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

Brooke Clarke brooke at pacific.net
Thu Jun 23 12:58:57 EDT 2016

Hi Mitch:

Thanks for the post.  I'd like to see you video on adjusting a bug.

Have Fun,

Brooke Clarke, N6GCE
The lesser of evils is still evil.

-------- Original Message --------
> 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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