It’s hard to believe, but a half-century has gone by since I graduated from Navy Radioman School. The Navy decided that the 18-year-old kid was ready to do this radio stuff for real.
Following three months of boot camp, the Navy transferred me to the U.S. Navy Training Center in Bainbridge, Maryland. USNTC Bainbridge was not the most glamorous place. The barracks were run-down, World War II-vintage wooden structures with a cockroach problem.
I still remember my first day in Radioman school. The instructor gave us a sheet of paper and told us to memorize it. It was the Morse alphabet with the sound of each character. (A = DID-DAH, B = DAH-DI-DI-DIT, and so on). I also took a typing test. Fortunately, I had a typing course in high school and was able to test out of the typing training. The non-typers had to attend an after-hours crash course in touch typing.
Early on, our training focused on CW. As I recall, the requirement back then was 10 WPM, sending and receiving. The CW training also covered messaging handling, logging, and net procedures. Looking back, I think focusing on CW 8 hours a day for a few weeks was a great way to learn it. Plus, I was getting paid to do it!
We did all of our CW copying on a mill. A mill was a manual typewriter will all caps. After I got out of the Navy, I had to re-train myself to copy with a pencil since I had never done that before.
Over time, we moved on to a variety of other topics. We learned about the radio equipment we would likely be using. Radio-teletype was the primary communications mode for the fleet back then, so we also had to learn that equipment.
We spent the last week of school standing radio watches in a simulated shipboard radio room. This part of the course was called the PRAC-DECK. We set up radio circuits and sent and received message traffic. To make things interesting, the instructor would inject some equipment issues for us to troubleshoot.
On my first mid-watch (night shift), the instructor said I had to learn the most important skill I would need out in the fleet. That skill turned out to be making coffee in one in one of those 25-cup percolators. I ran into that instructor a few years later. He laughed when I reminded him about that lesson. I told him he was right about a pot of coffee being necessary for communications.
All in all, it was an interesting four months. Fifty years later, I’m still using the CW I learned back then.
I haven’t bought any new ham radio toys lately, so I decided to upgrade the homebrew passive CW interface I use for contesting. I had been looking at the K1EL WKmini USB keyer for a while. I recently bought one, and it fit my needs exactly.
I’m not a big contester, but for Field Day, Winter Field Day, and some POTA activations, I key the radio using macros in the logging software. For years, I used a passive interface built into a DB-9 connector, along with a USB-to-RS-232 adapter. The interface consists of a resistor and a 2N2222 transistor. It served me well, but occasionally, there were some hiccups. With this simple interface, the logging software on the laptop is doing all the CW work. Once in a while, I noticed some timing issues in the code sent.
The WKmini is based on the WinKeyer 3 chip and designed for use with contesting logging software. The WKmini takes on the work of generating the CW, so it eliminates those timing issues. The logging software sends commands and data to the keyer, and the keyer does the rest.
The other nice feature is the paddle input. This feature allows me to instantly send CW manually when needed. I was able to do this in my previous setup, but it was a bit more complicated. The WKmini keyer is a more simple, elegant approach. Its small form factor makes it ideal for portable operating.
The WKmini was incredibly easy to set up. I connected the keyer to my laptop, and Windows immediately recognized it. I used the free K1EL WKscan utility to determine which COM port the keyer was using. I connected the keyer to my KX3 using a stereo patch cable with 1/8-inch connectors. Using the K1EL WK3demo utility, I was successful in keying up the radio and sending some code.
The last thing I needed to do was to configure my N3FJP logging programs to use the WKmini instead of the old passive interface. The WKmini doesn’t have any external controls; the logging software provides the necessary settings. There is a long list of software that supports WinKey keyers, including the N3FJP suite of software. The User Manual covers the N3FJP software, which was helpful. So, with a few mouse clicks, I was in business. All of this testing and setup took less than 15 minutes.
Like other K1EL keyer products I own, the WKmini is a solid performer. I’m hoping to give this little gem a workout during Winter Field Day later this month.
Once a day, I receive an email from eBay showing the latest listings for CW keys. In one of those emails, a small and inexpensive set of 3D-printed paddles caught grabbed my attention. My curiosity got the better of me, and I ordered some.
The primary reason for my interest was the size. I normally use Palm Mini paddles attached to a clipboard, when I’m out operating portable. The eBay listing offered paddles that were a bit smaller than my Palm Mini paddles. The Palm paddles are no longer available (much to my chagrin), so I was curious if these cheap paddles might be a viable alternative. Given the low price (around $15, shipping included), I had no delusions that the no-name paddles would be as good, though.
