Why Learn and Use CW, by Bill Weinhardt W9PPG

     Updated 26 September 2001      URL is http://our.tentativetimes.net/opine/hamquest.html

Links to my other ham columns

Ham Radio Questions and Answers, from my email

by Bill Weinhardt W9PPG


This will be an ongoing page, adding questions as they come in to me. Here are some of the questions I’ve been able to answer!

Question index:

  • Gabriel Heater
  • Paddle Keyer
  • Two Ladder Line Questions 18 March 2000
  • The Cinnamon Bear on CD, the most frequently asked question!
  • Surplus stores
  • Two on 450 Ohm ladder line
  • Mobile Antennas
  • Novice needs code help; with a second Morse question added

Interesting questions several hams have asked

Gabriel Heater radio tapesQ.     Jeff Kalember of Gaylord, Michigan wrote:

My grandfather (now 85) would LOVE to get his hands on a recorded version of some Gabriel Heater news broadcasts. I was talking to him about it this weekend and said I would check the internet for him. You are about the only thing I got off an Alta Vista search…. Can you help me out? I would love to surprise him for his 86th birthday coming up soon.

A.     Yes Jeff, I believe that I can. Looking in the catalogue of Radio Spirits, Shiller Park IL., they list Gabriel Heater as one of their custom series. This is a sheet printed on the reverse side of the order form without any description. Their telephone # is 1-800-723-4648. Also they have a website at www.radiospirits.com

Hope this is helpful. There is another place in Chicago called Metro Golden Memories. I imagine they would have something on Gabriel Heater also. I have ordered stuff from Metro Golden Memories with no problem but I have not dealt with Radio Spirits.

Hope this is helpful and good luck…..Bill

Back to the question index

Paddle Keyer Question

Q.     Rob, VE3XG, writes

I am a novice who is just starting to use a keyer with an iambic paddle instead of a straight key and I was wondering if there is a "correct" way to wire the key as far as the dits and dahs is concerned. ie is it conventional to dit with the thumb (left paddle) or the finger (right paddle) or does it even matter?

Don’t want to learn the "wrong" way and then have to undo it later!

A.     Hi Rob, It probably doesn’t make a whole lot of difference unless you will be using someome else’s keyer from time to time. If you want to follow the convention of the semi-automatic bug (like a Vibroplex which is mechanical and makes the dits automatically and the dahs manually), wire it so the dits are made with your thumb and the dahs with your finger. Commercially made electronic keyers are set up this way as well. Good Luck and have fun. 73’s Bill

Back to the question index

Ladder Line Questions

Q. I just discovered the magic of ladder line as a very low loss alternative to regular coax. But I know 0 about it. If you can help, here are a few dumb questions.

Is it ok to roll any excess line up and leave it in a coil type configuration? I usually cut coax to the desired length, and I just hate to cut the ladder line.

Is it true that ladder line needs to be far as possible from any metal? How will I isolate the line from the mast pole,…PVC? would it be ok to run the ladder line through a pvc tube from apex to real earth?

Here is my station setup: 125 ft of wire in an inverted v configuration, 75 ft. of 450 ohm ladder line, Dentron AT-3K tuner with 4.1 internal line balun.

I put this antenna configuration together one sunday afternoon after a visit to my local hamfest. It seems to work great, no complaints from other operators. I just would like to hear your comments about it. Great web site, thanks for any response.

73 GD/DX

William S. Parnell

KV4DZ Charlotte, N.C.

A.     Hi Stan, Sounds like you have a good antenna and tuner. I will try to answer your questions in order.

1. I feel it best not to coil up excess ladder line but rather to to cut it to length as you say you usually do with coax. If you need it longer sometime, it is very easy to splice….much easier than coax. If your system is working fine with it coiled though, why fool with success…..leave it coiled.

2. Not sure what you mean about as far as possible from metal. Shouldn’t be touching metal but if you get it 4-6" away you should be OK. I recently put up an end fed zepp on my shop in the garage. I fed it with 300 ohm TV twinlead because I didn’t have enough ladder line at the time and simply used TV type stand-offs to keep it from touching the metal mast pipe and to keep it from flopping about in the wind.

3. PVC is a good insulator for it also. For my center-fed zepp or non-resonant dipole (which ever one prefers to call it) for my station in the house, I use a short piece of PVC plumbing pipe to hold the ladder line clear of the metal gutter of the house where it passes over it.

4. Ladder line is more fragile than coax and can suffer breakage due to wind if allowed to whip around. It is helpful to stabilize it with some small nylon string at right angles to the run of ladder line to keep the wind from flopping about too much.

5. Sounds like you have an ideal tuner to use.

Good Luck with your antenna….73’s Bill W9PPG

Another Ladder Line Question

Q.     Jon, KC0RR/7, wrote:

I have an inverted V fed with ladderline and a home brew transmatch. It works well but I am having some telephone interference. I am concerned about my transmatch. I feel hams ought to use ladderline more though.

A.     Hi Jon, The problem you are experiencing may have not have much of anything to do with your ladder line feed and transmatch.

