How to learn morse code (CW) for free!

QRPers know that the best mode to get the biggest bang out of the lowest amount of power is with morse code, (a.k.a. CW).

If you haven’t learned CW yet or are looking to improve your speed, you’re in for a treat. A new website by Fabian Kurz (DJ1YFK) called LCWO (Learn CW Online) has been launched. Features of this site include:

  • The ability to learn via web browser (no software to download)
  • The proven Koch method CW course
  • The site remembers who you are and your stats
  • Hey, it’s free!

Some thoughts and advice on CW

I had been intimidated by CW for a long time and only started learning it a year ago. I had forgotten almost all of the CW I had learned to pass the 5 WPM Novice Exam in 1997.

With the use of some old CW training tapes and a little time set aside each morning in my living room, I was able to re-learn the alphaphet and numbers in a couple of weeks. In fact, the moment I had learned all of the characters and numbers, I picked up the phone and called my friend, Mike Hansgen (AA8EB), and told him to meet me on the air in 5 minutes. It was tough–and I was way outside of my comfort zone–but I made it through the QSO and felt great.  Mike was probably working me at 3 words per minute–a speed that was, ironically, taking him outside of his comfort zone!

I found out that, once you know the characters, you can begin having QSOs immediately. Speed comes naturally with on-air practice. To help me along, Mike and my good friend Eric McFadden (WD8RIF), began having a daily CW sched with me. The results? In only a couple of months I was comfortable listening to CW at 15 WPM! And trust me, I’m not a quick learner.

The thing that held me back all of those years was the fear of getting on the air and not understanding the operator’s code on the other end. Do you feel that way too?  Keep reading…

I was lucky to have friends (or Elmers) that were willing to help me gain ground with code. Indeed, not only were they willing to work with me, but they were actually excited to be given the opportunity. Think this is rare? Think again!

FISTS – “When You’ve Worked a FIST, You’ve Worked a Friend”

The International Morse Preservation Society (FISTS) sponsers the amazing “code buddy” program.  FISTS will put you in touch with a ham radio operator, a “code buddy”, that will meet you on the air and work with you to learn/improve morse code.  You don’t even need to be a member of FISTS and it’s a totally free service driven by hams with a passion for teaching others CW. This will give you a venue not only to learn CW in a comfortable, on air, environment, but you’re also sure to make a friend in the process.

So what are you waiting for?

Take these three steps to learn morse code:

  1. Go to the LCWO website, create an account, and start learning CW online.
  2. The moment you know all of the characters, either call a friend and get on the air, or sign up for FISTS’ Code Buddy program.
  3. Practice and have fun–speed and comprehension wil come naturally

The NUE-PSK Digital Modem

QRPers have long been fans of PSK. And why wouldn’t they? The mode is efficient and uses DSP technology to help discover low bandwidth digital signals.  What that means for the QRPer is: 1 watt + PSK = DX   Very effective use of the juice!

Thing is, PSK has traditionally required the QRPer to bring along some sort of computer and a handful of wires and cables to take PSK to the field.

The American QRP Club has made this easier with the introduction of their portable digital modem–the NUE-PSK. This modem, like other AmQRP products is a kit and requires some experience with surface mount kits.

Here’s the AmQRP description of their modem:

The NUE-PSK is a small 7″ x 4″ x 1″ standalone, battery-operated digital modem using a graphic display for transmit and receive text data, as well as for showing band spectrum and tuning. Just plug in a standard PS2 keyboard and connect to an SSB-capable transceiver like the FT-817 or the PSK-xx transceivers from Small Wonder Labs, and you’ll have an effective digital mode station that goes absolutely anywhere.

The NUE-PSK is a small 7″ x 4″ x 1″ standalone, battery-operated digital modem using a graphic display for transmit and receive text data, as well as for showing band spectrum and tuning. Just plug in a standard PS2 keyboard and connect to an SSB-capable transceiver like the FT-817 or the PSK-xx transceivers from Small Wonder Labs, and you’ll have an effective digital mode station that goes absolutely anywhere.

Why wait? Go check out the specs on their website and also check eHam as reviews come in.

Impressions of the Hendricks PFR3

Photo courtesy of Hendricks QRP Kits

Dr. Bob Armstrong, N7XJ, did a nice mini review of the Hendricks PFR3–a truly portable field QRP radio. This is an impressive radio for at least 3 reasons:

  1. The kit costs a whopping total of $240 US. I don’t know where else you could find such a complete radio package (with built-in tuner and paddles) for that price.
  2. This radio (much like the Elecraft KX1) was designed specifically for QRP and specifically for field use–hence the major controls are mounted on top of the radio. No need to worry about a place to set your radio, just hold it in your hand (if using the built-in paddles).
  3. Looks like fun!

I got to play with a PFR3 and speak with a couple of people who had built them at the Dayton Hamvention this year. I was impressed with the radio’s ergonomics and tank-like feel as I held it. Though not a beginner’s kit, by and large people were very please with the ease of build. The instructions are pretty complete now that many people have built the PFR3 and given feedback to the Hendricks team. Check their site for updates and notices before you start construction.

I’ve heard of two people who have actually built this kit in one dedicated day of sniffing solder smoke. Not a task for the faint of heart, though–and I wouldn’t recommend trying this at home.  

I am in love with my Elecraft KX1 and this radio looks like it could be its (bright yellow) cousin. Way to go, Hendricks!
Some PFR3 Links:
If you have used the PFR3 and would like to share your thoughts, register on QRPer (see top tab) and leave a comment!

Yes, we’re new and we’re QRP.

Welcome to QRPer.com. This site has been designed to help people connect with and learn about fellow QRPers. It will contain information about QRP radios, QRPers, and their portable set ups.  If you would like to contribute a story to this site, please feel free to contact me by leaving a comment on this message.

QRPer.com is set to be live in September 2008.  In the meantime, check back.  The site will be updated with basic information as we iron out the design.

Cheers & 72,

Tom Witherspoon

KF4TZK