They are available in 3 sizes. The two larger paddles have magnetic bases. I bought the smallest one (3x8x2 cm), which had the potential to work with my clipboard setup. They are intended for two-handed operation but I figured I could improvise some sort of magnetic base for them.
As mentioned earlier, they are 3D-printed. The seller cautions: “Can’t work in high temperature environment!” The term, “high temperature,” is undefined. I’m sure I would start to wilt in the heat long before the paddles.
It took a couple of weeks to receive my paddles from Hong Kong. Besides the paddles, the package contained a 3-foot patch cable with 3.5mm stereo plugs. There was no documentation but none was needed.
Out of the box, I found the contact spacing to be much wider than I’m accustomed to. Fortunately, the paddles have access holes on each side to adjust the spacing. A few tweaks with a Phillips screwdriver got the spacing closer to my liking.
It was easy to fashion a magnetic base. Using some two-sided foam mounting tape, I added two strong magnets to the bottom of the paddles. The magnets didn’t line up exactly with the washers on my clipboard but they held pretty well.
You’re probably wondering how they work. Well, they are about what you’d expect from $15 paddles. For sure, they lack the solid, precise feel of my more expensive Palm paddles. The paddle arms have what I call, “vertical slop.” By that I mean you can wiggle them up and down. Also, the paddles’ contacts aren’t the greatest. They are just the threaded ends of two machine screws contacting the threads of a vertically-mounted machine screw.
With the “vertical slop” and the rough contacts, you don’t always get clean contact closure. To me, it feels like the contacts sometimes “scratch” when they close. The left paddle also sticks occasionally. At higher speeds (20+WPM), they can be challenging. That said, I am able to coax decent-sounding code out of them at moderate speeds—if I’m careful.
As they say, you get what you pay for. These paddles won’t be replacing my Palm Mini paddles anytime soon. They don’t have the smooth, quality feel of my Palm paddles—or any other paddles I own. Not by a long shot. I concede, however, that comparing these $15 paddles to more expensive products is not entirely fair.
CW keys and paddles are always subject to personal preferences; however, if you are on a limited budget, these paddles might work for you. It certainly won’t cost you a lot to find out.
73, Craig WB3GCK
[Disclaimer: I have no financial interest in these products whatsoever.]
OK, I admit it. I have a fascination with tiny straight keys and paddles. With the proliferation of 3D printers, there are a lot of neat, innovative products available these days. This unusual little key from Dave Balfour KØMBT is a good example. [Update 3/16/2020: Dave recently changed his callsign to ADØB.]
Dave got started in 3D printing as a hobby a few years ago. A while back, he started sharing his straight key designs with his fellow SKCC members on the SKCC mailing list. That generated some interest and, before long, Dave was offering his keys for sale. As of this writing, Dave is offering straight keys in two sizes and a single lever paddle that can be used as a sideswiper (aka cootie) key.
I ordered the smaller of Dave’s straight keys, which he calls the “Mini-Mini.” Dave promptly shipped one and I had it a few days later. When I opened the box, I was immediately intrigued by this little key.
When I say “little,” I mean “little.” Overall, it measures approximately 2-1/4″ L x 1″ W x 3/4″ H and weighs in at a minuscule 0.7 oz. (19g). Instead of a traditional knob, Dave uses a novel indentation on the keying lever. The other unique thing is the switch he uses instead of the contacts. A little computer mouse switch provides both the contact closure as well as the return spring. As a result, there are no adjustments for contact spacing or tension. It doesn’t get much simpler than this.
On the rear of the key, there are two terminals for connecting the wires of your choice. There are holes on each side of the key, that meet at the two terminals. You can route your wires in from the side, providing a little strain relief.
When I first grasped the key, my forefinger instinctively went into the indentation and it felt very natural. Despite the lack of adjustments, the key has a nice feel to it. With it just sitting on my desk, I can send code without the key sliding around too much. With the cable I’m using, though, it can sometimes feel like “the tail wagging the dog.” It’s not a huge issue, as long as I’m careful.
Kudos to Dave KØMBT for this unique and fun little key. If you’d like more information on Dave’s keys, look him up on QRZ.com or download Dave’s PDF file describing his offerings.
73, Craig WB3GCK
[Disclaimer: I have no financial interest in this product whatsoever.]
