I know a lot of RF Cafe forum readers are not hams so you
have no idea what "straight key night" is. You don't even
know what a "straight key" is.
When you see a
person sending morse code in the movies or on tv, they
virtually always using a "straight key". This is nothing
more than a normally-open momentary switch that has been
designed to be comfortable and adjustable for the
telegrapher. However, speed is limited to around 20 wpm
for most operators. You just cannot go any faster than
that for more than a couple of minutes.
So in the
second half of the 1800's there were many inventions to
speed this up. "Semi-automatic keys" and "automatic keys"
were mechanical wonders that would use resonant mechanical
structures to produces the dits and/or dahs. This made
speeds up to 50 words per minute quite practical. Then in
the 1950's we had the development of 'electronic keyers'.
These used tubes (yes they did) and later solid state
circuits to produce faster and more accurate timing for
dits and dahs. And of course in the 80's with the cost of
personal computers dropping, there was the development of
software that would transmit "perfect" code from what was
typed on the keyboard. So speeds increased again, often up
to 70 wpm. Though technology is great, these devices also
meant that we all started to sound the same.... there was
no 'personality' to the code.
Anyway, on the
evening of the New Year we have an informal operating
event in which many thousands of hams get out the old
"straight key" and have conversations on the air with
international morse code. The speeds are slower, and more
relaxed. Each operator has slightly different timing and
style which makes us identifiable on the air before you
even hear the callsign. (Much like an speaking accent
gives an immediate clue as to your geographical location
during your childhood.)
If you 'know a little bit
of code' or have not listened to it in a few decades, then
December 31 might be the time to turn on the radio. Many
operators will be going as slow as 5 wpm.
emerging 'tradition' is to "warm up the old boatanchor".
Get the vintage tube equipment fired up (warm up the
house), re-form the capacitors and get on the air with a
signal that is not perfectly stable. This adds a bit more
personality to the signals we will be hearing.
good place to start listening would be 7.025 through 7.100
MHz around sundown on the 31st. Later in the evening you
might drop down to 3.525 ~ 3.600 MHz and see whats going
Click here for a short video
of a "how to use a bug"
(semi-automatic mechanical key) and a video of a 'straight