So I’ve been learning Morse Code throughout the summer and felt comfortable (or daring) enough to try my hand at making some contacts. Now, when I acquired my radio (a 2nd hand Kenwood TS-570S that is treating me real nice), it didn’t come with a paddle or key, so I decided to make my own.
Yeah, not your traditional paddle. Initially, the idea was to learn how a paddle works. It’s pretty straightforward; the two switches tie one of two lines to ground, which the radio reads as a dit or dah. I recently acquired a mechanical keyboard that wasn’t going to be used, so I ripped it apart, grabbing all the keys and the RGB leds that made the keyboard expensive.
Perhaps it’s a bit ironic to pull apart a keyboard to make a super simple “keyboard” with only two keys, but my maker philosophy is to do it “because you can”. After soldering the switches to so protoboard, I attached a JST connector and spliced some old telephone wire (remember when telephones had wires?). The other end of the cable is an Adafruit 1/4 inch phone plug that connects directly to the radio. Works well. I haven’t figured out a case yet, so the good old painters tape on a board suffices for the moment.
So, on to my adventure. I’ve been using lcwo.net to learn Morse Code and I’m clocking in at 5-7 WPM which is the speed required back when Morse Code was needed to get an amateur radio license. (Makes me feel like my license is now ‘legit’.) On my first day of CW, I tuned around the couple bands that allow technicians to transmit, hoping that I could find some slow transmitters I could copy. That brought me to the 15-meter band and I heard someone calling CQ a little faster than I could copy, but since no one else was responding, I could hear him repeat a number of times: xe2ad. So, after looking up the call sign, I saw this was a clear and clean signal from Mexico, so I switched my radio over to TX and slowly typed out my call sign. It was a quick back and forth, I could only copy a few words from xe2ad. Afterwards, I found his contact info (David) and sent an email about the contact. He had my signal loud and clear so we called that a confirmed contact!
Next up was WA1ITU – my Dad. We set up some time to check out our radios and antennas. We had a few back and fourths (confirmed with simultaneous emails) along with some problems with radios that wouldn’t transmit (on the plus side, neither of our antennas fell down). We got cut off by some other hams doubling us along with wives/mothers/daughter-in-laws expecting us to check out and prep for dinner. Ahh such is life.
The next day I figured OK, time for my first “real” contact. Not that the previous two weren’t real, but they were either predetermined (hey Dad, check in to this frequency) or incomplete (I needed xe2ad’s signal report via email). So I hopped on to 40 m and looked for some slow code. On 7.055 MHz I heard N2AFX at a very reasonable pace, so I responded to his CQ and he slowed down to my pace. I could copy well over 90% of his messages, including signal reports. We had what I consider a real introduction (locations) message (weather) and closing (73). I followed up with Kevin, who happens to live just around the corner, 30 miles southeast of me. He welcomed me to the wonderful world of CW and I have to admit, I’m hooked.
Congrats! You actually made your paddle without incorporating a Raspberry Pi or even an Arduino! Truly old school. 🙂 Seriously – congratulation.
To me this is what made amateur radio fun for me. Starting out at 16 I didn’t have a college professors salary and had to build everything myself on a teenager’s income. $15.00 a week I believe. A high school teacher who took an interest in me (K1QZV )and any handout I could get. Creative spirits make good HAM’s. Enjoy the hobby.