It’s finally happened. My first CW contact! After nearly a year and a half of practice, trying 3 or 4 different methods of learning code, and countless hours of listening to other people’s QSOs on the air, I finally have successfully made a real, on the air CW contact.
It did not go at all as planned.
I was told early on by several experienced CW ops from the club that the best way to learn was at a reasonably useful conversational speed – 18-20 wpm. So, as I jumped into my CW education, I made very sure to practice each character until I had it cold. No counting, no thinking, no delay – just hear the sound, and think the letter. Later on after a lot of practice, words and pro signs started to come to me the same way. Now it’s not too difficult for me to sit and head copy simple exchanges, call signs, locations, signal reports etc. So all that practice was worthwhile.
I applied the same logic to learning how to send. Once I felt comfortable with copying all the letters and numbers, I started to practice sending the characters over and over until I didn’t have to stop and think about what I wanted to send. I could just think “a” and didah came out. So far so good.
I finally decided last weekend that it was time to just jump in and try an on air QSO. I mean, I had practiced, I felt pretty comfortable with it. What was there left to do but get on the air? So Sunday afternoon I turned on 20m and started listening around. I heard a few NPOTA stations, a special event WA1WCC, and then W0DB calling “cq NE qp.” I thought, well, this might be a good first try. The exchange would be simple enough, just “KK4FEM 599 FL.” What could go wrong?
So I wrote down what I wanted to send, practiced it (flawlessly) about 15 times just listening to the sidetone on my rig, then I flipped the break-in switch…took a deep breath, sent a perfect “KK4” – and my mind blanked. I don’t even know what I sent after that, but it definitely wasn’t “FEM.” Joe, W0DB came back with “KK4?” Ok, ok, calm down. One letter at a time…K..K..4..F..E..M. Phew!! Did it! Joe came back with my call, signal report, and his county. Ok, so now my signal report “5NN 5NN.” Wow, that was amazing! First try! Alright, so now all I have to do is send “FL.” Here goes…LF. Dang…LU. No, no…FR. Joe sends “FL?” Aw, man! I sent the signal report so good! One more try, slowly this time – “ FL FL FL.” He send back “FL K” or “TU” or something…I don’t even know. I was just trying to breathe again.
Yay! I did it! Well, at least I hoped I had. A few minutes later I typed out an email to W0DB telling him this was my first time, and to asking if he had actually managed to get anything useful out of all my mangled gibberish. A few hours later he replied with this:
I did it! Woohoo! He congratulated me on my first contact, and very kindly said that we all make mistakes when we’re first starting out. He suggested trying some other contests to get my speed and consistency up, which I plan on doing. Too bad I just missed the NAQCC sprint, but there’s a few other events coming up this weekend (the SKCC sprint and 2 QSO parties).
I thought that after having several SSB contests under my belt, I was over the whole nerves thing. I guess anything new can be hard at first, no matter how prepared you think you are. I’m really thankful for all the patient, experienced ops out there that are willing to slow down and work beginners like me. A whole new ham radio experience awaits me now…and just in time for the sunspot decline! I have a feeling knowing CW is going to keep me on the air as conditions worsen. Now for some more practice…