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.
Another 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.
A 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 on.
Click here for a short video
of a "how to use a bug" (semi-automatic mechanical key) and a video of a 'straight key" .