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Morse Code: Straight Key and Others

I enjoy a niche of ham radio called Continuous Wave (CW) / Morse Code sending and receiving.  There are all sorts of hand keys out there to use.  Lots of CW Contests occur every month for all levels of CW enthusiasts… you don’t have to send fast, if you don’t want to!  It’s a very efficient system of communicating when traditional modes of messaging are out of service, too.  Some say since the advent of the telephone and then the cellphone, it is a dying art… I say it’s a BLAST to do!

Every ham ought to try a little CW every once in a while.  Find a key you like and use it periodically to stay proficient but also pick up a straight key and join the annual Straight Key Night Contest around New Years.  (It’s not really a contest; it’s more of an opportunity to pull out a straight key and try sending Morse Code the old fashioned way.

I love to scour the hamfest flea markets looking at all the old time keys available to buy for a variety of prices.  Some served in Post Offices, Telegraph Offices, military communications, in combat and in ham shacks!  My favorite straight key is a 1950’s era South African Special Forces straight key… super compact… light weight… and darned cute… that I picked up at the Dayton Hamvention in 2015!  It wasn’t cheap, but it’s unique and has a good story.  See some of the key configurations below…

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Bencher Paddles and Memory Keyer UNITE!

As soon as I get my Yaesu System Fusion FTM100-DR online, I want to mate my Bencher paddles to the new MFJ-490X Menu Driven Memory Keyer that I picked up at the 2016 Dayton Hamvention last week (May 21, 2016).  I am itching to get these two toys working in some CW / More Code Contesting very soon!  5 programmable memories plus all sorts of keyer speed, weighting, side tone, hand key capability, serial number decrements, random code practice, iambic settings, etc.

(See video below!)

MFJ-490X Memory Keyer  Instruction Manual

 

 

2016 Dayton Hamvention Post-Mortem

Well… another Hamvention is in the books and it was the usual great time of fun and friendship.  WR8S  (Bill Shultz) and WV8TG  (Tom Graf) and I enjoyed three fun-filled days scouring the Flea Market and also inside Hara Arena for all sorts of treasures and trinkets.  Tom scored a pristine 1959 Hammerlund HQ-One Forty Five short-wave radio and several other vintage radios to restore.  (The Hammerlund was the first serious short-wave radio Tom bought and it eventually led him on the journey to get his Amateur Extra Class license!)  Bill and I invested in a couple Yaesu FTM100-DR System Fusion digital mobile radios so that we can explore the Monongalia Wireless Association’s new System Fusion repeaters here in the Morgantown, West Virginia area.  Below is a video recap of our annual trek to the Dayton Hamvention.  If you have never attended a Dayton Hamvention… GET THERE!  Enjoy!

How can you become a Ham Radio operator QUICKLY?

Ham It Up_HR-RGB

You won’t believe how easy it can be!  You take it in bite-size chunks of information and at your own pace.  NO MORE MORSE CODE REQUIREMENT!  (But Morse Code is a blast to still use and also the most efficient form of radio communication!  I had to be able to send and receive 5 words per minute for the old Novice License… 13 wpm for General Class… and 20 wpm for Advanced and Extra Class licenses.  There are no longer any Morse Code requirements and the Novice and Advanced Class licenses are no longer available.)  For more than 100 years ham radio operators have been exploring the world and beyond from their own little ham shacks / ham station / living rooms.  It never gets old and there is always something to explore!

What can you do with a ham radio?  Talk to people all over the world with as little as 1 watt or less… or even 1500 watts.  Assist in Emergency Communications.  Assist with branches of the US Armed Forces.  Build your own radios and equipment.  Experiment with your own antennas.  Go to fun “Hamfests and Flea Markets” to learn and get great bargains.  Find new friends who are hams in your local club.  Participate in the Annual ARRL Field Day Contest and exercises!  Talk to the astronauts on the International Space Station.  Talk to other hams around the world THROUGH many ham radio satellites orbiting the earth!  Use your local VHF/UHF Repeaters to talk to family and friends from the car, handheld radio or from home.  Track ham radio equipped balloon flights.  Work with hams with disabilities.  Refurbish or collect old time ham radio equipment.  Teach others ham radio courses and/or help with exam sessions.

