Learning the Code (again) – Part 3

Midway through the fifth week of CW Academy, and still I feel that I’m just not getting there. I listen to practice files for a minimum of 90 minutes a day, as well as some on the air listening, and while I have improved quite a bit, I’m still hitting the wall at about 15 words per minute. Of course, that’s better than a 50% improvement over where I started, so I am making some progress. All that studying has to pay off in some way!
Over this past weekend we had a homework assignment to get on the air and have a real live Morse conversation. In ham radio parlance, a ‘QSO’, which we tend to pronounce as a word, ‘Q-So’. There’s a history behind this radio shorthand, and if you’re interested in more information, get on Google and search for radio Q signals. But for now, back to the homework.
I fired up the radio Saturday morning, and sent out a signal to see if anyone was out there. Sure enough, right away someone answered. We had a pleasant, if short, conversation, and signed off. Knowing that 2 is better than 1, I found another willing conversationalist and logged another short QSO. Then I decided to try my hand at some CW contesting.
Now, contesting in ham radio generally consists of contacting as many other hams as you can within a specified amount of time. I’m not big into this activity, but others are, and it’s a huge deal in those circles. I’d never tried contesting with Morse code, but why not give it a whirl. You have two choices when participating: Running or Search and Pounce. Running means you find an unused frequency, and start calling out for others to contact you. Search and Pounce means you tune around, listening for Runners. I don’t have a ‘super station’, and so I find that Search and Pounce works best for me.
There were two contests running this past weekend that interested me: The Indiana QSO Party, and the New England QSO Party. This is a bunch of hams in Indiana and New England who try to contact each other as well as hams outside of their geographic area. Indiana started their contest first, so that’s where I started. After two hours, I had logged 20 contacts, and was having some fun. The band conditions were horrific this past weekend, so contacts were limited. With good conditions, or other bands opening, I would have easily been able to double that number.
Next came New England. Being a native of New England, this contest had a personal angle. I managed 24 contacts in about 2 1/2 hours, and managed to log every New England state at least once. Conditions were still bad, but that’s the way it is.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with ham radio contesting, 24 contacts is a very small drop in a very large bucket compared to the stations who win these events. But I’m not out to win, just have fun. Mission accomplished.
I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed the contests. I have participated in contests before, but only on voice modes, and I never found the contest very satisfying. This was oddly satisfying, especially since my signal was answered immediately 95% of the time. This is often not the case for me when using voice modes. I will definitely give it another try.
So it was a fruitful weekend for on the air practice, but I would still like to see an epiphany and break through that 15 WPM barrier in my head. I know I’ll get there, but I want it now! (whining noise)

To be continued…