CQ CQ CQ #HamRadio Sunday: Morse and a bite from the past

I’ve finally gotten serious about Morse Code for CW.  My goal: get up to speed with Morse so I can do CW on a an extremely portable QRP rig.

In past summers I had set myself a goal of one license a summer.  But I have relaxed and it is time to do MORSE.

Meanwhile, I’m checking ZedNet more often as well.  More HERE.  And, to get yourself going, WB0YLE gave me a Bill of Materials.  A list of what you need.  HERE

And this came up on my screen.  From the past….

You never know what use we may need to make of radio, especially low power, in the future.  For a while now I’ve been thinking about how to network with Catholic hams, even dioceses.  Ham radio is useful in emergencies.  What if we were faced with The Big Emergency?


nce upon a time… in his Tiny House at the Sheltered Glade, Father stays in touch by CW with the faithful priests and the few Catholic bishops left on the continent through the Catholic net they had prudently formed when everything was hunky-dory.

Before the Collapse.

He carefully transcribes bishops’ brief pastoral letters and sermons along with messages to other priests and faithful in the area, and then relays them to other hams at times and frequencies scheduled by consulting the fifth letter and third number on certain pages of the 1962 Roman Missal.  It’s a little maddening to work out the coded schedule, but it has to be done this way.

Father finds it a little harrowing to have the headphones on and to be buried in the static and the flow of the code.  You can hear what’s going outside in the world, but you can’t hear what’s going on outside the house.  Ironic.  Scary, but ironic.

The transmissions are over. Tidying his work space his mind drifts to the day back before the SHTF when he had the bishop out to the Tiny House.  He used the Roman Ritual to bless the radio equipment.  He could have done it himself, but it’s better to have the bishop see what had been organized and do it himself. It was a beautiful prayer…

God, who ordered all things in creation in a marvelous way, determining even their measure, number, and weight; and who gave man a share in your knowledge, thus enabling him to detect and control the latent forces with which you endowed the things of the universe; be pleased, we pray, to bless + these instruments made for transmitting wavelengths of sound through the air, spreading out in all directions as instantaneously as lightning. Let them carry messages of aid in times of crises, of solace in times of distress, of advice in times of doubt, of light in times of darkness, and thus make known the glory of your name more widely throughout the world that all its peoples may be gathered into the fellowship of your love; through Christ our Lord.

Father shuts down the radio and power source. With practiced speed he secures the door to the lower level punching the code, closes the vault-like door of the ground level storage area and slips on the pre-sorted chest rig and camelbak pack. He double checks his mags and the batteries for the handheld, slings the 5.56 AR-15, and then scans through the ballistic glass windows for a few minutes before closing the steel shutters.

Saftety off.  Exit.  Scan.

He stands perfectly still, listening.  Looking.

Minutes pass.

Nothing out of place comes to his senses.

As he locks the door he recalls with regret – and a rise of the hair on his arms – the smell of the men who were around the corner of the house.  And what followed.

The first step away from the Tiny House always gives him the creeps now.

Shrugging his gear into place he sets out with a glance up at the nearly invisible wires of the various dipole antennas strung amidst the branches of the trees.

He points himself toward the Appointed Place for Holy Mass on the Rock By The Stream.  It usually takes a full day to get there, Deo volente.

He blesses the stone-piled graves as he moves down the path in the forest. “Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord…”.

As he gets in range of the Appointed Place, he should be able to contact one of the hams in the area who will relay his arrival via the GMRS and FRS radios people have. That’s a security hole, but they have to do something to let people know when to gather.

Besides, things have been calm lately but you can’t have people just waiting around.

In the early days there were packs of dogs who weren’t afraid of people.  There were gangs of marauders and desperate families and individuals who had survived the chaos, starvation and disease. Then came the true wolf packs.

The individuals and families were thinned out by now, but he had heard there were still some gangs and, as the chaos settled, who ever was “in charge” these days had starting hunting priests again.

“Not this priest!”, he muttered.

There are probably going to be a few baptisms and maybe a marriage or two this time.  At least he hopes so.  It’s about time they tie the knot and have the graces of the sacraments.  Since the Collapse, things have been … intense… for young people and pretty much without the benefit of clergy. Often without any relatives at all, poor things.  But a lot of them, the ones who didn’t succumb to despair, found Religion.  They have the Faith now.  Total disaster helps people sort their values.

People in the Catholic net are pretty serious.

This week at the Appointed Place he should also rendezvous with a contact conveying wine through the underground.  He is to keep some for his own use and collect messages and news for the net to be broadcast.  The messages are one thing, but it always surprises him that the wine gets through.  But it does.  He had made some from regional grapes but it was better suited for hand to hand combat than Mass.  Brutal but valid.

