HSCW (or HSMS) is the technique of using very high-speed CW Morris code to
communicate and exchange short bits of information by using the many, many
underdense "pings" caused by the tiny meteors that constantly bombard our
(Note that the procedures and standards in this FAQ are based upon North American HSCW operation, which sometimes differ from European HSCW MS).
If you live in Europe, the Region1 HSCW Procedures are found at:
As you read this FAQ, you will find many WEB sites mentioned. A list of the URL's will be found at the very end of this paper.
During the peak of a major shower, when overdense trails produce frequent signals for several seconds, short-sequence and/or break-in SSB may be more efficient. But at all other times, when overdense trails are not available, HSCW is able to use the occasional and sometimes frequent underdense fractional-second pings to transmit the same amount of information.
Here are some typical examples:
(lpm = wpm x 5) [lpm, letters per minute; wpm, words per minute].
Typical CW 25 wpm 125 lpm
Fast CW 50 wpm 250 lpm (Limit of most "regular speed" MS operation)
Fast-talking SSB 100 wpm 500 lpm
Slow HSCW 200 wpm 1000 lpm (used mostly for CQ's in North America)
Kinda slow HSCW 400 wpm 2000 lpm (used for CQ's and schedules in North America)
Faster HSCW 800 wpm 4000 lpm (common schedule speed in North America)
Still faster HSCW 1200 wpm 6000 lpm (used for some skeds now)
Very fast HSCW 1600 wpm 8000 lpm (S/N Ratio becoming poor, but not that difficult)
Ultra fast HSCW 3200 wpm 16,000 lpm (not recommended, S/N Ratio bad. But has been done!)
You can see that even slow HSCW is *much* faster than most SSB operators can talk,
except maybe for those whose occupation is auctioneering! And receiver tuning and
signal strength requirements are not as tight.
Very short! In fact, for HSCW, pings or bursts longer than two or three seconds are exciting but are almost a nuisance! We'll leave it up to you do the actual math. But a 1/10th second ping can propagate a complete set of calls at the medium or higher speeds! This wouldn't even produce a full syllable on SSB!
Right. The idea is simple. Use a device to slow the code down to something readable. Then copy by ear what has come through.
For the past 20 years the European MS operators have been modifying standard audio-cassette recorder motors so that their speed could be varied. This worked well enough for speeds up to about 1500 lpm. Now there are computer programs that will do the same thing much better and at much higher speeds.
Hardly! It takes the incoming signal, saves it, slows it down, plays it back at a slower speed (and probably heterodynes it to a higher pitch for easier copying). The operator must still do the actual decoding of the signal. The computer or other device slows the speed down, but it is still up to the operator to dig it out of the noise and actually copy it. This is a skill that does not readily lend itself to a machine! While a machine could possibly be built to do this, the technical requirements would be very tight. The brain substitutes for all of this expensive and unavailable equipment!
Not necessarily. Using CoolEdit, a .WAV file editing program, it is possible to display and read the code visually off the screen. By using MSDSP, you can slow it down by 60 times.
But here's a real, recent example (12/97). Our daughter Val, licensed about
18 years ago, came for a visit. She didn't like code, had only half a dozen
CW QSO's as a Novice. Her real interest was emergency/public service work.
But seeing HSCW at work here fascinated her. She learned to use MSDSP in
15 minutes and also discovered that she still remembered some of the code.
In three schedules, she made three HSCW QSOs (at 5000 lpm - 1000 wpm) because
she could slow the code down. Since the signals were often down in the noise,
she could also play back a ping a second time to be sure what she had copied.
(On her third schedule, she transmitted at 8600 lpm and received at 8500 lpm,
making her not only the fastest woman in the world on CW, but now holding
the absolute world record for HSCW speeds, so far as is known).
Full account, with JPG photo, available on the W6/PA0ZN Hub WEB Site.
There are several computer programs that will generate HSCW code.
Programs commonly used for transmit-only at HSCW speeds include MSSOFT,
CWKey, and PCKEY.
