A little (US) radio history…

A shout out to North Mountain Institute student Noah, who shared with us a little infographic on Broadcasting and its History in the US that he and his father discovered while researching ham radio and broadcasting for an educational project with his fellow students under tutor, James O’Reilly.

Radio and Television Broadcasting info graphic extract
Radio and Television Broadcasting info graphic extract

You can checkout the historical timeline at https://wyomingllcattorney.com/Blog/Business-Studies-Broadcasting-History.

We wish Noah and his classmates all the best and hope that the Ham Radio bug bites…we need more young people in the hobby and it’s a great grounding in technology.

RIP, Lidspotter Twitter feed

It’s with great regret I announce the demise of the Lidspotter feed on Twitter – Too much is broken now, and the API doesn’t work any more. I knew this would happen eventually once Elon got his paws in the workings…
There is some good news however, the Telegram feed is still up and running, and faster than twitter ever was!
Hope you can join at https://t.me/LidSpotters

The other option is Fabian’s club spotter at https://rbn.telegraphy.de/ which also has a Lids section.

Kit, G0JPS

Head Copy

Head copy

As you climb past 20wpm the ability to write down everything you hear diminishes (unless you are a good typist or can do short hand!). Most of us have to switch to head reading and only making occasional notes.

But how do you copy CW in your head without writing it down?

People often talk about having a mental ticker tape…in truth, for me it’s like seeing a word appear under a spot light on a little stage…once I see/hear the whole word it gets moved off to the left and starts to fall into the shadows. After a couple of words I probably couldn’t tell you the exact things I just heard but I understand the path of the conversation.

I guess I’m using a hybrid of the ticker tape (stage & spotlight) visualisation and predictive text, hearing whole words where I’m proficient enough and spelling the words out where I’m not. Most sentences have a little ‘padding’ even in CW e.g. UR RST IS where just RST would do so it’s not normally vital to get every word. Although I’m visualising the letters on my mental ticker tape I’m mentally sounding out the phonemes of those letters until I either ‘see’ or ‘hear’ the word. So if I copy INDIA I don’t think of the name of the letter like EYE-EN-DEE-EYE-AY…I think of the sounds each letter makes and this normally lets me ‘hear’ the word in my mind.

When you first learn CW you’re taught the importance of not anticipating what is coming next as this can lead to mistakes but, I confess, with head reading I use context and common words to start imagining what word might be coming next (I’m a bad, bad, boy and you’ll see below that this approach can cause you to miss chunks of a word). This is just like predictive text on your mobile phone. So, if I hear a J I might start thinking of common J words like JUST, JUDGE, JANUARY…typically the context and any words before it result in >80% accuracy. So if I hear “I JU” I’ve shortened the list to JUST and JUDGE. If, on the other hand I hear “I HAVE A JU” I’m starting to think of JUMPER or JUICY. This predicting isn’t always correct so I need to keep listening to what is sent or, if I’m not concentrating 100%, to discard the missed word. The more letters I copy at the start of the word the more likely I am to be correct.

We know humans only hold 5 +/- 2 things in their short term memory buffer so for longer words I either chunk them up or ignore the middle and just use the start and end of the word to identify it. So if someone sends INCREDIBLE I might hear the INC and start my predictive list (INCLUDE, INCITE, INCAPABLE…) but I will now forget about those three individual letters and just store INC as a sound. In this case as soon as I have copied INCRED (the sound blocks INC and RED) I probably stop listening knowing this is likely INCREDIBLE/INCREDULOUS and I can just grab the last one or two characters to confirm or let context guide me. Why stop listening you ask…why not listen intently to the whole word? I can do other things in that second or two like start to look up the other station on QRZ, or fill in my log book or simply think about things I would like to say…it can also give me a little mental break. 

Similarly with longer words I frequently just get the start and finish. For instance if someone was mad enough to send ENCYCLOPAEDIA, I’ll probably get as far as ENCY before losing the feel of the word. It’s probably down to me trying to think about the sound that these letters would make together that grabs my focus so I miss a few letters. When my focus returns I may get as little as DIA at the end of the word but with the mental ‘sound’ of ENCY and knowing the word ends with DIA I’d guess encyclopaedia and be unlucky if this wasn’t right.

You can often tell if someone is going to send something unusual or important and there’s nothing wrong in writing that down if it’s important to you. As soon as I hear UR RST or OP HR or MY QTH sent, I pick up the pencil because I want to record the report or the Ops name or location. Similarly, if someone sends IVE JUST BOUGHT A I’m ready to note the object of the conversation because it’s going to be the one important word in the sentence and when it’s my turn to send, a little reminder of the key subjects is helpful. Head reading does not exclude jotting down notes for me.

By chunking up characters and ‘hearing’ phonetic sounds I can overcome some of the short term memory limitations. But what about the overall meaning of the ‘Over’…how do you make sense of a sentence?

