Saturday, July 27, 2013

So, you can understand Morse code, now what?

I've been working on Morse Code, and I'm starting to make some good progress. I'm about half way through the character set, and most of the time it's easier to learn the next character than the last one. I'm even starting to notice that the 20 character, 10 word speed sometimes seems slow, and I'm almost though the alphabet. I'm starting to see a date where I learn Morse Code completely, and I've been asking myself, then what? I've been collecting information from my club and others, and wanted to share it all with you.
Before you go on the air, I would practice a few different types of training than just code groups. Try some plaintext training, or maybe some call signs. Expanding your ability to catch information will help you to work better. Also, don't forget practicing with different tones, I know I've been using a higher tone than is usually used on the air, and I'm very sensitive to changes in the tone. It's something I should work on for sure!

The first step is to purchase a straight key. The higher end ones will make a difference in the long run, but any one will do for the time being. The straight key will not include a method to plug it in to anything. It will just have the key. Essentially, it acts like a switch, you will have to connect it on the other end. I recommend that for now, you just connect it to your radio, and practice without transmitting, until you are convinced you can transmit your call sign at least.

So, how do you connect it to your radio? Asking around, virtually everyone makes their own cable to connect their radio to the keyer. What do you need to do this? First of all, look at your CW port on your radio. Most likely, it is either a quarter inch stereo plug, or a 3.5mm. Buy a blank connector, at Radio Shack or similar. The next thing you will need is a cable. The best cables to make this happen are known as dual conductor cables. Recycle an old stereo cable, or otherwise find one, and you'll be good to go. Plug it in, hit the CW mode, and see if it works. If it does, congratulations! You are ready to start practicing!

Start practicing, working at first at being slow to transmit, but accurate. Listening to morse code quickly is important to breaking certain barriers, but it's not as important for transmitting. Keep practicing, until you are ready to go on the air. For your first contact, try to talk with an Elmer, possible with a second way of talking to them as well. Keep practicing until you are better able to work, and try talking to other people. Keep practicing for at least a few minutes every day.

There might come a point where you want to enter a CW contest. There is an excellent program called Morse Runner that can help you to practice your CW in a contest skill. It allows for practice working a pileup, QRM, and even dealing with a poor operator (Lids). Give it a shot, this will allow you to practice in a more realistic environment!.

Bottom line, keep practicing, looking for new tools, and having fun. And good luck!

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