MSSOFT can be found on the OH5IY Web site (this program
has many other parts besides the transmit portion and is needed for any type
of MS operation). This is used by many of the European HSCW operators.
PCKEY, which runs under DOS or a DOS window of W3.1, is perhaps one of the simplest to run and is very versatile. The documentation is not in English, but the Help screen is. It can be downloaded from the KD5BUR Web site and others.
CWKey, used by many EME operators, is currently being modified to also run at HSCW speeds. It is available on the W5UN Web site.
Also, there is at least one (MS_DSP by 9A4GL) that both transmits and does the receive conversion.
A programmable keyer, the CMOS Super Keyer 3 (August 1995 QST), is capable of speeds up to 5000 lpm.
And some are using CoolEdit, an audio .WAV file editing program, in a Windows95 environment, for both transmitting and receiving. (By the time you read this, the above notes may be out of date. See further questions below, the "Semi-Technical FAQ", and the links and notes from the main HSCW Web site on these and still other programs).
Few rigs can be keyed in the standard fashion at much more than 100 wpm (500 lpm); some won't sound good even that fast. The standard practice is to key a pure 2000 Hz audio tone and inject this into the mike jack. (Note - the speeds, tones, and procedures in this FAQ are the North American version. In Europe speeds are usually somewhat slower and some of the procedures and standards differ).
If properly done, it's CW, but with the zero-beat frequency offset from the dial reading by 2 kHz (with a 2000 Hz tone injected into the mike jack). Recall that on SSB, a single tone simply gives a steady, pure carrier output. Key this tone and you have a CW signal! In fact, this is the way a number of older SSB transmitters generated a CW signal! (By the way, this is actually designated as J2A emission).
Yes, it can be, and this cannot be helped. But remember, with modern rigs, when you switch to CW, your signal is also shifted about 800 Hz off frequency. More on the frequency determination problem is covered in a question below and also under the "Procedures", available at this Web site.
It actually started clear back in the 1950s with the pioneers of MS operation. They would transmit at higher speeds, record bursts onto reel-to-reel audio tape, then slow it down for playback. This was limited to a maximum of only a 2-times speed reduction, however (or 4 times, for those who had a 15-ips machine). This was too cumbersome and never caught on. Then about two decades ago the Europeans pioneered the technique of modifying the motor speed controller of a cheap audio cassette recorder. Because of the availability of SSB, this never was done much in North America. But in 1997, with the appearance of several computer programs that would emulate and go far beyond the capability of the modified audio recorders, HSCW suddenly surged into prominence over here.
We're sorry, too, for you really don't know what you're missing! But this FAQ was designed at the request of several VHF operators who have been on VHF DX for awhile, but had no knowledge about HSCW MS operating. A background on VHF and its many propagation modes has filled many books. If you can find one, Ed Tilton's"The Radio Amateur's VHF Manual" is still probably the best, even though it's many years out of print.
The equipment is much the same as needed for any other type of VHF DX operation. If you can operate SSB MS, aurora, or tropo DX, you probably have enough radio equipment for HSCW MS. A common setup would be a multi-mode two-meter transceiver, 150-watt amplifier, and medium-size horizontal beam. (All DX operation on VHF is done with horizontal polarization). Of course, more power is helpful. But HSCW has been successfully done with less than 10 watts into a medium-size Yagi at each end!
For the computer, a '386 or better with the usual peripherals should work. However, nearly all of the software available at this time does require a true Sound Blaster audio board. ( See some of the other questions for HSCW methods without a computer. Also see the "SEMI-TECHNICAL FAQ" for a more complete discussion on computers.
Like most other aspects of Amateur Radio, this depends upon what you presently have. If you are capable of operating MS, aurora, etc., you probably have a rig that is suitable for HSCW. Nearly all Hams have a computer, and many already use it in their routine operations. The one critical piece of equipment at this time is a true Creative Labs Sound Blaster stereo audio board. Most (all?) DSP programs of all types (and there are a number) utilize the Sound Blaster audio board for the conversion. The current HSCW programs are either freeware or shareware.
