Friday, March 24, 2023 was a very special day for Brooks (KO4QCC) and for K4SWL.
I’m so excited to share this with you.
You might recall that, last year, I met up with Brooks at Tuttle Educational State Forest as he performed his very first POTA activation in SSB. He did such an amazing job!
Since I first met Brooks, he’s always had a goal of learning CW and activating parks and summits using Morse Code.
I’ve been in touch with Brooks regularly over the past year and have followed him as he progressed on his CW journey.
Though, like me, he has an active family life, Brooks has found the time to practice CW both through lessons and actual on-the-air contacts. Fortunately, this is all possible because–again, like me–his wife and family are very supportive of his amateur radio adventures!
Early this year, we met on 80 meters and had a good one hour rag chew at about 12 words per minute. I could tell he was ready to do his first POTA activation in CW.
To give him a little real-world practice, we decided to hit the field on a day when I was performing an activation and he could log for me in real-time.
I could tell by how well he was logging as I worked stations at 18WPM that he was ready to perform his first activation, so we made it a goal to do so within the next couple weeks.
Fast-forward to 8:30 AM on March 24 when Brooks and I met at the Folk Art Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Coincidentally, this is the same location where I performed my first CW activation!
We deployed his MFJ-1984MP 40 meter EFHW (End-Fed Half Wave) and connected it to his Xiegu X5105 transceiver in very short order. Brooks also chose his lucky CW Morse paddle for this activation.
But before hopping into the field report, let’s back up just a bit…
First CW Activation: Getting there…
Brooks very kindly wanted to share a bit about his CW journey in this field report. He writes:
From the moment I knew of its existence, becoming a POTA activator using CW has been at the top of my “radio bucket list.”
It seemed like the ultimate challenge and I knew I would never be satisfied until I was able to confidently activate parks using CW. There is also a bit of mystique to CW that other modes lack, making it inherently more interesting to me. In this article, I am going to share the path I took to learn CW and how it culminated in a very successful CW activation.
From “I would like to learn CW” to “I just activated my first park with CW!” took around a year and a half of mostly diligent study and practice. I’ve been asked several times by those interested in CW what my learning process looked like, so I’d like to start there first. Everyone is different and what worked for me may not work for you, but I definitely feel that the approach I used could lead to success for a lot of people.
Before I begin, I’d like to state that regardless of what method you choose, absolutely do not memorize the characters by counting the dits and dahs. CW is an audio language and should be treated as such. When studying, use a fairly fast character speed so that you learn to recognize each one by ear, almost as if it were a tiny little song. The goal is to “hear the letter” rather than “decode the letter by counting the dits and dahs.”
I divided my CW study up into two main phases: first was learning and memorizing the characters, and second was working on increasing my head copy speed.
I had several false starts in the first phase. I tried several different apps on my phone with only marginal success. I checked out various YouTube videos that all promised the sky in regards to learning CW. No real luck there, either. Then I found LCWO.net. The acronym stands for Learn CW Online.
I started with the beginner lessons there and definitely did better than the phone apps and YouTube videos, but I still wasn’t progressing nearly as fast as I would like. After a few weeks or so, I was still struggling with the first handful of characters and getting frustrated fast.
That is when I discovered Morse Machine. It was a little inconspicuous link in between all the rest of the links on the site, but it absolutely took my character learning to the next level. The way Morse Machine works is that it starts with just two characters. K and M, if I’m not mistaken. It will play one at random at your chosen character speed and you have to type it back, then another character plays immediately after, you type that one, rinse, repeat. Within just a few minutes, literally, I was caught up to where I was at on the normal lessons. As time goes on, you add more and more characters to the selection that Morse Machine uses.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s definitely not a miracle aid to learning CW. It still took me several months of daily practice to get to the point of having all the characters memorized. Once I had them all in my head, I kept practicing with Morse Machine for a while longer. LCWO also offers various practice modes such as word copy, callsign copy, and so on. I worked on those for a while as well, but my head copy speed was increasing at a frustratingly slow pace.
On to phase two! Enter Kurt Zoglmann and his absolutely incredible YouTube channel. There are videos for every sort of CW practice you could possibly think of. Want four character USA callsigns with triple character spacing at 22 wpm? It’s there. Interested in the top 300 words at 30 wpm but with eight times character spacing? Here ya go. He has over 3,000 videos on his channel, so as you can imagine, there’s plenty to choose from.
