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50 CW QSOs

from Tate Jackson, N3BXZ on April 24, 2019
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50 CW QSOs

After being a licensed amateur radio operator since 1993, I finally decide to get serious about learning CW and using it on the air. I was originally licensed as a Technician Plus, so I had learned the code, but I never used it. I mainly hung out on a few VHF and UHF repeaters during my daily commute and played around with packet radio. I upgraded to General when the 13-wpm code requirement was eliminated. But I never used my HF privileges.

I signed up and took the CWOPS CW Academy (CWA) Level 1 and 2 courses. I started Level 1 in January of 2018 and the Level 2 in September 2018. The coaching and feedback from my advisors was very helpful and working with the other course participants gave me the confidence to use CW on the air. I went from a rough 5 wpm to a passible 16 wpm. I went ahead and signed up for the Level 3 course, so I can get more coaching on head copy and to build my speed. I can send and receive comfortably at 16 WPM, but I really want to get to 20 or even 25 wpm. I am on the waiting list for the January 2019 session.

On December 2, 2018, I completed my 50th CW QSO. I know it’s not a lot, but it sure felt like a milestone to me. I wanted to share some of my experiences as a CW rookie. Rookie may be too kind, I am a CW Newbie.

In early November 2018, I hung a 135 ft, OCF Dipole up about 35 feet in a tree in my backyard. I didn’t have any help, so it took most of the day to get the antenna up, secured and to run the 150 feet of coax to my shack in the basement. I had bought a very used Ten Tec Scout 555 with the 80, 40, 20, and 15-meter modules off eBay for $250.00. It was the cheapest, working HF rig I could find at the time. My antenna analyzer confirmed that the OCF dipole had good SWR on 80, 40, 20, 17, 10 and 6 meters. This was good, because I hadn’t finished building my antenna tuner. I could get on the air. I sent a quick email to my Level 2 classmates and set up a sked for the next evening. I just wanted one more day to listen and practice before I got on the air.

As the time for the sked got close, I fired up my Scout, set the keyer speed and waited. At 9:00pm local time, I sent my first CQ into the world. Well it wasn’t exactly a CQ, it more of a CC QQ or maybe it was a QC CQ. Whatever it was, it was wrong. So, I stopped, took a breath and tried again. “CQ CQ CQ, de N3BXZ, N3BXZ K” and I waited. A few seconds later, my heart stopped when I heard my call sign come back to me. A CWA classmate was responding to my CQ and he was from Canada, SWEET!!! My first CW QSO was going to be DX. Oh, nuts, now what do I do. Wait, I wrote a script, put it on sticky notes and put the sticky notes on the front of the shelf above my radio. Where are my sticky notes, where is the shelf, where is my radio, what is this paddle thing in my right hand??? I took a breath and started sending my scripted QSO. For the next few minutes, I stumbled through my first QSO. It was very basic, just signal report, QTH and name with lots of repeats and spelling errors. There was some chit chat about how cool it was to finally be on the air and then we signed off. My first CW QSO was done, and I was completely spent.

I soon realized that I didn’t have a logbook or QSL cards. I went ahead and logged the contact in a logbook and then found a website that sold cheap QSL cards. I ordered 500 for express delivery. After that first contact, I knew CW was for me. So, I promised myself that I would make at least 1 CW contact a day for as long as I could.

Over the next few days, I answered CQs and stumbled through several more QSOs. I freely told my QSO partners that I was a new CW operator and that they were my 3rd, 8th or 12th, etc. CW contact. Most of the operators on the other end my QSOs had an incredible amount patience. Many happily slowed their sending speed down and resent basic QSO information 2 and even 3 times until I got it. I copied statements like “Congratulations”, “Welcome to the Club” and encouraging things like, “u r doing great”. I was sending out QSL cards, and slowly QSL cards started coming to me. Several experienced hams even took the time to send me emails after our QSOs to offer words of encouragement and tips on things I could do better. I was having a lot of fun.

