My First CW POTA Activation
by Joshua (N5FY)
As I often do, I hunted yet another CW POTA activator during my lunch break while working from home.
I have been learning CW for most of the year. Early on, I realized that with a bit of practice sending, and after listening to recordings of POTA activations, like those from Thomas, I could reliably send the proper exchange needed to hunt a POTA activator.
If you can give your call sign, signal report, and state abbreviation, you can make the contact. I started early on with just the basics and then added some of the common “extras” like GM for good morning, TU for Thank You and then 73. Not only is this great practice for getting on the air sending CW, it’s also very rewarding while learning CW. The exchange is short, standard, and easy to follow with a bit of practice.
Once I finished my upgrade to Extra I focused all my spare time, not much though truth be told, on practicing CW.
At some point this summer I set the goal to Activate POTA/SOTA during the W4G SOTA campout this fall. This really wasn’t an aggressive goal, one I figured was attainable but also one that I could hold myself accountable to even knowing I had a very busy summer ahead of me.
During one of the LICW Club classes I heard again that their goal is to get Hams on the air to make a QSO. I thought to myself, yes, that is great, and I want to do more, but I know I have made many QSOs in CW on the air, albeit very short and simple ones. So, I was curious how many.
I jumped on the POTA site and looked up my statistics. I was surprised at how may hundred I had, and yet at the same time, I was a bit disappointed. It’s not that I wanted to have made more CW contacts, it’s that I realized that they were ALL from hunting and not a single one was from calling CQ.
So, I changed my goal.
I know that Hams, especially CW operators, are a great bunch of people and they want to see new CW operators succeed, so there is lots of patience when you call CQ. So, I decided to move up my timeline. This was on a Thursday, and Saturday was a likely candidate for a POTA outing, why not–?
Saturday was my birthday, and I knew I could get away with some personal free time in the morning where I could dive in and call CQ POTA DE N5FY. The next day, Friday, I firmed it up, I would head out in the morning, bring the new to me KX2 and see what happens.
Surprisingly, I was much less nervous than I expected, I had told myself that it wouldn’t help anyways to be nervous so just do it and see what happens. I made it to my local park, to the picnic table I frequent, then setup a No Transformer 2-Wire antenna with the KX2. One press of the ATU button and I had a 1:1 match on 40m band.
Of course, I have great timing. I could not believe the stations on the air on 40m. I never did look but there must have been a contest. I moved up and down about 20kHz and there were stations everywhere! I called “QRL?” on 2 different frequencies and had a reply before I landed on open frequency where I could call CQ.
I had not scheduled the activation; I knew I had a bit of cell phone coverage at this park, so I set the CQ POTA message to calling while I posted a spot.
After two calls, I had my first call back. It was time!
I could have freaked out here, but I was too focused on decoding to even be nervous! Of course, I had to send a partial call and a “?” once or twice to get the full call right. Of course, I made some keying errors. But the caller had patience and worked me and we made the QSO. Now I was really excited!
I called CQ and someone sent me back dits and dahs, and I decoded what they were sending! Boy, this was fun! I continued to call CQ POTA, and tried my best to decode the replies, several pileups, and lots of “?” sent by me. But I was making contacts and having a blast!
After a couple of silent CQ calls later, I switched to 20m. And, again, started to get replies back as well as a couple small pileups. In the end, there were a couple call signs that I could not look up, l had a letter or two wrong, but with almost 20 in the log I knew I had an activation and boy was I happy!
Looking back on the activation, and after talking to another Ham, it occurred to me why I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I might be.
You see, when you are the Activator, when you call CQ, the ball is in your court, you invite people to call back and they are there for you. I almost get more nervous hunting as I don’t want to slow down an activator or run over another caller. But when you are the one calling CQ, it’s your game!
Of course there were several hiccups along the way. For one, it got HOT sitting in the sun. I ended up deploying my hiking chair on the table as a sunshade and pulled a portable fan out of the car. Even the action camera overheated while recording the activation. I couldn’t get the KXPD2 paddle to key the KX2 on 20m when I first got setup. And of course, I had lots of sending errors (although fewer than I expected to have) and sent a A LOT of “?” asking for a repeat.
That said, I am very glad to have jumped in and will continue to activate CW going forward as I continue to build my CW skills. For me, confidence in the ability to Activate on CW is great motivation for practicing, which again, is my biggest learning. If I want to be a good operator, I need to put in the effort, and going out to play radio is one extremely fun way to practice!
73 Joshua N5FY