Morse Code Classes via a UHF Repeater

Steve Jackson, KZ1X

November 2019

The way that most people learn Morse Code best is in a classroom style setting. From roughly 1840 through about 1970, this was the manner in which most people learned Morse Code.

For a variety of reasons, beginning in the early 1980s, a trend began where people either did not have the opportunity to attend a classroom setting and / or took it upon themselves to try and self-teach the skill. The former is unfortunate; the latter, many times more challenging.

Well, amateur radio certainly has changed in the ensuing decades but what has not changed is the desire among many hams to be able to use Morse Code on the air.

Due to practical limitations such as the lack of a suitable classroom venue, the geographically diverse nature of potential students, busy lifestyles, and availability of instructors, it is not likely we will see a return to regularly scheduled, local, sit-down type Morse Code classes.

However, for those who do wish to learn in a class-styled environment, and who already hold a Technician or higher grade of amateur license, there may still be an alternative for a group-oriented Morse Code learning environment.

A Proposal

OCRA maintains a wide coverage UHF repeater. Like the majority of repeaters over the past 15 years or so, it is inactive most of the time.

This terrific and underutilized resource could easily host a scheduled on-the-air Morse Code class for students already holding amateur licenses. This document describes such a class.

Conceptually, the idea is simply to move a traditional sit-down classroom experience to one conducted in real time via a repeater. By making it interactive, on the repeater, the class will train participants to communicate over-the-air in Morse Code.

Yes, that’s it. The sole goal of the class is conferring the demonstrable ability to send and receive Morse Code on the air.

Before you ask:

There is no sending or receiving speed goal for this class.

Setting such a goal was important in an era when there was a standardized FCC test to pass. Teaching to receive at a given speed did not serve students well; it only helped the test proctors. Moreover, without a sending test, the underlying Morse communications skill of the student is not certain.

Therefore, a fixed-speed goal is not appropriate for a Morse Code class taught in 2020. Think of this class instead like “Marconi meets Montessori.”

Anticipating your next question:

What speed are the lessons sent at?

The answer is:

Since the class goal is to be able to make practical use of Morse Code on the air, the so-called speed for lessons is actually a more complicated issue than a simple number.

The speed of the dots and dashes for lessons is set at the natural rhythm rate, such the listening part of the brain will not try to ‘count’ these symbols. Instead, each letter’s acoustic pattern gets interpreted by the brain as a unique musical sound. Thus, the same part of the brain used to remember the first notes of a favorite song is activated to memorize the letters.

This is also why significant effort has been put into making the tones used in the class have musical integrity (pitch, tonality, and harmonic content are controlled).

In turn, the space between the letters is artificially lengthened from the expected spacing, so that the student will have time to write down each letter sent.

Focusing on “how fast?” as the sole metric for success is great for horses, not for people. This is about recognition, not rate. Once one knows all the letters and digits, increased speed is then only a function of experience and desire.

How Will The Class Work?

A class participant will learn Morse code over a period of approximately three months. The letters of the alphabet, the ten digits, and certain punctuation and procedural signals are introduced to students each week, in a graduated process.

Materials used are a combination of a Windows software application by G4FON, the K1EL Morse Tutor keyer kits, and a weekly over-the-air interactive instructor-led lesson. The software is used to make the letter introductions, and to help weekly home practice.

Dividing the 26 letters into four groups allows one to learn the more frequently used letters first. In turn, this allows the most rapid progress towards forming words. Quickly thereafter, students can create simple sentences.

The class design is interactive because student participants both receive and send in each class, and draw upon each other’s success. All of this occurs exactly as it would in a ‘live’ in-person setting. It is therefore vitally important that the students faithfully complete each week’s homework and come prepared for the next class.

Classes, Equipment, and Software

Classes

The class itself consists of eight on-the-air lessons, scheduled weekly, plus preparatory work.

Preparatory work consists of using the software to practice and learn the assigned new letters each week. Most people find that this will take from 1 to 3 hours per week. (Weeks 2 and 4 are hardest.)

Each weekly on-the-air lesson will be roughly 30-45 minutes in length.

There is a fixed curriculum. One cannot ‘skip’ any lesson, nor are there any make-up lessons possible.

This is in part because the lessons are not simply recordings. They are interactive, and, each lesson builds upon the previous one. In addition, students are active participants in the learning process for and with other members of their cohort.

Each over-the-air lesson consists of a student-listening portion, and a student-sending portion.

  • In the student-listening portion of each class, the instructor reviews the new letters introduced the previous week, by sending the letters over the air to the students.

This listening portion consists of these most recent letters, sent in three sequences of ten random groups of four letters each. The instructor, using an automated tool, transmits these.

After the lesson, the actual letter groups sent will be posted on line, so students can check their copy.

