Monday, July 31, 2017

Just get on the air...

Good evening and welcome back. I worked 3 new states today that I am really excited to tell you about, but first let me share some advice for the guys like me that are still learning Morse code and new to CW. A very good friend and elmer of mine, Bob - N7CZ, shared with me that if you want to get better with CW then you just need to get on the air and USE IT! What Bob did not know at the time is all of the doubt swimming through my head because of thoughts like "You're to slow" or "What if you mess up". What I can share with you is that once you get past the doubt in your own mind and "just get on the air and use it" you will soon find out that Bob is right! There is no better way to get stronger and faster with CW then simply getting on the air and using it. Make some contacts. and have fun! If you'd like to know more about Bob, check out his ham radio web page and blog by CLICKING HERE.

Now back to my 3 new states, because today I chose to "just get on the air..." All 3 QSO's were with Straight Key Century Club (SKCC) members. I've mentioned this great organization in the past and if you are interested in using CW, this is an organization that you will want to be part of. All 3 QSO's were also made using the MFJ 9040 QRP CW rig pushing 5 watts through my "inverted L gutter antenna".

San Augustine Texas

First QSO was over a cup a coffee this morning before work. I connected with Allen - KA5TJS from San Augustine Teaxas which is a little over 700 miles away from my station. Conditions were a little rough this morning, but Allen and I were able to exchange information and complete the QSO. Thanks Allen for being my QSO from the Lonestar State.

Fort Ashby West Virginia

My other two QSO's came back to back earlier this evening and both were new states for me. One of my Adventures with CW includes my goal of working all states with QRP CW, so two new states back to back is very exciting for me. First was Dave - W3NP from Fort Ashby West Virginia. Dave has been a ham since 1959. I enjoyed reading about his vintage gear on his QRZ page. Fort Ashby West Virginia is located 412 miles from my station and was established in 1755 when Colonel George Washington ordered it to be built during the French Indian War. The fort was named after Colonel John Ashby who was attacked and captured by Indians, but made a remarkable escape to the fort. Fort Ashby is now part of the US National Register of Historic Places. Funny story about West Virginia. I had just spoke with a friend of mine, Rick - N9PH, earlier today on a local 70cm repeater about my goal to work all states and he told me that one of the hardest states for him was West Virginia. Rick said if I heard a station from West Virginia that I really needed to try and complete the QSO if at all possible. Well Rick, Dave made it easy on me tonight with his strong signal working into the Hoosier State. Thanks Dave! My QSL card will be mailed out tomorrow, and I look forward to receiving yours in return.

Rockingham Motor Speedway "The Rock"

Once Dave and I were complete I had another station calling to complete a QSO with me as well. This time is was Allen - W4EAB from Rockingham North Carolina. Allen was a former USCG radioman that worked stations in Puerto Rico and San Diego, two places that are much nicer than Indiana in the middle of Winter! Thank you for your service Allen. After leaving the USCG Allen got licensed as a ham and really enjoys chasing DX and SKCC with CW, which he claims is in his blood. I get it Allen, I'm new to CW but LOVE it already! Rockingham North Carolina is about 500 miles from my station and was named after the Marquis of Rockingham. It's also home of the legendary Rockingham Motor Speedway, nicknamed "The Rock", that has been a staple for NASCAR for the last 40 years. Thanks for the QSO Allen.

Looks like I have 3 more QSL cards to send out tomorrow, but that's okay. I really enjoy exchanging them as they make the contact more personable and just like CW, QSL cards are a vital part of the history of amateur radio that I hope sticks around for years to come. 

Until next time, 72 de W9ODX

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Solo CW QSO #3 & #4... in the Gutter

Welcome back to my Adventures with CW! Solo QSO's #3 & #4 were in the gutter, literally! I live in a HOA restricted community, so my antenna options at this time are very limited and usually consist of a portable vertical or temporary dipole. I've heard stories about creative ways hams have gotten around HOA restrictions and one that always caught my attention and made me laugh was when someone told me about a ham that used the rain gutters on their house as an antenna. I've always wanted to try it out for myself, but never did... until tonight.

