It’s true that Morse code is no longer used in the commercial world, so why bother to learn it? Well, it’s keeping the past alive I suppose, it’s part of our radio heritage and quite a fun way to communicate. Besides It’s something that not everybody can do and psychologists also point to the advantages of learning CW on the brain. I am also interested in the history of radio, especially during the WWII. The very secret work that amateurs were doing during the war as secret listeners, the Y service, black propaganda and Bletchley Park. So, I suppose there is a sort of nostalgia attached to learning Morse code.
One thing is certain, learning Morse when you are younger is easier than later on in life as the brain is fairly supple but that’s not to say it’s impossible, I’m living proof! During WWII when recruiting wireless operators for the Y service, they found that younger people between the ages of 18 and 25 had less difficulty learning the code than those over 30. Of course these people had to decode at 25wpm for long periods of time unlike modern day Radio Amateurs who do it as a hobby.
My interest in CW comes from the fact that I wanted to do something new in the hobby after a break of a few years, something that challenged me. I felt like I had accomplished most of the things I found interesting in radio and now I was well, bored. I had learnt the code to 5 wpm for my Radio exam before it was no longer a requirement, however 5wpm is just not fast enough for a QSO.
What I have learnt since I started out on this road, is that there is not one way to learn Morse code. We all learn differently so beware of people who say ‘I know how to’ and ‘you can learn the code in just’ etc etc. I tried several times over the years to learn CW to a standard where I could actually use it but each time I would give up after a few weeks, feeling very frustrated. I came face to face with the Koch method on the site of the Union of Radio Amateurs here in Belgium but when I reached about 6 characters I found that I was stressed and frustrated and just stop. I also found other places on-line where I could adjust the speed and spacing but without guidance I didn’t know what I was doing and got stressed and frustrated. What you need to learn CW is really the desire to learn it. It’s like anything that you really want to do, if you are interested then you’ll do it so, I guess I was not really interested enough to put the effort in. However, a method that suits your style of learning is a plus.
Well, something clicked back in 2015 and I decided that I would set myself the objective to learn CW once and for all. So I set about looking for the best way for me to learn the code. I tried again several different ways but nothing seemed to really work for me. I joined FISTS so that I would have a reason to continue, joined a Facebook group and started to watch videos on Youtube. It was while I was looking at the resources page on the FISTS website that I came across a book called, « Zen and the Art of Radio Telegraphy, » by Carlo Consoli, IK0YGJ (which is available free in PDF format or for the kindle from Amazon where it costs just 5 euros, see the website http://www.qsl.net/ik0ygj/enu/index.html). The title intrigued me and it has turned out to be just what I was looking for. I didn’t really follow the Zen part as he talks about using meditation before every session but then I would practice first thing in the morning after getting up and two cups of coffee, I’m so ZEN at that point in the morning, honestly, just ask my wife!
The book is very practical and concise, it teaches you what and how and when. It was just what I really needed. One of the things he mentions in the book is not to get stressed because this is a hobby, you are meant to enjoy learning not get frustrated and give up. He also asks you to do no more than 15 minutes a day which I think we can all do. The text to learn is neatly set out in the book, blocks of 5 letters and five numbers, set out as week 1, 2, 3 etc, which you set up on files and play using G4FON’s CW trainer. In six to eight weeks you learn the characters to around 13wpm and then you start to speed up to 15wpm. It does not stop there, in fact you are just half way through the book as he continues to give you insight into continuing and speeding up to 20wpm.
It has taken me around a year to get up to around 20wpm and start getting a good list of contacts together. Of course I still have learning to do, I still practice so that the code becomes second nature. It is a long road but we should not fix our eyes only on the goal here. What I mean is that the road is part of the overall process, it’s not wrong to be on the road, on the journey. One of the biggest hurdles for me was thinking that I am there only when I can send and receive code at a speed to use it. You need to get that mentality out of your head. You are there all the time, right from the beginning, when you start learning and it’s all up to you what speed you learn at and when you make that first QSO.
One of the other things that has come out of this is an interest in QRP both outside and inside, SOTA and construction. I have found new interest in the hobby, especially when I make contacts with people over 1000km away, with just 1-2 watts on a transceiver kit I built myself. So, have fun and enjoy 🙂