For twenty years the Europeans have been modifying cassette audio recorders. This works OK for up to about 1200-1500 lpm. (This would appear to be a simple, inexpensive method of receiving HSCW, but the conversion can be difficult on some cassette players. And you are limited to a maximum speed of about 1200 lpm. But it has worked for many years in Europe. If you have a computer, this is the recommended method at this time. If you do not and would like an evening project, give the modification a try. Conversion information is available on the N1BUG Web site). There is aGerman "Digital Tape Recorder, DTR" (emulator) kit available which is becoming popular in Europe. Because of its price and the fact that it is designed for European style HSCW operation, at this time none of the DTR's are known to be in operation in North America. See the Web sites for more.
The program used by most isMS_DSP (or MSDSP) by 9A4GL. It both transmits and receives, and has many enhancements. It currently is a beta version with some bugs, but it works well for most. (For more, see the "Semi-Technical FAQ") Also, about that time, a whole section devoted to MSDSP is planned for this Web site. However, a complete new DOS version [v 0.6x] should soon be available, so this project is on hold for the moment. Or link directly to the site which contains the program and 9A4GL's comments). 9A4GL is also planning to soon start on a complete new version, that will run under WIN95/NT only. Watch his Web site or the HSCW Reflector for announcements on this.
A second program, and the first one out, is SBMS, by DL3JIN at:
It is receive-only, no frills program, that runs either under DOS, in full screen DOS window or Windows 3.1. ( and probably WIN95 ) Some have had problems understanding the need for the virtual RAM disk, and there is a simpler method of setting it up. Read the documentation carefully or see the "Semi-Technical FAQ" for more on this.
A program used by a number of operators is CoolEdit.
This is a wave file editor,
not a HSCW program. But it can be used (under WIN95, with a fast computer) for
both sending and receiving. While more awkward for many (and it requires the
version of the program which runs under Windows 95), many are using it quite
successfully. This is the "visual" means of decoding the HSCW.
See the K0SM
Web site for more.
There is supposed to be one other receiver program known, but no data is available on it at
this time. And it is expected that within the next year or two, several more
programs will be available. The two programs, PCKEY and MSSOFT ( with its many other features )
do not receive but transmit only. See the other questions here, the "Semi-Techical FAQ",
and the links for the various WEB sites for more.
There is supposed to be one other receiver program known, but no data is available on it at this time. And it is expected that within the next year or two, several more programs will be available. The two programs, PCKEY and MSSOFT ( with its many other features ) do not receive but transmit only. See the other questions here, the "Semi-Techical FAQ", and the links for the various WEB sites for more.
Most definitely! But at this time (February 1998), all available software is in a state of development and flux. Whatever we recommend now may be out of date in another 6 months. Check the several Web pages to see what is current. The W6/PA0ZN HSCW Section is the primary Web site for North America. Start there, follow the links.
Meteor scatter operation is unlike any other type of operation! If you are not
familiar with it, you will have problems understanding what is being done on
either SSB or HSCW! There are two articles that are *necessary* for understanding
what MS is all about. The primary article is still the one by Walt Bain, W4LTU,
published in QST for May 1974.
A second necessary article is
and available for $12 US plus S & H from ARRL (Book #4025).Joe Reisert, W1JR also had a major article on meteor scatter in Ham Radio, June 1984. Getting and studying these articles is worth more now than trying to improve your equipment, if you are unfamiliar with MS operation, or with VHF DX in general! More references on Meteor Scatter are given in the "Semi-Technical FAQ".
Most MS operation of all types is done on two meters. At this time
(March 1998), HSCW operation on 50 MHz is starting to become common.
However, first indications are that random HSCW in the ranges of 500-1000
miles (800-1600 km) on 50 MHz is almost too easy because of the number of
pings. It appears that six-meter HSCW might be an interesting "Rover" mode
of operation. Tests are expected soon to see if HSCW would allow
double-hop MS during showers on six.
MS operation on 222 and 432 is more difficult, and because of this has been done almost exclusively during showers. For more, see the article by W4LTU mentioned previously. But there should soon be regular HSCW operation on all four of these bands.
