“I need to call Jim and thank him!”
Jim Cluett, W1PID, is my very good friend and amateur radio mentor. He always loves hearing how I harvest happiness from the hobby.
Moments before I had just completed a fun conversation with Pete, AA2AD, in Pennsylvania using an old-fashioned straight key sending Morse code.
The way radio communications were done one-hundred years ago.
Straight Key Night – It’s Popularity Is Growing
The American Radio Relay League ( ARRL) sets aside January 1 of each year to honor the deep legacy of Morse code and the humble straight key that was used by millions of radio operators through the years to send simple dihs and dahs.
A dih is the short sound you hear in Morse code while the dah is the longer tone.
Straight Key Night begins on New Years Eve in the USA because radio operators across the world use Universal Time, a modern name for Greenwich Mean Time. When it’s 0:00 January 1, 2018 in England on the prime meridian, it’s 7:00 PM ET here on the East Coast of the USA where I live.
My Morse Code Journey Continues Unabated
I started doing Morse code just after seeing a fun demonstration put on by Jim and another friend Hanz Busch, W1JSB, at a local Boy Scout meeting. I drove home that cold winter night determined to immerse myself in this legendary form of communication.
I’ve always felt there’s magic in Morse.
Believe me, there is. More than you can ever imagine.
What does all this have to do with Straight Key Night you wonder?
My straight key conversation, operators call them QSOs, with AA2AD gave me the same thrill a mountain climber must feel when she/he summits a particularly tough peak.
Or the thrill a student must feel after winning the state or national spelling bee contest.
Perhaps you’ve worked hard at some task that’s taken weeks, months or years and finally achieved your goal. You know the feeling.
Modern Radios Do All the Keying Work
Straight Key Night is special because you cast aside your modern electronic keyers like you see Jim use in the video above. Most modern radios contain computer chips that create perfect spacing of the dihs and dahs. Some computer programs will send Morse for you through your radio if you just type the words you want sent.
This is sterile and stale Morse in my opinion.
Straight Key Night puts you into a time machine.
You go back in time and send Morse using your brain and precise movements with your hands and wrist. Spaced bursts of electromagnetic energy are thrust up into the atmosphere awaiting someone to answer you.
When they do, the fun begins.
It’s important to realize that sending Morse code using a straight key is an art form. What’s more, it’s not easy to send Morse using a straight key if you do it just once a year.
While it’s like riding a bike, you can get rusty. During my QSO with Pete I sent something like, “Sorry about my rusty code.”
“No rust to my ears. HI.” Pete replied. The HI is a Morse acronym for laughter.
Don’t Bother Me!
Using my modern smart phone I touched the photo of Jim to call him about my QSO with Pete. I couldn’t wait to tell him how much fun I had. After all, Jim’s determination pushing me down the Morse pathway was directly responsible for my transformation into a somewhat respectable radio operator.
The phone started to ring, but all of a sudden I heard through the radio faint Morse.
“W3ATB de WB3GCK”
Someone’s calling me! I immediately cancelled the call so I could converse with a fellow low-powered outdoor radio operator Craig La Barge, WB3GCK, who also lives in Pennsylvania.
Twenty seconds later my phone started ringing. It was Jim. I sent him to voice jail so I could have an extended conversation with Craig.
Be Brave – Just Do It
I finally called Jim after finishing up with Craig and we had a great conversation. I thanked Jim for exposing me to the magic of Morse and for his unending patience with me.
“When using a straight key, slow is better. It’s easier to form the letters the way they’re supposed to be done.”
Jim was so right as I noticed that when trying to speed up, I had a tendency to chop off the last part of a dah.
My advice to you is to get out that straight key and scrape the rust from your fingers.
Within minutes I’ll bet you have a wide smile on your face. If so, tell your story in the comments below to encourage other operators!