Many thanks to Terry (N7TB) who shares the following article:
My CW Journey
by Terry (N7TB)
For many U.S. hams who were licensed before 2007, we had to learn CW at 5 wpm as a Novice or Tech, 13 wpm for a General license and 20 wpm for Extra. Many learned CW at a young age and have used CW since then. It and ham radio are synonymous for them. For many of them, that is the only mode they have used for years.
For me, my experience is quite different.
In 1982 I decided to get my ham license. I bought a Kenwood TS-520S, DG-5 digital display, a 45 ft tower, and a large Cushcraft ATB-34 beam even before I had my novice license: all for $350, a bargain even then (my wife wasn’t convinced). I still had the beam and tower until 7 years ago. In 1982 I had all the gear to work DX using SSB and it seemed to me to be the way to do it. So as a result, I stayed with SSB for decades. Right after I got my license, several ham friends urged me to continue using CW and even invited me to join their weekly CW group to gain confidence and skill. I had absolutely no interest. Several kept at me for years!
I don’t know what causes the “spark” that happens for a person to not only want to learn, or relearn CW as I did, but to also do everything necessary to become proficient. That happened to me when I was 69 years old.
I had tired of SSB and was getting bored with ham radio. I was looking for a new challenge. I decided to see if I could relearn the CW that I had largely forgotten 35 years before. The same friends who urged me to join their group so long ago, welcomed me. Over the first few years I joined them, my confidence and speed increased. Unlike the first time I learned CW, they urged me to not write down anything but to listen to the sound and translate the letters in my head. It was slower than writing it down at first, but it paid dividends later. They all were patient and slowed down for me and increased speed as my skills improved. I still join them every week. They are some of my best friends. We are spread out in WA and OR. On Wednesday mornings we have a QRPP net where we operate 1 watt CW and most of the time we can all hear each other. We never go over 5 watts.
Because I learned CW late in life, I have an appreciation and joy of CW that is hard to describe. It is the greatest joy in ham radio I have ever experienced.
This week, I activated Willamette Mission State Park in Oregon with a wire in a tree and 5 watts from my KX2. I worked 44 contacts, most East of the Mississippi. There are few things that give me as much joy as copying and sending CW. It represents 99.9 percent of all my ham contacts for the last 6 years.
When that day came almost 3 years ago, when I had finished a CW ragchew and was thinking about what was discussed and realized that I never said anything verbally, that my brain had effortlessly translated dit and dah sounds into language and could not tell the difference between speech and CW, I knew I had finally reached my goal of communicating in CW as effortlessly as talking. I will never forget that moment! I was 72 years old. Three years of almost daily work for at least an hour on CW finally got me there. I think it takes longer the older one is when they start.
I guess I could say that CW has become my passion. I don’t know if I would have felt the same way if I had learned it as young man as many hams did in the day. Because I hated CW for so many years and had such frustrations with it, to find myself loving the mode now is an amazing thing.
In a few weeks, I will get the DXCC wallpaper for over 100 CW DX contacts. That, in itself, is almost surreal to me given my history of avoiding CW for so many years. I actually wasn’t working toward it, it just happened because of the ease of confirming contacts through LOTW. My logging software does it for me automatically. Nonetheless, I will take great pride in it because of how much effort it took to become proficient in CW. If someone had told me in 1985 that I would one day achieve DXCC in CW mode, I would have said they were crazy!
I am mentoring several people now as they learn CW. It is exciting to see them progress. It is fun to share in their successes and encourage them as they deal with some of the same things I dealt with.
The thing that has always amazed me and something that I have tried to communicate to those I am working with is that there comes a magical moment when the difficulty of learning CW melts away and all of a sudden you can copy 25-30+ wpm with little to no more effort. Many of you can relate to what I am saying. It’s like a switch is flipped and you will never not be able to effortlessly communicate in CW again.
I will always be grateful to those who helped me on those many weekly hour-long CW chats. That was the key that opened a world that I never knew existed and one in which I will treasure for the rest of my life.
I share this story with you because I know there are others who read Thomas’s blog, striving to become proficient in CW and wonder if they will ever “get it.” You will if you keep at it, and when that magic moment arrives for you when CW becomes effortless, you will have the satisfaction of doing something that so few hams are willing to do. It is worth all the work you put into it! I wish you the greatest success in achieving CW proficiency!
Very 72 and 73,