Hand Keys in January 2024

By Norm Campbell – AB6ET

It’s that time of year when hand keys, Morse Code, and the way it was on CW is on the air again.

Every year on New Year’s Day it’s SKN, Straight Key Night sponsored by the ARRL.  Everyone is encouraged to get on the air for the special event, not a contest, simply to talk with others using hand keys of some type. 

Straight keys are considered to be regular hand keys, cootie keys, bugs, and even makeshift keys such as wires, beer can tops, and paper clips.  I know paper clips are used because I talked with John-WI6O who was using just such an arrangement.

I made a number of contacts using a variety of keys.  The picture shows some of them.  From left to right is an old and original telegraph key dating to around 1880 or so, then there are the ubiquitous J-37 and J-38 keys, next is a Western Union number 2 legless telegraph key of more recent vintage from the early 1900s, followed by a much more modern E.F. Johnson key.  Note the E. F. Johnson and my hand using it in the CVARC website picture taken at a club Field Day a few years ago.  The J-38 is my original novice key when I was first licensed and used on the air when CW was required and the license was only good for one year.

The telegraph sounder on the top shelf is a gift from Phil-K6UJO.  It’s a great reminder of what was once used along with hand keys to connect the world by wire.  He gave it to me at the CVARC meeting a while ago when I gave a presentation about Morse Code and the telegraph.

All the keys are fun to use.  Each has a little different feel and adjustment but easy to get used to again.  It’s also good to have more than one in case of a mechanical malfunction.  Also see my auto keyers tucked under the shelf in ready stand-by prepared for immediate service if needed or if my hand gets tired.

The key connection to my Kenwood TS-590S is wired with pins.  The keys have holed terminals or alligator clips for quick disconnect.  I can swap out keys at a moment’s notice. A hand key and keyer can be connected simultaneously so there is never a delay switching between the two.   

New Year’s Day is past.  Having FOMO about missing SKN?  Don’t worry, there’s SKM, Straight Key Month sponsored by the SKCC, Straight Key Century Club.  Again, this is a special event, not a contest.

Various member volunteers in each of the call zones has a schedule to get on the air as K3Y, the SKCC club call.  Everyone is invited to work as many of the K3Y stations as possible and send for a certificate QSL if desired.  It’s a time to get on the air, have a brief conversation, and enjoy using straight keys.  You don’t have to be a member to participate.

Listen on a variety of bands for the K3Y call and make contact.  A spotting list is on the SKCC Sked page of their website if you are looking for a specific call or operator.  For example, Adrian-K6KY is operating as K3Y/6 for a few hours per day. 

The SKCC operators are as slow or as fast as you want.  They encourage all skill levels of CW operators to get on the air and have fun.  If you have an SKCC number you can exchange it with the other station.  If you don’t have an SKCC number you can go to their website and get one at no cost.  They just want you to have an interest in promoting CW and getting on the air.

Finally, remember the CVARC Morse Group is on the air every Monday night using MCW, Modulated CW, on the 2 meter Bozo repeater followed by HF communications on 10 meters, 40 meters, or 80 meters depending on band conditions.  A concurrent Zoom session takes place before and after the radio net. Check the Morse Group information on the club website or contact Martin-AJ6CL for more information. 

In addition, the Morse Group has a monthly in-person meeting on the first Friday of the month to meet, discuss, and practice Morse Code and CW procedures. Details are usually mentioned at the 9am Auxiliary Bored Meeting Net or in an email sent to group members.  All are invited to attend the meeting whether you know and do CW, are practicing to get on the air, or have an interest in finding out what we are talking about.

For fun and history, this is a great time to get on the air.

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