One of the local QRPers came by the other day and he was in a bit of a quandary. “You know” he began, “ever since I got my ticket, I’ve always wondered why HAMs get on the air during Straight Key Night. I can understand a few might want to go back to the traditional ways of doing things now and then, but why use a straight key? And why dedicate a whole night to it?” We shrugged for the moment, for we were sure this was leading somewhere other than Straight Key Night. “The thing is” he continued, “I don’t see why they waste the time and energy tying up the bands with their shaky fists and poorly weighted code. As you know, I send perfect CW. Always.”

    We had to know more. “Yes, but what does one night hurt? Is there a one-day DXpedition planned for that evening? You’ve always been a good CW operator . . . we’ve heard you in there dozens of times busting the pileups. Have you been working SSB too much and lost your CW?”

    The QRPer took a few steps back and forth and turned to look us right in the eye. “No. Nothing like that. I just can’t work CW with a straight key anymore. Why, 10-12 years ago I could send 20-WPM CW with my trusty old Marconi Marine key. Remember that one? It was a classic from the 50’s and I picked it up at a Hamfest for a couple of dollars. You were there when I bought it, remember?” We recalled that day and said, “Yes, we were. And you got a real winner, with ball bearings and all. You were lucky to get to it before anyone else. Don’t you have it anymore?”

    The QRPer beamed with pride: “I sure do have it! And it’s still in mint condition, too! However, I found that in the pileups I just wasn’t making it when the DX was rattling off QSOs at 30 WPM . . . and while I could copy that fast, I found that if I didn’t match the DX operator’s speed fairly close, he rarely would work me.” We had to agree that we too had noticed this. After all, this wasn’t one of the Eternal Enigmas of DXing. For as the Old Timer had so often advised, “When in Rome do as Rome does, and when working DX, do as the DX does.”

    “So what happened?” we asked. “Well, I bought an iambic keyer and got my speed up to about 28-30 WPM and that made sure I got through most of the DX pileups.”

    We got an inkling of where this was going, so we just nodded for the QRPer to continue. “And then I found out that the place to fill band countries was during the contests. Those guys show up from some pretty rare locations and most of them send at 35-40 WPM . . . why I bet some of the top dogs can hit 50 WPM at peaks. And, iambic keyer or not, I couldn’t keep up with them. So I got one of those HAL DKB-2010 keyboards to key my rig . . . perfect CW with a buffer and memory and all that. And more recently I got a computer with tons of memory and a CW sending program. Now I send and receive at no less that 30-WPM and I’m comfortable at 40-50. No DXpedition or contest operator can out 5NN TU me!”

    We just gazed at the QRPer for a moment with a poker face. He kept on going, “The thing is, I hooked up my straight key a day or so ago and I can’t send anything with it. Why, I can’t even call CQ DX! It’s too slow. And even worse, I went up to the novice portion of the bands and listened to the new comers sending at 5-10 WPM and I could hardly copy a character they were sending. They are just plain too slow! So I went to the Packet Cluster and found a DX spot, when I tuned on him at about 35 WPM, the 5NN TU just jumped out at me. And when I called him and he came back, my call was crystal clear at 35 WPM. Where are all the good CW ops these days? Are they all DXers and contesters? If they would send at a decent speed and use a memory keyer or computer, they’d be a lot easier to work! I really think the ARRL should lobby the FCC to make the entry level 25-WPM.”

    Son of a Gun! We looked at the QRPer for a few moments. “And you can copy and send your call and 5NN TU at 50 WPM, right?” The QRPer nodded in agreement. “And how about your QTH, or the operators call, or anything else that might be sent or received?”

    It was the QRPer’s turn to look puzzled. “Why would I want to? Their call is on the Packet Cluster and all I have to do is adjust my sending program so my speed will match theirs. To be a DXer you have to watch the Packet Cluster religiously and then press the send button. I don’t understand why anyone would want to tie up a whole night creeping along at 15 WPM with a straight key . . . and I'm pretty sure some of the ones that I heard were Ws working other Ws. Why do they do that?”

    There are many things in this world that defy logic and explanation. This was one of them, so we just looked at the QRPer for a moment and said, “They probably do it because they like it.” The QRPer looked back, shook his head slowly and said, “These are really strange times on the bands, aren’t they?” And before we could answer, he was off down the hill, hands in his pockets and still slowly shaking his head back and forth. One of us was marching to the beat of a different drummer. We’d been in this situation with the QRPers before and sometimes it wasn’t obvious who was out of step. This time we had a pretty good idea. DX IS! . . . but don’t try to work the guys on Straight Key Night at 50 WPM with a computer!

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