While puttering around the shack this morning, I came across an old key I had all but forgotten. It’s a Westclox Canadian military key that I acquired back when I was first licensed. It has been tucked away in the back of my desk drawer for most of the past 44 years. I can’t remember ever using it on the air, so I figured it’s time to give it a fresh look.
It seems like I’ve had this Westclox key forever. I remember buying it from a mail-order military surplus house around 1975. It was in excellent condition and appeared to be unused. The label on the box reads: Z1 ZA/CAN 0977. The box also shows a manufacturing date of May 1949. An identical key is shown on the W1TP website. The PA3EGH website also shows some similar keys.
I don’t remember what I paid for it, but it wasn’t very expensive. I took a quick look at eBay this morning and I saw these keys listed anywhere from $80 to an outrageous $750.
One of the reasons it hasn’t seen much use is its “feel.” Unlike the J-38 style keys I used in the Navy, the contacts on the Westclox key are behind the fulcrum. This results in a “feel” that was a bit unusual to my taste.
The other issue with this key is that it’s somewhat loud. At one time I considered using it for portable operating while camping. However, I don’t think it would be a good choice for early morning operating when others are still sleeping.
Having said all that, there’s still something about this key that fascinates me. I spent some time re-adjusting it and it now feels better than I remembered. I also mounted it on a wooden base for some additional stability.
Frankly, I don’t think I gave this key a fair shake back when I bought it. So, I think I’m going to put this 70-year-old key on the air this week. If it really was new/unused when I bought it, this will be the first operational use in its 70-year existence.
No, not me personally! But, today is actually the 175th anniversary of the first telegraph transmission from Baltimore to Washington, D.C. on May 24, 1844. Here’s an excellent article on the history of the Morse Code:
It’s remarkable that Morse Code is still being used today. Bravo, Mr. Morse! It’s been a part of my life ever since I went through Navy Radioman School in 1970. It’s still my favorite ham radio mode and I’m proud to help keep the tradition alive.
So, get on the air today and make a CW contact or two.
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
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.
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
[Note: The codes shown below for Left and Right Parentheses are reversed from those shown in ITU Recommendation, ITU-R M-1677-1 (10/2009). — WB3GCK]
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
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
Y DAH-di-DAH-DAH HOW JIMMY LIKE
Z DAH-DAH-di-dit PAPA QUICK QUILL
VICTORY XRAY YOUNG
ZERO BUZZ GARGLE
FIZZLE LYNX OXYGEN
WAX QUAY JERKY WHIP
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.
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.
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.
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.
POSITION OF HAND ON KEY; WRIST MOVEMENT
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.
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.
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:
Adjust the back stop screw until the reed lightly touches the deadener. Tighten the locknut.
Adjust the front stop screw until the separation between the end of the screw and the reed is approximately .015 inch. Tighten the locknut.
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.
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.
Adjust the dah contact adjusting screw to a clearance of approximately .030 inch.
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.
MEET EMIT MITE ITEM
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.
MINED UNITED READY MAUDE TEAMED
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:
DOOM MOST ROAD MOTOR WORST MOTION WOKE ANCHOR DOMO
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:
SOB BASSINET BIND BESTED BEAUTY SNOB BABBITT BURST
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
7. MI AN SY NL TY CE DO PS CX ZW QA PK
LN HU WC VN BM ZS CD QA IU SD LM UH
GY TR DC VT AR YU FD SA IG WQ XT ZI
NY OT ED BM LP YU GH BY RE DF LS
WQ XS ZI TY BG NH JV KL MD MI AN SY
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
9. NDT EGH RTS LYB FCC ZEX PIH CWE
LKJ QIE NUG CVT EPL SZW QAU SH
GBT VRT GIK GYO DCM XSD ZAU YER
DLN URG HNB VDX ZWS QTA GHI PT
MBY PLK RDC ESX IUP PKJ NYH GHT
DFR VED SWN VBT XFZ RDA SEN FU
GBC YRF DSE WNJ GVA SWQ QIX ZOT
MEH GKD BGV CFI ATA RUR SAC LT
NVR DAB BLM INY EGB LKO MWD SKZ
QLD YGB NDT EGH RRS FLM FCC ME
10. OVLH MYBL URXO HIZO VICT
FINX SCXS HTYV IQNT UBML
ABLB EJLN CYZB ZWCN JNDZ
UTLZ KLAB DEFZ VNUW KFRE
11. JICOY TXSTY 38Ø95 RDIHA
JXTDZ OXYDW XPZSY RSPHD
89706 CUSPI RNBRJ 65289 ZONIG
FYEQU ARQNV RNLPT KAKOZ
8784Ø BVGAN WKOQT SRQMT
UJVWN 45872 YXBCX AFKOZ
OGLCT NIHGP 12349 ATUSK
12. OLMX MVNH UWQR NVUT KUXF
CDEH LYHE DIPA ZQWI AYSK
QIQA WMNW ZIHZ CAKD BTGW
WNLI PWBU OXAD XFRJ IQCA
13. ZMJXI URYNC 9347Ø PQAZM
DEGVM NCBVG HUGHY 13267
PHRAN QUECC 1289Ø MCNDH
EUIRY WQAZX IRSVZ MCURI
72439 OYTRW PIQAW CNJWO
OWQAJ OISKM 1Ø7Ø6 DGFHG
14. UTHA VNCB RFDS EDCD CXVD
RWQI MNJF STRO TNBL UJHK
NIOQ JUYR GBNX VCXT RJTU
BCDV CGFH 5781 JGVX HGJD
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
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
When operating in the field, I often like to alternate between a straight key for SKCC contacts and paddles for everything else. I found a quick and easy way to do this, courtesy of an excellent article by Rich AG6QR.
