HAM Radio 101

Hams You Should Know: Donald R. Farnsworth, W6TTB

CW (Continuous Wave) continues to be a popular and much-cherished amateur radio mode that captivates hams the world over for a variety of reasons. Ask a CW fan what fascinates them about sending and copying dits and dahs and they may tell you that Morse code is…

  • A practical tool for hunting DX
  • A great way to keep alive an important part of communications history that has been around for more than 170 years
  • A chance to collect and use cool antique equipment that still functions today
  • An opportunity to participate in high-level contests with like-minded operators
  • A valuable skill that will come in handy during an emergency
  • An absolute blast!

There’s another thing most hams will tell you about this mode, which is no longer a requirement to obtain your amateur radio license: Learning Morse code is a challenge—for most people, anyway. Despite hours of dedicated practice and mentoring, there are operators who will never quite get the hang of it, while some will top out at a respectable but unspectacular WPM clip. A handful of hams, though, will blaze a path to amateur radio glory at warp speed. Here’s an article about clubs that cater to those who, like the Road Runner, leave others in the proverbial dust…meep, meep (up to 60 WPM and faster):

Radio Telegraphy High Speed ClubsHow Fast Can You Go?

Which leads us to today’s Ham Radio Person of the Day, Donald R. “Russ” Farnsworth, W6TTB, SK, a blind amateur radio operator who is credited with inventing what has become known as the Farnsworth Method of learning Morse code.

Developed in the 1950s, this technique eschews the common training method of slowing down how fast characters are sent. Instead, additional spacing (silence) is inserted between characters to slow down the overall transmission, allowing listeners the time to interpret what they’ve heard before moving on to the next character. In theory, this allows novice operators to recognize and absorb the character patterns at a higher target speed, making it easier to increase speed as they progress. As the fledgling operator becomes more adept at copying, the amount of spacing is decreased until transmissions are sent with standard spacing between characters.

While the “spacing method” of learning Morse code bears Farnsworth’s name, records indicate that the man, himself, did not actually employ this technique in his teaching, choosing to send perfect Morse code of increasing complexity with no variations in spacing between characters. As noted in the book, Morse Code, the Essential Language, “The true origin of the Farnsworth Method is still a mystery…”

In contrast to the Farnsworth Method, the Koch Method (named after German psychologist Ludwig Koch) demands trainees to initially master only a couple of characters (at their desired speed) before additional characters are added, one by one, to the training regimen.

If you’re thinking about adding CW to your operating arsenal, here are some OnAllBands articles worth a read:

CW Operators Club Overview

Choosing a CW Key or Paddle: Understanding What’s Available

CW FISTS Club Overview

CW Contesting, Part 1 and Part 2

Finally, when you’re looking for a reliable CW equipment source, you can’t go wrong by visiting DXEngineering.com, where you’ll find keyspaddleselectronic keyers, code practice oscillator kits, and much more.

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