The general format of his videos is that you hear something in CW, then it is spoken out loud, then repeated in CW again, then you hear a courtesy tone to indicate that you’re moving to the next item of practice. I used a YouTube converter software to pull the audio tracks from several of his videos and loaded them onto my phone. I spend a large amount of time on the road most days, so I would listen to the various files while driving. My head copy speed started going up rapidly!
I did this for a good while (and still do!) and got to where I could pretty comfortably copy at 15 wpm and at least 50% copy at 20 wpm.
The next step was to get on the air and practice!
Hunting POTA / SOTA activators is a great way to practice CW on the air. The exchanges are generally formulaic, albeit with each individual activator’s personal “touch,” so they’re pretty easy to work with. Once my confidence was up to a reasonable level, I sent Thomas the message we’d both been waiting on for a long time.
“I am ready for my first CW activation.”
I will leave the bulk of the field report to Thomas and to the video itself, but the weather was gorgeous (the bands, not so much) and I wound up making over 40 CW contacts! That activation alone more than doubled my total number of CW contacts!
On The Air
As Brooks mentioned, propagation was better than the previous day and recovering a bit after X-Class flaring. The ionosphere was still unstable, though, so QSB (fading) was certainly in play. The band was also incredibly noisy.
Nonetheless, Brooks logged a total of 42 CW contacts! A most impressive number especially considering this was his first CW activation!
You can follow how it all played out in the activation video below.
Here’s what Brooks’ activation looked like when plotted out on a QSO Map.
Here’s my real-time, real-life video of his entire activation; it’s a long one! As with all of my videos, I don’t edit out any parts of the on-air activation time. In addition, I have monetization turned off on YouTube, although that doesn’t stop them from inserting ads before and after my videos.
Note that Patreon supporters can watch and even download this video 100% ad-free through Vimeo on my Patreon page:
Click here to view on YouTube.
I’m so incredibly proud of Brooks for not only performing his first field activation in CW, but also for encouraging me to film it.
I would have never pushed Brooks to put his first activation on video to be shared with the world at large. It’s intimidating enough to start calling CQ during your first CW activation, let alone having the added pressure of a video camera capturing the whole thing for literally thousands of others to see!
Brooks, in fact, insisted that I record this video. He wanted to share this once in a lifetime experience with others in order to encourage them to work toward their first CW activation.
Brooks also shared this update along with a few thoughts after he completed the activation:
The following weekend, I went out for another activation and added even more to my log.
I’d like to add a few final thoughts as further poking to anyone who may be reading this and be on the fence about learning CW.
One: knowing CW opens up a whole world of awesome, tiny transceivers. Especially great for portable operations!
Two: CW is much more efficient than SSB. My radio is a massive 5 watts, but judging from the pileup I had during my activation, 5 watts is more than enough.
Finally: CW operators absolutely love it when new ops take up the hobby. The vast majority of them will slow down as much as needed in order for you to make the contact. If you watch the video, I fumbled, got numbers backwards, sent approximately a thousand question marks, accidentally bumped my paddles and sent random dits and dahs, so on and so on. Know how many people cared? Zero. None. Nada. Get out there and do it! It’s an absolute blast and insanely satisfying.
Once again, huge thanks to Thomas, K4SWL, for his support and encouragement throughout this process. Also thanks to Kurt Zoglmann for his awesome YouTube channel!
73 and POTA on! -KO4QCC
Thank you for joining Brooks and me on this amazing activation!
And, Brooks, again, thank you for sharing this activation with us. To say I’m proud is an understatement!
We both hope this inspires you to bite the bullet and attempt your first POTA, WWFF, IOTA, or SOTA CW activation!
Of course, I’d also like to send a special thanks to those of you who have been supporting the site and channel through Patreon and the Coffee Fund. While certainly not a requirement as my content will always be free, I really appreciate the support.
Thanks for spending part of your day with us and, yes, POTA on! 🙂
Cheers & 72,
19 thoughts on “Join Brooks (KO4QCC) on his First CW POTA Activation–!”
