?

Many hams, including QRP enthusiasts will tell you "no". The concern is that a beginner will have difficulty making contacts and quickly become frustrated. However, this will not occur if you adopt the right attitude and approach. AK4YH discusses his approach and success in his eHam article: Starting Ham Radio, The Road Less Taken (2/22/2014 - click here). It is interesting to note that entry level HF licensees are required to use low power (10 watts) in some countries, including England, Japan, and Australia. Here are some suggestions that will help ensure your success.

Adopt Reasonable Expectations

Be mindful that your signal will be at least 13 dB (about 2 S units) weaker than many. This means:

- You will not be able to contact every station that you hear
- Your CQs will not usually be answered quickly.
- You will need to be very patient and may not always be successful when trying to work a rare station in a pile-up.
- When conditions are poor or a particular propagation path is marginal, a contact may only be possible due to the more capable station and trained ears on the other end.

Use 40 or 20 Meters and Operate when Conditions are Most Favorable

The most popular bands for QRP are 40 and 20 meters because they have the most activity, good propagation throughout the solar cycle, and reasonable antenna size. To operate on 20 meters, you'll need to upgrade to General which only requires about 10 hours of studying (source: This is well worth the time because 20 meters is great for day-time DX and portable operation. Also, a 20 meter antenna can be half the size of a 40 meter antenna and be equally effective at half the height. The upgrade will also give you access to other bands that are good for QRP.

It's best to operate when there is plenty of activity on the band and when propagation can best support a QRP signal. I've had good success on both 40 and 20 meters during late afternoon and early evening and on 40 meters well into the night. You'll need to determine what times work best for you in your area. Use to find out where and how well you're being heard at any time. Even with very low power (< 1 watt), you'll often be heard at least at one distant reverse beacon location.

Put Up a Good Antenna At Home or Go Portable

A simple center fed dipole probably offers the biggest bang for the buck if you can support it reasonably high, preferably 35 feet or more for 40 meters. Other options include an end fed half-wave dipole, a random wire with a tuner, or a vertical with a good set of radials, to mention a few. Some options may cost a bit more but offer multi-band capability.

If you can't put up a decent antenna at home, try operating portable. Ideally, select a nice electrically quiet location like a beach, park or mountain top (see: Summits on the Air program - click here). At these locations, QRPers have good success using a shortened vertical with a counterpoise, or a random wire or other end fed antenna thrown up in a tree or supported with a collapsible fishing pole.

Use Search and Pounce or Call CQ

The quickest way to make a contact is to search for stations calling CQ or that are just ending a QSO. As you tune, listen for stations with loud signals and minimal fading as they will likely hear you best. Also, be aware of weaker, low power stations near the QRP frequencies (e.g., 7.030 MHz, 7.040 MHz, 14.060 MHz) that are likely to hear you too.

Search and pounce will work best if you can copy stations at their speed - typically, 15 - 20 WPM. If you can't, when you respond to a CQ ask the station to please slow down (PSE QRS) as follows using your call sign (e.g.,W3XYZ): PSE QRS DE W3XYZ W3XYZ K. You'll recognize that a QSO is ending if you can copy a common ending phrase like 73, cuagn (see you again), or cul (see you later). Then try to copy at least the station's prefix (e.g., W5, KA3, etc.) and call as follows: KA3? KA3? DE W3XYZ W3XYZ PSE QRS K.

If your speed is initially much slower than most stations, or if you're using a crystal controlled radio, you'll need to rely more heavily on calling CQ. This works fine but it may sometimes take twice as long, perhaps 30 minutes or more, to make a contact. Using a keyer that can send CQ automatically can reduce the effort. Try operating on or near the QRP frequencies, listen for activity first and then send QRL to makes sure the frequency isn't in use before calling CQ.

Ask for Help When Needed

You can receive helpful guidance and encouragement and get questions answered on various QRP-related forums located on eHam, Yahoo Groups, and on QRP-L click here as well as from QRP organizations such as QRP ARCI, Four State QRP Group, NorCal QRP Club, and others. There are also a variety of helpful CW-oriented clubs including the Straight Key Century Club, Fists CW Club, CW Operators Club, and others. Local ham club members and the hams you contact on the air can also provide assistance. Ideally, try to find a mentor in your area who can show you that operating QRP isn't difficult and can help you get your station on the air.


If you can be patient while developing your operating skills, low power HF CW can provide a very rewarding experience. You may be amazed to discover what can be accomplished with very simple gear. Low power CW can provide a low-cost entry into HF for Technician licensees and can be enjoyed by others as well.

