Ringing in the New Year

It’s been my custom to start the new year with some QRP-portable operating. For various reasons, I missed the past two years. One of my New Year’s resolutions (well… my only resolution) was to start this year off right.

I headed out to a nearby county park but that was a bust. The County closed the park for the holiday. So, I turned around and paid another visit to nearby Black Rock Sanctuary near Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. This was the same park I operated from on Christmas Eve.

The temperatures today were well above normal for this time of year. The moderate temperatures, however, also brought some antenna-bending wind gusts. My 19-foot vertical swayed in the wind but still performed well.

My somewhat cluttered operating position inside my truck.New Year's Day at Black Rock Sanctuary near Phoenixville, Pennsylvania.
My somewhat cluttered operating position inside my truck.New Year’s Day at Black Rock Sanctuary near Phoenixville, Pennsylvania.

My focus today was making some SKCC contacts and I wasn’t disappointed. With Straight Key Night (SKN) still in progress, there were a bunch of SKCC members on the air this afternoon. Some seemed to be collecting SKCC numbers, while others were looking for SKN contacts. I was more than happy to accommodate both.

Most of the activity seemed to be on 40M and that’s where I made all my contacts today. I called CQ and received a steady stream of callers. I stayed for about an hour and a half and ended up with a dozen SKCC members in my log. The best “DX” of the day was Arkansas on 40M.  Three of the contacts were new ones in my SKCC log, so 2019 is off to a decent start (for me, at least).

The walking path at Black Rock Sanctuary.
The walking path at Black Rock Sanctuary.

For some reason, my antenna attracted more curious passersby than usual today. I’m always happy to entertain their questions. I’m always ready to give them my “30-second elevator speech” about ham radio and what I’m doing. I’ll expound on this topic in a future post.

So, from my shack to yours, have a very happy new year. I look forward to hearing you on the air in 2019.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Christmas Eve QRP-Portable

For a variety of reasons, I’ve been pretty much missing in action, radio-wise, for the past few weeks. Today I took a brief break from the holiday preparations to scratch my QRP-portable itch.

I drove out to nearby Black Rock Sanctuary in Phoenixville, PA; a place I haven’t operated from in a while. Except for a few dog walkers, I had the place to my self. It was cloudy, windy, and cold, so I stayed in the relative warmth of my truck with my 19-foot vertical mounted on the back.

My operating location at Black Rock Sanctuary
My operating location at Black Rock Sanctuary

I fired up the KX3 on 40M and made a couple of quick SKCC contacts with K1NIE in Ohio and K1EDG up in Maine. I tuned down to 7.030 and answered W9KY’s CQs from Indiana. Our signals weren’t very strong but we had a nice ragchew.

Next, I called CQ on 20M a few times and N0KCJ in Minnesota gave me a call. He was using a 3-foot loop in his shack. Cool! We got in a couple of exchanges before the band started fading.

I tuned down to 30M and had a short QSO with AE4DB in Florida. After we wrapped up, I packed up and headed home to spend the rest of Christmas Eve with my (far) better half. It was another short outing but it’s always fun to get out there.

I want to wish you all a Merry Christmas and a joyful and peaceful holiday season.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Revisiting the Rybakov 806 Vertical

Some recent Internet discussion got me thinking about the Rybakov 806 Vertical antenna. This easy-to-build antenna has served me well over the years. So, I went back and revisited some of the ways I’ve used it.

What the heck is a Rybakov anyway?

The Rybakov 806 Vertical appears to be the brainchild of Enrico IV3SBE from Italy (now 5Z4ES in Kenya). The term, Rybakov, is Russian for “fisherman.” That’s right… It’s an antenna with a Russian name designed by an Italian who lives in Africa — truly an international creation. From what I could glean from exhaustive Internet searches, this design dates back to the mid to late 2000s. I found numerous references to it from 2009.

The classic Rybakov configuration is a 7.6m or 8m (~25 or 26 feet) wire fed through a 4:1 UNUN. The length isn’t critical, as long as you avoid resonance on the bands of interest. It’s often supported by a telescopic fishing pole (hence, the name, “Rybakov”). Being a non-resonant antenna, you need to use an antenna tuner to make it work. You also need to use radials or some other type of ground.

The antenna can cover 80M through 6M (the “806” part of its name, I suppose). The band coverage depends on the wire length used and the capabilities of your tuner. With a 7.6M wire, you can cover 40M and up without problems. For 80M coverage, plan on using a longer radiator.

The only thing you need to build is the 4:1 UNUN. The IW7EEHC website provides detailed instructions for building one. Beyond that, you just need to cut some wire to length for the radiator and radials. Easy peasy!

My experience with the Rybakov

I had been using this type of antenna before I even knew it had a name. Rick KC8AON had a version of this type of antenna he called, “The Untenna.” That’s where I found it.