That 5 +/- 2 things memory buffer is pretty accurate for random data but with context and meaning we can retain much more. Just like when we have spoken conversations you can discard the ‘filler words’…all you really need are the subject (nouns) and verbs to follow the meaning of a conversation so if your ‘ticker tape’ has a limited length, just hold on to the key words. I can rarely quote, verbatim, what I have just heard but I can relay the sentiment and that’s all you need to have a conversation. 

seiuchy logo

An interesting tool to play with to pull out the important stuff (without having to remember too much) is Seiuchy.

Alternatively, check out Morse Code Ninja for lots of practice material to build up your head reading skills.

Kurt has created MP3 files, YouTube videos and Podcast feeds for a whole range of practice audio files including things like the top 100 words and Q-codes which are invaluable for practicing head copy.

Morse Code ninja logo

If you have a pencil in your hand there is a tendency to get carried away writing everything but, while learning to move from writing everything to head copy, simply write (without looking at the paper) while you visualise what you're hearing and, as soon as you are comfortable what the word is stop writing and don’t bother reading it. If you find you have a word that you are struggling to ‘visualise’ then write out all the received characters in full and glance down to see what it was. This is a great transition approach to build confidence in head copy.

Do you head copy? I’m guessing even if you answer ‘No’ that you can recognise some common words like CQ and 73s without listening to the individual characters. If you’re already head reading, what is your approach and do you have any tips for people just starting to learn the skill?

HNY and best of luck on your learning journey...

International CW Council

In 2021 a new body was formed to collectively draw together many of the smaller, national and regional CW groups. Known as the International CW Council (ICWC) its mission is a reflection of all the groups it draws together, namely to promote and aid in the retention and growth of International Morse Code as a mode of communication between amateur radio operators.

There are still a huge number of clubs and societies (such as @lidscw) worldwide, all doing their bit to encourage and support learning and using CW as a mode and as a language. Like all minority languages, we benefit from sharing the knowledge and skills to keep the object of our passion alive.

The ICWC will be promoting and publicising mentoring, outreach opportunities and the use of CW generally to Social Media, Hams and other external bodies and encourages inter-CW Club cooperation and joint activities.

One particularly nice feature is a consolidated view of all (known) CW based activities in a calendar, go and check it out and get it book marked to keep track of CW events that you can take part in.

Giving Back Programme

Are you keen to get on air with your key but still feeling a bit nervous that a QRQ ‘machine-gun’ is going to answer you? Are you struggling to find QRS CQ calls? Perhaps you’re confident on the key and want to support others?

Well read on…

In 2021 a scheme has started among the world’s most popular CW clubs to get supportive, QRS Operators active during known periods for you to go and find. The ‘Giving Back’ scheme aims to get operators on-air for stress-free QSOs, targeted at new or nervous operators (or, indeed, simply people wanting to improve their skills) at 7PM local time on 40 meters (7.035-7.045 MHz) and/or 80 meters. Don’t forget you can find QRS CQs or hunt out Operators from the CW clubs including ours by using the RBN dashboard at https://rbn.telegraphy.de provided by the wonderful Fabian Kurz, DJ1YFK.

The Giving Back programme is also looking for volunteers from all of the global CW clubs to take part and get on-air during regular slots so why not offer to give something back on behalf of LidsCW and volunteer between 30 mins and an hour each week to help your fellow hams with an on-air QSO.
You can check out the Operating Schedule at https://cwops.org/giving-back/.
If you’d like to volunteer then drop Rob Brownstein (K6RB) an email at k6rb58@gmail.com letting him know what day you could operate each week and let him know your are volunteering on behalf of @lids_cw so we can be seen to be doing our bit. You don’t have to be an awesome Fist, just patient and encouraging with others…that will be awesome enough!

Lockdown Morse

The global pandemic and the resulting lockdown has changed all our lives. For some it has been business as usual…just with more PPE or working from home. For others it has meant time off work, either voluntary or enforced and the possibility of some spare hours.

One enterprising ham has taken the opportunity to create a video CW training course and it’s really rather good. Check out Matt, M0PTO’s ‘Lockdown Morse‘, a series of 28 videos from 30 minutes to ~1 hour which start at the beginning and take you through ‘head reading’ and basic QSO elements.

There are some nice touches in this series of videos including things like actually training you to ignore characters you don’t recognise…a really important skill in CW. Character speed is good, helping you to learn to recognise the characters at a reasonable speed but with Farnsworth spacing to give you some thinking time.

I think Matt has created a useful learning resource here. The YouTube format works well…Matt paces the training well and you can pause the video to check your decoding as you go.

As businesses start back up our precious time is going to disappear again but if you can afford to invest in learning a new skill…this might be just the starting point you’re looking for.

