Friday, February 20, 2015

5T0JL Mauritania and the Art of CW

I happened upon Jean 5T0JL on 12m last Friday (13-Feb) and hung in through the QSB to get him in the log for #210 worked. A pleasant email exchange followed in which Jean told me to look for a couple of special 5T activations: 5T0ITU will be QRV on 25-Feb and 26-Feb, and 5T3MM during the third week of April.

Jean's QRZ page states his belief that CW QSOs should be more than "5NN" exchanges:
"As from this 7th december 2014 a confirmed QSO with 5T0JL will require a full exchange of names with a polite salute to enhance and complete a better human relationship among CW fans!!! ... if you want to pursue with a dry 599 by Law you will be in the Log but without a QSL, no need for you to send a card as it will remain unanswered! We all have the responsability to elevate our friendship and stop the machine intrusion into our life or quit CW and go digital!"
Harsh? Perhaps. But though I am barely qualified to call myself a CW newbie and 100% guilty of many quick hit-and-run QSOs made with the press of a couple of CW memory buttons, I embrace Jean's sentiment completely. Whenever I work someone, I always try to respond in kind -- a "WW2PT 5NN" gets a "TU 5NN" via the CW memory keyer. But if the op tells me his name, QTH, rig, blood type, and favorite childhood pet, I always do my best to send that info back. And why wouldn't I? I would do the same when operating phone or digital.

So Jean's comments got me thinking about this. Phone and digital communications can be easily taken for granted since using our voices and a keyboards to communicate with someone thousands of miles away is what most of us do all day at work and at home. CW, however, is fundamentally different, More than just another way for us to communicate information between ourselves, CW is our hobby's oldest and most enduring tradition. It's an art for which there is no comparison in the phone and digital realms, inside or outside of ham radio. Everybody talks. Everybody uses a computer. But Morse code is something that very few people use outside the ham shack. It was until recently a rite of passage for all radio amateurs. Even though it's no longer a condition for obtaining an amateur license, we are the last to carry the CW torch and are solely responsible for its survival. If it fades away, we are all guilty of letting it happen. For this reason we need groups like SKCC, CWops, and FISTS, as well as ops like 5T0JL, to be our evangelists and torch-bearers.

Chasing DX is a sport to those who do it, and the goal is simply to get into the other guy's log, and you surely don't want to have a little chit-chat with K1N about the weather on Navassa while a bloodthirsty barbarian horde is behind you waiting for their shot of working an ATNO, regardless of mode. So "5NN 73" it is. This is fine, both sides of the QSO are playing the same game and the rules are clear. It is also fine for any ham to wish to have his QSL earned by having a dialog rather than a dismissive and impersonal "Hi! Bye!" contact. If a QSL has to be earned by carrying on a basic exchange of civilities, then earn it. Or not. It's up to you. It shouldn't be easy all the time.

And trust me, it's not easy, not for me anyway. In fact I sometimes find it super-difficult to carry on a long CW QSO at speeds above 20-22 WPM where I'm most comfortable sending and receiving. Sometimes my brain clicks into gear and I can copy around 25 WPM fairly easily, while other times I can barely do 20 WPM without missing large chunks. For this reason I've tuned past a few stations who were carrying on short QSOs; I won't just send a "5NN 73" to someone who likes to chat while I'm out of the zone and not up to the task. Fortunately the more I do it the easier it gets -- I still do a little happy dance after a good CW QSO -- and it now feels completely natural for me to reach for the straight key any time I need to leave the "5NN 73" box and be a real CW op for a change.

1 comment:

Colin GM4JPZ said...

Couldn't agree more, Paul. Some days I'm happy to ragchew around 20s, other days I'm happy just to work 5NN 73s as you say. Depending on how well I've slept, there are QSOs where after about 10 mins, I get blocked on a word and miss a chunk, then start to feel hopeless. I learned CW 58 years ago and have been licensed since 1979, but CW can still be work some days. But always one of the best ways of spending time available.