So are you ready to begin your low power HF CW adventure?

ILDARIN 2014-09-04
RE: Technician Licensees -- Why Not Try Low Power HF CW?
Not to change the subject, but don't forget about the world of VHF and UHF work.
In my quest for low speed CW practice, I've tried the 2 meter CW band.

I've never heard any activity there.

But at least I'm not embarrassed to send my sloppy CW CQs there.
KB6RDI 2014-09-03
RE: Technician Licensees -- Why Not Try Low Power HF CW?
Not to change the subject, but don't forget about the world of VHF and UHF work. Smaller antennas, and some really fascinating designs. I am just now starting to get into it, and I think it would be really interesting. The designs become much more critical at these frequencies. Ok, as I said I don't want to change the subject or appear rude, just wanted to add to the conversation.
W8IFI 2014-08-30
RE: Technician Licensees -- Why Not Try Low Power HF CW?
Someone mentioned the annoyance some expressed while he was listening and practicing code. A few years ago a consumer magazine tested the correlation of price versus quality of sound in headphones and speakers and found little correlation. Some of the cheaper items actually produced better quality. I have a couple of fairly expensive headphones that feel like vise grips after awhile because I wear glasses. A musician recommended a pair of $16 lightweight Koss Pro headphones. There are other cost effective brands also. Best pair I have ever had. So I hope this helps reduce the startup costs for some beginners. I like the article also...thanks
N6XJP 2014-08-30
Technician Licensees -- Why Not Try Low Power HF CW?
What a GREAT article. can do this. Go back and read it again!
ILDARIN 2014-08-26
RE: Technician Licensees -- Why Not Try Low Power HF CW?
40 meter cw usually 7.040 to 7.060 and also 7.110 to 7.120
20 meter cw usually 14.040 to 14.065
This is actually the most useful post to me.
I'm sure having a hard time finding slow speed CW on the bands.
I've even tried the low VHF CW segment - haven't heard a thing. In Los Angeles!

WRT to CW Academy - sounds good, If you want to wait a year to start!
K5DH 2014-08-24
Technician Licensees -- Why Not Try Low Power HF CW?
Great article on a great topic! I've been using low power CW since the 1970s, and it's a lot of fun. I'd welcome more low power CW ops on the bands.

I have one minor bone to pick with the terminology that many hams use with regard to all of this. You don't learn CW. You learn and send Morse code, and then you send that Morse code using CW (Continuous Wave) emission. Yeah, I'm a nerd. So are you, my fellow ham! :)

Dean K5DH
JOHNZ 2014-08-18
Technician Licensees -- Why Not Try Low Power HF CW?

Oh my, just reread my post. My "public service announcement" was NOT directed at you, KA3J, specifically. It was intended for a general audience.

JOHNZ 2014-08-18
Technician Licensees -- Why Not Try Low Power HF CW?

Tnx for commenting about Morse instruction in the military, during the WWII era. Each service branch, at that time, had their own unique way of instructing Morse, based on their specific field requirements. The Navy was noted for training high-speed Morse operators.

My usual public service announcement is appropriate, at this time. Fast forward to 2014. Ham radio operators should inform themselves, prior to just parroting what they hear another ham say, regarding Morse and today's military:

-Morse is still taught and used in today's U.S. Military-

Unfounded rumors about the demise of Morse use and instruction in the modern U.S. Military establishment are premature, at best.

Thank you for your support.

V73NS 2014-08-17
Technician Licensees -- Why Not Try Low Power HF CW?

(shoe on the other foot...)
I don't have the time or ability or skills to learn Phone. Phone is outdated and there is no requirement to know Phone so why learn it, heck even the kids today don't "talk" to each other! I am tone deaf, so Phone is out of the question for me. I can't afford the Behringer Signal Processors needed for Phone. If I ever did try Phone I'd want software or hardware to decode/encode it. I want want instant gratification and Phone just doesn't cut it. If I were to attempt Phone, should I use a basic hand mic or go the hi-tech route with a desk mic or headset?

100% CW since 1976
W7ASA 2014-08-17
Technician Licensees -- Why Not Try Low Power HF CW?
Really Well Done!

Morse code is wonderful and HF CW is so efficient that (as you pointed-out) it's quite normal to enjoy radio contacts using inexpensive equipment. Naturally, this sort of economical ham radio station is not splashed all over the glossy magazines, each trying to sell mega-stations as being absolutely necessary - which they clearly are not. However, this really IS how a bit more like the average station and a great way to begin.

