Of Code and Contests

A portion of an email I sent to a local (Texas) ham who had been talking about learning the code and doing some contesting:

One of best times I ever had was at the old ROOST location, about 9 years ago, when we were doing a CW contest.
We were on 160 meters very late one night when all of a sudden the electronic keyer  went out! I quickly went out to my car and came back with an old 1950’s Romanian straight key (I still use this key now and then). Now , mind you, we were doing a CW contest with the keyer at about 35-40 wpm. The fastest you can do code with a straight key is about 25 wpm. Although it slowed down our rate, it was fun to see Jon, the president of ROOST at that time, shake off his “rusty fist”. I usually use a straight key, so I just hummed along. It was really enjoyable.
If you ever see Danny, WA5KRP, at any meeting, ask him abt the time we did a CQ WW WPX (SSB) contest at his house, I was taking a break, laying down while others took their turns at making contacts and logging. He could not get over how I kept shouting out the callsigns of the other stations while he was having problems getting their calls correct. It’s just a matter of getting used to it. The best “filters” you’ll ever have in ham radio are your ears. The only way you become adept at it is by jumping in and contesting.
Quite a number of hams increase their copy speed during Field Day where they can act as a back up logger in the CW tent. They’ll first pick up a letter or two and it builds from there. They can get this done by sitting next to the person doing the copying and hearing as he copies the call. The exchanges during a CW contest are very short. There is a rhythm to it.  It isn’t like rag chewing on CW like I used to do.
 You’ll be surprised at how quickly you’ll pick it up.   Back when you had to know code, a lot of novices would try their hand at the “ARRL Novice Round-Up” . By the end of the contest they usually had increased their speed and comprehension to the point where they could pass the 13 WPM general test. This was the reason for the contest in the first place! 
(You can also try “Straight Key Night” on new years day.)

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