My first experiment with it was in a “stationary mobile” setup. I rigged up a 26-foot vertical wire and grounded the UNUN to the body of my truck. My Z-817 tuner was able to load it up with no difficulty. I had no problem making contacts and I liked the multi-band coverage.

I next used the Rybakov at a Boschveldt QRP Club Field Day. I set up a 26-foot ground-mounted vertical and used about six 16-foot radials with it. Again, the performance seemed decent and I remember doing well on 10M that year. The only shortcoming was that it wouldn’t load up on 80M.

The next year, I solved the 80M problem by using a 50-foot wire in an inverted L configuration. For the ground, I used six 16-foot radials and two 33-foot radials. This configuration gave me full coverage from 80M to 10M and it worked great. This antenna configuration became my “go to” Field Day for several years. In later years, I used a 53-foot radiator.

My typical implementation of the Rybakov 806 antenna. A length of 25 to 27 feet does well from 40M and up. I go with a 53-foot radiator for 80M coverage.
My typical implementation of the Rybakov 806 antenna. A length of 25 to 27 feet does well from 40M and up. I go with a 53-foot radiator for 80M coverage.

I used another version of the Rybakov with the pop-up camper that I used to own. I strapped a 31-foot Jackite pole to the camper and used it to support a 27-foot wire. I grounded the UNUN to the body of the camper. This antenna worked great on 40M to 6M and, best of all, I didn’t need to go outside at night to change bands. I used this antenna with good results for several years until I sold the camper.

I also built a Rybakov that I use as a backup antenna in the field. I built a small 4:1 UNUN that I use with a 26.5-foot radiator and a 26.5-foot radial. The antenna, along with a short length of coax, is easy to carry in my pack.

The bottom line (for me, at least)

I’ve had good luck with the Rybakov Vertical over the years. Is it the best antenna? Nope. Purists will argue about UNUN, ground, and coax mismatch losses. Yep, there are those. Yet, its simplicity and “no gap” band coverage are hard to beat. It’s easy to deploy in the field and it really does work.

If you’re in the market for a simple portable antenna project, the Rybakov 806 is an easy one.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Reference Links:

Sling Pack for My QRP Stuff

My XYL has accused me of being obsessed with bags, backpacks, and storage containers of all sorts. She’s an excellent judge of character.  This one, fortunately, wasn’t very expensive.

A few years ago I bought a backpack with ham radio in mind. I wanted one big enough to carry my Alexloop antenna, along with my QRP rig, battery, and, assorted emergency and survival-type gear. (I could survive a zombie apocalypse with all the stuff I put in that pack.) Although it continues to serve me well, at 35 liters it’s a bit overkill when I don’t need to carry all that stuff. I wanted something a bit smaller and lighter for short hikes and casual outings.

After looking at a dizzying array of small packs, I settled on the Rambler sling pack from Red Rock Outdoor Gear. It’s a bit larger than most other sling packs but I needed one that would accommodate my essential radio gear. It measures about 10 inches x 16 inches x 4 inches and has lots of compartments and MOLLE webbing.

The main compartment comfortably accommodates the box that holds my KX3 and accessories. I also carry a LiFePO4 battery and my antenna wires in this compartment. I use one of the outer compartments to hold safety and comfort items, e.g., first aid kit, sunblock, insect repellent, emergency poncho, etc. In the remaining outer pocket, I keep a headlamp, emergency whistle, compass, a copy of my Amateur Radio license and a notepad and pencil. There’s a compartment on the back of the pack that’s perfect for carrying a folding sit pad and a large contractor garbage bag that I use as a ground cloth. With the water bottle pouch on the side of the pack, I don’t have to use up space inside the pack to carry water.

My Red Rock Rambler sling pack. My 19-ft fiberglass pole is attached to MOLLE webbing on the side of the pack. The HT pouch I added is on the lower left of the pack.
My Red Rock Rambler sling pack. My 19-ft fiberglass pole is attached to MOLLE webbing on the side of the pack. The HT pouch I added is on the lower left of the pack.

The Red Rock Sling Pack also does double-duty for public service events with my local ARES-RACES group. I just remove the QRP gear from the main compartment and replace it with my HTs, spare batteries, emergency vest, etc. Oh, did I mention snacks? Yeah, lots of snacks.

With all the MOLLE webbing on the pack, I couldn’t resist adding a few things. On the back of the pack, I added a pouch for my HT. I added a cell phone holder in the front on the shoulder strap. I use the webbing on one side of the pack to carry my telescopic fiberglass pole, which I fasten with some adjustable bungee cords. And just for the heck of it, I added some molle-compatible velcro strips for attaching a morale patch.