The building project at the Rock by the Stream is going well.  Pretty soon they’ll have to think about what to call the chapel.  “Should I try to get the bishop to come?”, he mused.  “It’s a hike and he isn’t young.”

Mostly, Father didn’t like the idea of the bishop saying that it was time for him to be consecrated.  He shivered.

Eyes moving.  Not too fast.   Stop.  Listen.  Nothing.

Keep moving.

“O God, Who did cause the children of Israel to traverse the Red Sea dryshod; Thou Who did point out by a star to the Magi the road that led them to Thee; grant to me I beseech Thee, a prosperous journey and propitious weather; so that, under the guidance of Thy holy angels I may safely reach my journey’s end, and later the haven of eternal salvation.  Hear, O Lord, the prayers of Thy servants. Bless their journeyings. Thou Who art everywhere present, shower everywhere upon them the effects of Thy mercy; so that, insured by Thy protection against all dangers, they may return to offer Thee their thanksgiving. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Next week it’ll be time again to hike up the Big Rocky Hill with a portable rig and antenna for a scheduled DX contact from “Rome”, wherever “Rome” may be now.

He had an inkling that some big decisions had been made.

Okay, that’s enough of that.

I am still securing some useful items.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. teomatteo says:

    From A Canticle for Zeebowitz I reckon?

  2. JTH says:

    Father, perhaps when you have time you’ll write a non-fiction book. I’d enjoy reading it.

  3. JTH says:

    I meant fiction book.

  4. Fryer Eric says:

    Wow, what a “coincidence”: I had decided last night to start practicing CW again, and actually begin to build the QCX kit that’s been sitting in my parts drawer for 2 years. Time to make some progress.

  5. Charles E Flynn says:

    K1OIK presents CW for the beginning ham (video: 10 min. 22 sec.)

  6. Uxixu says:

    General ham here since 2014 and just recently got an Elecraft KX3 for QRP, with a desire for Summit on the Air aka SOTA. Don’t know a lick of Morse code though have had the desire to learn for CW. As it is, I can use a laptop or smartphone connected and have an application do the translation.

    Very interested in data modes, as well.

    Should be a wonderful way not only for emergencies but to hopefully help spread the Gospels and traditional Catholic faith.

  7. Ave Maria says:

    Father, have you been reading Michael O’Brien again?

  8. exNOAAman says:

    Guess all the secret antennas dodging those stupid HOA restrictions are good practice. There’s more of them than we think.
    There was supposed to be a St. Max Kolbe net on 3.814 MHz, followed by a K of C net. Don’t know if it’s still true, but see this link:

    There was said to be a large yagi atop the chancery of (corrupt) AB Mahony W6QYI of L.A.
    So, you know who could be listening.

    [I know His Eminence is a ham. I wonder if he still operates.]

  9. exNOAAman:

    actually worked +Mahony once a long time ago, before he retired, on 20M phone. Very nice QSO, all above-board and quite a pleasant encounter (personal feelings about his theological orientation notwithstanding).

    Also count K2ORS (my first QSO as a 13-year-old freshly minted novice-class ham; my elmer was his engineer on WOR who lived down the street from me…), K7UGA, and KB2GSD among the entries in my logbook (remember having to keep them?). Out of all the activities I’ve been involved with in my life…ham radio has, without a doubt, transcended things which would tend to divide us by a common interest which though solitary in execution, ties us together through what Arthur C Clarke would probably describe as magic.

    Digital mode access can be (these days) as small as a Zippo lighter. And, Zednet is now linked via Allstar/Asterisk, Wires-X, and DMR into one network. Adding D-Star and P25 in the next revision. All accessible via analog and digital. Amazing stuff going on with Cycle 24 dead and 25 not even stirring yet. We’ll make it happen…hams always do, somehow.

    73 de wb0yle/w2fuv
    Allstar node 28868 linked to
    Zednet DMR TG 31429 linked to
    Wires-X Room 28598

  10. OssaSola says:

    Write the book! In installments if you must, but please write the book!