  • In the student-sending portion, the student will formulate words from all the letters learned so far in the class, and then send those words over the air so other class participants can copy them. Each student will send at least two words (generally 4 or 5 letters each).

The student-sending portion of the class is one reason for the K1EL Morse Code tutor kits. These kits allow a low-cost way of sending good quality modulated-CW signals over the repeater.

If a student wishes to use some other Morse tone generation gear, that is their option. However, it will still be necessary to use the same settings as shown below (in the software topic), so that all class participants’ signals sound similar (pitch, speed, spacing).

The student will need to be able to hold their microphone close enough to their kit’s speaker so they can send their words over the air. Of course – they must ALSO access the repeater well while doing so.

Equipment

The intention is for the typical local, licensed amateur to participate in the class easily, with minimal additional expense.

An assumption is that all students will already have the means to access the repeater, often via a handheld radio. It is prudent to check one’s signal into the repeater from the location where one will participate in each week’s lesson, prior to starting the course. Adding an external gain antenna and perhaps a corded microphone accessory could be very helpful.

An in-person set-up session prior to the first class will be available, so that students’ K1EL Morse Tutor kits can be programmed. The reason for this is because the Morse Tutor kits are programmed using Morse Code, and of course, the student using this Tutor does not yet know Morse Code.

The programming will be for rates, student callsign, audio pitch, and related settings.

Software

The software used for the class is by G4FON. It is a Windows program. (If you absolutely must use some other platform, please contact Steve, KZ1X, to discuss options.)

Several features of this software make it the ideal choice. The primary one is the feature where the user can select specific letters for the computer to send, repeatedly, allowing the student to learn new letters every week according to the class syllabus.

Other G4FON program options allow the computer-generated Morse Code to ‘sound’ like the class lessons do.

To set up the G4FON software for the class, choose the following settings on the main screen:

  • Set the Pitch to 660
  • Actual Character Speed to 15
  • Effective Code Speed to 5

and make any needed changes to the ‘button’ type options, as shown above.

Afterwards, open the ‘Setup’ tool and choose the “Morse Character Setup” tab:

For the first lesson, choose only the letters ‘T’ and ‘E’ as shown above.

For the second lesson, choose only the letters ‘E’ ‘I’ ‘S’ ‘H’ ‘T’ ‘M’ and ‘O.’

See below for the subsequent week letter introductions.

Here is a link to access the software:

http://www.g4fon.net/CW%20Trainer.htm

Lessons

Week 1 E T

Week 2 E I S H T M O

Week 3 A W J N D B

Week 4 U V G Z K R P X

Week 5 F C L Q Y

Week 6 1 2 3 4 5

Week 7 6 7 8 9 0

Week 8 . , ? /

Morse Trainer Kit Build; What Happened, and What’s Next?

by Steve, KZ1X

At the OCRA meeting (14 Oct 2019) there was a group build session for assembling the K1EL Morse Tutor kit club project.

Of the 25 or so kits involved in the project, approximately 6 were completed prior to the meeting! Those are our eager builders, and we’re lucky to have folks like that here to learn from. So few areas have such a rich experienced resource these days.

Another approximately 13 kits were assembled at the event.

More than a few assemblers were first-time kit builders, so, they get a special shout-out, as do the several experienced mentors present whose help was invaluable.

Since the success rate for the kits was effectively 100%, we can move to discussion of an evaluation of the event, and some next steps.

To start … It did seem like the participants were fully engaged and either re-learning their assembly skills, or experiencing them for the first time. This is certainly a good thing!

It would be great to get some additional and candid feedback on what went well – and what could be improved for some possible future event like this. Please feel free to share here or via direct email.

Now that many people have these kits built and operating, what comes next?

Several things, in fact, come next.

Immediately, please try and familiarize yourself with the settings on the Morse Trainer units you built. Pay particular attention to the setting that lets you control the sound pitch (tone) of the sending. You will want/need to be able to change this.

Also, work on learning TO CLEARLY SEND the first four letters of the lessons: E, T, A and N. Don’t worry about speed, it’s the smoothness that’s important to get down pat.

If you need to hear what these letters should sound like, I will be ‘playing’ them on the air, just after the ARES nets on Saturday mornings.

Lastly, don’t forget to remove the power jumper on your Morse Tutor when not in use, since the battery will drain if left on. That would take a month or two, but, no sense in running the batteries down for no reason. Simply unplug the jumper from the two pins and then re-seat it on just one, so you won’t lose it.