The back side of the Red Rock Rambler sling pack. There's a pouch behind the padded back of the pack that holds a folding sit pad. The small strap at the bottom of the picture helps to stabilize the pack but can be tucked away if not needed. My cell phone pouch is at the bottom of the shoulder strap.
The back side of the Red Rock Rambler sling pack. There’s a pouch behind the padded back of the pack that holds a folding sit pad. The smaller waist strap at the bottom of the picture helps to stabilize the pack but can be tucked away if not needed. My cell phone pouch is at the bottom of the shoulder strap.

In use, I find it very comfortable. The padded strap is non-reversible and goes over my left shoulder. That’s my preference anyway. The zippers on this bag have all worked smoothly without a lick of trouble. (Nothing frustrates me more than balky zippers!)

After nine months of use, the sling pack is holding up well and has fit my needs exactly. It provides a handy and comfortable way of carrying my radio stuff out into the field. There certainly are more expensive packs available but, for less than $50.00 USD, the Red Rock Sling Pack has been money well spent.

Now, all I need is to find some time to get back out into the field for some QRP fun.

72, Craig WB3GCK

[Disclaimer: I have no financial interest in Amazon or any these products. I’m just a satisfied customer.]

Red Rock Outdoor Gear Rambler Sling Pack
Tactical MOLLE Smartphone Holster
OneTigris MOLLE Radio Holder
Del Molle Strips for Attaching Tactical ID Patches

Overdue Outing

It had been a while since I’ve done any portable operating. I decided to remedy that with a trip to a nearby park today.

I took a short drive over to Upper Schuylkill Valley Park, one of my favorite spots. It would have been a good day to operate outside, but melting snow from a recent storm had made a mess of things. Instead, I opted to set up my KX3 in the truck with my usual 19.5-foot vertical on the back.

My antenna near the last vestiges of the nor'easter we had this week.
My antenna near the last vestiges of the nor’easter we had this week.

When I turned on the radio, I found the 40M band to be in pretty good shape. I heard K4MHC in North Carolina calling “CQ SKCC” and gave him a call. Keith was also running QRP.  After exchanging SKCC numbers, we had a nice chat. Over the next hour or so, I added a few more SKCC stations to my log and had a couple of nice ragchews in the process.

A view of the Schuylkill River at Upper Schuylkill Valley Park
A view of the Schuylkill River at Upper Schuylkill Valley Park

It wasn’t the most exciting outing but it sure was good to be back out there.

72, Craig WB3GCK

U.S. Navy Morse Code Training

The material below is from a training manual used by U.S. Navy enlisted personnel studying for advancement to the rates of Radioman 3rd Class and Radioman 2nd Class (E4 and E5, respectively). This edition, dated 1967, was still around in the early 1970s when I used it. While it may provide a nostalgic look back for former Navy radio operators, much of the material on technique may still be useful for today’s beginning amateur radio operators. Enjoy! — WB3GCK

Source:  Radioman 3 & 2, Chapter 4, Bureau of Naval Personnel, Navy Training Course NAVPERS 10228-E, 5th Edition, 1967

Cover page. Radioman 3 & 2, Chapter 4, Bureau of Naval Personnel, Navy Training Course NAVPERS 10228-E, 5th Edition, 1967

Chapter 4
International Morse Code

The international Morse code is a telegraphic alphabet, with letters and numbers represented by sound patterns.

If you are a graduate of a Class A Radioman School, you were taught the Morse code, consequently much of this chapter may be of little interest to you. But, if this is your first acquaintance with the code – if you are striking for Radioman from the deck force, or changing to Radioman from another rating – you have many hours of hard work ahead. Do not be discouraged on this account. Many fine Radiomen learn the code for themselves.

The letters in Morse code are represented by dots and dashes; radio operators, however, substitute the expressions “dits” and “dahs,” which closely resemble the sounds of the telegraphic hand key. The groups of dits and dahs representing each letter must be made as one unit, with a clear break between each dit and each dah, and a much more distinct break between the letters. A dit is one-third the length of a dah.

You must never try to count the dits and dahs. Do not let yourself get in the habit of doing so. It is a temptation at first, but you won’t be able to count fast enough when the code speed picks up. Learn sound patterns instead. To understand what a sound pattern is, rap out the pattern beginning “Shave and a haircut.” You recognize this from its characteristic rhythm, not because it has a certain number of beats in it. You must learn the code the same way. There are 36 Morse sound patterns for the letters and numbers, plus a few others representing prosigns and punctuation marks. With study and drill you can learn to recognize each pattern as fast as you now recognize “Shave and a haircut.” The accent always falls on dahs, and you should pronounce each rhythmical combination with that emphasis in mind.

Go through the alphabet several times to get the sound “feel” of the dit and dah combinations.


In the pronunciation guide for sounds of letters that follows, sounds are written as phonetically as possible. In the middle of a group, the short sound “dit” actually takes on the sound “di.” The phonetic alphabet is included in parentheses after the letters. Acquire the habit of referring to the letters phonetically.

