Sunday, December 10, 2017

No love for CW in ARES / RACES

CW - emergency communication ?

With the recent spate of natural disasters and dire warnings of impending doom, from terrorists and rogue nations alike, it got me to looking into my previous emergency ops participation.  

When I was a newly minted amateur operator about a decade ago, I participated some in traffic nets and obtained FEMA certifications to participate in emergency operations.  At the time I had built my go-kit, consisting of battery powered FM 2m/440 equipment and portable J-poles.  It even had wheels and a pull handle, very spiffy.  But I wasn't much concerned with CW.

With a re-kindled interest in QRP and CW operations, it got me to looking again at participation in emergency ops, and to my surprise there are few states that even list CW as a mode for emergency communication frequencies.

The following table lists the only pre-approved ARES frequencies I can find, designated for CW.  There are 37 states missing from this list... If you live in a state other than those listed below; no CW emcomm for you buddy.

AR3,570.00CWMTN/OZ, KCW Traffic NET
(UP) NTS/ARES/Traffic/Calling, Daytime
3,711.00CW(UP) Daytime
Alternate Emergency Frequency (Winter/low flux)
7,068.00CWAlternate Emergency Frequency (Summer/high flux)
MS3,570.00CWMSMS/AR CW Traffic Net
OR3,587.00CWORDaily 1830 and 2200 Oregon Section Net
SD3,578.00CWSDnet during an emergency/drill
Excerpt from   I looked in a number of ARES/RACES sites listing nationwide frequencies and they appeared to have the same list

Why no love for CW?

I understand that CW is a slow mode of communication and not well represented by the amateur radio masses, but let's face it, CW has more efficiency at getting a signal through in marginal conditions than FM or SSB.  When a disaster strikes and the electrical grid is down for hundreds of miles and gasoline for running generators is short, you won't be operating QRO stations or have power to run computers for digital modes.  Powering a 12v battery with a solar panel may be your only option.

CW's power density is superior to any non-digital mode.  A 5 watt CW signal packs as much punch  as 100 watt SSB and let's not even discuss the inefficiency of FM or AM.  In extended emergency conditions, using CW could mean the difference between getting a message through and not.

Operating CW in Emergencies

So if there were an extended emergency, shouldn't there be some fallback plan for use of low cost, easy to build and store XTAL controlled radios?  Many home-built XTAL controlled CW radios use QRP watering hole frequencies for their center frequency; 3560, 7030 and 14060 kHz.  Why not designate those frequencies using CW as standards for emergency communication?

Maybe CW is sinking so far into obscurity in amateur radio, this sort of thinking doesn't enter the consciousness of those in charge, but I don't think it should.  Maybe CW clubs like FISTS and SKCC could partner with QRP clubs (who tend to be CW focused) to form a homespun group of emergency operators prepared to use CW when all else fails.  It might be fun to organize, and who knows, it could save a life, or reunite separated family members.

That's all for now...

So lower your power and raise your expectations

Richard, AA4OO

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Morse Chrome

Chrome browser extension for Morse Code

I'm always interested in finding new ways to practice my copy skills when away from the radio.

While there's a growing number of mobile device apps for sending and practicing Morse Code, as well as excellent websites like, it's always fun to stumble upon a new one.

Morse Chrome is an extension for the Chrome web browser that allows you to select text on a web page, and send it as Morse Code.  

After installing the extension, select text on a web site of your choice and right click (or in the case of a Macintosh, CTRL-click) and one of the options in the right-click dialog will be "Play Morse".

It will proceed to play the selected text as Morse Code.

The speed and pitch can be managed from your Chrome Extension options for Morse Chrome

The generated code sounds accurate to me but it is generated with a rather harsh ramp (possibly a pop) at the beginning of each element.  I've heard other computer generated Morse sound similar so it may simply be a problem with the the audio API in the browser.  I've played around with different pitch settings and can't reduce the pop. It may be better or worse on different computers. 

The only real complaint I have is that I can't find a way to stop it from playing without closing the browser.  So if you select a rather large block of text you'll have to wait for it to finish sending before being able to select another selection, unless you exit and restart your browser.

But it's another tool in the arsenal of practicing Morse Code practice so I'm glad to have it.

That's all for now...

So lower your power and raise your expectations

Richard AA4OO

Sunday, November 26, 2017

CQ WW Contest

FT8 hasn't killed CW yet

I'm not a contester but I enjoy listening to some amazing contestants pulling in those weak signals flying by at 30 wpm during CW contests.  Today is the last day of the...

CQ WW Contest

Lots of CW stations grabbing those final contacts of the contest
I was listening via my SDRPlay connected to a short piece of wire in my garage.  Even with this highly compromised "antenna" I was hearing wall-to-wall CW stations vying for a piece of the action.  I listened to W4SO and other big-gun stations, pulling in DX contacts one after another.

I'm looking forward to the day when my brain can decode call signs at that rate.  I need to spend more time with callsign trainer...

That's all for now...