I had just been telling friends about their technician license NOT being VHF and above 'only'. They knew the frequency ranges from their tests, but being new, never really gave Morse a passing thought. Now, after hearing about how many friends I have daily skeds with on HF CW, how little power is required for dependable contacts with them and the other 'random' contacts, they've taken an interest. The timing on your article is excellent!

A word about high powered amplifiers amplifiers: It's been my experience for several decades that the best "amplifier" I own is the pneumatic tennis ball launcher I use to put more wire antennas into the trees. The best way to improve signal strengths, both transmitting and receiving, is antenna improvement and wire is relatively inexpensive; free if you're a good scrounger. Yes - I love ladder-line and when pennies are few and far between, I've made my own.


72/73 de Ray
W7ASA ..._ ._

W4KYR 2014-08-16
RE: Technician Licensees -- Why Not Try Low Power HF CW?
We used 10 meters for live code practice (after the band closed at night) in the 1990's. We were just trying to get our code speed up and everyone was local so we were able to hear each other. I was using the Uniden HR-2600 10 meter rig, another guy the next town over was using the Radio Shack HTX-100.
KA3J 2014-08-15
RE: Technician Licensees -- Why Not Try Low Power HF CW?
The former Navy course that I mentioned was discussed on QRP-L and perhaps other QRP forums and took place post- WW II and possibly during the war.

My wife's 99 year old uncle was a WW II Army Air Corp Morse code instructor but he couldn't recall the exact details of his program. He believed his program was somewhat longer than 80 hours, required at least a 20 WPM proficiency and included some instruction on radio technical theory too.

Clearly, not everyone will be able to achieve 18 WPM proficiency in 80 hours. However, I believe a lower workable beginning speed in the 8 - 15 WPM range can be achieved by many people in the 40-60 hours I mentioned. That should be sufficient to get on the air and begin having fun.
JOHNZ 2014-08-15
Technician Licensees -- Why Not Try Low Power HF CW?

The author, KA3J, stated there is a Navy course that teaches 18 WPM Morse proficiency in 80 hours. I asked him to identify said course more specifically, but to date, he has been silent. How about it KA3J? I worked Navy education curriculum as a civilian for a few years and cannot recall such a course? How about filling in the blanks in my memory?

Prior to computer-assisted instruction, the Navy had one classroom course 80 hours long, but after 80 hours, the average student could only copy "doubles," two letters at a time, in any given time period.
KK5DR 2014-08-15
Technician Licensees -- Why Not Try Low Power HF CW?
We need more guys on the CW bands. Keep those bands alive with contacts. I would like to find a good CW ragchew , but that seems very hard now days.
DL1MEV 2014-08-15
RE: Technician Licensees -- Why Not Try Low Power HF CW?
Nice article.
For a young talented person less than 80 hours to achieve 18wpm might be possible, for older folks it is rather optimistic.
On 40m an effective antenna is essential, I had good results with slopers longer than a quarter wavelength but shorter than a half wavelength fed via an homebrew atu.
I use a GQ-40 which is a well performing rig (superhet-rx, stable vfo, 5w output). The kit was inexpensive more than 10 years ago, about 100 US.
KB9MQL 2014-08-15
Technician Licensees -- Why Not Try Low Power HF CW?
CW is for old guys its not cool ..... you have fun with it.
N0NB 2014-08-15
Could we use the correct nomenclature?
Humans learn and understand Morse Code. CW (Continuous Wave) is the method of generation in the radio that encompasses all popular HF modes as opposed to "damped waves", a.k.a. spark generation. Note that damped waves were also used to generate voice transmissions as well as keyed Morse Code so spark should not be construed to only mean Morse Code either.

Some people even confuse the two by stating that early hams used CW on spark--nothing could be further from the truth! If we hams can't be bothered to understand that CW and Morse Code aren't synonymous, what else will we say, that an antenna tuner "fools" a radio?
AC5WO 2014-08-14
Technician Licensees -- Why Not Try Low Power HF CW?
One of the big problems I had when trying to learn Morse code as a kid is the sound of listening to Morse code is universally annoying to all non-hams nearby. The first purchase should be a comfortable set of headphones.