My EFG (End Fed Gutter) Antenna
The project itself was actually very easy to complete and cost less than $4 to make. The gutter system on the backside of my house consist of 2 downspouts about 25ft long each and the gutter itself which spans over 40 feet in length from North to South. After connecting my feed line outside I went back into the shack to find out how bad my SWR was. I was surprised to see it was barely a 2 without any adjustments to the tuner. The "EFG" tuned flat easily requiring very little adjustment on the tuner itself and in less than 10 minutes I was on the air.

Union Pacific Railroad in Johnson Creek Wisconsin

QSO #3 was with Blake - AD9Y from Johnson Creek Wisconsin, about 260 miles to the Northwest of me. Blake has been a ham since 2010 and uses a simple G5RV JR antenna about 30 ft up in the air. I was using the MFJ 9040 sending my 5 watts straight out my gutters off the 2nd story of the house. Blake has the honor of being my first "gutter contact". The small village of Johnson Creek is located halfway between Milwaukee and Madison. It was founded where the Union Pacific Railroad crosses Johnson Creek and Rock River. Thanks for the QSO Blake, I look forward to doing it again when conditions are a little better.

Commerce Drive-in opened in 1956

QSO #4 was with John - K8JD from Commerce Michigan, about 260 miles North of me. John has been a ham for over 50 years and has explored many parts of the hobby. I smiled when I read that he still enjoys QRP and will occasionally operate on a MFJ 9030 and Cub QRP rig. John would be happy to know that I was using the 40m version of his MFJ, the 9040 and connecting with him at just 5 watts from my home brew gutter antenna. I'll make sure to mention that on the QSL card I send him. Commerce Michigan is know for its rolling hills, scenic rivers, and multiple golf courses. Commerce also had a drive-in theater that opened on July 3, 1956 and held more that 1,000 cars. The drive-in closed in the 90's but you can still find the sign to this historic landmark just off the side of the highway. Sounds like a great location for field day? I wonder if you can still smell the popcorn. Thanks for the QSO and exchange of SKCC numbers John. I look forward to doing it again another time.

I'm getting a little behind on sending out QSL cards so I better stop here and start filling out cards. I will share with you the cards I receive in return as they come on. 

Interested in learning Morse code and starting you own Adventure with CW? I'd be happy to help you get started.

Until next time, 72 de W9ODX

Solo CW QSO #2

I think I might be starting to get the hang of this. For the second night in a row I was able to complete a solo QSO by using CW. This time I think the enthusiasm and excitement from last night't first solo contact was helping me out by covering over the feelings of doubt and nervousness. I spent the entire day telling anyone who would listen to my story about how I was able to make contact with someone else hundreds of miles away using nothing but a 5 watt QRP radio, a simple vertical antenna, and Morse code. How could I not try it again tonight?

Randolph Vermont - Location of my 2nd solo CW QSO

So I powered up the  MFJ 9040 again using my 12v 7ah battery, ran my feedline from the antenna tuner to my home brew portable 40m vertical in my back yard, and connected with fellow SKCC member David - KB1WOD. David is from the small town of Randolph Vermont which is a little less than 800 miles away from my station. Not bad on 5 watts QRP! David was able to send back to me at a speed in which I can copy, which at this time is less than 10wpm. One thing Randolph Vermont is known for is being the home of the Morgan Horse, one of the earliest horse breeds developed in the United States. In 1788 composer and horse breeder Justin Morgan settled in Randolph Vermont. Justin was the owner of a stallion named Figure, who became the sire of the Morgan Horse breed. Figure's descendants, still noted for their versatility and friendly personality, became the first American breed of horse to survive to the present day.

Morgan Horse

When it comes to amateur radio, you really never know where your signal is going to land. Tonight I'm glad mine landed in Vermont. As for tomorrow, I guess you'll just have to come back and find out for yourself.

Until next time, 72 de W9ODX

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

First Solo CW QSO

Up until now all of my CW QSO's have been completed with my elmer Ivin - W9ILF by my side. If you have the opportunity to work together with an elmer that has a passion for the same things you do, don't let the opportunity pass you by. I am very thankful to have met Ivin and proud to call him my friend. I've been thinking of a way to tell Ivin thank you, and after some consideration I thought the best way to say thank you would be to take the leap of faith and complete my first solo QSO. Tonight, that is exactly what I did.