So lower your power and raise your expectations

Richard AA4OO

Thursday, November 23, 2017

German Telegraph Key Junker M.T. Honnef/Rh D.B.G.M.

Unfortunate name for a Great key

The Junker D.B.G.M. is one of the finest telegraph keys ever manufactured.

In 1926, engineer and marine captain Joseph Junker, founded a factory in Berlin which made equipment for radios and submarines. He was the creator of the Junker telegraph key.  

At the end of World War II, the factory was moved to Honnef  just before Joseph died in 1946. 

German precision - Micrometer gap adjustment

The phrase "German precision" is applicable here.  Historically, German engineers seem to go above and beyond what is minimally required for a design and often "over-engineer" their products.  This key is a perfect example.  The Junker excels in the precision of its construction, and may have the most controllable gap adjustment of any straight key in the world, resulting in the ability to send very clean CW.

Ball-bearing plunger under the gap adjustment

The knob at the rear of the key moves in precise clicks controlled by a ball bearing plunger under the knob, engaging small detents underneath the wheel.  Each click moves the gap one-tenth of a millimeter.  That is "very" precise. 

click stop gap adjustment

Unlike most straight keys when the gap is set at it's minimum it's calibrated to actually be a minimum gap and not allow the contacts to touch.  I don't have a feeler gauge thin enough to measure the gap but it's there.  It's so small, that I can't discern the lever actually moving when I operate the key, but it makes clean contact with zero mushiness and nearly effortless operation of the key.

gap at 2-clicks

The lever force, or tension adjustment is singular as well.  The smaller knob on the left trunnion base moves a cantilever under the base of the key that moves a plate under the lever spring.  So rather than compressing the spring from the top of the lever at it's narrowest, it is compressed smoothly from the base up into the lever.  Just amazing!

Some Junkers came with an RF suppression coil comprised of a many turns of hand-wound, insulated wire tied into a tight loop and held with ties fitted up into a circular recess in the base of the key.  My key did not have the RF suppression coil, which is fine, since I am not operating a high-voltage keying circuit that might benefit from the coil.  I've read that some users have encountered problems due to the fine wire of the RF coil providing too much resistance and have bypassed it.  No need here.

under the base of the key, notice the armature for adjusting the lever tension.

In use

Most straight keys I've used in the past two years employ a Navy-knob style grip that I've grown accustomed to.  The Junker has a lower (about 2.5" above table), flat lever disc.  It's odd how used to the Navy style grip I've become.  I practiced for about 15 minutes trying various grips.  I still operate with my arm in free-space and I imagine with this key I'm supposed to rest my elbow on the desk but I don't have room for that at my station so I operate with the key at the edge of the desk.

Anyway, I settled for now on sort of a loose fist style grip where I'm resting the first knuckle of my middle finger on the dish of the key while lightly gripping the disc.  Seems to work and the more I operate the more comfortable I'm becoming with it.

The level of adjustment is truly amazing.  Being able to quickly change gap adjustment during a QSO to relieve fatigue or just try a different spacing, without messing around with a set nut, or worrying about actually closing the contact was novel, and fun.

A bit of refinishing

Not being terribly enamored with the rough appearance of the old key I removed the aluminum corrosion from the cover and the heavy handed brushed paint from the base with a bit of light sanding, and sprayed it with hammered silver.  I also made a proper cable and plug for it.  Now it's fresh as a German daisy.

A re-spray has spruced it up


The demonstration QSO below was my first contact using the Junker after a few minutes of practice.  I'm sending at about 17-18wpm.  After a couple more QSOs and bit more practice I was easily sending at 20wpm which is faster than I'm comfortably able to operate my other straight keys.

Following the introduction to the Junker is a full length QSO using the Junker on it's first Amateur radio QSO with W4PCA.

Compared to my other favorite key, Navy Flameproof

I'm looking forward to using this Junker and comparing it head-to-head with my Navy Flameproof.  Initial impressions between the Flameproof and the Junker give the nod to the Junker.  The Flameproof was previously the most controllable and precise straight key I owned but the Junker makes it feel mushy in comparison.  I do prefer the grip of the Navy, so time will tell whether I become as comfortable using the Junker as I am the Navy Flameproof.

That's all for now

So lower your power and raise your expectations...

Richard AA4OO

Monday, November 20, 2017

CW rhythm words


Due to the inherent rhythm in Morse Code, some stuff is just fun to hear. If you swing your Bug a bit or don't have the most perfect 3:1 DAH-DIT element timing it can sound even more interesting.

The old timers all know this stuff but for those of us new(ish) to CW there are still these little gems we keep finding... like how sending the words BENS BEST BENT WIRE sound in CW when they are all crammed together .

If you've never played around with rhythmic sounding words during your off-air practice just give it a whirl.  If you do it on a bug with a bit of liberal timing it can be even more fun.


Play / Pause  
Learn CW Online - -
Text to Morse Converter

So play around with it and if you have other interesting sounding texts in CW please comment or email them to me.

That's all for now...