  11. exNOAAman says:

    The humble Mr. Bryan is not a name-dropper, so I’ll go out on the limb and translate the callsigns for the benefit of other readers…
    …K2ORS was a famous radio guy but may be best known for writing The Christmas Story movie of 1983. Nicknamed Shep.
    K7UGA was a US senator from AZ who ran for prez in 1964 (I think). He was a super ham, and very giving person. Well liked, revered in radio.
    KB2GSD was polled as the “most trusted anchorman in America”, while at CBS. Some called him uncle Walter. He was not a very active ham, and get this….a few windbags over on qrz.com say nobody knows anyone who ever worked him! They must not be reading Fr. Z.
    …. Link: https://forums.qrz.com/index.php?threads/walter-cronkite-kb2gsd.624932/

    All 3 gentlemen are silent keys, (SK), i.e. deceased.
    (Hope I got those right. The calls are expired)

  12. JonPatrick says:

    Started working on learning the code. I am using the Koch method where you start out at the speed you want to be able to send at (I chose a modest 15 wpm at least for now) but you start with only 2 characters (M and K in this case) and once you get your error rate down below 10% you add one more character, rinse and repeat. I am up to 4 characters (I am a slow auditory learner).

    Have mostly been working HF phone, made a few contacts, plus the local 2m repeater and am joining the local ham club that runs it. I am also going to study for my Extra now that I am retired and have time. Haven’t got into the digital modes yet, I have to go back and review and see if I can figure out how to get onto Zednet.

  13. JonPatrick says:

    I remember K7UGA as a 14yo fascinated by the campaign paraphernalia and I recall the bumper sticker “K7UGA in ’64”. I might have had on in my collection. For Chemists there was also
    “AuH2O in ’64”.

    Ended up working at the campaign office of the Republican candidate for Lt. Governor of our liberal state and remember asking why we never said anything about Goldwater in our campaign literature and learned an important lesson about politics and liberal vs conservative even within the same party.

  14. arga says:

    All very reminiscent of Benson’s _Lord of the World_ of which I was also reminded by the Taylor Marshall/Mazza discussion of the theoretical separation of the papal munus from its traditional geographical placement in Rome. In Benson’s novel, as I recall, the Roman pontiff had to relocate to the Holy Land after Rome was captured by the enemy.

  15. The Masked Chicken says:

    My father had the amateur Extra Class license (back when it was a really prestigious license) with a code speed of (approximately) 25 wpm. He repaired the radios for the railroad. I learned Morse code back then, but never got fast enough for a novice license (which was much tougher to get, in those days). I, still, like to listen to shortwave (I have a nice Grundig receiver) and, recently, I have taken to listening to Ham bands (which does not require a license). I do not have a receiver, but for anyone who wants to listen to the bands, there are a number of websites with listening privileges. One good site is:


    I thought I would write some software to decode Morse code signals, but, apparently, several people beat me to it:


    I may get a Novice class license in the future, but I have no money to buy equipment, so I am in no rush.

    The Chicken

  16. TonyO says:

    I hope Fr. Z considers, for the next installment of his apocalyptic(ish) novel, the likelihood that these current protests and riots are actually being used by our true opponents (the Powers and Dominions, and those humans deliberately associating themselves with those) to (a) gauge the present ripeness for the “next stage”, and (b) to fine-tune methods and tactics to be employed in the next stage. At some point, they will be actively shooting for bringing down the civil governments themselves, and/or converting them directly into autocratic despotisms that will (for example) outlaw all religion except the “one world religion” a la Benson. They weren’t seriously aiming for that THIS round, we aren’t yet ripe for that stage… but we inch closer and closer, and last weeks events illustrate that fact: the crazies are listened to by far too large a percentage of the populace.

    My guess is that at some point they will hit some cusp situation where enough of the population is drinking the kool-aid of anarchism / anti-government, to either create full-scale social breakdown, or to generate such a ridiculously over-the-top reaction by authorities that the re-reaction triggers some version of a revolution. (Arguably, though, the COVID effect on schools will push enough people to homeschool that the number of kids remaining in the hands of the numbing brainwashing liberal schools will shrink. Enough? No way to know.)

  17. Semper Gumby says:

    Thanks for the links Charles E Flynn and MC.

    General question: Some personnel overseas are interested in a Ham license and CW. Some will not rotate back for several years, but will be in CONUS occasionally for a couple of weeks. What can be accomplished in that situation. Thank you.

  18. Semper: Quite a lot. Depending on the location there may be scheduled exams where these folks will be. However, because of the special circumstances and because these folks are military on a tight calendar, I’d bet a few ham examiners would be willing to administer special license exams to accommodate them.

    Meanwhile they should study! There are great online materials and books/materials available for each of the three levels. An eager beaver could study for all three and take them one after another in the exam (provided he passes the first etc.).

    Where there is a will there is a way. My experience with hams is that they will pitch in to help when possible.

    Does that help?

  19. Semper Gumby says:

    Fr. Z: Very helpful, thank you.

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