Recently I had the chance to talk with a group of amateurs at a local club. They ranged from old-old-timers to several still studying for their first license. As always seems to be the case, the topic of FCC’s NPRM eliminating the Morse Code requirement for amateur licenses came up. And true to form, the comments ranged from “it’s about time” to “how can they be so short-sighted?”
Regardless of your position, the important fact for CW enthusiasts is that the NPRM doesn’t mean you won’t be able to use the code if you choose. Radio communications have evolved a long way from the early spark-gap transmitters and their hand-created Morse code communications. Once in my life I would love to hear the electrical hissing of this unique ancestor of our current modern modes. It would be nice to see if you could really “smell” the signal in the air as “Old Betsy” (Hiram Percy Maxim’s name for his spark-gap radio, which is on display at W1AW) or its cousins literally lit up the ether. But alas, as this particular mode is no long permitted, it will have to remain a perception challenge for the imagination
At the beginning of each year many operators around the US, and world-wide, declare a respite from the technological evolution. They turn back the pages of modern operation and look towards our roots in this hobby — ARRL Straight Key Night. Some consider CW antiquated while others view it an outdated technology. But for many — old-timer and newcomer alike — it is a reliable friend. (And if you think it is a technology that has been replaced by Blackberry and text-messaging technology, did you see the “Old Timers” – Chip Margelli, K7JA and Ken Miller, K6CTW — smoke the world champion fastest text messenger on the NBC Tonight Show with Jay Leno back on May 13th 2005?)
In this era of digital communication, keyboarding, FM and electronic keys, once a year many excellent operators bring the past to the present and participate in the annual ARRL Straight Key Night. The object of this friendly event is to enjoy some good, old fashioned QSO fun, using straight keys. The emphasis is on rag-chewing rather than fast contest-type exchanges. SKN 2006 begins at 7:00 p.m. EST December 31 and runs for 24 hours through 7:00 p.m. EST January 1 (0000 –2400 UTC January 1, 2006).
In many circles SKN has been expanded to encompass vintage radio equipment as well. Reminiscing about their early days in our hobby, many operators use SKN as the “excuse” to refurbish their old Viking, Heathkit, or Scout. You will hear as many vintage radios on the air during SKN as you will variety of keys. And you will hear signals generated using old-fashioned bugs, a variation of the straight key. SKN is the time amateur radio recalls the past, transporting it to the present.
When participating in SKN 2006, instead of sending RST before sending the signal report send the letters SKN, to indicate your participation, and to clue in passers-by who may be listening that SKN is going strong. After SKN, send the Contest Branch a list of stations worked, plus your vote for the best fist you heard (it doesn’t have to be one you worked). Also, include your vote for the most interesting QSO you had or monitored.
Don’t forget to post your comments and interesting photographs from your SKN adventure to the ARRL Contest Online Soapbox at www.arrl.org/contests/soapbox Entries should be emailed to the Contest Branch at StraightKey@arrl.org or may be sent via regular mail to SKN, ARRL, 225 Main St, Newington, CT 06111. The Soapbox becomes an on-line album of stores and photographs to share with others.
Entries for SKN 2006 must be received by January 31, 2006. Votes for ‘Best Fist’ and “Most Interesting QSO” will be tabulated and included in the April 2006 issue of QST. If you have questions about SKN, please visit the Contest Branch Web Page at http://www.arrl.org/contests or contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Last year we had 312 submissions for SKN — the most ever for Straight Key Night; from 45 states, 5 foreign countries, Puerto Rico, and 3 Canadian provinces. Why not dust off the key, clean the contacts and light up the ether with the beautiful melody of hand-created CW? Sweeter music is hard to find.