Another issue I have with the article is suggesting that low-power CW is going to be a less-expensive way to get on HF. The best affordable HF receiver that the new ham is likely to find is going to be a used HF transceiver that also comes with a 100 watt transmitter. I would also bet that a new ham can get a used computer for free in any city or town while only hams buy and sell Morse code keys and paddles. Might actually be easier and cheaper to get on CW using a free outdated computer instead of a key.
W5TTW 2014-08-14
RE: Technician Licensees -- Why Not Try Low Power HF CW?
" And why is it "unfortunately" that they get into the hobby for their own reasons that are not necessarily the same as yours?"

A great number of the current techs aren't involved in the amateur radio hobby. They're in the amateur radio "serivce." They soon discover that the "service" is a mere shadow of what they hoped it would be, so they quit. They have no skin in the game beyond their cheap HT and reflective vest. Personally, I don't miss them.
K4JPN 2014-08-14
Technician Licensees -- Why Not Try Low Power HF CW?
I recommend the NAQCC activities and sprints to all new CW hams, low speed straight key CW and a lot of activity. Also the SKCC sprints, they have categories for QRP and QRO. The bands may seem dead for CW, but when the sprints are on there is a lot of friendly activity. A lot of fun and not the insanity of the big contests.
REMOVED_ACCOUNT_2015-01-09 2014-08-14
RE: Technician Licensees -- Why Not Try Low Power HF CW?
Nice article Ron. Many hams coming into the hobby gain entrance via the local radio club which promotes the 2 mtr HT and D-Star internet radio which is unfortunate to say the least. Many of the local clubs don't promote cw.

Hopefully your article will inspire these hams to broaden their horizons and learn what ham radio is.

K3STX 2014-08-13
Technician Licensees -- Why Not Try Low Power HF CW?
I like QRP too, but if my exposure to HF CW was QRP I suspect I would be soon disillusioned. A 100 watt out rig would be the way to go, and USED can be had for not much $$$. I sold a TS-520S that was working great for $200.

I want my daughter and/or son to get their license so I can do CW DX contests with them. They really don't need much more than a Tech license for that.

W3TTT 2014-08-13
Technician Licensees -- Why Not Try Low Power HF CW?
If you want a nice code practice generator, I have written a program that you can find here:

Reads the news feed from Google news (or any website)
Strips out all the pesky tags
Sends the text in Morse Code (speed selectable)
Inserts the message of your choice every 10 minutes.
Plays thru your sound card

You can "check out" (download) the \trunk\Run Sound\ folder, and all the code (.jar files, profiles, etc.) are there, ready to run.

I think that it is much more interesting to practice Morse Code if the text is meaningful! You can choose to send a particular text file or any web page. It is select-able in the file.

You are on your own if you decide to use it to transmit on the ham bands!

73, Joe W3TTT
KW4AUB 2014-08-13
RE: Technician Licensees -- Why Not Try Low Power HF CW?
I really don't understand why articles about CW always stir up such debate. Usually it is about No-Code Techs vs those who learned CW. This one seems to have stirred up the Orange Vests vs. the others. That's a shame - because this article is really trying hard to be encouraging and is not trying to diminish anyone at all. Well done!

I was a no-code tech in the 90s and let my license expire. After a close call with a tornado in 2011, I decided to get back into the hobby. I do enjoy working with the Encomm groups. I've progressed to Extra, so please don't think of me as 'just' an Orange Vest!

My next challenge is trying to learn CW. No one is making me do it. No one is upset that I am learning it. No one is making fun of me for not knowing it. It's just a part of ham radio that I haven't tried, and I am interested. That should not stir up debate - right? Well.. I look for CDs to train and I uncover the debate over Farnsworth spacing vs. the other methods. No big deal - I'll try multiple methods. So I get the ARRL and the W5YI CDs and start using them both, as well as I'm a little over halfway through the alphabet. It won't be long before I'm ready to start practicing for my first QSO. I need to get a physical apparatus to use to send my code.

So I Google "CW Paddles". Another Debate! I did not realize how many different ways there were to create the Dits and Dahs. There are paddles and keyers - and some radios have keyers built in so you only need a paddle. Shopping for "Paddle without a keyer" is not as easy as it seems. There are automatic ones and manual ones. Don't learn on one and then try to use another one or your wife will leave you. I read some more, and then I found forum post after forum post where people were arguing about whether or not you are supposed to use a "Bug".

Whew! It seems that every step of my CW path there has been some type of heated debate. I admire the passion around CW, but it makes it tough for me as a CW-newbie to learn from the Interwebs what I need to do in order to progress. Thankfully there are a number of local hams who have helped me fill in the gap. I just find it really interesting that conversations around a subject that encourages conversation can raise so many flags.