      Letter               Pronunciation
      A (ALFA)    -------- di-DAH
      B (BRAVO)    ------- DAH-di-di-dit
      C (CHARLIE)    ----- DAH-di-DAH-dit
      D (DELTA)    ------- Dah-di-dit
      E (ECHO)    -------- dit
      F (FOXTROT)     ---- di-di-DAH-dit
      G (GOLF)    -------- DAH-DAH-dit
      H (HOTEL)    ------- di-di-di-dit
      I (INDIA)   -------- di- dit
      J (JULIETT)    ----- di-DAH-DAH-DAH
      K (KILO)   --------- DAH-di-DAH
      L (LIMA)    -------- di-DAH-di-dit
      M (MIKE)    -------- DAH-DAH
      N (NOVEMBER)     --- DAH-dit
      0 (OSCAR)    ------- DAH-DAH-DAH
      P (PAPA)    -------- di-DAH-DAH-dit
      Q (QUEBEC)     ----- DAH-DAH-di-DAH
      R (ROMEO)     ------ di-DAH-dit
      S (SIERRA)    ------ di-di-dit
      T (TANGO)    ------- DAH
      U (UNIFORM)    ----- di-di-DAH
      V (VICTOR)    ------ di-di-di-DAH
      W (WHISKEY)    ----- di-DAH-DAH
      X (XRAY)    -------- DAH-di-di-DAH
      Y (YANKEE)     ----- DAH-di-DAH-DAH
      Z (ZULU)    -------- DAH-DAH-di-dit

      Number             Pronunciation
      1----------------  di-DAH-DAH-DAH-DAH
      2----------------  di-di-DAH-DAH-DAH
      3----------------  di-di-di-DAH-DAH
      4----------------  di-di-di-di-DAH
      5----------------  di-di-di-di-dit
      6----------------  DAH-di-di-di-dit
      7----------------  DAH-DAH-di-di-dit
      8----------------  DAH-DAH-DAH-di-dit
      9----------------  DAH-DAH-DAH-DAH-dit
      0----------------  DAH-DAH-DAH-DAH-DAH
      Punctuation Mark    Pronunciation
      Hyphen (dash)  ---- DAH-di-di-di-di-DAH
      Parenthesis  L ---- DAH-di-DAH-DAH-di-DAH
                   R ---- DAH-di-DAH-DAH-dit
      Point   ----------- di-DAH-di-DAH-di-DAH
      Slant  ------------ DAH-di-di-DAH-dit
      Apostrophe  ------- di-DAH-DAH-DAH-DAH-dit
      Colon  ------------ DAH-DAH-DAH-di-di-dit
      Comma   ----------  DAH-DAH-di-di-DAH-DAH
      Question mark  ---- di-di-DAH-DAH-di-dit


If you have any trouble learning Morse code, the following method may be helpful. Go through the three groupings of short, medium and long sounds with their accompanying practice words. Make up words of your own if you wish to give yourself further practice. Speak the practice words in code. Say “tee: DAH dit dit;” “mine: DAH-DAH di-dit DAH-dit dit.”

If you can speak words in code rapidly and distinctly, you will have an easier time when you learn to receive code on the receiver. The sounds are very similar.

You probably have noticed by now how numerals slow your speech in oral transmission. That is understandable – they also slow the speed of radio transmission. Headings containing procedure signs, calls, and numerals are transmitted at a slower rate of speed than straight alphabetical characters.

      Short sounds              Practice words 
      E dit                     TEE ATE EAT TEA MEAT
      T dah                     MEET MINE TIME MAINE
      A di-DAH                  TEAM AIM NITE TAME TEA
      I di-dit                  MATE TAME NAME MITE
      M DAH-DAH                 MIAMI MAMA MEAN MAN MAT
      N DAH-dit                 EMIT MINT MANE TAN ITEM TINT
      Medium length sounds      Practice words
      D DAH-di-dit              MUST SAME MAMA SUIT AUTO
      G DAH- DAH- dit           MUSS OUST MUSE MUTE ATOM
      K DAH-di-DAH              TAUT MAST MASS SUET SAM
      0 DAH-DAH-DAH             WIND SEA TUM SAW OAT
      R di-DAH-dit              SUE SAT WED SUM MUD IOU
      S di-di-dit               USE SEAM WOOD DARK
      U di-di-DAH               GEORGE DOWN KIND SORT
      W di-DAH-DAH              DOOR MASK WORK GROW
                                WOMAN EDGE GAGE
                                WIGS WORM WAGER
                                WAKE KEG
      Long sounds              Practice words
      B DAH-di-di-dit          VAT VET VIM HAM SIX
      C DAH-di-DAH-dit         SAY
      F di-di-DAH-dit          HAS HAT EVE CUT
      H di-di-di-dit           CAM  VEST
      J di-DAH-DAH-DAH         HEAT HAVE MUCH
      L di-DAH-di-dit          THAT EACH
      P di-DAH-DAH-dit         COAT ACHE SAVE HUSH
      Q DAH-DAH-di-DAH         ACME
      V di-di-di-DAH           CUTE BAKER CHARLIE
      X DAH-di-di-DAH          FIVE
      Z DAH-DAH-di-dit         PAPA QUICK QUILL
                               VICTORY XRAY YOUNG
                               ZERO BUZZ GARGLE
                               FIZZLE LYNX OXYGEN
                               WAX QUAY JERKY WHIP
      Figure sounds
      1. di-DAH-DAH-DAH-DAH
      2. di-di-DAH-DAH-DAH
      3. di-di-di-DAH-DAH
      4. di-di-di-di-DAH
      5. di-di-di-di-dit
      6. DAH-di-di-di-dit
      7. DAH-DAH-di-di-dit
      8. DAH-DAH-DAH-di-dit
      9. DAH-DAH-DAH-DAH-dit