Not all my experiences were positive. Several times, I was chased off frequency after calling CQ. I was told that I needed to be better/faster at CW before coming to the bottom part of the bands. I was on 7065 kHz when that happened. I heard the folks running digital modes around 7070 and up, so I was trying to stay out of their way. One ham ended our QSO as soon as I sent that I lived in Maryland. He already had Maryland in his logbook, so he didn’t “need” my QSO. One ham got upset with me because I could not remember my SKCC number. He was kind enough to send it to me before abruptly ending our QSO. One ham told me to stop answering his CQ, because he had already worked me a few days prior. It took me a few QSOs to understand when someone wanted to ragchew vs. someone who just wanted to make the contact, get the number/state/county/grid square and move on. These less than perfect experiences did not discourage me. Some of them taught me valuable lessons. Some just made me chuckle. FYI, I made a new sticky note with my SKCC number and Grid Square on it in big font.

As I write this, it’s a few days before Christmas, 2018. I am still making at least 1 CW contact every day. I am up to 77 QSO’s on 80, 40 and 20 meters. I almost had a QSO on 10 meters, but their signal faded before we could complete it. I am now thinking of buying a brand-new radio. I just haven’t decided which one. There is a ham radio store about 100 miles from where I live. I might just drive up there and play for a few hours and see which radio (in my price range) calls to me. Could be a great way to spend a Saturday. Some interesting side notes:

• My first CW QSO was also the first CW QSO for the station that answered my call.

• My 50th QSO happened the day before my birthday. When I realized I had completed my 49th QSO, I was going to shut off my radio and try for my 50th QSO the morning of my birthday. But somebody called CQ, and without thinking, I answered, and I ended up have a great QSO. He even sent me a QSL card with “Congratulations on Your 50th QSO” written on the back.

• I worked a ham in Quebec. His primary language was French. Like me, he was new to CW and had prepared a QSO script written in English. We got through everything on his script and started to ragchew for a few minutes. After the QSO, he sent me an email telling me that he had copied what I sent to him, translated it to French in his head, thought of a response in French, translated the French response to English, wrote down the English translation and then sent the reply to me. He did that for most of our 12-minute QSO. That is a ham who wanted to complete a QSO. I thought I had it hard.

Before I end things, I just want to say thank you to my first 50 QSO partners. You were patient, encouraging and very quick to slow down and repeat. You overlooked my newbie mistakes and put in a little extra effort to help me through my first 50 QSOs. TU 73s es hpe to wrk u agn ee.

And I huge thanks to my wife. She lets me go into the shack after dinner, so I can get my CW QSO for the day before we sit down together for the evening. She swears she hardly notices the 135-foot dipole in our backyard. She listens and smiles as I tell her about the my latest QSO, or as she puts it my “Radio Beeping”. BTW, she has stated categorically that she loves me, but she is not going to get her ham license, ever.

Tate Jackson


Member Comments:
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50 CW QSOs Reply
by KJ4DGE on April 24, 2019 Mail this to a friend!
Thank you for a very good article on CW. I really enjoyed all of it. Goes to show if you really want to do something you can make it happen! Hope to work you on the air someday.

73 de KJ4DGE
50 CW QSOs Reply
by K9PIX on April 24, 2019 Mail this to a friend!
Thanks Tate.
I’m learning morse code now. I have been wanting to for about ten years and finally decided to do it. Just finished the alphabet and working on punctuation. Then I’ll need to practice sending. Got a used KX1 on eBay from a very helpful and friendly ham. (He sent me the link to your article.) I’m excited to get on the air with cw. You inspired me to work a little harder and be more diligent with my practice sessions. Once I’m on the air I’ll try and contact you. Thanks again for the inspirational article. Sincerely,
K9PIX. 73
50 CW QSOs Reply
by OZ8AGB on April 24, 2019 Mail this to a friend!
Very well done learning CW.

Can recommend joining SKCC (free).

50 CW QSOs Reply
by N4UM on April 24, 2019 Mail this to a friend!
Excellent article! I commend you for your efforts in developing a skill simply for the joy you get in exercising that skill.

My thoughts go back 65 years to the time I was learning CW as a Novice licensee. Believe me, the process was MUCH MUCH easier back then.

