Build a Super-Simple Radio, Get it on the Air, and Learn CW Along the Way

Tuna Can QRP Radio

One of our group is working on a very simple little one-transistor low-power 40 meter transmitter. No, the picture above is not it, although this is a fun little receiver kit you can build if you want to start with a simple kit.

Anyway, when he’s done with his little transmitter, he then faces his next hurdle: The dreaded CW monster!

The CW Monster!
Does that maybe ring true for you as well? Let me give you some encouragement, and maybe we can shine some light on the monster. You may find that he doesn’t actually bite, and is even friendly!

I’m re-posting some comments I made to Bob just tonight, and I thought I’d pass this along for you to consider:

When you get a simple radio put together, you might find that CW is your biggest challenge. I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with it–mostly love. The hard part, of course, is in getting started.

There are lots of QRP clubs around to offer encouragement and also even on-air schedules. I know I’ve mentioned the QRPARCI club on our net nights before. You may also find lots of encouragement in learning CW with the SKCC, the Straight Key Century Club:

This page shows their “watering hole” frequencies. I’m listening to two SKCC members right now on 7055 kHz. They are going along at about 7 words per minute or less. The idea, of course, is to use a simple hand key instead of an electronic keyer, and to (usually, but not always) slow down. They usually call “CQ SKCC” and then exchange numbers and pleasantries. The two guys I’ve been listening to are in Florida and Rhode Island. I can hear them easily with my G5RV dipole antenna, so they’re probably running 100 watts. You don’t have to use QRP power levels if you don’t want to.

It’s fun to sit here and hand write each letter on the back of a piece of junk mail I received today as they send them. I get to think about other things for a moment, and then write down the next letter sent, etc. Very pleasant actually. Kind of like taking a slow ride through the back country roads instead of zipping down the interstate highway.

Anyway, just thought I’d pass that along to you. It’s always a bit intimidating to get on the air with CW for the first time. By the way, Jack, W6KRK, can be counted on as a helpful guy when it comes to CW. He just decided last year to dig in and re-learn CW. So if you can get him to take a few minutes on the air with you, it might help to get over the “first call” jitters. Oh wait–I could do that, too, from here in Utah! Just ask. I can be as sloooow as you’d like! We could try 20, 40 or 80 meters just about any time you want to try.

Maybe you could find some of our other friends to try, too. Building radios and then putting them on the air, at least for me, has been a lifetime passion. The “putting them on the air” part usually means CW for the simple gear, of course, and it can be tremendously satisfying when you make a contact with your little radio. Remember, too, that your first attempt does not have to be a full-on transceiver. A one- or two-transistor, crystal-controlled peanut whistle transmitter can be used just fine with your “big” HF transceiver.

Not Enough Hams on the Air? Have a Look

This is a snapshot of this weekend’s CW contest (CQ WPX) on 20 meters going on right now at about 7:15PM Mountain time. I was tuning around on the various web-based SDR receivers you’ve heard me mention many times on our Wednesday night net. I was impressed by the wall-to-wall CW signals as seen by the Northern Utah Web SDR receiver. Just a bit crowded, don’t you think?

Oh, and those semi-solid lines on the right hand part of the SDR window are the FT8 folks happily ignoring the CW contest below them. Everybody have fun!