If you have carried out the recommendations made up to this point, you are ready to receive code transmitted to you on an oscillator. The ship or station to which you are attached is almost certain to have practice oscillators for your use.

An experienced Radioman will key code groups to you for your training. The sound produced by an oscillator closely resembles the sound of code from the radio receiver. The operator keying to you for practice should transmit each individual character at the standard rate of 20 words per minute. He should maintain a fairly long interval between characters. As you progress, you gain speed by shortening spaces between characters.

The standard character speed is shown in figure 4-1. Note that the characters themselves may be keyed at 20 words per minute, but that the longer intervals between characters and words materially decrease the beginner’s overall speed. Note also that the code, compared against time in the 20-words-per-minute transmission, is in the proper form of having the dit as a unit. There is one unit between each element of a character, three units between each character, and seven units between each group or word.

Figure 4-1. Correct keying of Morse characters.

After learning the sound of each character at this rate of speed, it is not difficult to reduce the time between characters and to copy code at a much faster speed.

As you advance in rating, you will be required to increase your transmission and reception speed. If you learn the fundamentals well, it will be fairly easy for you to increase your speed. When copying code, if you miss a character, don’t stop to worry about it; get the next character and let the one missed go by. Be a competent operator. Make every transmission and every reception accurately. Do not place speed before accuracy.


Learn to print clearly and rapidly. The messages you handle are important, and someone must read what you have written without puzzling over it. Examine figure 4-2 and compare the printed letters with your own. Notice that the sequence of strokes for some letters may be different from the way you customarily form them. As an aid to rapid printing, the more of the letter you can form with a single stroke, the better. Use this illustration as a guide to avoid confusions between printed letters and printed numerals. Especially watch the letter Z and the numeral 2. If you wish, write Z with a line through the stem (-Z). Even more important is the distinction between the capital letter O and the figure zero. In communication work, zero is always written with a slant through it (Ø). Exercise care to avoid confusion between letter I and figure 1, and also letter S and figure 5.

Figure 4-2. How to form printed characters.

As your code speed increases, you will find it impossible to print rapidly enough to keep up; therefore, typewriting is a skill also required of all Radiomen. Use of a good commercial text can help you master touch-typing. A typing course for beginners also is offered by USAFI.


Your ability to send well depends mainly upon two capabilities. First, you must know the correct sound of the character you are attempting to transmit. Second, you must know the proper method for keying with perfect control. Practicing the code aloud, as well as receiving it by oscillator, has given you a good knowledge of code sound. The proper method for keying is your next concern.


The first key you will use is the hand key. The hand key is widely used on radiotelegraph circuits and with practice oscillators. It must be adjusted properly before you can send clearcut characters. Figure 4-3 shows a hand key, with parts labeled.

Figure 4-3. Hand key.


The spring tension screw, behind the key button, controls the amount of upward tension on the key. The tension desired varies with operators. Too much tension forces the key button up before the dahs are completely formed; spacing between characters is irregular, and dits are not clearly defined. If the spring tension is very weak, characters run together and the space between characters is too short.

The gap between the contacts, regulated by the space adjusting screw at the back of the key, should be set at one-sixteenth inch for beginners. This measurement does not apply to every key and operator; it is a matter of personal preference. Some operators like a closed key, others an open key. “Closed” and “open” are terms for a short and a long gap. As the student progresses, further gap adjustment may be made to suit his sending speed. Contacts that are too close have an effect similar to weak spring tension. Contacts that are spaced too far have the same effect as too much spring tension.

The final adjustment of the key is the sidewise alignment of the contact points. This alignment is controlled by the trunnion screws at either side of the key. If they are too tight, the key lever binds. If they are too loose, the contacts have sidewise play. Usually, when the sidewise alignment is correct, no further adjustment is required.