For receiving with a computer, you simply run an audio line to the input of the Sound Blaster audio board. A series capacitor to both drop the level and to block lower pitches will probably be necessary, but see both the "Semi-Techncal FAQ" and the file on MSDSP for some details on this. Check also the N1BUG WEB site for possible circuits. (If possible, use the Line input. The SB audio's Mike input will also work if you need the gain, but you won't have quite as much control in some cases). For transmitting, two different methods are used. Two computer programs(MSDSP and K7CACW) produce their own keyed tones, but by very different methods. These tones can usually be fed directly into the mike jack (again through a small capacitor to block DC voltages and to pass only the higher tones). Several other programs produce a keyed output at the RS-232 port. This requires a simple interface and an audio oscillator, that produces clean sine waves. The most common oscillator uses an XR-2206 function IC. These schematics, and others, can be found on several of the Web sites, especially N1BUG's. More information is also available in the "Semi-Technical FAQ".
There are rumored to be several. But the only one we know of that is used widely is theCMOS Super Keyer 3, mentioned previously.
The usual sked exchange is about the same as in any other MS contact - or any other brief contest-type contact. Exchange of calls, exchange of signal report (or grid square, for some contests), confirmation of reception, and usually (though not required for a contact) "73" or similar to let the other station know that it is complete. In North America, a one-minute period is most commonly used, with the Western-most station calling the first period on the hour and half hour. CQ's are normally called on 144.100, +/- 2. However, during times of expected heavy activity, the CQ-Letter system is used, where a letter is added to tell where the QSO will actually take place. For example, CQF means that the station who hears the CQ is to call and listen exactly 6 hKz higher than where the CQ is being called. See the "Procedures" posted on the W6/PA0ZN Web pages.
Be careful here! This could be a loaded question, and could result in an important DX contact being disallowed if it is needed for an award (contest, VUCC, WAS, etc.). Some years ago the ruling was made that it is NOT legal to have any other means of communication (i.e., Internet chat page, HF, landline, etc.) during a sked. Once a sked (or random contact) is started, it must be continued until the end, whether successful or unsuccessful. If, at the end of a sked, contact is then made with the other station by another means, they confirm that much of the data has been exchanged, and it is agreed to continue the sked, the ruling stated that the contact must be re-started from the beginning.
None of us made the ruling, and we aren't even sure of its origin or details. And we really can't speak about what happens on other modes and frequencies or go into fine details. Questions about details of this ruling would have to be directed to specific advisory committees that made it.
On HSCW, nearly all skeds are made using the Internet (via the HSCW Reflector, The "Hot Rocks" page (and others in that series) have become very popular for making skeds and finding out what the other station heard. This (and the HF Net that is currently being discussed for 14.345) should be used to request and make skeds, and to see what the other station(s) have heard. But to use it (or HF, the landline, etc.) during the middle of a sked apparently is not cricket. Note that the main exchange of HSCW information, questions, sked requests, and everything else takes place ONLY on the HSCW REFLECTOR. If you 're interested at all in HSCW, you really should sign up for it. Simply send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org and put as the text subscribe hsms.
Impossible to say, for the list of active stations is growing so rapidly. It started in North America with only two or three in June, 1997, and has been growing at the rate of about one or two new stations becoming active each week since then. The most current list is usually found on both the N1BUG and the W6/PA0ZN Web sites (it uses PCFile, also available there; or can be read into Excel or a similar database program). By the way - when you YOU are about QRV, be sure to send your data to N1BUG at his e-mail address so that you can be added to the list.
Shower? The Europeans have a saying, "We make our own showers!" They mean that there are so many on HSCW in Europe and it is so effective in utilizing only the few random pings from sporadics that they do more during non-shower periods than we usually do during major showers! Of course, having the extra meteors of a shower is certainly a help. Not just the 3 or 4 "major" or most popular showers, but even the minor showers can be plenty of an enhancement for HSCW. Again, see the articles by W4LTU and W9IP, etc.
