High Speed Telegraphy on the World Stage


The October 1936 issue of QST reported on the first official "Amateur Code Speed Contest" ever held. Eugene A. Hubbell, W9ERU, took home the silver trophy with his winning speed of 52.2 words per minute. Held at the ARRL Central Division Convention that year, the contest required operators to decipher plain language text for two minute intervals that ranged in speed from 25 to 52.7 words per minute. "Only bona-fide amateurs, holding at least an amateur operator's license, were eligible" to compete in the contest, the article stated.

Fast forward to 1995. Competitors from 15 countries on three continents traveled to Siofok, Hungary to show off their CW operating skills in the first IARU High Speed Telegraphy (HST) World Championship. According to Barry Kutner, W2UP, HST has long been considered a sport in Europe, especially Eastern Europe, similar to chess or an Olympic sport. Kutner was the sole US representative at the 2005 HST World Championship in Macedonia. In 2009, he is leading a team of seven this September to Obzor, Bulgaria for the Eighth High Speed Telegraphy IARU World Championship.

Kutner said that most of the participating IARU Member-Societies hold a national competition in their country, seeking members to field and sponsor a team to the World Championship. "In some of the eastern European countries, where they take this very seriously, there are team and/or individual coaches, too," he said. Competitors must be licensed Amateur Radio operators, except entrants in the younger categories may be SWLs. The IARU HST World Championships follow rules set forth by the IARU Region 1 High Speed Telegraphy Working Group.

In the US, Kutner said there really isn't much of an interest in HST, so those who wish to participate in the World Championship must do so at their own expense. "In past years, there has either been one -- myself in 2005 and Ilya Kleyman in 2007 -- or no US participants," he told the ARRL. "This year, we have a team!"

The US team consists of shortwave listener Brana Kleyman (category A, women 16 and younger); Kody Low, KB3RUP, and Cal Darula, K0DXC (category B, men 16 and younger); Ilya Kleyman, KE7OPG, and Ken Low, NV1P (category H, men age 40-49), and Gary Schmidt, W5ZL, and Kutner (Category I, men 50 and older). "The 2 OM categories are full," Kutner said. "But we are always looking for younger hams, especially young ladies!" There are nine categories, and each country can only send two competitors per category, for a maximum of 18 competitors.

The Competition

There are three main competitive events at HST meets: Transmitting, receiving and receiving Amateur Radio call signs via RUFZxp; the sending and receiving portions of the competition are referred to as the Radioamateur Practicing Tests (RPT). There is also a pileup competition.

In the RPT, random letters and numbers are sent via Morse code -- five characters at a time -- at a high speed. Separate competitions are held for the reception of only the 26 letters of the Latin alphabet, only the 10 Arabic numerals or a mixed content of letters, numbers and some punctuation symbols. Competitors may choose to record the text by hand on paper or by typing on a computer keyboard. The competition starts with one minute of transmission sent at an initial speed defined for the entry category (usually 50 letters per minute for juniors and 80 letters per minute for the other age categories). After each test, the competitors' copy is judged for errors. Subsequent tests are each conducted at an increased speed until no competitor remains who can copy the text without excessive error.

The transmission tests require competitors to send five character groups in Morse code as fast as possible. Competitors send a printed message of five character groups at a specific speed that is judged for its accuracy by a panel of referees. Like the receiving tests, there are separate competitions for sending five character groups of only letters, only numbers or a mixed content of letters, numbers and some punctuation symbols.

Kutner noted that 100 letters per minute is equivalent to 25 words per minute and 100 numbers per minute is equal to 36 words per minute. The mixed category of 100 letters, numbers and punctuation is equal to 29 words per minute.

The Amateur Radio Call Sign Receiving Test uses a software program called RufzXP that generates a score for each competitor. Rufz is the abbreviation of the German word Rufzeichen-Hören that means "listening of call signs." In RufzXP, competitors listen to an Amateur Radio call sign sent in Morse code and must enter that call sign with the computer keyboard. If the competitor types in the call sign correctly, their score improves, and the speed at which the program sends subsequent call signs increases. If the competitor types in the call sign incorrectly, the score is penalized and the speed decreases. Only one call sign is sent at a time and the event continues for a fixed number of call signs (usually 50). Competitors can choose the initial speed at which the program sends the Morse code and the winner is the competitor with the highest generated score.

There is also a Pileup Trainer Test that simulates a pileup situation on the air -- numerous stations attempt to establish two-way contact with one particular station at the same time. This competition uses a software program called MorseRunner. In this test, more than one amateur radio call sign is sent at a time via Morse code that is generated at different audio frequencies and speeds, timed to overlap each other. Competitors must record as many of the call signs as they can during a fixed period of time. They may choose to do this either by recording the call signs by hand on paper or by typing them in with a computer keyboard. The winner is the competitor with the most correctly recorded call signs.

Off to Bulgaria!

Kutner said that each US team member practices on an individual basis, using both on-the-air and computer generated CW. As the team gears up for Bulgaria, "we are in frequent contact via e-mail, exchanging tips and ideas," he said.

HST has definitely come a long way since 1936 when Hubbell dazzled the crowds with 52.2 words per minute; competitors at the IARU HST World Championships consistently have speeds of more than 500 characters per minute -- 100 words per minute. While it's too late to join the 2009 US team, it's not too early to think about upcoming events. If you are able to copy and/or send CW at dizzying speeds, why not think about attending the next IARU HST World Championship? For more information on HST events, contact Kutner via e-mail.