We had the Novice license and the Novice bands. All of us were in the same boat... but it was a much bigger and more crowded boat. 99% of us enjoyed ragchewing and saw it as a way to improve our CW. The days of the essentially meaningless "5NN TU" QSO were well in the future. We ran into very few, if any, other operators with that mindset. Sure, we enjoyed working new states and countries, but our common focus was on improving our CW skills. Unlike you, we had an external incentive to work on developing CW skills or to face the prospect of going off the air. When I started the Novice license was only good for one year and was non-renewable. Time's a wasting... get to 13 WPM or get out!

We didn't have to arrange schedules or make any special efforts to meet other hams in the same boat for CW practice. All we did was turn on the radio to one of the Novice bands and we would be in business. We didn't have to deal with jerks who told us our sending was too slow or too sloppy. They had the entire spectrum outside the Novice bands to exercise their lidsmanship! Since we were all in the same boat we were able to empathize with our fellow Novices. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

Occasionally excellent operators (such as Vic Clark, W4KFC) would join us in the Novice bands and serve as genuine role models for us to emulate.

Back then we were both pushed and pulled by internal and external forces. Today, all you have going for you is your own intrinsic motivation. Hang in there. It's worth it.

RE: 50 CW QSOs Reply
by K6AER on April 24, 2019 Mail this to a friend!
Reminds me of ham radio when I was in Jr. High. NC-60 and a Knight T-50.

Nicely written.
RE: 50 CW QSOs Reply
by VA2PBJ on April 24, 2019 Mail this to a friend!
People don't realize that all hams are not nice people. I let spite kick in and keep the contact going, even when they don't want to. When you come from a family of 10, these are the things smiles are made of......

But I would have keyed with a computer set at 2 wpm. Oh that spite........

It was great that you were not discouraged and posted what had happened. New hams get sensitive about making a contact. All it takes is one dink to make them gun shy.

Keep it up.
RE: 50 CW QSOs Reply
by G3SEA on April 24, 2019 Mail this to a friend!

Congrats !

Enjoy the Fun mode !

RE: 50 CW QSOs Reply
by K1QQQ on April 24, 2019 Mail this to a friend!
Have fun !!!! Is cw really that terrible ? An international language where you do not have to yap your mouth. Used very little in society these days but a simple way to get a message out.

Otherwise it is not obsolete as to being a superior mode for certain things. (Weak signal work,etc.)

You shocked me !!! A QSL ? I have been laughed out of the TECH world for just mentioning such. A simple confirmation of a contact. If you send a SASE and that stuff why do they still ignore you ? (and laugh at you) Yes..I presume attachments to emails will become the norm... In operating awards QSL's are desired because otherwise too easy for too many to fake contacts.
RE: 50 CW QSOs Reply
by PU2OZT on April 24, 2019 Mail this to a friend!
Very inspirational reading, Tate. No doubt last paragraph is part of the process (not HER license part). Some (rare) times I wander through SSB frequencies and must ask my wife "What are they talking 'bout? (in portuguese)" - "they're talking cars" okay!! back to the lower end of the band, then.
Thanks again for sharing.

50 CW QSOs Reply
by DL8OV on April 24, 2019 Mail this to a friend!
Nice story Tate, and congratulations on the first 50.

As for the cribs written on post-it notes, I kept my first crib sheet to the left of my rig until the paper had become worn and torn, then I printed another one. I never needed a third crib sheet for QSO's because by then I had got the hang of things.

Peter DL8OV

P.S. Everyone else, if you hear a newbie then slow down and be nice.
RE: 50 CW QSOs Reply
by KB2FCV on April 24, 2019 Mail this to a friend!
Great story Tate & congratulations on 50 QSO's.

I still remember some of my early QSO's and learning the ropes of getting on the air. Keep at it!
50 CW QSOs Reply
by BURGERLOVER65 on April 24, 2019 Mail this to a friend!
You will soon realize if you trying working a cw contest that cw contests are actually easier than qso's. Not only that but you can work contests at about 30-40 wpm easily since each qso is repetitive. The most difficult part of contests is copying call signs. It might take awhile to copy the complete call sign. Good luck - keep going.
50 CW QSOs Reply
by WA7SGS on April 25, 2019 Mail this to a friend!
When I was a novice back in the early 70's, the collection of QSL cards got up to 50 before I ran out of license. It was a blast to get them via Morse code, a random wire antenna and low power. Nice to see the poster having a similar experience in the 21st century!