In the past, I would sometimes run an external keyer and connect a straight key in parallel with the keyer’s output. I have often used this as a way to use both computer keying and paddles during Field Day. I have also resorted to putting the CW KEY1 jack into the straight key mode and turning my Palm Mini paddles on their side to simulate a straight key. I could have used the Elecraft paddles designed for the KX3 but that arrangement isn’t very comfortable for me.
I did some searching and found a neat little adapter on the Pignology website. Unfortunately, at the current time, they aren’t accepting orders. A little more searching produced AG6QR ‘s article, which provided a perfectly workable solution. Best of all, I had everything I needed in my junk box.
Inspired by Rich’s article, I assembled a two-pin, female header connector (with standard 0.1-inch spacing) by crimping on a short length of two-conductor wire. On the other end, I soldered on an in-line 1/8-inch stereo jack. (I connected to the tip and sleeve terminals, leaving the ring terminal open.)
After setting the CW KEY2 jack to the “HAND” setting, I connected my header connector to the two right-most pins on the front connector and a straight key to the stereo jack. Voila! It worked just fine. As is my usual practice, I used a little Goop sealant/adhesive to add a little extra strain relief and make the connectors more rugged for field use.
So until Pignology reopens, I have a great (cheap) solution for simultaneously connecting a straight key and paddles. Be sure to check out AG6QR’s page for a more detailed description (and better photography).
My (far) better half and I took our little trailer back to French Creek State Park (PA) for what turned out to be a rainy weekend of camping. Despite the lousy weather, I did have some radio fun and ran into one of my QRP friends.
Right after we set up the trailer, I was flagged down by one of my Boschveldt QRP buddies, Ron WA8YIH. Ron and his family were also spending the weekend at French Creek. Ron’s campsite was across the road about 30 yards or so away from ours. I hadn’t seen Ron since our Boschveldt QRP gathering back in January, so it was good to catch up with him.
I spent most of my radio time operating in the SKCC Weekend Sprintathong (WES) contest. This month, bonus points were available for QSOs made using a homebrew key. So, before we left, I threw together a homebrew straight key using parts from an earlier key project that wound up in my junk box.
The lever arm is a strip of thin fiberglass material I liberated from a trashcan where I worked many years ago. The contacts consist of a small screw on the lever arm and a piece of brass-plated metal from an old cabinet latch. I used some nuts and washers as spacers to get the contact spacing where I wanted it. That took a bit of trial and error. I couldn’t find anything on-hand that I liked for a knob, so I used a piece of self-adhesive foam. Using it on the air, I was pleasantly surprised with the feel of the key.
Since the weather was so lousy, I spent a bit more time on the radio than normal. Over the course of the weekend, I found the band conditions to be highly variable with some deep fading. At times, my 5-watt signal seemed to be getting out really well. At other times, not so much. I also had to disconnect the antenna when thunderstorms rolled through. As if that wasn’t enough, our area was under a tornado watch on Saturday night. (Fortunately, they never materialized.) Needless to say, I have had better weather for camping.
I ended up with 19 WES QSOs and 1 QSO with Ron. Since I could actually see Ron from my campsite, I guess we could have used semaphore for that contact.