Good question. There would appear to be several reasons. Packet, as usually used on VHF, is a strong-signal mode. Even during the peak of the biggest showers, it is next to impossible to complete a QSO using it (though it has been done a few times). Some of the more "robust" digital modes used on HF would appear to have a much better chance. But remember that with HSCW, you are dealing with only a few fractional-second pings near the noise level, during non-shower periods, any day of the year. As the late W1FZJ always said, "The best filter is the one between the ears." The human brain can take the place of whole racks of multi-megabuck equipment. Besides, for many, it's more satisfying, keeping the operator as the most important part of the "decoding equipment". HSCW allows the operator, with a little help from his friendly station computer, to make VHF DX contacts at times when nothing else can do it.
Put it on USB (for both transmit and receive), normal SSB filter, turn OFF any audio compressor, AGC to Fast or OFF. If you have an IF Shift control, move it so that the no-signal white noise is quite high in pitch (the signal you will be working with needs to to have a tone of 1500-2000 Hz or higher). The frequency setting, since you are sending CW in USB mode, can be confusing. The "Zero Beat" frequency is the USB dial frequency plus the injected tone frequency. Thus, as an example, for a schedule on 144.157, and using a 2000 Hz tone (standard but not universal in North America), you would put the transmitter dial on 144.155. The receiver dial would also be set on 144.155, then the RIT would probably be moved slightly, to perhaps 144.155.5, until it was determined by the tone of the first pings exactly where it should be put. So frequencies may be specified either by the "ZeroBeat method" (144.157 ZB), or by the "dial setting method" (144.155 +2000 Hz). Both are, and no doubt will continue to be, in common use. While the "Zero Beat Method" is preferred, either is OK. But you MUST state which you are using. (And this is one reason CQ's are stated as usually being on 144.100, +/- 2 kHz). True this is confusing. But this is the least confusing way of doing way of doing it at this time! Several methods have been tried to "simplify" this and they have failed! So understand what you are doing, then each time state the method used. For more on frequencies, as well as the "CQ-Letter" system which is in common use, see the "Procedures" paper on W6/PA0ZN's Web page at:
One more note here. Once you have put your transmitter on a schedule
frequency, if you discover that you have put it on the wrong freq by about
one kHz, do NOT change the transmitter's frequency (unless, of course, you
are more than a kHz or two from the proper freq). The reason, of course, is
that once the other station finds you, he will likely never tune around for
you if you change your transmit frequency. But be sure to tune back and
forth +/- 2 kHz with the RECEIVER if you don't find the station early in the
For more on the subject, see the "Semi-Technical FAQ".
That's really a very smart question. Many times it's difficult to be sure just what information was actually on a weak SSB ping. If you're alert enough to save it into a buffer of MSDSP, you then can immediately replay it (at normal speed, of course) to be sure of what you thought you heard.
See the list of Web pages (and follow the links to other pages). and remember to check them occasionally, as HSCW is growing so rapidly that is has been imppossibleto keep up with the developments. If the bug is biting, join the HSCW reflector and read the constant flow of messages as skeds, technical questions and tips, etc are being exchanged. And look at the "Hot Rocks" WEB page for postings of skeds or CQ periods going on in real time. ( Again follow the links ) A listing of some follow. Bur remember that these change, they come and go. If you do not find what you want on the first try, follow another linked reference. Or contact one of the stations who seem to be active on HSCW. A full length article is to be in QST for April 1998.
Sorry about that, Chief! But find one, and it should then link you into
The problem is, right at this time (02/98), nearly all of the HSCW Web sites are being heavily revised because of the rapid growth of HSCW and the i nflux of new material. Whatever we put here will probably be out of date by the time you read it. But, so much as the Webmasters themselves can keep up, they will attempt to have links to each other and to the main Hub site (above). So you should still be able to get to where you need to go. Don't forget that if you get a "site unknown" type of message, try backing up a little on the URL and try it again. For example, if you should type http://nitehawk.com/rasmit/ws1_15.html and it doesn't work, delete the last part and try again for his home page