For the OP - I applaud your efforts. I would only amend your post to encourage recent Generals and Extras to try the code too! I am - and I hope to talk to you on the air one day. Maybe with only 5 watts and my manual/automatic bug/paddle with the included/external keyer.

K4EHB 2014-08-13
Technician Licensees -- Why Not Try Low Power HF CW?
For many, many, many, years I was a tech plus ham radio operator. For many, many, many years my operating preferences were 40 meter cw and my ht on a local 2 meter repeater.

I decided that I wanted to try ssb and also 20 meters - that meant upgrading to General.

I never took to ssb, but liked 20 meter cw.

Then I wanted to help with amateur radio by becoming a ve - and that meant upgrading to extra. Extra also meant more cw frequencies.

After several years as an Extra - here's my operating preference:

40 meter cw usually 7.040 to 7.060 and also 7.110 to 7.120
20 meter cw usually 14.040 to 14.065
Infrequence conversations using my ht on the local 2 meter repeater.

My advice to technician class operators - get on hf cw - then become an extra class operator.
WB4M 2014-08-13
RE: Technician Licensees -- Why Not Try Low Power HF CW?
W5TTT and Johnz make valid points, although some don't like to hear them. New Techs indeed get the orange vest syndrome via Echolink, D-Star, Emcomm. Look at the cover of the new (Sept) issue of QST. Yup, she's wearing the orange vest with reflector stripes, riding around looking for an "emergency" so she can back up the police. But I digress..
In the past few months I have gotten into QRP, mostly CW but a few PSK31 contacts too. It is addicting, each QSO makes you want to use even less power. Nothing like getting a 579 report out of Europe with 500mw!
WB5JNC 2014-08-13
RE: Technician Licensees -- Why Not Try Low Power HF CW?
K0RGR: "You won't get any argument out of me, though I believe you can get a very effective HF CW rig on the air for much less than $400.

And Techs are allowed 200 watts output power in their CW segments on 80, 40, 15, and 10 - so some of those older HF rigs like the Ten Tec Triton are almost perfect."

Absolutely - I've seen older Ten-Tec rigs like the Tritons/540 series and Omni-A/Ds with minor problems go at hamfests for around a hundred dollars or less. (When I say "minor problems" I'm talking about a bad dial cord string, a PTO that needs a lube job, or other simple and easily overlooked items: a friend of mine probably scored the ultimate deal in this regard on one of these rigs a few years back when he spotted one sitting in a box under a flea market table. He asked the seller about it and was informed that the receiver didn't work. The price? $25. When he got it home and took the bottom cover off he found the one of the speaker wires had been stressed and broken. The same thing may apply with other brands of rigs: my advice here is to find a tech-savvy elmer to guide you through the process of finding a suitable candidate and getting it repaired.)

That being said, I'm a QRP fan and a CW op. A few experiences: first, when the bands are in good shape you'd be surprised what you can work QRP SSB: I've had fun in the past going back to a station calling CQ and being told "good signal for a barefoot rig." I'd reply "TNX OM, barefoot here is 5 watts" and listen to the guy verbally fall off his chair. This was with a mil-surplus 18' vertical antenna mounted even with the top of a low chain link fence, which I used for a counterpoise. (Although keep in mind here that because of complicated factors related to bandwidth etcetera, a QRP CW signal will do almost as well as 100W SSB given the same conditions.) Second, there is an advantage to CW: it thins out the crowds considerably. In another instance from another QTH some years ago when my "jr. op" (son to you younger folks who haven't been around the early ham radio terminology like I have) was becoming interested in getting his license, he said "dad, let's see who you can work." At the time I was tinkering with a CB beam I had converted to 10M and had it on a temporary pole about 20' high. I first tuned around on the SSB part of the band and heard a station in Puerto Rico. I tried calling a few times, but with my low antenna and 50W I wasn't able to break the pileup. I rolled down into the CW portion of the band and heard a station calling CQ. I went back to him and immediately established contact - with a CE3 (Chile.) Now - how many of those stations who were trying for a 10M contact with the Puerto Rican station would have jumped at the chance for a contact with the CE3? Yet I had him all to myself because I was on CW.

So to all you Tech license folks out there who are considering what the author is proposing, I say "go for it." There are a lot of us old timers and CW ops who are cheering you on and will do whatever we can to help and encourage you.