ARRL-Centennial-Logo-small-1024x868           skywarn           amradiospace2013           amateur_radio_emergency_service_thumb  
                                                               

There are three different licenses you can obtain and they are designed in a way that as you study to get the first license, what you learn there will help you understand the next license study material.  The really nice thing about it is that you will have ALL the multiple choice questions in each exam pool AND THE EXACT ANSWER TO EVERY QUESTION!  That’s pretty good to have all the Q’s and A’s to study!  The sample questions in your study materials are the EXACT questions you will see on the exam.  A score of 74% gets you the license!  There are also FREE practice exams you can take online or even from your smartphone!  (I took a couple practice exams each evening as I sat watching TV in my favorite chair in my living room.)  Soon the questions you have missed in the past practice exams are embedded in your brain with the correct answers reinforced!  Each question will have four (4) possible answers; and on most of the questions you can just about eliminate two of the possible answers just by looking at them.  (I will give you some good pointers about how to study and prepare for the exams at the end of this post!  Read them before you buy any study guides or books!)

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You will just need to do some interesting and fun reading, look at the questions (and the exact answers) from each chapter of the book… and before you know it you will be ready to take the exam!  You are going to learn some really cool stuff each time you read the material.  PLUS, as you advance to a higher class of Ham Radio license you can pick your own call sign!  (In the early 1980’s my first call sign was KA8LJO from the FCC as a Novice Class licensee… then I was assigned KB8FIR by the FCC when I got my Technician Class license… and better yet, when I got my Extra Class license I picked my own call sign, WT8WV… “Whiskey Tango 8 Whiskey Victor”.  I chose it for three reasons… I am fond of an occasional taste of good whiskey… I love my state of West Virginia… and phonetically it stands out and sings in a pile-up during a Ham Radio contest!)

GWTW14Stech

The first license you study for is called the Technician License and the exam has only 35 questions!  You will learn some very basic things about electricity, how your radio signals move through the air, some of the rules that the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) expects us to abide by for best practices, antennas, radios, the frequencies you can use in your new radio, and much more!  You will gain legal access to some very good frequencies for both voice and data communication in several excellent ham bands.  You could be ready to take this exam in a couple weeks of study!

gwgw11gen

The second license is called the General Class License and also has only 35 questions.  This course adds to what you learned in the Technician Class study.  It really dives just a bit deeper into some common things you will find will help you get more out of your antenna, radios, contesting, which ham bands magically open at specific periods of the day and year, some simply explanations of a few electronic circuits we use every day, and much more!  You will also gain even MORE frequencies on the ham bands to use at your pleasure!  You could be ready to take this exam in 2-4 weeks of easy study!

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The third (and highest class of Ham Radio license) is called the Extra Class License and consists of a 50 question exam.  This study course really dives deeper in what you have learned in the Technician and General Class license preparations.  It will take a bit more time to study and prepare, and has a few more questions on the exam.  You gain ALL frequencies allotted to Ham Radio communications, with several excellent niches within certain ham bands reserved for ONLY Extra Class licensees!  You could be ready to take this exam in 30-60 days with some good study and practice exams under your belt!

ARRL-Logo

The Amateur Radio Relay League (ARRL) also offers all sorts of study books for not only all the licenses but a myriad of way cool ham related stuff for every facet of this vast hobby!  I have been a member of the ARRL for years and the monthly QST magazine alone is worth my dues!  Plus you get discounts on all the other books and items.  You can even find a local ham radio license class!  http://www.arrl.org/find-an-amateur-radio-license-class  Here is a link to the ARRL study guides for the three licenses.  They are much more in-depth than the Gordon West series of license books and a good addition to your study… but I personally feel the Gordon West series in the best way to get that license quickly.  Below for more information.   http://www.arrl.org/ham-radio-license-manual

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License Exam Study and Preparation Tips

Select which study book you will use for the license you are going to test for.

Find a quiet place to read.

Have a yellow highlighter handy to highlight things you might need to refer to for a question.

Study about 20 minutes a day.  That way you won’t overload your brain!

Download a smartphone app with the ham radio practice exam questions and answers.  I used this all the time whenever I had to wait around for something or someone… or in a boring meeting (once in a while).