So lower your power and raise your expectations

Richard, AA4OO

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Thank you for my signal report

3 numbers can mean a lot

QRP operators strive to make the most out of a little.  So when we receive a signal report it means a lot to us.  But the common signal report, given using the R-S-T System, seems often to be misunderstood by some amateur radio operators.

RST has 3 elements:
  • R stands for Readability.  How easy or difficult is it to copy the characters or words being sent on a scale from 1 to 5, with 1 meaning unreadable ranging up to 5 meaning perfectly copy-able.
  • S stands for Signal Strength.  How strong is the signal on a scale from 1 to 9, with 1 being barely perceptible up to 9, being extremely strong.
  • T stands for Tone.  This is only used to describe a CW signal's tone.  Given modern transceivers there are few cases where you'd send anything other than a 9 meaning perfect tone, devoid of ripple or modulation. You'll rarely hear a report with a Tone report other than 9, but if you hear ripple or modulation artifacts you may send lower numbers but it will likely just confuse the other operator.  If you hear chirp (a rising or falling tone) you may wish to append a 'C' to the RST to indicate that.
I want to concentrate on Readability and Signal strength.


I believe most of us are guilty of focusing on the signal strength portion of the report rather than readability.  But readability can convey a lot to the operator receiving the report.  

For instance if you have a lot of local noise or if the band is noisy due to magnetic disturbance or there's QRM or QRN readability may be difficult.  Similarly, if the operator is using poor technique and running letters or words together that affects readability.

It's possible that signal strength may be good or even moderately strong (6 or 7) but for some reason copy is difficult.  It would be worthwhile to send a 2 (Barely readable, occasional words distinguishable) or a 3 (Readable with considerable difficulty) for the 'R' portion of the signal report as in 359.  Then follow up with WITH QRM or WITH POOR SPACING, to make the other operator aware that you're having trouble copying.

I will occasionally have an operator send me a 3 for R but it seems to always be related to low signal strength.  If someone sends you a 3 or a 4 and it's not followed by an equally low signal strength number inquire as to the difficulty in readability.  It may be something you can correct on your end.


Signal seems obvious but it's not.  

I believe that many operators use the reading on their S-meter to report the Signal strength but different manufacturers calibrate their S-meters quite differently. The difference between S-units is supposed to be 6 dB but that's often not the case.  On many rigs the use of the preamp or the attenuator also effects the displayed S-meter reading.  So the S-meter is not an accurate reflection of what Signal strength is supposed to convey.  

My old Ten-Tec Century/21 doesn't even have an S-meter.  Neither do my homebuilt QRP radios.

So, what should we be using?  Well how about the actual meaning of the system:
  1. Faint—signals barely perceptible
  2. Very weak signals
  3. Weak signals
  4. Fair signals
  5. Fairly good signals
  6. Good signals
  7. Moderately strong signals
  8. Strong signals
  9. Extremely strong signals
Obviously this is a subjective report, but on my KX3 my S-meter may read 2 when the signal actually sounds Good (6), so I send a 6 even though the meter reads 2.  If I were to send the other station the S-meter reading of 2 they'd assume I'm barely copying them, because I sent them a 529.

I think you can start to see the point.  Use the system as it was designed, before radios had S-meters and the Signal report will have more meaning to the station receiving the report.

My Ten-Tec C21 doesn't have an S-meter but it does have AF and RF gain controls.  I will commonly run my AF gain at a high level and use the RF gain to control the volume of the received signal.  This increases the SNR (signal to noise) and gives me a relative gauge of how strong the sender is.  If I have my RF gain turned all the way down and still clearly hear the other station they have an extremely strong signal (9).  If I have to turn my RF gain all the way up just to copy then the signal is very weak, or faint (2 or 1).  In between those extremes I offer a relative report based on the signal strength  I  am hearing.

So, use the system as it was intended

So, reconsider how you give a signal report.  Think about the original intent of the R-S-T System and you'll be conveying far more information in your report that may help the other station know for certain how they are being heard.

I start most QSOs at QRP levels.  If the other station sends me a report that is below a 5 in readability or a signal strength 5 or below I change antennas or raise power, if I'm able, to make their copy of my station more pleasurable, but if they send me a 599 when they are barely copying me or losing me in QSB then how can I know to make a change?

Maybe this is a radical idea but for my own operation I will strive to start sending more accurate reports and help the other station truly know how they are being copied.

That's all for now...

So lower your power and raise your expectations

Richard, AA4OO

Sunday, November 12, 2017

The top 100 word practice

Learn the words to learn the language

Learning the characters of Morse Code is just the start.  Letters make up the words, but words make up the language.

I practice copying random words in morse code regularly.  Along with actually getting on the air and having QSOs it's a crucial to learn common words in order to be comfortable copying ragchews, outside of standard exchanges.


The following videos contain the top 100  English words along with the text of the words at different speeds up to 38 wpm.  At the higher speeds you will find that the characters disappear and you begin to only hear words.

I hope you find this instructive.

15 WPM

20 WPM

25 WPM

38 WPM -- Rock On!

That's all for now...

So lower your power and raise your expectations

Richard AA4OO