Does Your CW Signal Have Bad Breath?
by Mike Bray, K8DDB

GULP! Gosh, does it? Whattcha talkin' about, Willis!?

Do you ever wonder why, after sending CQ for hours on end, no one answers? Or why, when you answer another operator's CQ you wind up with silence when you turn it over to him? Maybe your signal has bad breath. After all, why would someone answer your call if there are other more attractive signals to choose from? Now, don't take it personally - maybe your signal is just fine and there are other factors that are causing the problem, but here are some things that you can check if you want to be sure:

Is your rig producing good CW or does it have the appeal of un-brushed teeth? Does each note sound well formed or is it full of chirps and clicks? Listen to your signal on another receiver or have an honest friend tell you how it sounds.

Too much or too little weight making it impossible for anyone to copy ...but you?

Is your signal rock-steady or does it drift up and down the band causing the other operator to chase you with his RIT? Is it so bad that after a while you start to interfere with another QSO that was a couple kilohertz away when you started your QSO?

How is your CW fist? Are the characters well formed, with proper spacing between them? Do you send those extra dits because your bug is set incorrectly or your keyer speed is set too fast for your ability to send? Or worse yet, you've done it so often that now you think that extra dit belongs there! We humans are not perfect, far from it, but if your fist has one or more of these problems, you should endeavor to correct it.

Is your sending speed compatible with the other operator's receiving ability? If you answer a CQ, your CW should be sent at the same speed that the CQ was sent. If the other operator asks for a lot of repeats, try slowing down a little and see if that helps.

Let's be honest when we give our signal reports during a normal QSO (contests are another thing altogether). If the signal does not deserve an RST of 599, don't send it. Tell it like it is!

Those that are blessed with a good fist or have the knowledge of how to correct rig problems should offer their help to those that are experiencing CW Bad Breath. But, please be gentle about how we tell the other operator how he could improve - we don't want to lose a CW operator! Our aim should be to improve the art of telegraphy on the amateur bands. I'll be the first to admit that my CW is not perfect, but I surely would like it to be. Let's improve our fist and equipment and be a CW signal to be sought after.

Author's Note:

This article was written in frustration when one of my QRP rigs was experiencing "a slight frequency shift". The problem was intermittant, and sometimes would not reoccur for weeks or even months. At this writing, the problem has not yet been resolved, but I'm making progress in narrowing it's source. Honest signal reporting has made me aware of the problem and has helped me to troubleshoot it.