[time-nuts] A little telegraph history, slightly off topic

Bob Albert bob91343 at yahoo.com
Thu Jun 23 02:49:36 EDT 2016

Mitch, nice story!  I can certainly vouch for its ring of truth, as I experience the same thing on CW.  I can often identify a station by the style, speed, sound, or other characteristics.  I can tell a bug from a straight key from a keyer a lot of the time.  And we won't talk about frequency drift.

One of the interesting things is to be able to understand someone who can't send very well.  Extra dits, broken characters, and so on, all gets easy once you get the feel of the fist.  I was taught that eight dits is the code for error but hardly anyone can get just 8 dits.
There are QRQ nets where guys use computers to send at blazing speeds.  I love copying them, although it's hard work and I tire quickly.  At times I can copy up to maybe 60 wpm for very brief periods.
I made a paddle from an old mouse.  It's great because it doesn't require the usual lead weights in the base because your hand holds it securely.  It's a quick learn, and even is easy reversing it.  I still use my traditional paddle though.
Sometimes it seems that fast operators are just showing off rather than trying to communicate quickly but I am just fantasizing here.  When you get past about 25-30 wpm you are in a rarefied group that limits considerably whom you can QSO.  OTOH, CW contacts are usually so standard in format that you only need to get the guy's callsign and the rest is boiler plate, so you can do them at high speed.

    On Wednesday, June 22, 2016 11:02 PM, Richard (Rick) Karlquist <richard at karlquist.com> wrote:

 More off topic:

I saw on the history channel a story about a
British radio installation in France (IIRC)
that was taken over by the Germans, who
proceeded to masquerade as British operators,
hoping to gather intelligence.  The British
became suspicious and someone got the bright
to append "HH" to the end of a transmission.
The German operator at the other end instinctively
replied in kind "HH" out of habit, and blew
his cover.  "HH" being Heil <you know who>.

Regarding recording CW:  KH6IJ had a job
copying news and he said that he would
record the CW and then actually play it
back at a HIGHER speed than it was sent
at.  He was that good at CW.


On 6/22/2016 9:09 PM, F Mitchell wrote:
> A little history about telegraphy and identifying operators and
> transmitters.
> As the former owner of Vibroplex (1994-2009) I spoke with thousands of hams
> and hundreds of former railroad and WU telegraphers at hamfests over the
> years, many at the Dayton, OH hamfest.
> Also, one of my friends was Harold Kaplan, W4KVO (sk), who was a Signal
> Core intercept operator in WWII. Harold spent three years in Newfoundland
> copying high speed German telegraphy. The monitoring station had rhombic
> antennas aimed at the North Atlantic, Europe, Africa, and the South
> Atlantic, with banks of Hammarlund receivers, state of the art at the time.
> The Germans had mylar tape recorders (Ampex after the war), they recorded
> code at 35-40 wpm, 5 letter code groups, and retransmitted the code at
> 70-100 wpm. The Signal Core recorded the German transmissions on wire
> recorders, slowed the code down to 30-40 wpm to copy and put the copied 5
> letter code groups on a landline teletype circuit to a decryption facility.
> Some of the operators could copy the code directly off the wire recorder at
> 50-60 wpm straight to the teletype without having to transcribe!
> Of course, the intercept operators were copying 5 letter code groups for
> many hours a day, for months on end. They became very proficient.
> Harold related to me how they could identify individual German operators
> sending the code, and occasionally would get personal information on the
> operators and their locations when the operators would chat with each
> other. They assigned all of the German operators nicknames, based on the
> particular operator’s “fist” and the characteristics of their transmitter.
> So even with a new German operator, the characteristics of the transmitter
> ‘sound’ could give away the transmitter location.
> As a new general class ham in 1963, I joined Army Mars – that was how I met
> Harold. The first thing the local Mars director did to a new member was
> assign them as net control for a cw net. And, what a way to get your code
> speed up. Some of the net members would ‘check in’ to the net at 20-25 wpm,
> some at 50-60 wpm, almost all using Bugs. As the protocol of the net was
> fixed, you could muddle through as net control if you could copy at ~20
> wpm. However, it only took a couple of months and you were up to at least
> 30-35 wpm for self preservation. Also, by the time a net member sent their
> first character or two of code, you knew who the member was. Identification
> was a combination of the operator’s fist, and the characteristics of their
> transmitter. There would be a slight signal chirp, key click, power supply
> hum, etc. etc. on the signal. All of the transmitters were tube, of course,
> and they all sounded a little different.
> The old time hams and telegraphers who came by the Vibroplex booth at
> hamfests always stopped to chat and send a few characters on one of the
> display bugs. And every single one of them would say, “this bug needs
> adjusting”, and proceed to make adjustments. That is one of the reasons
> each operator sounded different on the air, their bug was adjusted just the
> way they liked it. I spend a lot of time readjusting bugs! A favorite
> diversion of mine was to have a left handed display bug.  People would come
> up to the display, not notice that the bug was left handed, and try to send
> with it. They would complain, something is wrong with this bug. I would
> reach across the table, the bug being ‘right hand’ for me and send a few
> characters, and say no, this bug is just fine.
> Not many people left who know how to properly adjust a bug, it is a simple
> 1, 2, 3. I need to make a YouTube video on how to do it. J
> Mitch W4OA
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