Straight Key Suspicions

Having become more involved with the SKCC and its many activities, I’ve spent considerable time using a straight key over the last couple of years. I still use an electronic keyer for contesting or when chasing DX, but those oppotunities don’t require much in the way of sending.

Not long after the Michigan QSO Party ended last weekend I got a call from a fellow intent on chewing the rag. Things were going okay using the keyer with solid copy on both ends but I stumbled — numerous times — while sending. I kept noticing random missing dits or dahs until I was convinced there was something wrong with the paddles.

After our QSO, I tore the key down looking for a mechanical problem that apparently didn’t exist.

That got me wondering if something could be wrong with my electronic keyer. I’ve used a Logikey K-5 for years and there’s never been another piece of equipment in my shack that I’ve been as pleased with as it. I couldn’t imagine what might have gone wrong but it had to be something. I plugged the paddles directly into the Eagle and used it’s internal keyer — assuming if the problem disappeared, the K-5 was indeed the culprit.

(I’m faithful believer in external keyers but Bob Locher, W9KNI explains why much better than I ever could).

But as it turned out, it didn’t matter. Using the internal keyer, I waded into another QSO and again, experienced random missing elements that made it tough to get into the natural flow of sending. It didn’t halt the QSO, but every now and again I would send a “V” and a “U” would come out.

Having ruled out the hardware and the electronics all that was left was the operator!

Using the K-5 as a practice oscillator, I sat down and sent Morse code to no one in particular for a solid two hours. I had the latest issue of QST magazine on the computer screen and sent all the text from several articles. It was exhausting but I noticed right away that the problem was me. My timing was off, just enough to cause my sending to be faulty.

By the end of that marathon practice session, things were sounding much better. Back on the air, I enjoyed a couple of nice QSO’s without missing a beat.

I would never have suspected operator error — I guess you’re never too old for practice. This episode makes me suspicious that extended time using a straight key has a negative impact on using paddles. At a minimum, I believe its caused my timing to be off just enough to gum up the works and at least for the moment, I’m inclined to avoid the straight key like the plague.

I’d be curious to hear from anyone who has noticed similar phenomena.

Author: Jeff Davis


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