Learn from the beginning the correct way to grasp the key. Do not hold the key tightly, but let your fingers rest lightly on the key knob. Your thumb rests against the side, your forefinger rests on top of the key, your other fingers are bent slightly in a relaxed position. Check figures 4-4 and 4-5 for the correct method of keying. To ensure correct movement of your wrist and forearm, your arm should lie on the operating desk. The muscle of your forearm – not your elbow – should support the weight of your arm. Your elbow should not extend over the edge of the table, because the pressure of the underside of your forearm will partly block circulation and tire you. Sit upright, with your arm in line with the key.

Figure 4-4. Grasping the key. Figure 4-5. Your thumb rests against the side.

Your ability to transmit depends to a great extent on acquiring the proper movements of your wrist and hand while operating the key. To close the key, your wrist moves upward and your hand rocks downward toward your fingertips. To open the key, these two movements are reversed- your wrist comes down and your hand rocks back.

Make your wrist flexible. Limber it up. Correct wrist action may be developed by moving your wrist up and down like a hinge. Another exercise is rotating your hand in clockwise circles, with your wrist held in a stationary position. These exercises will relieve any undue tension you may experience when first beginning to transmit.


The semiautomatic key, also known as the bug or speed key, is used chiefly when operators are required to send for relatively long periods of time. It is designed to make sending easy instead of fast. Hence, perfect control of the key is far more important than speed.


In sending with the bug, the thumb presses the dit paddle (fig. 4-6) to the right, and the index finger forms dahs by pressing the knob to the left. The key sends successive dits when the paddle is held to the right. One dit or a series may be sent, depending on how long the thumb pressure is maintained against the paddle. One dah is formed every time the knob is pressed to the left. Dahs must be sent individually. While sending, the hand pivots at the wrist; the hand and arm motion is horizontal.

Figure 4-6. Semiautomatic key.


Best operation of the semiautomatic key is obtained when it is adjusted to send dits and spaces of equal length. Adjust the key as follows, locating the parts in figure 4-6 when adjusting the key:

  1. Adjust the back stop screw until the reed lightly touches the deadener. Tighten the locknut.
  2. Adjust the front stop screw until the separation between the end of the screw and the reed is approximately .015 inch. Tighten the locknut.
  3. Operate the dit paddle to the right. Hold the lever in this position and stop the vibration of the reed. Adjust the dit contact adjusting screw until the dit contacts barely touch. Tighten the locknut. This adjustment determines whether the dits will be too heavy, too light, or perfect. The adjustment must be made without flexing the contact spring.
  4. If the dits are too fast, move the weights, located on the reed, in the direction of the deadener. If the dits are too slow, move the same weights in the opposite direction.
  5. Adjust the dah contact adjusting screw to a clearance of approximately .030 inch.
  6. Adjust the dit refractive and dah tension springs for the most comfortable, operation.

If the adjustment instructions are followed carefully, the bug makes 25 or more dits before stopping. The first 12 to 15 dits will be practically perfect, with the dits and spaces equal.


Good operators have sending rhythm, and you can acquire it in just one way: by practice.

It may be difficult for you to key correctly at first, because your wrist is unfamiliar with the type of movement required for sending telegraphic code. Your wrist will be stiff, and you’ll have to get rid of that stiffness by a lot of practice. Don’t favor the stiffness of your wrist. If you do, your sending will be choppy.

The following exercises have been prepared carefully. Use them as an instruction guide.

  • Character E: The dit characters require a “goodfist.” They must be transmitted quickly and rhythmically. Make a series of Es (dits). They are made with a pronounced movement of your wrist upward, returning to the normal position after each dit. At first, maintain a fairly long interval between dits. To assist you in limbering your wrist, exaggerate the movement upward. To prevent tenseness and tiredness of your wrist, remove your hand from the key periodically and flex your wrist. After practicing Es for 15 or 20 minutes, decrease the interval between dits until you are making them rather rapidly. Each sound should continue to be a definite dit, however. Keep at it until you can control each dit.
  • Character I: When you feel that your wrist is limbering up, make the character I (di-dit). Start with your wrist in the normal relaxed position, raise it for the first dit, lower it quickly halfway back, and make the second dit with another quick movement of your wrist upward. Your transmission, made slowly, produces the sound di-dit. As you practice and develop more rhythm, this character acquires the sound of di-dit.
  • Character T: Send a series of Ts (DAH) with a good interval between them. Instead of a quick movement of your wrist upward, make aslower, more definite movement of your wrist and exert more pressure on the key. Send dahs for a few minutes, gradually shortening the interval between characters.
  • Character M: Now try sending strings of Ms (DAH-DAH). As with the character 1, you don’t return your wrist to the beginning position at the end of the first dah, but bring it to the halfway point and then make the last dah. With practice, you’ll soon change the hesitant DAH DAH sound to the snappy DAH-DAH. Don’t forget the correct wrist movements. If you find that your sending requires exertion of forearm muscles or that your shoulder is moving, stop and recheck your wrist motions.