After that …

    1. The intent has been all along to offer weekly Morse tutoring lessons over-the-air via the 442.150 repeater … and in fact these were originally intended to start around now. There have been several setbacks to this plan, delaying the rollout by multiple weeks. I ask forbearance, all successful ventures take more time than originally anticipated.
    2. Group study events … did anyone notice the special feature of this kit, which allows people to pair-off and send Morse to each other in small group settings? The kits have a common RCA type jack on them, and with a simple phono male-male cable (which the club has several of if you don’t) they can be connected directly together! The MOST productive way to learn Morse is to first master a handful of characters (that is the purpose of the over-the-air sessions), make up words using just those letters, then send the code to a partner for practice. Then, reverse the listener and sender. These study events can be as few as two people, or up to MANY, and should take about 20 minutes each. The only catch is that there needs to be someplace people can go and have a quiet place for the study session. We’re spread over a very wide geographic area so this becomes challenging to manage. In an ideal world, we’d all have a weekly lesson session, and nobody would miss one. More realistically, those sincerely interested in learning the code can work with a buddy, perhaps one closer by than further, and help each other out getting to learn all 26 letters, ten digits, and a few punctuation and prosign characters.
    3. Computer aided training … there is Morse tutorial available called G4FON (the call sign UK ham who originally came up with it) and it’s available for PC, Mac, tablets, phones, you name it.In the next week or two I will send more information about this software and how to set it up to complement the coming training sessions.

For now… here are some links, see if you can install this software in your favorite device, and please report all successes or any gotchas:

http://www.g4fon.net/CW%20Trainer.htm for Windows
https://apps.apple.com/us/app/morse-elmer/id414371107 Apple iOS
https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=net.iz2uuf.cwkoch&hl=en_US Android OS

73

Steve KZ1X

Fall 2019 OCRA Club Construction Project

by Steve KZ1X

A few months ago I conducted an email ‘straw poll’ to gauge the interest in a club construction project.

It has been quite some time since the last such project.

The target date proposed for this project is the October 14, 2019 OCRA meeting.

This year’s idea was to build a very simple, but great quality and low cost Morse tutor keyer kit, and to back it up with over-the-air Morse lessons at some later date.

Response

The interest level in the kit itself was rather high, approximately 21 persons, and then others responding in ways other than via email. Some persons responding are DFMA members, as the email went out on the joint mail reflector.

Perhaps half the responders expressed concern about their electronics assembly skills.

They either were interested but felt it might be too complicated, many have never done anything like this before, they lacked the tools, were worried about success, or how to troubleshoot, needed help, and so forth.

Morse classes

The interest level in the Morse lessons was also high, higher than I expected. Some people wanted to get more proficient at their existing Morse skills and others wanted to learn from scratch. Still others already have Morse skills but just wanted to build the little kit!

Addressing the Concerns

To address the kit building concerns, at least two and possibly several more assembly workstations will be set up at the OCRA club meeting site, which for this session could start 30 minutes earlier than normal. The extra time would allow for everyone who wanted to, to get a chance to assemble and test his or her keyer.

Plenty of experienced builders are in the club and plan to attend this meeting, so there will not be any shortage of assistance.

To make sure the vendor can get the kits out in time, do not wait until just days before the event to order yours!

Project FAQ

  • Who makes this kit?

A small New Hampshire firm headed up by K1EL, a very well known ham whose call is almost synonymous with Morse keyer accessories.

  • How do you get a kit?

Order it from the link below.

  • How much does it cost?

The price currently is $22 plus shipping. The vendor is selling the kits quite near his raw parts cost, to assure it stays popular among newcomers to Morse. Another product sold by the same vendor, with similar functionality, costs almost 5 times this price.

  • How long does it take to get the kit?

About 4 or 5 days, here in NC. It comes USPS.

  • What else do you need to make the kit work?

Three AA size alkaline cells.

  • What tools do I need?

It is best to have needle nose pliers, a small flush cutter, solder, and a temperature-controlled soldering station. These links are just high-quality suggestions, for those wishing to equip one’s own new workbench. There will be tools available at the club meeting.

  • How long does it take to build?

Between 15 – 45 minutes, depending on skill level, equipment, pace, etc.

  • Are there any surface-mount type parts in the kit?

No.

  • What happens if it does not work?

That is not likely to happen, if you build yours at the club meeting there is a near zero chance to have this kit not work.

  • Can I get my kit and build it myself before the meeting?

Yes, of course, and then you can help others!

  • What do you get in the kit?

All the parts needed to make one complete keyer assembly, except for the AA cells.

The vendor also answers many of these questions, of course, including a complete description of what the keyer does.

Check out the kit web page at this URL:

https://www.hamcrafters2.com/K16tutor.html

Here is a picture of the box as it comes from the vendor, located in New Hampshire.

The keyboard and mouse are shown for scale.

Inside the small white box are the circuit board and a bag with the parts needed to assemble the unit.

Here is what the unpopulated circuit board looks like, as you get it. (Yes, the AA cell holder is already mechanically attached, but NOT soldered.)

The bottom side of this circuit board, where the soldering takes place, looks like this:

There are approximately 54 individual solder connections to make.