Eldersburg Maryland - Location of my first solo CW QSO

I fired up the MFJ 9040 tonight when I got home from work and connected it to my portable 40m vertical antenna in the backyard. I was a nervous wreck because I've tried to fly solo in the past with no luck, but I was determined to get it done tonight. Luckily for me I was able to connect with a very patient and friendly ham, Curt - WB8YYY, that did not mind my slow sending skills and was able to send back to me at a speed that I could copy. Curt is from Eldersburg Maryland which is a little over 500 miles away. We exchanged signal reports, names, locations, and SKCC numbers. Afterwards we completed the QSO with 73. Curt, thank you helping me complete my first solo QSO tonight. I will be sending you a QSL card and I look forward to receiving yours as well.

Man am I pumped up and excited about this! I started this Adventure with CW by starting to learn Morse code 4 months ago. I still have a long way to go to get to where I want to be, but this is a major milestone!

If you don't know about the Straight Key Century Club (SKCC) and you are interested in learning Morse code and operating CW, I encourage you to check out this free club. The SKCC is the fastest growing group of mechanical key CW operators in the world. Membership consist of several hams that want to help us new guys. There are plenty of awards and certificates to chase if that your thing. To learn more about the SKCC, CLICK HERE.

Until next time, 72 de W9ODX

Monday, July 24, 2017

Work all States - QRP CW

Tonight I went to good friend and elmers house, Ivin - W9ILF. We setup a K2 in Ivin's backyard and connected it to a Buddistick Portable Vertical Antenna. Before we knew it, we were on the air. QRP of course!

Elecraft K2 w/ Straight Key

 Buddistick Portable Vertical HF antenna

Ivin made first contact after hearing a station calling CQ on 20m. The station was Andy - AB1BX from Reewarren Rhode Island. You can read more about this contact by going to Ivin's blog and reading about it by CLICKING HERE.

Next it was my turn, but 20m was fading out so we switched over to 40m. Within a few minutes of scanning the 40m band I found Jerry - W8HOG calling CQ. Jerry is from the small town of Lynchburg Ohio which is located about 150 miles southeast of my location. I was not able to find much information about Lynchburg Ohio online, but I would enjoy learning more about it one day. Thank you Jerry for putting up with my slower speed and sloppy sending and I appreciate the opportunity to QSO with you.

After finishing with Jerry I thought it was my turn to start calling CQ so I did, and within 2-3 attempts I heard a station coming back to me. It was Lee - K4ISW from Charlottesville Virginia, about 460 miles away east of my location. Lee was booming in and he gave me a 579 report signal report. The town of Charlottesville is located just southwest of Washington DC and is known as the Gateway of the Shenandoah Forest which is a US National Forest. The highest peak in the Shenandoah Forest is named Hawksbill Mountain and reaches up just over 4,000 feet. Sounds like a great place to bring a portable radio to right? I found a photo taken from the summit and it definitely meets the "ham radio with a view" standard. Thank you Lee!.

View from Hawksbill Mountain Summit

I look forward to completing more QSO's in the near future as I have made it a goal to get on the air every night and practice sending and receiving Morse code. I look forward to continuing this adventure, meeting new people, and discovering new places. 6 states down, only 44 left to go.

Until next time, 72 de W9ODX

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Learning Morse Code

Word is starting to get out about my Adventures with learning Morse code and the questions have started to pour in as well. The most common question asked lately would be "which is the best way to learn Morse code?"

I have been very lucky this year to have several friends and elmers around me during this adventure of mine. I don't have all of the answers, but I would like to share with you what has been shared with me and hopefully help answer the question above.