Try these practice groups several times, backward and forward. Make them clearly and distinctly, spending more time on characters that cause you any trouble.


  • Character A: The character A (di-DAH) gives you practice in making a dit and a dah together. Sending motions, in their proper order, are (1) slight pressure of your fingers alongside the key, (2) a quick surge upward of your wrist, (3) a slight relaxing of your wrist to the halfway point, and (4) a final definite upward movement of your wrist. This technique produces the sound dit DAH when you begin to practice it. But keep at it-you’ll soon have the proper di-DAH sound. Avoid tenseness; relax your forearm muscles when sending.
  • Character U: You’re now ready for the character U (di-di-DAH). Start slowly, sending dit dit DAH. Practice it until you get a di-di- DAH sound.
  • Character N: The character N (DAH-dit) requires only slight pressure on the sides of the key, a strong wrist movement upward, a half return, and a quick, short, upward motion for the dit. Practice for several minutes until you are able to send DAH-dit easily and with com- plete relaxation.
  • Character D, Try the letter D (DAH-di-dit). At first, with the correct wrist movement it will be DAH dit dit. But the sound you want to hear is DAH-di-dit-with a swing. Send Ds until you can transmit them with perfect control. Check yourself on the following groups. You should have less difficulty than you did with the first groups.


  • Character S: Go back to the dits for S (di-di-dit). Get a good position on the key and put your wrist to work. See how quickly you can change the dit dit dit sound to di-di-dit. Relax your forearm.
  • Character V: The letter V is di-di-di-DAH, so you’d better learn how to send it that way. Relax. If your wrist is tied up in a knot, you’ll be sending dit dit dit DAH. Move your wrist up and down easily until you are sending di-di-di-DAH with perfect control. Practice this letter carefully. It is used in every radio test.
  • Character 0: Correctly sent, characters is DAH-DAH-DAH. Keep at it until it stops sounding like three Ts. Test your skill with these words:


  • Character H. Character His di-di-di-dit. Send one. If it sounds similar to four Es, your wrist is too stiff. Develop the di-di-di-dit sound.
  • Character B: Send DAH-di-di-dit. It is the Morse code equivalent of B. Practice for perfect control, then try these groups:


  • Character K: At this point you should be prepared to tackle the other characters. They are mostly combinations of the letters you have practiced. Each one has a distinct overall sound. For instance, K should not have the sound DAH-dit-DAH. It should be DAH-di-DAH. Think of the tune “Over There.” You will realize that DAH-di-DAH has the same rhythm as OH-ver THERE-DAH-di-DAH.
  • Character Q: The letter Q (DAH-DAH-di-DAH) has the same rhythm as the words “Payday today.” Say in a monotone “payday today,” then say DAH-DAH-di-DAH. When transmitted, the same swing is given these combinations as when speaking or chanting them.
  • Remaining letters and numerals: The preceding l5 characters have taught you proper wrist movement. You know the remaining 11 letters and 10 figures. Following are 14 practice exercises. Use these exercises for self-drill.


Practice the remaining letters of the alphabet and the numerals. When you think you’re ready for it, practice the code exercises that follow.

