The CW Culture – And how to join the fun

Being a podcast fan, I’ve loaded my podcatcher with a variety of fascinating ham radio podcasts. My three faves: ARRL’s The Doctor Is In, Cale Nelson’s Ham Radio 360 and Bruce, N9WKE’s DitDit podcast. Bruce, at this writing, is one of the relative newbies to the the podcast constellation. His program is dedicated to promoting enthusiasm for morse code, the keyed continuous wave communication that we hams call “CW”.

I recently listened to his conversation with Emily Saldana, KB3VVE. Emily became a star in the ham radio community during the League’s outstanding National Parks On The Air event in 2016, inspiring us with her determination and her developing fascination with CW. During her visit with Bruce, Emily described her love affair with the Code, how she overcame the initial fear we all have of touching the key, the creative ways she built her speed and her secrets for breaking through the radiosport pack in the midst of a contest pile-up.

I’ve been asking others who share the CW passion to share some of the tools that helped them grow from discovery to competency. Here is some of that wisdom.

Starting from Scratch: Learn from Ludwig Koch – The Koch Method is widely praised as a productive way to pick up this new language. David Finley, N1IRZ wrote Morse Code: Breaking the Barrier, He notes that Koch took a group of students from 0 to 12 words per minute in just 13.2 hours. Look up Koch Trainer in your favorite smart phone app store and you’ll find several that can get you started right from the comfort of your device. Here’s a website that works with your favorite browser. Learn CW On-Line,, has Koch trainers and tools to build your ability to decipher call-signs and code groups.

Get on the Air: Nothing beats getting knocking out some QSOs. Getting over the fear of that first contact can be liberating. Find a frequency on 40 meters in the old Novice portion of the band and send at a speed you are comfortable with. The Straight Key Century Club and have a number of friendly folks who monitor the bands and will come back to you at your speed. The SKCC Beginner’s corner is a particularly good place to start. Don’t be afraid to send a QRS (please slow down) or RPT (please repeat) if you need to.

Practice Makes Proficiency: There are a ton of great ways to build your confidence. Emily set up a sked with a friend and they sent the text from children’s books to one another, a “Bedtime Story Net” of sorts. The CW Dimebank website broadcasts the latest CNN headline news at varying speeds. The ARRL had daily code practice both on the air and available for download, offering certificates as you pass words-per-minute milestones. When learning any new language, immersion is a powerful teacher. In time, letter groups will form words in your mind and before you know it you will be “head copying” with the best of them.

CW On-Line: An entire CW subculture exists on the Internet. MorseCode.Me, Morse Over IP and Internet CW are just a few examples of places where you can converse in code on line. And if you’re a maker, here’s a way cool telegraphy project you can construct with a Raspberry Pi.

Join The Club! The Morse Code is more than just a language for communication. It’s central to a fellowship of friendly people who share a fascination with all things CW. You will find them welcoming, patient and excited to help you become comfortable conversing in the oldest and most reliable method of technological information exchange. If you’ve never tried CW, come join the fun. And if your skills may have rusted a bit, the Morse family will gladly help you sharpen the saw and get back in the game.