Morse - Revisiting

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PanBiker
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Morse - Revisiting

Post by PanBiker »

I took my City and Guilds Amateur Radio Exam as an external candidate at Nelson and Colne College in September 1979. I passed and was issued with my first callsign of G8UKC by the Home Office. This "Class B" licence (as it was known at the time) allowed me to operate on frequencies above 144MHz (VHF) and above.

In order to obtain a "Class A" licence and access to the lower HF Bands you were required to learn and pass a Morse test at a speed not less than 12wpm.

Morse Code - Wikipedia

I spent about a year playing around on the VHF Bands and establishing my first radio station. At the same time I was involved with other local radio amateurs in establishing the Rolls Royce Amateur Radio Club. We had a clubhouse down on the sports field which we converted from one of the old bowling pavilions. I think I may start another thread about the club at some point. The main point here though is that once we were established one of the activities we organised was training in Morse code. We had a couple of local members who were both ex RAF radio operators, they undertook the training classes for anyone wishing to learn the code. Joe (G3NSG) and John (G3KJY), both had served in the RAF, Joe during the war and John in the 1950's.

Joe Tyas lived at the top of our street and I had often visited his "shack" when I was a lad, amazed at the stuff he had up in the attic and the fact that he could communicate all over the world (we didn't even have a telephone at home at the time). Joe started to teach me Morse when I was about 14 or 15, I gave it up long before I could become proficient when I discovered girls!

So we wind forward from the mid 60's to late 1980, I was a licensed radio amateur and operating on the VHF bands but needing my Morse to get my class A licence. Both Joe and John taught the code the way that they had been instructed in the military. That method was to learn all the alphabet, numbers and punctuation and then practice them initially at a fairly slow speed. Text would be sent in 5 letter groups and then mixed with numerals, once you had all these off pat they would send plain text and number groups which was the same format as the official Morse test took at the time. It was then a case of building up your speed both in receive and sending. Most people find that they can send faster than they can receive. You had to use a "straight key" in the test so that is all you were encouraged to use while you were learning. The skill is a combination of mental agility when receiving and manual dexterity when sending. It took me about 6 months to learn the code and get my speed up above 12wpm for copying, I could send consistently at about 15 to 18wpm.

People learn at different rates and as each were judged to be capable of going for the test by the tutors they were encouraged to apply for their test. You could take your test at a number of different venues. The test was classified by the Home Office as "The Post Office Morse Test", it was administered by the GPO and could be taken at a General Post Office, a Coast Guard Station or a Ships Radio Inspectors Office. The main favourites for our members were Liverpool Post Office, the Coast Guard Station at Cullercoats or over at Hull. One or two that had been to Liverpool had been failed on minor technicalities and had subsequently passed at a different venues so I booked mine at Hull.

In May of 1981 I tipped up at the Ships Radio Inspectors Office on Princes Dock at Hull. My appointment was at 1.30pm and I took Eric Cockerill (G4GOZ) along for company and moral support on the journey along the M62. I think the dock has now been filled in and a shopping centre built on the site. At the time it was a functioning port and the guy who took me for my test was the bloke who inspected and tested all the radio equipment on the maritime vessels. They all had to be verified and certificated for functionality as part of their seaworthiness.

I can still remember the gist of the passage that he sent to me for my receiving test, it was about weaning puppies from their mothers! The test was plain text for three minutes on receive and then you had to send a passage from a book for a period of at least three minutes. This was followed by a session on receive of random five digit numeric groups. The key was then passed to you to send the same until told to stop. I was complimented on my "tight fist" well formed and correctly spaced letters and words. He said he had increased his sending speed slightly above the 12wpm requirement as he could see that I was coping OK with the copy. He offered his hand in congratulation and then made out my pass slip, I had passed.

I sent off my slip along with my RAE pass slip the following day and applied for my full Class A Licence. I was issued later that month with the callsign that I still hold today, G4LWG. I used my Morse a few times in anger on the VHF bands at first and then a few times on HF. I found that some of the emerging digital modes were more of a draw so I concentrated on them and ultimately let the skill slip. My amateur radio interests settled into VHF antenna design and building, contest working and homebrewing various bits of kit for both VHF and HF use. I moved house in 1989 and I have not been active since.