      1. E E E T T T A A A N N N I I I S S S H H H
         M M M O O O E E E T T T A A A N N
         I I I S S S H H H M M M O 0 0 E E E T T T
         I I I M M M A A A N N N S S S O 0 0 H H H
         E E E T T T E E E T T T I I I M M M I I I
         M M M A A A N N N A A A N N N S S S
         O O O S S S
      2. U U U V V V D D D B B B K K K C C C
         W W W J J J P P P U U U V V V D D D
         B B B K K K C C C W W W J J J P P P
         W W W J J J P P P U U U V V V K K K
         C C C B B B D D D U U U D D D V V V
         B B B P P P J J J C C C K K K W W W
         D D D B B B V V V U U U W W W J J J
      3. R R R L L L F F F G G G Z Z Z X X X
         Y Y Y Q Q Q R R R L L L F F F G G G
         Z Z Z X X X Y Y Y Q Q Q G G G Z Z Z
         F F F L L L R R R Y Y Y Q Q Q R R R
         X X X Z Z Z R R R F F F L L L Q Q Q
         Y Y Y G G G Q Q Q Y Y Y R R R
      4. 1 1 1 2 2 2 3 3 3 4 4 4 5 5 5 6 6 6 7 7 7 8 8 8
         9 9 9 Ø Ø Ø 1 1 1 2 2 2 3 3 3 4 4 4 5 5 5 6 6 6
         7 7 7 8 8 8 9 9 9 Ø Ø Ø 1 1 1 2 2 3 3 4 4 5 5
         6 6 7 7 8 8 9 9 Ø Ø 1 1 2 2 3 3 4 4 5 5 6 6 7 7
         8 8 9 9 Ø Ø 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Ø 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
         8 9 1 2 3 4 5 6
      5. V U I Y Q Z C X G R S L K J P Q X Z R I
         F C V B W F K D S H Q Z A L K F B V R
         S T U O T M E G Y Z X V E G N I W S L H
         M U A E V U A E W Q G H V C I X Z L N
         R Y U K V U
      6. E 8 Y 7 B 6 X 1 W Ø Z 2 A 3 C 5 S 4 1 2 F
         U 1 F 5 D 8 Q 4 T 6 U 9 Q 2 E Ø S 5 U l Y
         G 2 J 4 S 3 E 5 T 7 Z 8 K 6 M 9 R l A 2 R
         S 7 W B E 9 R 2 A 3 Z 3 X 6 U 8 B 7 C 6 T
         NL TY CE DO PS
      8. EF TS 16 29 83 ZJ 45 Ø7 WR ND KW IC UX
         91 Ø2 1B LO FG 84 63 XW AC TM SU 5Ø 72
         XR RJ ZM 43 65 VH 97 LM 12 46 7Ø FC FE
         EY 34 56 27 FT FY JU IT 98 76 75 52 DE
         WE QT 13 36 57 KF RI YT 19 93 35 41 FK
         YU 96 Ø1 MC AR TH 19 25 3Ø UR BO UL
         32 Ø5 21
     11. JICOY TXSTY 38Ø95 RDIHA
         89706 CUSPI RNBRJ 65289 ZONIG
         8784Ø BVGAN WKOQT SRQMT
         UJVWN 45872 YXBCX AFKOZ
         OGLCT NIHGP 12349 ATUSK
     13. ZMJXI URYNC 9347Ø PQAZM
         DEGVM NCBVG HUGHY 13267
         PHRAN QUECC 1289Ø MCNDH
         72439 OYTRW PIQAW CNJWO
         BCDV CGFH 5781 JGVX HGJD


Continue sending to yourself with the practice key and oscillator. If you can operate with another striker, so much the better. Sit down at an unused operating position and tune in some slow code. It is not hard to find, especially on amateur frequencies. Copy as best you can. Don’t worry too much about missing letters. Get what you can, no matter how little it is. As your speed picks up, tune in faster code. If you find you are copying a certain speed solidly, the code is too slow. Keep it faster than you can copy comfortably.

You will need lots of practice. Class A Radioman Schools ashore run a full day, and for months a man copies code several hours daily. Make the transition from pencil copying to the typewriter as soon as possible.

As you gain skill, try copying the 18-wpm to 20-wpm fleet broadcasts. Devote as much time as possible-15 or 20 hours per week-not just an hour now and then. Do not be afraid to use some of your off-duty time. Simultaneously, begin to learn how to hold down a circuit. One of the best ways to do this is to spend several watches logging circuits that other operators are manning. At the end of every watch, compare your log with that of the regular operator, and question him about anything you do not understand. That way you see procedure in use and gain practice in copying many fists.

Learn to copy behind. If you are recording B as D, S as I, J as W, and so on, you are copying too close. The farther behind the better. At first, listen to one character while setting down the previous one. Try to fall back one letter more. Listen for the character while carrying one in your head and setting down the one before that. Once you have the knack, you will find copying behind is easier, faster, and more accurate. The faster the code, the farther, you must stay behind. Watch an oldtimer copy press at 35 or 40 wpm. You will find he is carrying anywhere from 5 words to a sentence in his head.

One further word of advice: It is common for a student learning code to hit a plateau. The regular progress to higher speeds stops, and for a time the student finds himself unable to copy faster than a certain speed. If this happens to you, just stay with it until your speed picks up. Never lose confidence in the knowledge that any man of ordinary ability can learn the code if he puts in the necessary time and work

Halloween Surprise

When I checked the mail yesterday, I found an envelope from my old QRP buddy, Ed WA3WSJ. Since yesterday was Halloween, the contents of the envelope seemed appropriate for the day.

WA3WSJ Zombie Shuffle QSL Card
WA3WSJ Zombie Shuffle QSL Card

As I mentioned in a previous post, I worked Ed a couple of weeks ago during the Zombie Shuffle QRP contest. The envelope I received contained a special QSL card and a certificate that Ed had made up.

WA3WSJ Zombie Shuffle Certificate
WA3WSJ Zombie Shuffle Certificate

Thanks to WA3WSJ for the Holloween surprise. He always does it up right for the Zombie Shuffle!

Be sure to head over to Ed’s webpage to see what else he is up to.

72, Craig WB3GCK