This cartoon I drew for “Morse Code: The Essential Language” by L. Peter Carron Jr., W3DKV, reminded me of how you know you’ve hit warp speed copying CW: You hear whole words instead of just letters.
When I earned my Novice ticket in 1973, it was all I could do to count the dits and dahs to copy CW. It kept me slow — but, fortunately, there were lots of other newbies in the Novice bands at the time who were just as slow as I was to keep me company.
At some point, I started recognizing whole letters, and I got a little faster. But it wasn’t until I started hearing whole words — at least, the short common ones like “the,” “it” and “for” — that CW started to feel comfortable.
These days, when I’m not on PSK31 I operate CW almost exclusively. I rarely use my microphone on HF. As a casual ham, I’m hardly a speed demon, but I am fast enough (around 20 wpm when I work at it) to have fun with a key. It’s also made me very popular at Field Day (CW contacts score higher).
How do you get that fast? It’s the same way you get to Carnegie Hall: practice, practice, practice.
“Morse Code: The Essential Language” was published by the American Radio Relay League but has long since gone out of print. It’s still available online, often in used editions. If you’re into CW, it’s worth seeking out.