Rhythm & Sound

If you search online for methods of learning Morse code you will find several different methods out there including visual charts where you count dots and dashes, Morse code trees where you follow a flow chart and a variety of other visual and mental associations out there. I would encourage you to throw away any visual aids you have as it may help you out initially with learning Morse code, but will create a hurdle for you later on as you attempt to speed up. When I first started learning I would catch myself counting dots and dashes and would get frustrated about how slow I was able to copy. That is when my friends and elmers jumped in and told me about the "rhythm of the code" and encouraged me to stop and listen. Each character has a distinct sound and rhythm to it, if you can associate that sound and rhythm with the character it represents you will be able to copy at with much greater speed. For me this was an excellent way of learning because of my background in music. I enjoy strumming on a guitar almost as much as I enjoy tapping on a key. We can talk more about me and my guitar in another post. So, I removed all of my visual aids and at times would even close my eyes while listening to Morse code so that I could "feel" or "sense" the rhythm of each character. What do you know... it worked! Before I knew it I was able to open my eyes and start writing down the message I was copying. Now, just like I would increase the tempo of a song I am playing on my guitar to speed it up, I can also speed up the tempo or rhythm of the Morse code I am listening to and increase the speed of my copy. Give it a try!

Morse Toad

Since we are now learning Morse code by sound and not with charts, why not start out faster from the beginning? I was introduced to a method called the Farnsworth method early on in my adventure and I am very thankful for that. Basically instead of listening to the character sent at 5 words per minute, I was listening the the character sent at 13-15 words per minute, but with enough spacing in-between the characters to think about the sound I heard and write it down. This would slow the speed down to about 5-7 words per minute, but it got me used to hearing the character at a faster speed. Once I got the characters down, I would just work on decreasing the time in-between each character to speed up my copy instead of trying to learn the character all over again at a faster speed. This was probably the best piece of advice given to me. Why learn Morse code multiple times? There is a free app out there for your smart phone called "Morse Toad". It's an app I used when first learning code that sends the character to you at a faster speed, with plenty of spacing in between the characters. The 8-bit looking graphics gave the app a feel like an old video game which made it fun to use as well.

I will continue to share tips and tricks with you as I continue my own Adventures with CW. For now, I hope this helps you get started on your adventure. Please comment below with any questions or concerns and feel free to reach out to me anytime through email as well. 

Until next time, 72 de W9ODX

Friday, July 21, 2017

Maritime Mobile... Almost!

Yesterday I joined friend and fellow ham Mark - W9NF for an afternoon on the lake, which funny enough is named Morse Reservoir. Sounds like a perfect place to send CW from on a HOT summer day right? Morse Reservoir is located about 25 miles north of Indianapolis as has around 7 miles of navigable water. We made our way up and down the lake in Mark's cabin cruiser at cruising speed. Mark's maritime mobile HF station consist of a Yaesu 991 connected to a ham stick antenna mounted on the bow of he boat. When I mention ham radio with a view in Indiana, it doesn't get much better than this Morse Reservoir.

Morse Reservoir
Ham radio with a view (ham stick antenna on bow of the boat)

Mark and I have operated from his boat before, but we never CW. The weather was hot and humid and the water was cool and pleasant. It did not take much convincing to drop anchor and jump into the lake to cool off for a few. Before I knew it 2 hours had passed by and it was time to start heading back to the marina. Mark and I never had the chance to get on the air, but I promise to return to Morse Reservoir very soon with CW key in hand and share that story with you.

History of Maritime Radio Telegraphy

In the late 1800's Guglielmo Marconi, an Italian inventor and electrical engineer credited with the invention of radio, was developing his wireless radio telegraph machine. By the turn of the 20th century Marconi's machine was complete and he sailed to North America to begin investigating means of sending radio telegraphy across the Atlantic ocean. After a series of test, Marconi accomplished this feat on December 17, 1902 when a transmission sent from his Marconi station in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia was received across the Atlantic Ocean. About a month later a transmission sent from a Marconi station in South Wellfleet, Massachusetts sent a message of greetings from United States President Theodore Roosevelt to King Edward VII of England in January of 1903.By 1904 Marconi was building stations on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean to communicate with ships at sea. Marconi telegraph operators aboard ships are credited with assisting in several maritime rescues including the widely publicized sinking of the RMS Titanic and the RMS Lusitania. If you enjoy history like I do, I encourage you to read more about early Marconi radio telegraphy and how it transitioned into the CW we use today.

Until next time, 72 de W9ODX

Monday, July 10, 2017

Backyard CW

The weather was nearly perfect here today in Central Indiana which meant only one thing... a perfect day to operate outdoors.