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.iversoft.ham.test.prep&hl=en

Watch free YouTube videos to help you prepare or further understand the chapter.  I have watched all of Dave Casler’s YouTube videos and they were a tremendous help to UNDERSTAND not just the question but the concept for every ham license book.  He does each video by chapter or topic and they a short enough to consume in a sitting.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fEWmiMotimY&list=PL07A7D1C9D7BF7F48

I highly recommend the Gordon West Technician Class License Value Pack for getting your Technician License quickly!  I don’t get paid for saying this!  Grin.  However, I will tell your this is the best investment in getting a license you can find.  Gordo makes it fun to learn and he tackles every question and answer in a way that will etch it deep in your memory.  You will absolutely burn through the questions and he’ll teach you ways to remember even the questions that seem difficult for some reason.  I have met him at the Dayton Hamvention and he’s a wonderful person and so helpful.  He even gives you his personal telephone number to call if you have a question!  I suggest burning the CD’s to an MP3 format and put them on your iPod, iPhone, Android or other device so your can listen to them anywhere… car, at lunch, on the treadmill, working out, hiking, etc.  Worked for me every time I did my 30 minutes on the treadmill and lifting weights!  (After I completed my Extra Class license with his book and CD’s I sold them for half-price to another General License ham in our club who is now studying with them!  You could recoup some of your cost, too!)

http://www.w5yi.org/catalog_details.php?pid=78&sort=4

I highly recommend the Gordon West General Class License Value Pack for getting your General Class License quickly!  http://www.w5yi.org/catalog_details.php?pid=59&sort=4

I highly recommend the Gordon West Extra Class License Value Pack for getting your Extra Class License quickly!  http://www.w5yi.org/catalog_details.php?pid=43&sort=4

Practice Exams, Practice Exams, Practice Exams, Practice Exams, Practice Exams!

These are free and a good way to see what areas you need to focus on so you can master a question.  I did this about every evening during commercials watching TV!  Great feedback on how you are progressing in your studies.  When you begin scoring 80% on these practice exams you will be ready to sit for an exam!  (If you buy the ARRL study books, they come with a CD with all the questions in the pool, the answers, scores your exams, shows you the areas you need to focus on, and tracks your progress by each section of the question pool.)  

http://www.eham.net/exams/

Getting you Ham Radio License is NOT rocket science… but it will be fun!  It’s a hobby that is ageless.  What happens if the cellphone towers don’t work, or if there is a prolonged power outage, or a natural disaster prevents normal communications?  Ham radio operators are often the first folks getting the word out and getting the help coming in!  I doesn’t have to be an expensive hobby, either!  I have pieces of equipment I have either built myself or purchased dirt cheap at a flea market.  I have also saved my money for some other items in my ham shack.  It’s also a fun hobby to share with family, friends, and associates worldwide!  GET ON THE AIR!       

Click on picture below to enlarge it so you can see the frequency privileges you get with each license!

band_planou

Heil Pro 7 Headset from 2015 Dayton Hamvention

Pro7-3-B

Having lost a signification amount of higher frequencies in my hearing over the years, I added this to my WT8WV station. Bob Heil spent a few minutes with me on how to set them up with my Icom 761. He’s a great fella! Can’t wait to get them on the air!

The Pro 7 offers a feature set that compliments the Heil Sound standard for headset design. Unlike copies of various aviation type headsets, the PRO 7 is not a copy. It brings newtechnologyto the headset industry. The 2″ thick gel foam ear pads provide extreme comfort for extended periods of time while exhibiting passive noise reduction rated at -26dB, ideal for use in high ambient noise environments. Using technology Bob Heil learned from Paul Klipsch back in the early 70’s, the ear cup enclosures were tuned to the free air cone resonance of the speaker cone thus providing very low distortion with maximum voice articulation providing the ultimate sound reproduction for communications. Theexclusive Heil Phase Reversal system (HPR) allows you to acoustically move the signals forward and creates a spatial widening of the sound field. This feature makes it easier to pull a weak signal from a pileup – useful for DxPeditions and contests as well as a stress reliever as your change the phase angle of the program source. A speaker balance control allows preferred level between the speakers.

The PRO 7 has interchangeable microphone system allows the microphone element to be easily changed in the field for different types of applications. The low distortion Dynamic HC-7 element exhibits a frequency response of 100 Hz – 12 kHz with the -3dB points at 100 Hz and 12 kHz. The traditional Heil speech articulation rise is centered at 2K -4KHz with properly balanced highs and lows. The impedance is 600 ohm. The HC-7 is one of our best microphone elements for speech articulation.

Designed exclusively for iCOM radios, the iC Electret element has a -3dB fixed point at 35 Hz and 12kHz with the sensitivity of-48 at 1500 ohms output centered at 1kHz. The iC element solves the problems with LOW GAIN ICOM radios but can also work with great results on newer Icom models. Bias power is applied to operate the iC electret element. The Pro 7 iC is supplied with our ADl-iC eight pin iCOM adapter cable.