50 CW QSOs Reply
by K6CRC on April 25, 2019 Mail this to a friend!
The great thing about the hobby is that we can set our own milestones.
Congrats on your hard work and your success.
RE: 50 CW QSOs Reply
by KJ4DGE on April 25, 2019 Mail this to a friend!
Talked to someone yesterday who was a tech class licensee. Wanted to upgrade but was more into the digital side of things. It takes all kinds of people to make the hobby interesting. I told him I hung out on 20 working SSB and he seemed excited when I told him I could work Miami every morning for 20 minutes even with bad prop. Yeah you can work Bulgaria with CW during a Geostorm, to each his own. Great article and maybe CW will be my next big adventure!
RE: 50 CW QSOs Reply
by N4KZ on April 25, 2019 Mail this to a friend!
Great achievement and story documenting your journey. I'm sure it will motivate others to follow the same trail. I can say from experience that learning CW is not easy for most of us. I taught myself CW as a teen-ager 50 years ago -- one of the most challenging things I ever did. And it only gets harder as we age. But the payoff is monumental. I've worked a ton of DX during the past half-century -- much of it on CW. Congrats on your achievements. 73, N4KZ
50 CW QSOs Reply
by K8QV on April 25, 2019 Mail this to a friend!
Ah, yes. The original digital mode and the only digital mode that requires an operator's skill and effort. Very reliable mode and requires much less gear to be effective than any other mode. To those who started in amateur radio as a Novice the mode just seems normal. I remember when a group of us were first interested in getting licensed out instructor said we'd need to know something about radio stuff, FCC rules, and oh yeah . . . we would need to learn Morse code. It was a different time I guess because we all just said, "Oh, okay" and we did it. I still think the mode is not only the simplest and most effective means of communicating radio to radio, but it's fun as well.
50 CW QSOs Reply
by N1KWW on April 26, 2019 Mail this to a friend!
Congratulations on your 50th. Imagine your first CW contact comes back with Owatoma, MN. as QTH.
RE: 50 CW QSOs Reply
by NN2X on April 26, 2019 Mail this to a friend!
Great Article

Like many Ham Operators, after reading this article this spark a memory when I had my first CW contact in the 70's

It is thrilling to hear your calls (In CW) for the first time. I was a novice at the time, and had a dipole (15 meters) which was placed between the trees. My first contact, I worked a JA.

All very cool!



50 CW QSOs Reply
by W4AJA on April 26, 2019 Mail this to a friend!
Great article. I've been a tech since 2009. Joined a local club. Got involved. Actually purchased a used HF radio. Wasn't sure about trying to learn CW but wanted to get into HF. Some local club shenanigans sort of turned me off the hobby, but I continue to think about HF and learning CW. What's never been clear to me is what I needed to have ready before my first HF contact, and this article helped. Thanks for taking the time to write it.
50 CW QSOs Reply
by KC5NGX on April 27, 2019 Mail this to a friend!
Thanks for sharing your first time QSO story. My first CW QSO was with KB0PTE (Wayne Alexander) in Springfield, Mo.. I made plenty of mistakes, as many aspiring cw ops before me have done. But he did not say anything about them. At the time, (revisiting my paper logbook) the rig was a Tempo One on 7.135mhz running 50 watts into a MFJ-949E tuner, and a MFJ G5RV. The straight key used was a J-38 straight key. Best I remember, it was the long version of the, Gordon West "cookie cutter" type qso, and Wayne must have been ready to qrt in a hurry, but he did not. If i ever hear him again, i would like to thank him. Anyway, after the first CW QSO with KB0PTE, I soon made many more cw contacts with the Tempo One and many other transceivers. My first DX contact was XE2IAT in Lapaz (21:40utc) with the Tempo One/J-38 at 100 watts on 7.121mhz.

Nowadays, I have made so many CW DX/Contest "599 TX"
type contacts that i have forgotten how to participate in a hour long slowspeed ragchew session. Hi Hi. But I do miss slow speed ragchewing here lately. Never know, sounds like it is time to go back to 7.100-7.125mhz and revisit the good ol' days!