I am also new when it comes to CW. Kurt Zoglmann was and still is a great help with his YouTube channel.
Good luck, Brooks, CW is fun most of the time – although on some days I am really bad.
I am still struggeling when someone sends suddenly free text. It is usually something nice, but when you expect a given SOTA/POTA exchange, it often confuses me.
All the best
This is a great follow-up! I love it. Congrats to Brooks!
Great job Brooks!! Another CW op to work 🙂 I look forward to finding you on the air.
This is very inspiring. Thanks to both of you for sharing. 73. VE7LRV.
Way to go Brooks! Do you paint your fingernails to remember which key is the dit and which key is the dah?
Qudos to both of you.
72 de F5VLY
Well done, Brooks! Like you, I discovered Morse Machine by poking around the site and found it to be the tool to help push my character recognition speed beyond what the lessons were giving me. My mom in her retirement years is practicing CW (mainly to exercise her mind I think), and I turned her on to that portion of the site as well.
I haven’t watched any of Kurt’s YT videos. I’ll have to look at those and send my mom that way as well!
Well done Brooks! Well done Thomas! What a wonderful field report of your first CW park activation Brooks and also your amazing journey. It shows the importance of the willingness and determination to learn and also the willingness and compassion to mentor. Both are worthy pursuits and we have the opportunity every day to do both. I look forward one day to read of the operator you will someday mentor along his journey Brooks. Keep up the great work brother and Thomas thanks for all you do for our hobby.
Fantastic Job Brooks. You made it so simple. Congrats on your achievement.
Awesome job Brooks! I suspect you will find CW activations as addictive as I have. I look forward to working you in a park.
Best 73 de Brian – K3ES
-73 de Don KG5CMS
Always good time to do POTA with others. I prefer it although sometimes no one else shows. Also good to see some helping others getting into POTA and CW.
73, ron, n9ee
Excellent presentation. Perhaps someday I will be able to do the same with Thomas. However in SSB. I just can not stand CW. LOL Sorry
I’m game for that! A first SSB activation would be fantastic!
Way to go Brooks! I taught myself CW by using Code Quick. It is the process of using sound recognition for each character. It works really well. Anyway, I haven’t tried an activation yet but I do try to hunt them. Hopefully very soon. Again, congratulations!
Great story. I will have to watch the video later. It took me 2 years of daily practice to achieve 13 wpm to pass the code test back when I got licensed. After a ten year hiatus from radio, it took another year to bring my speed back up and now can copy/send 20 wpm. There is an app for android named CW Trainer by Billy Francisco that helped me considerably. It is free and very simple, but it allows me to practice practically anywhere.
I have yet to activate a park with CW, but stories like this encourage me to give it a try. I hope to meet you both on the air someday, but looking at the qso map it looks like a very big null in my direction (Lincoln, NE.) from down there in 4 land. I have re-oriented my efhw to nearly vertical and am hoping it will improve my chances of hearing 4 land a bit better. Best 72 to you both. ae0pl
Thanks for sharing your journey with CW, another great encouraging post showing that dedication and perseverance pays off.
This is specially helpful as I am also going through the process of learning CW at the moment and while I am doing the solo path, I have also recently signed up for online class structure to hopefully help with some areas I am finding a bit difficult.
I will check out Morse Machine and the YouTube videos from Kurt.
Thanks again for sharing!
Wow, what an inspiring story!
I share the same wonder/appreciation for learning CW, and for the same reasons – portability, simplicity, and reach. My goal is to activate summits. This will add a new dimension to my outdoor pursuits. I too have tried (and failed) for many years — but only half-hardheartedly. Like anything worthwhile, this takes commitment. I’m on a great path now doing daily practice with the help of guys from my local club (shout out to Ryan N1RL at Westford PART), I’m also using Kurt’s fantastic recordings (Morse Code Ninja) and seeing great progress.
Thank for sharing Thomas and Brooks – I plan on replicating your success in the coming months!
Brooks, this is a real encouragement to me. I got my technician in 2018. Got so discouraged that I just stopped trying and now just recently decided to try CW. I stumbled across Thomas’ channel and have followed your story. Thanks for the Morse Machine and Zoglmann suggestions. I will definitely check them out!! I am really hopeful for where this leads!!
Mike Davis KN4JWW