The Pro 7 and Pro 7iC come in black, red, blue or pink.

The balance control located on the LEFT speaker, controls only the left speaker. Begin by setting a comfortable right side speaker level with the AF gain of the receiver. You then adjust the left side speaker where necessary to balance the audio between the speakers. In most cases the balance control will be close to or maximum.

http://www.heilsound.com/amateur/products/headsets/pro-7

2015 Dayton Hamvention Exploits

Tektronix 455... have always wanted a 'scope' to use to monitor my signals.  Got this one from a engineer who upgraded to a fancy new one.  Paid $75 for it and it works great!

Tektronix 455… have always wanted a ‘scope’ to use to monitor my signals. Got this one from a engineer who upgraded to a fancy new one. Paid $75 for it and it works great!

Bill, Tom and I decided to buy a QRP rig to play with that night while in Dayton.  So we picked this little jewel up, found an old power supply, and rigged up a dipole for some 40 Meter QRP.

Bill, Tom and I decided to buy a QRP rig to play with that night while in Dayton. So we picked this little jewel up, found an old power supply, some cheap meters and rigged up a dipole for some 40 Meter QRP.

Bill and Tom (with the assistance of my daughter's cat,

Bill and Tom (with the assistance of my daughter’s cat, “Ender”) put together the custom dipole for 40 Meters. It was strung through the kitchen and up the stairs… and it made beautiful music!

Inside the MFJ 40 Meter QRP rig... CLEAN!

Inside the MFJ 40 Meter QRP rig… CLEAN!

Picked up a cheap power supply and some $1 meters to add to our Dayton Hamvention

Picked up a cheap power supply and some $1 meters to add to our Dayton Hamvention “power house QRP station”.

Bad capacitor in power supply had to be re-soldered.

Bad capacitor in power supply had to be re-soldered.

Needed a little TLC

Needed a little TLC

Stealth antenna for QRP

Stealth antenna for QRP

Bill wiring circuits with Tom's oversight.

Bill wiring circuits with Tom’s oversight.

Bought this cute and tiny South African Special Forces Keyer to use for QRP and Straight Key Night contests.

Bought this cute and tiny South African Special Forces Keyer to use for QRP and Straight Key Night contests.

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A couple of old $1 meters

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Lighting up the FINALS! Burning holes through the clouds!

NEXT YEAR... this will be our big purchase for a tower for our weekend QRP station.  Tom gets to carry it out of the Dayton Hamvention Hara Arena to the truck.

NEXT YEAR… this will be our big purchase for a tower for our weekend QRP station. Tom gets to carry it out of the Dayton Hamvention Hara Arena to the truck.

Upgraded to Extra Class License and New Call Sign ! WT8WV

In March of 2015 I took my test for Extra Class and passed with flying colors.  I then did some searching for a unique vanity call sign that would have the letters “WV” somehow incorporated for “West Virginia” initials.  None of the 1 X 2 calls were available, so I fixated on variations of a 2 X 2 call.  I tried prefixes of W? A? K? N? followed by 8WV.  After some thought for use in a contest, I settled on a “WT” prefix since you don’t tend to hear many “WHISKEY TANGO” prefixes… soooooo…

WHISKEY TANGO 8 WHISKEY VICTOR

WT8WV

A buddy of mine in the ham club said, “That’s a lot of whiskey’s…”  I told him I am fond of whiskeys and love West Virginia… hence the new call sign.  Eighteen days later the FCC granted my first choice and I retired my old call sign, “KB8FIR” and before that my original call sign from the early 1980’s was “KA8LJO”.

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playwithlifeorg

4 out of 5 dentists recommend this WordPress.com site

HarsH ReaLiTy

A Good Blog is Hard to Find

BG5TLA's Blog

Just another WordPress.com site

Tinkertoytech's Blog

Just another WordPress.com weblog

KC4LMD

Chronicling my pursuit of amateur radio’s "Worked All Neighbors" award

Casey's Place

"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe." -- John Muir

Hackaday

Fresh hacks every day

VK4JAZ

Writings about Amateur Radio

Tactical HF

I love the smell of ozone in the morning...smells like...radio.

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slightly sub-orbital testing facility

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A blog about ham radio, Linux and more...

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CQ de WT8WV... GraHAM's Dits & Dah's

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