How to Learn Morse Code…

How to Learn Morse Code and Make Radio Contacts - David González, EA7HYD

I first came across this ‘Dummies Guide to CW’ in it’s native Spanish form on the authors website www.cw4u.org and from the sample pages I was really impressed…so impressed that I emailed David, EA7HYD in March 2018 to offer my support in producing an English language version. Fast forward to January 2020 and David has just published the English/American version and updated the Spanish version. Details on how you can get a copy below!

So what was it about this guide that caught my imagination? Well, it’s presented just like a normal Dummies Guide breaking everything down into small and easily digestible parts. The graphics, layout and cartoons make navigating the book easy and intuitive and it is simply an easier read than other CW training books I’ve seen.

Front cover

Chirp chirp chirp cartoon

The content is logically laid out and quickly dives into the important stuff…the how, what, why and when of learning CW. All of the important knowledge required by a fledgeling Fist is delivered in bite sized nuggets along with recommendations of how to self train using lots of different resources and leveraging the Koch and Farnsworth approaches.

David uses example QSOs heavily to highlight the order information is normally given in, to give examples of different types of QSO and to explain, in detail, step-by-step, all the parts of a QSO and a lot of variations that new Fists may encounter.

Example contest exchange

After focusing on learning to receive and the format and content of QSOs the guide goes on to the subject of sending, different keys and the approach to using them. The guide concludes with some more advanced knowledge like contesting and working split and wraps up with an interesting mix of history, reference material and other CW related guidance.

Example data card from EA7HYD

An initial English translation was made by Jesús Pacheco González and I provided my support translating and editing for free (I have no commercial interest in the guide). My reward was being able to add a section on SOTA to try and get more new Fists up on hill tops! In translating we stuck to American spellings as the USA probably has more new Fists per capita than anywhere else in the world but David also kept the language simple so that other, non-native English speakers can easily enjoy it too. There’s a European flavour to the use language and that’s how it should be given David is Spanish. 

Example page showing part of a QSO

In working on the translation I have re-read the book many times and it has made me smile every time with funny and really well observed advice which I wish I had known when I was learning.

If you are starting your learning journey, having a 2nd (3rd, 4th, 5th…) attempt at learning, stuck in your progression or simply struggling to get your new found skill on the air, you will find ‘How To Learn Morse Code And Make Radio Contacts’ essential and supportive reading and, I believe, worth every penny.

How To Learn Morse Code And Make Radio Contacts (Como Aprender Código Morse Y Realizar Contactos En Radio) by David, EA7HYD can be ordered from Amazon, price £14.50/$19.50/€16.70 (different countries may have slightly different exchange rates).


The author also provides a related website where you can download additional, supporting material including MP3s of the QSOs used in the book, a Facebook page and expect to see a YouTube channel develop over time..

Código Morse banner

A new paddle on the block

After the sad closing down of Palm Radio products, makers of the wonderful miniature CW paddles so many portable operators use, CWops member Peter GM0EUL has set out to make something similar. The UMPP-1 is currently in a beta phase, and one condition of buying it is giving feedback on usability and ergonomics. So I went ahead and ordered one, and here are my thoughts on it.

First impressions are that the packaging has been carefully thought about – the paddle comes in an ‘Altoid’ type tin, with foam insert cut to hold the paddle and small hex wrench for adjusting the contact grub screws. Very nicely presented.

The paddle itself is very small, shown here with a UK 1p coin for scale. For two-handed operation it’s easy enough to hold, but you can only hold it from the sides due to the moving parts – a magnet in the base would be very handy as then it could be stuck to the tin or the radio. I can picture it slipping out of the hands on a cold wet mountain top! Using it on a desk, it still has to be held by the sides, as putting any pressure from above interferes with the paddles.
The inner workings are quite exposed, though – the contacts are made from copper foil and may not like seaside air, and I’m also wondering how long it’ll be before some random bit of swarf gets stuck to the magnets.

The paddle action is quite nice; initially I found the travel a bit long but a quick adjustment of the grub screws sorted that out. It didn’t come with a connecting lead, so I had to go out to the car and grab my audio cable to connect it up. Once wired up to the KX3, a half hour session giving some points away on a 40m contest wasn’t too tiring in use, once I’d got my grip sorted it was just like using my Palm Pico (which I operate two-handed).

All in all a nice project, and with a few small changes it’d be a good companion for portable ops like SOTA. It plays nice with the internal keyers in my Elecraft KX3, Yaesu FT-817 and Xiegu X5105.

Do bear in mind that this paddle’s current status is a beta test; future versions may have changes made. When I shared my initial thoughts with Peter, he has since sent me a top cover, which can be attached with a couple of drops of superglue. This allows the paddle to be held down from above, and improves the protection of the inner workings somewhat. Here it is sat next to my Palm Pico.


More information can be found on Peter’s website at https://www.umpp-cw.com