Sunday, July 17, 2016

CW as a conversational mode - RIP

"What happened to all the dots & dashes I remember?"
My recent off-road/QRP trip confirmed for me something I've suspected for a while now. I can no longer deny that CW is now a niche mode used mostly by DXers, contesters and experimenters. Any ragchews taking place at conversational speeds are the rare exception, not the rule.

As a DXer myself, I was mostly blind to this for a long time but my recent purchase of a KX2 and a desire to return to QRP has made me aware of the stark contrast between what takes place on the CW bands today as compared to yester-decade. You won't get this impression if you read various reports of statistics that claim CW is alive and well despite being dropped as a licensing requirement. A rosy picture is painted regarding all the new licensees being minted and the new folks who are interested (on their own!) in learning the Code.

Nothing in those statistics and glowing reports translates into much activity on the CW sub-bands.

While camping at 9970 feet last week and with a good view of the horizon in all directions, I called CQ on 20m with 10 watts and what I knew to be an efficient antenna. No answer. Change freq and repeat...same results. So I tuned to 14.060 and decided just to listen to the dead air until someone else stirred it with a CQ. Someone did and, rather than answer, I waited to see if another station would answer. No one did. A while later, someone else called CQ with the same result.

Further down the dial a contest was going on - maybe that's where everyone was. So I tried the same
experiment the following Monday evening with the same result. It was (and is) as if the CW sub-bands are more and more becoming the ghost towns of ham radio. Every now and then a tumbleweed blows through and a contact is made. It'll likely be brief and at sub-20wpm speeds, ie not conversational.

CW today is largely a utilitarian mode - a testament to its efficiency perhaps, but with the lively conversations of the past now 25 light-years from Earth and speeding further and further away.



  1. John,
    If you search the #CW hashtag on Twitter now, you get a LOT more postings about a TV network than you do about ham radio. didit de W6AZ

  2. And "QRP" on eBay offer almost as many returns on RVs as on anything radio related...! Our hobby is becoming more & more obscure.