Here is the bag of parts:

and when assembled, it looks like this:

The assembly manual is available from the link above, and there is a button to click to place your order.

Please post any questions you may have to the OCRA-DFMA reflector.

Looking forward to the October 14, 2019 club meeting and the construction project.

Steve KZ1X

OCRA Membership Meeting – July 8, 2019

Dave, W4SAR, club president opened the meeting with introductions, the topic for tonight’s meeting being Field Day results and call for officer reports.  In attendance tonight were 8 license-seeking candidates, one of our largest membership meeting testing groups.

Dan, KR4UB, treasurer reported 73 members are current with their dues with 26 members needing renewal. Club treasury balance is in line with ongoing expenses.

Nick, KA1HPM, stated two towers near Lowes hardware in Chatham County exist with antenna and feed-line.  Steve, W3HAL, and Dan, KR4UB, would assist in assessing the possibility of usage.

Field Day Results:

Dave, W3SAR, provided a Field Day point breakdown, and will post final results on this    website soon.  The unofficial count was 2997 QSO points, with 1727 QSO points awarded multipliers for a total of 14,985 points.  We had less points this year, but propagation was poor, except for 40 Meter.

Steve, KZ1X, proposed running 100 Watts rather than 5 Watts next year. While QRP, or low power…5 Watts, gets you multipliers, 100 Watts would allow more stations to hear, which would be more fun. Additionally, if sun spot activity is nearing a null, then 100 Watts may a sound strategy for the next couple of years.

Wilson gave thanks to Steve, W3AHL, for doing a great job on the N1MM network.  Steve, W3AHL, stated the 10 dedicated computers along with static IP addresses provided more resiliency and up time than last year. Wilson also appreciated John, KM4MDR, for doing a wonderful job managing the food preparation and service…at a’boys!

Additional Notes:

Dan, KR4UB, stated Phillips High School still has an antenna and transceiver used from an earlier ISS contact needing reclamation.  If interested in assisting, please leave a reply!

Finally, Dan, KR4UB, will present FT8 at the next DFMA meeting!

Point me in the right direction

Dan KR4UB accepted the satellite challenge for Field Day, a noble challenge indeed.  Aiding his effort, Dan reclaimed and repurposed available parts and materials to build an industrial strength satellite antenna boom…materials and instructions follow.  Nicely done Dan!

  • army surveyors tripod non magnetic construction, no ferrous metals added below to disturb compass reading.
  • left over 2″ PVC electrical conduit and elbow..
  • some ironwood strips inside the PVC to take the floppy/flexy out and balance out weight of antenna.
  • wood doweling, epoxy, brass screws to reinforce compass support elbow butt glue joint onto PVC elbow
  • good quality surveyor’s compass bought to rough out new boundaries when  purchasing adjoining land some years back
  • section of left over central vacuum cleaner return pipe (near perfect fit over PVC electrical pipe).. rotates for quick antenna polarization adjustment.
  • Brass  screws (where used) so no ferrous metal near compass
  • Arrow VHF/UHF gamma matched antenna. The foam covered handle fits perfectly inside the end of the 2″ dia PVC electrical conduit used as the boom.
  • powered by arm-strong…..

OCRA Board Meeting – July 2019

Attendance:

Steve W3AHL, Dave W4SAR, Karen KD4YJZ, Wilson W4BOH, Dan (KR4UB), Dee KU4GC, Keith W1KES, Lad W4ORD

Treasurer Report:

The checking and saving balances are in line with ongoing expenses. The pre-pay meal approach proved again very successful with 47 dinners and 34 breakfasts.  The more accurate head count for purchasing and preparing meals left little food with a net income of $93.

Field Day:

A big thank you to Wilson W4BOH and his family for hosting, John KM4MDR for providing Friday lunch and facilitating meal preperation, and all the other OCRA/DFMA members who assisted with set up, operation, and tear down.

Notable events:

  • Weather was very extremely favorable throughout the event
  • Computer network was reliable, thanks to Steve W3HAL efforts
  • The digi stations has some difficulty operating from the garage.  Will need to identify opportunities for another location next year.
  • Progation was very good with contacts made in Washington, California, and Hawaii
  • Satellite proved difficult as power overload from a few sites made contacts difficult for others
  • Consider using FT8 for kid contacts to avoid “mic fright”
  • Estimated contact points was 15,160, with bonus points was 17,310.
  • Further discussion need regarding Friday’s lunch as pre-pay

Please add your Field Day pictures and comments to the site.  We would enjoy sharing in your special moments.

Steve purchased automated external defibrillator (AED) battery and pads, which should be good for the next couple of years.

Nick KA1HPM secured call sign KAM for a special event station to honor Hiram Percy Maxim 150 birthday, co-founder of the ARRL.  The two day special event will take place September 2, from 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM.  Mark your calendars now!