73, Al
KB2DHG 2014-08-13
Technician Licensees -- Why Not Try Low Power HF CW?
QRP can be very exciting... A few years ago a snow storm took down my antenna, so I got out my QRP rig, made a quick dipole antenna and strung it out the window. I was amazed how many contacts I was making with this temporary station. So much so. it got me hooked on QRP.

I have used this QRP rig when i went on vacations abut never really got into it until now.

Nice article and good food for thought for new comers to get started in
K5TEN 2014-08-12
RE: Technician Licensees -- Why Not Try Low Power HF CW?
I wholeheartedly agree with the article -- well done AUTHOR!!

Yes, not everyone is cut out to be a CW QRP MEISTER.

I consider myself lucky to have gotten in amateur radio on the ground floor as a Novice Class licencee back in 1980. A Ten-Tec Century 21 and a hunk of wire out of the second floor doom room as well as an exceedingly shaky fist and the first contacs were made nation wide on 15M CW. Back home from college and young married, a pair of used Kenwood Twins (that I still have) a naval hand key (a year later a Vibroplex Bug -- I much rue the day to have sold) began to work world-wide -- all on the U S Novice CW bands. On 40 & 80 meters -- I was in 100w HAM HEAVEN. Being a radio professional and on the air afternoons tends to breed a Low Band CW Night Owl. Just get on and call CQ. In Northeast Illinois, Novice Class signals started to explode late afternoon and by sunset 4-Land, 5 Land and 0 Land is pegging the meter 25+ dB... A GIFT of EXPERIENCE.

Today, one of the first thing I do when turning on the rig is to slide around the HF CW portion -- seeing what calls I can pick out and partially gauge the condition of the band.

If you are not a QRP'er, give the QRP Calling frequencies a WIDE BERTH. If you are, drop in and join the fun.

Please do not miss out on a part of your amateur radio experience and dismiss CW. It is well worth the time to learn it in your head -- not a hard drive.

K0RGR 2014-08-12
Technician Licensees -- Why Not Try Low Power HF CW?
You won't get any argument out of me, though I believe you can get a very effective HF CW rig on the air for much less than $400.

And Techs are allowed 200 watts output power in their CW segments on 80, 40, 15, and 10 - so some of those older HF rigs like the Ten Tec Triton are almost perfect.

I'm much in favor of giving Techs digital privileges on the CW frequencies they currently have, but I've also pushed the idea that they should get HF receive capability and try using a computer to decode CW there, so they can see what's really possible.

I'm actually surprised that more Techs don't go the computer CW route. I know of several who work DX contests using computers, because it's usually one computer sending to another one, and that works very well.
K8QV 2014-08-12
RE: Technician Licensees -- Why Not Try Low Power HF CW?
I've seen a lot of people get their Tech license over the past few years and there are a few who actually become interested in HF and move up to General rather quickly. However, CW is still a very hard sell. I think people put up their mental blocks and can't realize the advantages of the mode. If anything, they lean toward the newer digital modes because they get to use a computer. It's too bad because the cheap and efficient CW mode would indeed get them hooked on HF with a station they could afford and grow with.
NU4B 2014-08-12
RE: Technician Licensees -- Why Not Try Low Power HF CW?
"John Z" brings up an interesting point.

But I was wondering about something. A couple weeks ago we had a vicious storm. High winds, hail, downed lines and trees, and a couple tornadoes north of here. We lost power at my QTH. My cell phone went into emergency calls only mode, then after a couple hours all contact with the cell tower was lost. (I drove to the next tower's range and service was normal so I assume it was the tower) I'm guessing the tower's backup power was lost???? Is their any specific requirement for backup power?

I remember thinking as a passing thought my K2 has a battery installed and my HF5B survived. There was not much to do in the dark, but I could still get on the air.

I realize this was a very small, localized event but what if was much much bigger and our normal systems fail? I was thinking how odd it was that it really didn't take much to knock out communication to our tower.
JOHNZ 2014-08-12
Technician Licensees -- Why Not Try Low Power HF CW?

In these parts, they not only go for the orange vest and the $40 Chinese HT, but they also like the large mag mount sign on the side of their vehicle. A yellow light bar for their vehicle is considered the crown jewel.