73 es gud DX de KC5NGX

50 CW QSOs Reply
by N3BXZ on April 28, 2019 Mail this to a friend!
A am glad to see all the positive responses to my story. I have gotten several emails from hams around the world telling me their past or present experiences learning CW. It is nice to know I wasn't the only one who had the jitters during my first few QSOs.

I thought I would give a quick update, now that I am a little further along with CW. I am keeping to my goal of making at least 1 CW contact every day. As of this evening (late April 2019), I have made 345 CW QSOs. Distance wise, my shortest QSO was 7 miles with a ham on the other side of my town and the longest was 4800 miles with a ham in Hawaii during the SKCC K3Y event this past January. My logging program tells me I have 42 states and 11 DXCC entities. I feel like I have graduated from CW Newbie to CW Rookie. My next milestone is to work all 50 states in the US. Most of the remaining states I need are out west, but oddly enough, I can't seem to make a contact with Delaware. It’s only a half hour from where I live. I think there is a Delaware QSO party coming up in the next few weeks. Maybe that will improve my chances.

My eBay purchased Ten Tec Scout is still going strong and has gained new band modules for 30, 17, 12 meters. I also got a good deal on a Ten Tec Analogue Century 21. I rebuilt the PTO, gave it a good cleaning and it works great. I still haven't decided which new rig I am going to get. I am having too much fun with my old Ten Tec’s right now.

Most of my CW experiences are still very positive. I come across a grumpy operator every now and again. I just turn the dial. There is always someone to QSO with.

I am still working to increase my speed. I didn’t get into the CWOPS Level 3 class this past January. I could have gotten into the April session, but because of family obligations, I signed up for the Level 3 session in September instead. In the meantime, I am working with Howard, WB2UZ, in the Long Island CW Club online Head Copy class most Tuesday nights. It’s a great group of people and I am starting to see a difference in my on the air CW operating. I am beginning to listen more and write less. I’m still a long way from 100 % head copy at 25 wpm, but I am inching closer.

I am usually on 40 meters in the evenings. I have been having good luck with the lower half of 30 meters. I usually call CQ on 10 meters at least once a day, and I’ve gotten 2 replies so far.
Anyway, this update is a lot longer than I thought it would be, so I am going to end it here. I’ll see you on the bands. And BTW, my wife still loves me, and she still won’t get her ham license.
RE: 50 CW QSOs Reply
by K3UIM on April 28, 2019 Mail this to a friend!
BXZ: Excellent article. Keep it up!!

UM: A very hearty "Amen" to your … Uh … "Era"(?). I started in the early 60's and lived your experience. We had to study and practice our CW or lose our ticket in one lousy year. That wasn't a lot of time, believe me! Hi.

After being out of hamming 25 years I got back in and am having a hard time relearning the code. (I can send at about 20 or so wpm, but can't copy that speed any more. sigh. I visit the novice sections pretty regularly. Hi!

Charlie, K3UIM
RE: 50 CW QSOs Reply
by WS4E on April 28, 2019 Mail this to a friend!
I really wish there were "novice" bands where those of us new to CW could hang out and not worry about being 'chased off' for being too slow.
50 CW QSOs Reply
by KB2DHG on April 29, 2019 Mail this to a friend!
As with anything in this hobby, trying different modes and experimenting is all the fun of it. I happen to love CW now but it was not always this way. Back when I got licensed I had to go through the whole gambit of learning 5,13 and 20WPM. But I really was not much into it. When my daughter was born in 1992 it was tough for me to dx through the wee hours of the night using voice. I did not want to wake her! So I started using CW. Put on my head phones and quietly tapped out Morse Code. I was making contacts all over and became an avid CW operator, so much so that I rarely activate the voice modes even today..
CW can be very rewarding and if you never got into it I would strongly recommend it! Nice article Bottom like just keep the air waves alive no matter what mode you choose!
RE: 50 CW QSOs Reply
by AA4MB on April 29, 2019 Mail this to a friend!
N3BXZ: great article! And, like so many others, it brought back a humorous memory or two. My first QSO as a Novice was with a guy named ‘Ray’ in Kentucky. I answered his CQ and after he gave me his info, I was nervous as I pounded out the requisite RST, QTH and name. When I turned it back over to him, he replied with, “Solid copy ...”. In my rush to assume, I thought he was making a comment about my operating skills. I had written down his first comments back as, “So lid ...” I was crushed, wondering if it was that obvious it was my first QSO and wondering just what I’d done to earn the ‘lid’ moniker so early in my hamming hobby. It was only after the QSO was over that I realized I hadn’t been insulted.


