Is CW a Digital Mode?

    One of the Local QRPers was down in the village the other day, pacing back and forth in the park, with a troubled look on his face and sweat on his brow. After about fifteen minutes of this he started up the hill, working his way closer as he kept pacing. He finally made it to the verandah. We had the feeling he wanted advice, but was afraid to ask. So, against our better judgment, we asked the QRPer what was troubling him. "Oh", he replied slowly, "I'm just thinking about how I can forget CW"

    Usually there isn't a lot a QRPer can say that leaves us speechless, but this one did! We had heard a lot of strange theories and creative interpretations of the Eternal Enigmas of DXing from the Local QRPers, but this was something we hadn't expected. We just looked at the QRPer as he ploughed on.

    "I can't get it out of my head!" he continued, stopping and looking us right in the eye, "I catch myself looking at road signs, books or anything else that contains text and unconsciously translating it to dits and dahs. When I turn on the rig, I automatically spin the dial to the lower band edge. I can't leave it alone. How am I going to forget it if I can't stay away from it? Pretty soon I won't be a true blue DXer at all!"

    We regained our composure and looked at the QRPer intently. "Aren't those the very techniques you used ten years ago to learn the code? And didn't you spend endless hours getting your speed up to where you could operate with the best of them? Why would you want to un-do all that hard work? Aren't you a good CW operator?"

    "Yes! Right on all counts. I listened to you! I listened to all the Big Guns and the ARRL. I worked and worked at it until I could send and receive 25-30 WPM. And now I'm cursed with it. I can't get it out of my head!"

    "Why would you want to?" we asked, incredulously. In all our years as a DXer, we'd heard the opposite argument thousands of times . . . but we'd never head anything like this before. "Why? Why, you ask! So I can become a true blue modern DXer! The new operators, the ones with the FT-1000's and full bore amplifiers who've been Extras for three or four months are telling me CW QSOs are not real DX! Most of them say unless you hear the other person's voice, it isn't a good contact! They claim I'm stuck in the last millennium, and that a bunch of dots and dashes don't count."

    "That's ridiculous!" we roared, jumping to our feet. "Why are you listening to that foolishness? Is there anything in the DXCC rules that have changed regarding CW contacts? CW contacts are just as good as phone! Maybe even a heck of a lot better!"

    "Not according to the new guys. They said a real contact has to be made on phone. I said the ARRL and the DXCC desk don't specify anything like that! They laughed at me, and said I should get with the new wave of operators and stop listening to the old has-beens. They said the FCC was moving to do away with CW altogether, and within a few years it'll be just a memory, like spark transmissions."

    He looked at us with a worried face and continued, "So if I don't concentrate on SSB, and learn how to become better at busting pileups who are listening 200-220, I won't be able to compete with these new generation of True Blue DXers. I have to learn how to get on DX lists, and all the tricks involved in making sure the Net Controller hears my last two. I can't split my attention between CW and phone and remain competitive. I have to forget the code!" He was sweating and his beady little eyes were glaring right at us. "Being a good CW operator has become a curse!"

    "You are over reacting," we said, sitting back down. "CW will never die." The QRPer was not convinced. "I told them that, and they said maybe not, but only computer sent and received code should be allowed. They said that CW is like PSK-31, whatever that is. They said hand sent code could never be as perfect as code sent by a computer, and that a real 21st century DXer will use computer technology to send everything. Why, they even claim that SSB isn't real unless it's DSP processed on send and receive!"

    "Don't be so silly" we replied. "CW will always be around, and no computer can decode it better than the human ear. Besides, it isn't a digital mode."

    "But they say it is! The new DXers say they can send and receive 50-60 WPM with their TNCs the same as RTTY, Packet and ASCII, and that the dits and dahs are the same as ones and zeros. They say it's a digital mode. These guys all have 1.3 and 1.5 GHz CPUs in their computers too! They keep claiming to be the wave of the future, and say we better listen to them."

    "Who cares what they say? The ARRL will protect the interests of us traditional DXers and real CW types. Why do you think they have Straight Key Night? Don't let a few new comers with fast computers tell you the DXCC program is going digital, or that you have to forget CW! They are just pulling your leg. It sounds like they are new members of the Legion of Hand Wringers."

    The QRPer drew himself up to his full five foot five and a half inches tall and looked directly in the eye. "That's exactly what I told them. And do you know what they said? They asked me one simple question. 'Who's paying the bills?' At first I didn't follow them. And then it hit me! All the Old Timers are either life members in the ARRL or have dropped out because of the increased fees of the DXCC program. The new kids with their fast computers are the only ones joining the ARRL. They are generating the new revenue. And it follows they will call the shots! So whatever you and I might have learned and believed years ago has all changed. If the due paying members say SSB only, or that CW is a computerized digital mode, we better listen! And you better forget your code too!"

    Son of a Gun! We sputtered for an answer, but there was none forthcoming. Usually when a QRPer goes of on a ridiculous tangent, we can see the mistake. This time, we couldn't see a flaw in his reasoning. We scratched our head as he walked down the hill and thought about what he had said. The more we thought about it, the more our brain muscles ached.

    Finally we shrugged and started off toward Palos Verdes country. By everyone's measure, this cycle hadn't met expectations. There was DX, but the bands were not as hot as they were during the Golden Days of DXing of past cycles. We decided that even if the QRPer and his computers friend were right, we still needed propagation. Maybe the leader of the Palos Verdes Sundancers could explain things. DX IS! Even if it has to be digital. Remember what Lord Baden Powell, the Hero of Mafeking so often advised: "Be prepared!" Even if it means buying a 1.3 GHz Pentium IV to work CW for you . . .


This story is in the public domain and may be reproduced in any format. - VE1DX

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Last updated on Thursday, 12 April 2007