Had a foot race here recently. About a dozen of the whackers were there, all in orange vests. Saw a little girl about eight years old walk up to one of the whackers and ask him what he was doing. The whacker, all pumped up and important in his vest, told the little girl he was there to handle emergencies. Whereupon, the little girl got out her cell phone and said she could do that too, by calling 911.
W8AAZ 2014-08-12
Technician Licensees -- Why Not Try Low Power HF CW?
Well my last earnest attempt at QRP CW was with a used HW-8 with two watts. Used a matched antenna that works fine with the regular HF rig. Never raised one reply at that level. But I found that there is plenty of contact action for slow speed(read rusty or newbie) on 40M between about 7108 and 7120 in this neck of the woods. From the chirps I can tell a lot of vintage gear is used for fun, too. Easy with the regular HF radio. Now if I could get my boatanchors running well, they might show up there. Speeds there vary from medium, slow, and painfully slow if you are really wanting to get started without being run off by Mr. zippy keyer.
NU4B 2014-08-12
Technician Licensees -- Why Not Try Low Power HF CW?
This is a very nice article. Sometimes we are fooled into thinking thousands or tens of thousands of dollars are required to be an amateur radio op - or DX'er. Nothing could be further from the truth.

While the article mentions a couple of NA activities and points out the amount of CW activity, I would go one step further. Look at any of the large DX'peditions' logbooks and you will find in the vast majority of them that CW Q's outnumbered phone Q's, sometimes by a large amount. CW works and it works well for long distance communications on HF.
Remember when we had the code/no-code debate? Any many CW ops were worried about the fate of CW? Who knew Cycle 24 was going to turn into such a turkey. Most serious DX'ers (even those who operate mainly phone) will tell you CW is a requirement just in case that needed entity comes on the air in a time of bad solar condx. Or on 160 or 80 meters. Not to mention the solar mins. And these are people with tall towers and powerful amps.

BTW when I taught myself code Is started with my first name. When I knew that, I did my last name. Then street address no., street name, city, state, and finally zip. At the end I knew most of the letters and numbers.

I've run QRP for the last 30 years. Since I started a computerized log in 2001 I have made almost 19,000 (mostly DX) QSOs. I don't have any tall towers. Just a HF5B on a mast and some wires.
I am not against anyone using high power, or building superstations, etc.. If you have the money and desire - go for it. But again, running 500 watts or 1000 watts or higher is not a requirement. Much success can be had running 100 watts or 50 watts or 5 watts or less.

Which is why I think this article is important. There's a lot of flashy pictures in magazines and on line of the big towers and fancy rigs and amps. And there's nothing wrong with them as long as we can let people know its not always realistic or required. Because the point it to get on the air. Even in restricted neighborhoods, it is amazing what a 5 watt or 100 watt rig and some hidden wire can do. And the efficiency of a CW rig plays right in by providing the right mode to get the most out of that antenna with a simple and inexpensive station.

N4KC 2014-08-12
RE: Technician Licensees -- Why Not Try Low Power HF CW?
I'll add my congrats on a great article. I wish I had written it!

"Unfortunately, many techs are only in it for the reflective vest and have no skin in the game other than their $40 Chinese HT."

TTW, what do you consider "many?" And why is it "unfortunately" that they get into the hobby for their own reasons that are not necessarily the same as yours? A person should be able to enjoy the avocation regardless his or her motivation for getting the license.

If they never develop an interest in HF QRP CW, fine. But this article does a wonderful job of offering some reasons they may want to consider it.


Don N4KC
(Author of the new book RIDING THE SHORTWAVES:

W5TTW 2014-08-12
RE: Technician Licensees -- Why Not Try Low Power HF CW?
Unfortunately, many techs are only in it for the reflective vest and have no skin in the game other than their $40 Chinese HT. They rarely last.
K6RB 2014-08-12
Technician Licensees -- Why Not Try Low Power HF CW?
Jim Talens and I essentially said very much the same thing about using CW in Morse Code Operating for Amateur Radio (ARRL Publication). It bears repeating, so thanks, Ron. In addition to the resources you mentioned about learning CW, you should add CW Academy ( Whereas G4FON and LCWO are very good online tools, they all lack one important factor - a live human being on the other end. In CW Academy, students are paired with advisors who assess and guide their progress from beginning to end. The programs are eight weeks long and students are expected to spend 30 to 45 minutes every day practicing the prescribed exercises. It works. CW Academy has already trained about 300 students and has a very high percentage who make major strides in their CW skills. And, it's free!
N3ZJ 2014-08-12
RE: Technician Licensees -- Why Not Try Low Power HF CW?

Great article! I agree with QAA - send this to QST.