Matt, AA4MB
50 CW QSOs Reply
by KK6JKC on April 30, 2019 Mail this to a friend!
Awesome story!
50 CW QSOs Reply
by NU6I on May 2, 2019 Mail this to a friend!
indeed great story Tale and you can be proud of yourself.

73, Yvon NU6I
50 CW QSOs Reply
by W6SWO on May 14, 2019 Mail this to a friend!
Excellent article and congratulations!
50 CW QSOs Reply
by KE4OH on May 20, 2019 Mail this to a friend!
Great write-up Tate! I hope your words encourage others to follow your path.

I checked my log. I found you! We had a QSO on March 3, 2019 on 40m. I was using some really old novice gear (Globe Scout 680, chirpy crystal, Heathkit HR-10B) and was participating in the Novice Rig Roundup at the time.

I was licensed in 1976, but put radio aside in 1982. But I came back in 2015. A break of 33 years. So, in way, I had some of the same reservations as you about getting on the air (again) on CW. Would I still remember how? Would anyone slow down for me?

But it all went mostly well, I'm happy to say.

BTW, I logged you as QSO #5,353 since I returned to the hobby in February 2015. But I remember, like you, the first 50 QSOs were a whole lot more of a challenge than the next 50. Or 5,000.

73 de Steve KE4OH

dit dit!
50 CW QSOs Reply
by W1BR on May 22, 2019 Mail this to a friend!
Awesome!! You should write an article for the K9YA Telegraph.
50 CW QSOs Reply
by KD8ZM on June 8, 2019 Mail this to a friend!
You are doing it right. I started learning CW two years ago this month, and operate now at around 20 wpm (all head copy) and I'm no youngster, either. I say this to make the point that I wish people wouldn't assume that learning CW is some huge, insurmountable task. It only requires persistence and practice both on and off the air - your brain will do the rest; it only needs constant exposure for a while. Phone apps make learning so easy, these days, and the benefits of CW (especially if you're a QRP guy, as I am) are immense. I have found that CW operators are the most accommodating and kind people around.
By the way I never worked the "high end" of the CW portion of the bands and never had anyone say I was in the "wrong" section of the band - whoever told you that was just that rare CW jerk. I love working CW.
50 CW QSOs Reply
by K2PHD on June 10, 2019 Mail this to a friend!
I read your article which was very informative. Ham radio is all about "stick-to-it-ness." Welcome to the most unique and historically famous world of CW. I have been a ham for over fifty-six years and prior to that a USCG radioman. Love CW as I am sure you will over time.

Best of luck and 73,

Doc - K2PHD
50 CW QSOs Reply
by K2PHD on June 10, 2019 Mail this to a friend!
I read your article which was very informative. Ham radio is all about "stick-to-it-ness." Welcome to the most unique and historically famous world of CW. I have been a ham for over fifty-six years and prior to that a USCG radioman. Love CW as I am sure you will over time.

Best of luck and 73,

Doc - K2PHD
RE: 50 CW QSOs Reply
by KT8DX on June 16, 2019 Mail this to a friend!
Try just above 7.100. Lots of slow CW there - one of my favorite places to be.
RE: 50 CW QSOs Reply
by N9LCD on June 17, 2019 Mail this to a friend!


I know how that first QSO goes -- except my "first" was on 40 meters SSB.

Through our pastor, I got to be a "guest op" on HV3SJ -- one of the Vatican City (more or less) ham stations.

Saturday morning in Rome. The Control Op suggested calling Germany first then going clockwise around Europe.

I leaned forward, keyed the desk mic and called "CQ GERMANY. CQ GERMANY".

And ended on the receiving end of a pile-up. And got rattled.

The Control Op had to "dig" me out!!!!!

It's one of only two times I operated HF in about 27 years of being licensed.


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