I too love the sound of bugs and cootie keys - they sound wonderful
especially in the hands of an expert operator.
Navy and other military operators remember that they weren't allowed to use
a "speed key" until they qualified for a "Speed Key Certificate" - and some
of the members of this reflector are proud owners of that certificate.
However, nothing will underscore the need for brevity in Morse work except
using a hand key. Why? Because it is much more difficult to send with.
Sometimes this leads to the false belief that faster is better.
Surprisingly, that is not always the case!
I wasn't always an admirer of hand key sending - far from it. I was a bit
of a "keyer snob" and thought that fast keyer (and keyboard) operators were
better and could do much more that a pokey hand key.
But I had my head turned around when I talked to Norman Richardson, who was
manager of TRT Communications Radio Station - Slidell (Louisiana) WNU
(Tropical Radio). I found out that the fellow who sent and received more
words - far more than any other operator - was Frank Estrada, a Cuban
operator who worked at WNU and used nothing but a Nye-Viking hand key.
Frank probably sent at 18 wpm, the other "fast" operators could send at 40
wpm and faster. Who had almost double the traffic of the keyer and keyboard
Simply by economy of action, Frank generated more income for the station
than any other operator.
I was simply amazed.
American operators on ships most often used bugs or keyers. The British
almost always used keys like the Marconi 365 - a beautiful long lever with
I started listening to the Brits on the Marine CW frequencies - slow and
consistant, they had few errors and few requests for repeats. I also heard
some very beautiful code. It is true that some of the fists would be much
better with the use of an explosive device attached to the key to destroy it
forcing the operator to use an electronic key - but the beautiful fists did
outnumber the poor ones by a significant margin.
In none of this do you notice that I say that "bugs or sideswipers" are
"bad". I use them myself, but I decided to start using a hand key,
something which I really hadn't done for many years.
When using the hand key, it was a lot of WORK. But it forced me to realize
the benefits of: Sending accurately so that I didn't have to correct
errors; to use Q signals to minimize sending; to be brief and not wordy.
I do understand that some operators just can't send on a hand key anymore
because of age or other problems. They aren't the target of these words.
It is far better to use a keyboard and enjoy morse code or any type of key,
then to do without. Even the legendary KH6IJ who was a high speed operator
on bug and keyer resorted to a keyboard after his stroke. But he still
enjoyed CW until his death.
The other thing that I find irritating is the modern redefining of words:
"Straight Key" becomes "Mechanical Key", keys in general become "keyers". I
find this trend uncomfortable.
A straight key is an "up and down key", a keyer is a circuit which keys a
transmitter. A sideswiper is a "sideways mechanical key", a bug is a key
with a mechanical vibrator - either a pendulum or clock works device.
Someone wrote me and suggested that Straight Key Night be renamed to
"Mechanical Key Night" - I'm all for that. At least, what it is called is
what it is.
Straight Key Night when it allows other keys is no longer "Straight Key"
Night - it is something else.
That isn't necessarily bad, but it isn't the same thing - it's different.
There is a value to the operator in feeling the operation of a straight
key - if only to appreciate the distinct advantage to sideswipers, bugs,
keyers and keyboards.
It also puts us all on the same level - which is what I think SKN is all
about. They guy with fancy software is doing the same thing that I am -
pumping the pump handle key.
David J. Ring, Jr., N1EA