KE7FD 2014-08-12
Technician Licensees -- Why Not Try Low Power HF CW?
This past weekend, W3WH and I, operated a SOTA station W3IBT using a random length wire with several counterpoised wires laid along the ground. We worked into Poland, Norway, other DX locations and stateside all with 5 watts. Great fun. CW is an excellent mode that many folks don't try even though there's a keyer built into their radios. Don't discount learning CW if you are able to and just get your speed up. Good operators will accommodate slower operators so don't let that get in your way from enjoying QRP CW.

Glen - KE7FD
K8QV 2014-08-12
Technician Licensees -- Why Not Try Low Power HF CW?
Great article. A few people still get into radio for the sake of radio, but unfortunately, most new techs these days just want to wear the orange vest. QRP CW is the best answer for those who want the thrill of building a tiny rig that will allow you to communicate all over the world for pennies on the mile.

I was first licensed when Morse Code was a requirement. Back then we were not inclined to argue, whine and find excuses as to why we can't and shouldn't have to learn code; we just did it. So just do it. It's worth it.
AB1DQ 2014-08-12
Technician Licensees -- Why Not Try Low Power HF CW?
Excellent article, Ron - and I couldn't agree more.
I entered the hobby as a Technician and got screwed out of the entire Novice experience.

But that didn't stop me from learning the code and using it. I have to admit that I have had some of the best rag chews on CW, the old timer ops there have been fabulous.

In regards to low power - I am a QRP fan for three reasons.

The first it is in the spirit of the FCC requirement that we operate with just enough power to effectively communicate. I do just fine on CW with the 2 watts my FT-817 puts out.

The second is I love building my own equipment as much as I do operating it. There are numerous kits and published plans for transmitters, receivers, tuners, watt meters, TX/RX switches, etc. Making a QSO on entirely home-built equipment is far more satisfying than operating a commercial rig.

Finally, QRP appeals to my austere lifestyle. As much as I'd love to operate a top-of-the line commercial rig (heck, I'd love to even own a middle-of-the line rig!) - you certainly get a lot more bang for the buck when you follow the QRP route.

Thanks for this excellent and inspiring article, Ron - - - I too encourage folks to give QRP CW a try!

73 de AB1DQ

F8WBD 2014-08-12
RE: Technician Licensees -- Why Not Try Low Power HF CW?
Well done piece addressing many facets of QRP particularly my mode cw. I appreciate your pointing out big budgets are not required for simple QRP cw rigs, kit or assembled. While the big "2" QRP top-of-the-line transceivers are great, the same companies have more modestly priced offerings. And, there are others out there. Turn the big rig down to 5 watts, if you like it stay with it. Then get a real 5-watt-or-less rig. More efficient that way. More ecologically desirable.
KB4QAA 2014-08-12
Technician Licensees -- Why Not Try Low Power HF CW?
Elegant article Ron! I urge you to submit to QST.

JOHNZ 2014-08-12
Technician Licensees -- Why Not Try Low Power HF CW?

Curious Ron, which Navy course are you referring to that teaches 18 WPM in 80 hours?

HAMMYGUY 2014-08-12
RE: Technician Licensees -- Why Not Try Low Power HF CW?
Excellent article Ron and nice writing style. It should be part of an "Introduction to Ham Radio" ebook.
N5SOM 2014-08-12
Technician Licensees -- Why Not Try Low Power HF CW?
Very good article, covering most all of the basic points.
W2LJ 2014-08-12
Technician Licensees -- Why Not Try Low Power HF CW?
Great article, Ron. Encouraging and enticing, but yet you take care to spell out the realities. QRP CW isn't for everyone, but more and more people who try it seem to become addicted. Good going!
AB1LT 2014-08-12
Technician Licensees -- Why Not Try Low Power HF CW?
All true.
I learned Morse code a couple years ago and didn't use it much except to help out on Field Day. Then my 100W rig died. While it was in the shop I got a 2 band QRP rig new for $180. I did more Dx while my 100W rig was being repaired than I had done in the previous 2 years. I was consistently hitting stations 4K miles away on 4watts, with my most memorable Dx being RI1ANT in Antartica 10,800 miles away on 4W. CW is just amazing!

If you are into camping or hiking, a QRP rig with antenna, tuner, key and enough batteries to last a weekend will fit in a lunch box and can weigh under 2 pounds. I bring my QRP rig camping and can throw the end-fed wire up in a tree and be on the air in 5 minutes.

Learn Morse and you open a whole new world of (very affordable) Dx and super-portable operations.