So 23 years later with a revamp of use for our loft conversion ( it's going to become the hobby room). One half will be for Sally's sewing, knitting and crafts and the other half will be used for my radio station. I want to get back on the HF bands again and while planning I am looking at maybe getting back up to speed on my Morse. It will be both therapeutic and maybe help to keep the brain cells active if I can get some decent proficiency back and put it into practice. As a transmission mode Morse (CW) is quite popular on the bands despite being seen by many as an outmoded form of communication. The ITU dropped the requirement for Morse to be part of the amateur licence back in 2003.

I think I will try to get my proficiency back using the Koch method. This was developed by German Psychologist Ludwig Koch. I have downloaded a training program based on this method developed by Ray Goff (G4FON). I will not go into detail about how it works but further information can be found on the link below where it is described by David Finley (N1IRZ)

So You Want to Learn Morse Code

It will be interesting to see how much of what I learnt over 30 years ago is still in latent memory.
Ian
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Re: Morse - Revisiting

Post by Stanley »

Good lad Ian. Nowt like honing skills. I don't think I'll follow you!
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Re: Morse - Revisiting

Post by Sue »

Bob has a class A licence. He did it at Oldham college at about the same time . when his Dad was alive they kept in touch regularly! But nowadays the model engineering club seems to take up so much time. I would love the space here for a hobbies room. We will have one in France. It's coming along nicely. Bob has a few radios around. The full works sits in a converted wardrobe in our study here, but he can't usually get it because of all the other stuff in there. He also has a mobile set up in France.My sewing machines are stored in the other half of the wardrobe.
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Re: Morse - Revisiting

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What's his callsign Sue and has he validated under the new system?
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Re: Morse - Revisiting

Post by Sue »

Yes he is validated on the new system . G4OAC, but he is not on the radio much these days. If you want to give it a go sometime drop me an email and perhaps you can arrange a time .
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Re: Morse - Revisiting

Post by PanBiker »

Once I am organised Sue I will do that.

With regard to the Morse, there is a plethora of different software learning aids available via the internet. I have downloaded a small suite of programs developed by Julian Moss G4ILO. He developed these to address a similar situation as I am in, returning to the code after some years of inactivity.

G4ILO Software

One of these is called Morse Machine and is designed to give practice in 40 different Morse characters which is the whole of the alphabet, numbers zero to nine and a selection of the most common punctuation used during contacts. I am going to use this to refresh my brain until I can gain full proficiency again in all 40 characters at the speed I am setting my sights on (20wpm). You can set the program to deliver the code at any speed from 20 to 80 words per minute. The Koch method mentioned earlier involves learning from the start at the speed that you ultimately want to be proficient at rather than at a slower speed and then trying to build up your speed later.

The program starts by selecting three characters to start with, you have to press the key on your keyboard corresponding to the character, number or punctuation sent. If you hit the right key it then sends a different character from the original set of 3, if you get it wrong it repeats until you hit the correct key. Each character has a countdown bar associated with it that reduces by 1 each time the character is correctly identified. At random intervals the program introduces another character from the set of 40 and continues to add them until all 40 are "in the pool". The countdown bar starts at 15 repeats for each character so the program will continue until you have correctly identified 600 Morse characters.

I like this as if you miss one it will continue to repeat until the penny drops. I tried it in anger last night for the first time and was satisfied with how many I could copy correctly after a break of 30 years or so. I tripped up on some of the lesser used letters (which were always a stumbling block the first time round) and most of the punctuation but this is just a matter of retraining my brain to recognise the rhythm. I will continue with this particular program until I have them all fully off pat again.

The Koch training methods teach you to recognise the rhythm of the character rather than interpreting it as a series of dots and dashes. If you do the latter you are automatically introducing a stumbling block in your brain as you have to keep a look up table in your head in order to convert each character to a letter. The code should be learnt until it is intuitive and it becomes more like listening to music and ultimately to the stage where your brain will just accept it as a language. Once you reach that stage you no longer need pen and paper to copy the code. Good job really as unless you are a proficient touch typist you would be very hard pressed to write it down above about 25 to 30 words a minute (20wpm is hard enough with random characters).
Ian
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