QRP CW from the back patio today

I was joined this afternoon by friend and elmer Ivin - W9ILF. We experimented with antennas, planned for future projects, and set up the MFJ-9040 5 watt 40m CW rig to get on the air from my back patio. Our antenna today was a vertical 40m ham stick with an elevated horizontal radial tied off to a tree branch. 

After a couple rounds of calling CQ, we scanned the band and found Charles - K3WW contesting with the Straight Key Century Club (SKCC) and completed the QSO by exchanging information. Charles gave me a 559 signal report from Perkasie Pennsylvania, about 600 miles away. Perkasie is a burough located just 35 miles north of Philadelphia and was home to a former Major Leauge Baseball factory that produced millions of baseballs from the 1920's to the 1950's. Charles station looks very impressive and he has quite the antenna farm growing from the photos I can see on his QRZ page. I enjoyed reading the article on his webpage telling the story of the day he operated QRP from his back yard, my kind of operating! Thanks for the QSO Charles, I look forward to hearing from you again.

After scanning the band again, we found Peter - AE1T who was also contesting with SKCC. Peter and I completed the QSO by exchanging information needed for the contest. Peter is from Plymouth New Hampshire which is a little over 800 miles away and he gave me a 559 signal report for my 5 watt signal. Plymouth is located in Upper New Hampshire located close to the White Mountains. Peter has been a amateur radio operator for 57 years. I think a cup of coffee with Peter while overlooking the mountains and listening to his stories of the last 57 years would be awesome! Thank you for the QSO Peter.

Wow, two more states added to the list. Who says you can't have fun with QRP CW outdoors? I will be sending out QSL cards to Charles and Peter later this week.

Thank you to Ivin - W9ILF for joining me today and for your friendship and encouragement.

Until next time, 72 de W9ODX

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Samuel Morse

Have you read the story of Samuel Morse? I am a little bit of a nerd when it comes to all things history related, but you don't need to be to enjoy reading his story. In this story you will read about how this american born artist was struck with tragedy that would eventually lead him to success with the invention of the single wire telegraph and Morse code. You can go on to read about how important his inventions where and how they evolved to what we use today. It's a great story and I would encourage you to read it if you have any interest in CW or amateur radio.

That is all I have for now, I look forward to hopefully meeting you on the air someday. 

Until then, 72 de W9ODX

Monday, July 3, 2017


Adventures with CW

Hello and welcome to the blog, my name is Michael Andrus - W9ODX. I am a General class amateur radio operator from Central Indiana who enjoys portable outdoor operations, ham radio with a view!

Ham Radio with a view
Recently I decided to embark upon my journey to learn Morse code, also referred to as CW. After doing some research I found it to be the mode of choice with portable outdoor operations, especially when operating QRP. After discussing my plans with elmers and friends I was encouraged to share my adventures with others. I thought this blog would be the perfect tool for sharing my stories, hopefully entertaining you and encouraging you to learn CW as well.

I've been studying CW since April and I've had a handful of opportunities to get on the air since then. (thanks to Ivin - W9ILF) I am currently able to send at about 13 wpm and copy at about 5-6 wpm. My plan is to continue to get on the air and practice practice practice. I am having a blast learning CW, it's fun! I play the guitar, so to me listening to CW is like listening to music. I associate each character with the sound and the rhythm it makes, not by counting dots and dashes.

Copying CW reminds me of my childhood at times. Back then we used "top secret" decoder rings to figure out what the message was on the back of my cereal box. How exciting it was to crack the code and figure out the message? Completing a QSO using CW is just like that, except the message is not on a cereal box, it's coming to you from another ham that is hundreds if not thousands of miles away.

I look forward to sharing my adventures with you and I hope you enjoy reading them. If you enjoy this blog, please take a moment to check out blog's from 2 of my elmers. They are blogging and sharing stories as they compete to be the first to Work all States (WAS) on 40m CW using less than 2 watts.

Click HERE to check out Ivin's blog and click HERE to check out Brian's blog.

Interested in learning about CW, QRP or portable outdoor operations? EMAIL ME and I will be glad to help get you connected to those who can help.

Until next time, 73 de W9ODX