Coping: Sunday Night is SKN

Prepping/Comms:  Take it from UrbanSurvival Actual – this is a very big deal – this weekend – in celebrating the heritage of ham (amateur) radio.  Starting Sunday night to Monday night is Straight Key Night – SKN for short.

There is still a pretty good base of us “old timers” who can copy Morse code at 30+ words per minute.  If you don’t remember the Jay Leno “showdown” between some kids texting and a couple of good Morse ops, perhaps watching the video on YouTube (here) will bring you up to speed…

The Jay Leno show was not an odd event.  Here’s another example of how Morse smokes texting done on a television morning show.  A long lead-in (*skip to the end minute or two) but the idea is pretty simple:  Morse rocks.

(Continues below)


Just so you can feel knowledgeable, Morse lettings are made up of dits (shorts), dahs (longs), and precise spacings.  An “A” for example is dit dah.  “B” is dah dit dit dit.  And so forth.

When you start off, the customary “hand key” is where you begin.  That’s the classic image from movies.

High speeds come with a mechanical speed key (called a Bug) or electronic speed keys called Keyers.  Ultra-high speed can involve a keyboard for sending.

My personal best was around 43 words per minute (back in my high speed days).  Recently, I was sketchy at 38-40, pretty solid at 35, and going out for a sandwich at 25.  The real limiting factor is writing it down.  Using a pencil, writing 25-words per minute is a LOT harder than it looks.  A Morse operator writes in block letters chosen for speed of writing.

Morse is sometimes called CW.  That’s short for continuous wave – the carrier of a radio transmitter.

I will likely dust off my “collectible” Vibroplex Centennial Edition for a few minutes.

The difference between a Bug and a Keyer is the Bug makes the dits (shorts) only.  The Keyer makes dits and dahs both.  When you make the dahs (longs) on a Bug, there is some tendency not to be so consistent (compared to an electronic keyer) so many older ops (ahem,,,) get accused of having a “Banana Boat Swing” to their sending “fist.”

It’s called a “fist” because sending on a regular (straight key) involves precise “pounding of the brass” connectors with your “fist.”

A kind enough mention could never due justice to the fine work of the International Morse Preservation Society.  Been a member in the past and will again in the future.

One last footnote:  SKN is when a lot of us fire up our tube type gear.  Although the newly arrived Johnson Thunderbolt linear amplifier will probably not make it to the operating position in time, one of the tube rigs will do fine.  This is an old Drake 2B receiver (left) and a Gonset GSB-100 transmitter on the right:

Short story about why the Drake/GSB-100:  That was the first ham radio I ever talked on:  All the way from Seattle to Anchorage during the aftermath of the Good Friday quake back in 1964.

Tube-type gear is more resistant to electromagnetic pulse (EMP) events, but until the NorKs go off on that fork, it’s not a worry.  Still, mankind has never built the weapon that doesn’t end up being used in anger sometime…

Morse code isn’t for everyone…it’s just one of those survival skills than will let you pass a message to others under very unusual circumstances.  It’s been used in covert ops, prisons, hospitals, and lots of unexpected places people don’t think about.

Elaine knows that if I ever lose my ability to write or run my onboard “voice processor” Morse is still a way to pass traffic.  People with strokes have done it…

So, if you notice an abundance of very out-of-practice ham radio people “pounding brass” while you’re tuning the old shortwave around Sunday night or during the day Monday, that’s what all the clicking is about.

Just old timer’s living in the day.  On the theory it may come around again.

Write when you get rich,

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George Ure
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12 thoughts on “Coping: Sunday Night is SKN”

  1. I confess, General class and no code. But, I have a nifty program on my laptop connected Yaesu called Ham Radio Deluxe that takes care of that.
    Still, it’s the most reliable and lowest power form of comms.

  2. George
    Years ago I bought three Heathkit HW-101 transceivers from ebay. I call them the Good, the Bad and the Ugly. The Good is scheduled for a complete rebuild with parts donated from the Bad and Ugly. I picked this product brand with an eye on EMP resistance primarily and a large pool of used machines for sale. In my engineering career I attended a two day seminar given by a Lockheed EMP expert. His comment on my picking a tube type radio was very favorable! By the way, Heathkit is coming back. They are very small right now but they have all the product manuals and will sell you a copy if needed.

  3. Hey George,

    Thanks for giving me a definition of fisting! I had no idea it had to do with Morse Code. I thought it was something else entirely.

    I haven’t done Morse since the Boy Scouts, and only under duress. I think I got to five words a minute with errors. I’d get a Ham license, but I never know what to say.

  4. Wow, my mistake, my first thought was “Silent” key. You know as in deceased (or silent key) ham operator.

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