K3WWP's Ham Radio Activities
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Steve - WD9FJL

Hi John: I always enjoy reading your polls; your questions are thought provoking, especially the one about learning CW.
I am one of those people lucky enough to learn CW in a class sponsored by a community college. In my case, Carl Sandberg Jr. College in Galesburg, IL. (About 30,000 population in west-central, Illinois.) The classes were held in the radio/electronics classroom at Galesburg High School. As I recall, it was a two hour class, one night a week, for ten weeks. We covered CW for about 30 to 45 minutes before getting down to Novice theory.
The class was pretty basic by comparison to some of the CW techniques taught today, we all had a copy of the old ARRL, Learning The Radiotelgraph Code, as well as a pen and a piece of paper. It was nothing more than listening and writing down the letters and then checking the book. (Best 50-cents I ever spent!).
It was a great time. This was the spring of 1977 when CB had captured a lot of attention and those 11-M guys were buying Yaesu rigs and tuning them for CB operation. I wasn't one of them, but we had a lot of CB operators in the class. We all slogged through the basics of CW on Monday night and then spent the rest of the week listening to CW on 40-M. Do you remember that old warning from your Elmer...."Just listen to CW, forget anything else, especially sideband!"
We all wrestled with our personal CW demons and we all shared our stories and frustration in class. It was perfect because we realized we weren't alone in the learning curve. And it wasn't long before a little confidence surfaced.
The classroom also had a Heathkit Station (the first ham shack I had seen). I recall that around the 7th week of class we all crowded around the radio while the instructor carried out a QSO. I was actually getting it! And, of all places, the guy on the other end was in Albuquerque. I still remember copying those letters in my head (5 wpm of course) thinking that there may be hope for me after all.
That was in May of 77, I passed my Novice test in June and got my ticket in August. On August 3rd, I had my first QSO, with a very patient ham in New Bern, Wisconsin.
Those novice days were just as much fun as the class, because we were all plodding through the learning steps and working to that goal of General, or better. What a shame that we are loosing this important part of the hobby. Those guys that fight CW today have missed a lot of enjoyment and comraderie. I am still close to a few of those people in the class.
Of course my family thinks that I a completely hopeless. They refer to CW as "beeping" and insist that I wear headphones. But what do they know about the pure enjoyment of a late-night QSO with a 90-year-old, former Marine Telegrapher who is sending perfect code with a bug....or getting that DX because you can copy CW.
Thank goodness for that class, I wish we still did it that way!
Steve Keithley - WD9FJL Albuquerque, NM

Here's a follow-up from Steve: I admit that after I got my General, I zoomed right up to the Sideband portion of the band. Probably, that held me back in learning more about the hobby and it contributed to some disappointment with ham radio. It wasn't until I got back on the CW portion of the band, and started working with QRP that I put away the microphone, almost for good.
We are getting ready to put a special event station on the air next weekend for the NM ARRL State Convention, with the call N5M. I was looking for my microphone. I couldn't find it!

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