Telephone equipment of today unlike that which was common in the 50’s and 60’s and before contains many active electronic devices( ie IC’s, transistors and the like). Earlier phone equipment contained simply passive devices (capacitors, inductors, mechanical switches etc). Manufacturers in the effort to produce these items cheaply, usually leave out filtering and shielding that would prevent these items from picking up completely legal RF from a nearby transmitter. Also back then people usually had only one phone somewhere in the house. Today, it is not uncommon to have hundreds of feet of phone wiring in the house with outlets in nearly every room. All this phone wire along with that coming into the house makes a pretty good antenna to pick up RF.

Several things you can do which may help the problem.

. If possible make sure your antenna is at right angles to the phone wire coming into the house. (That is if the phone wire is overhead. In my case this was not possible and one leg of my antenna is parallel and only about 15 feet away from the overhead phone wires-a very undesirable situation. Also the other leg of the antenna passes over the top of the house-not desirable either.)

. Get some snap-together RF chokes and put these on the phone line as close as possible to the affected device. Radio Shack markets some under nos 273-104 and 273-105. Using 273-104 type on both the phone line and the AC power going into our answering machine solved this problem that existed when I operated on certain bands. (Our answering macine used to try to answer when I transmitted).

Keep in mind that often, the problem has really not the fault of your ham equipment or antenna but rather, the manufacturer of the affected consumer device has taken the gamble that few of his units will be in close proximity of a transmitter and has left out some protection or shielding.

Hope that this helps in your situation….73’s….Bill

Then Jon replied

Q.     Thanks, I will tinker. However the trans match I built was for a random long wire. I attached one side of my ladderline of my inverted V to where the single long wire was attached and the other to the chassi of the transmatch. It works well and I can tune just about any band. I wonder if I am really running an end fed Zepp since one side is tied to groud. Does that make sense? Jon

A.    Well Jon, your antenna is a balanced system and you are using your transmatch to feed the antenna as an unbalanced system. This is not the optimum arrangement for you. All is not lost for your transmatch however. Most commercial transmatches are basically like yours (ie set up for tuning a random wire). However, then to tune a balanced antenna such as your inverted vee fed with ladder line they make use of a device known as a "balun" which is a matching transformer changing the unbalanced output of your transmatch to balanced. These are commercially available or can be homemade fairly easily. Radio Works http://www.radioworks.com has some, I think, or if you have an ARRL handbook you will probably find directions for making one yourself in there. Feeding the antenna as a balanced antenna will probably reduce (but probably not entirely eliminate) any radiation that you are experiencing from the feedline. 73’s Bill

Back to the question index

Cinnamon Bear on CD

Hal Lusk wrote

Q.     I just read your article on old time radio programs. You mention that the "Cinnamon Bear" is available on CD. Would you happen to know where I can purchase it? Thank you.

A.     purchased my Cinnamon Bear CD set thru:

Metro Golden Memories

5425 W. Addison St

Chicago IL 60641-3203


They also have a very interesting catalogue of other old-time programs. I have since seen the Cinnamon Bear at either the Museum Store or the PBS (WFYI Store) store at Circle Center Mall in Indianapolis. Both have available a selection of old-time radio shows on CD and cassette.

Enjoy, Bill

Back to the question index

Surplus Stores

Q. Could you reccomend other surplus radio parts/component dealers similar to Fair Radio in Ohio?

A. I really don’t know of any these days. In my Navy days, there were some in San Diego but that was 30+ years ago. In QST magazine there is an ad for Surplus Sales of Nebraska (www.surplusales.com) but beyond the ad I know nothing about them.

There is a place in Ft Wayne called Pembleton Electronics which has a fairly large supply of parts and components from electronic manufactures in the area (Magnavox now Hughes, ITT Aerospace to name a couple) phone 219-484-1812.

In Milwaukee I just discovered Recycled Radios, a wonderful shop full of parts run by Neil Lawton, WK9Q. The phone number there is 414-760-3000 and they are located at 5702 West Good Hope Road, Milwaukee WI 53223, right next door to American Electronic Supply. They buy and sell, as well as liquidating radio estates. Their email address is radiorec@execpc.com and they maintain their website at http://www.execpc.com/~radiorec/

The business is for sale! The owner has grown stale and wants to try a new venture. You could own your own parts store! That would be the life!

Sometimes I get lucky at antique stores, finding whole boxes of tubes. I also hunt through the boxes under the tables at hamfests.

Sorry I can’t be more helpful…..Bill

Back to the question index

450 Ohm ladder line

Steve Ross, KH6CT of Gainesville, FL wrote in: Q. I read with interest your article on Antenna Design posted on the web. Hope you can help with a couple questions.

I’m using 450 Ohm ladder line to feed a wire vertical. The vertical and each of three radials are cut for 40 Meters. The other end goes thru an MFJ 941D to an Icom 735. Where the feed line comes into the house, I installed a DPDT knife switch to ground the antenna for lightning protection.

The problem is with the SWR… I cannot seem to get it below 2:1. This is the first time in 25 years of hamming I’ve used ladder line, so probably there is something simple I’m missing. Any ideas on a better lightning protection system or thoughts in general would be appreciated.

A. Hi Steve, Well I have never used an antenna quite like this but have seen them written up for multi-band operation. I think the problem is most likely due to the antenna system being an unbalanced system. That is that it is not electrically symetrical on both sides of the feed point and the tuner output for balanced line is meant for systems that are electrically symetrical or nearly so. Therefore it most likely presents an impedance which is out of the impedance matching range of your MFJ 941.

Ten years ago when we had our farm, I had a similar experience with an unbalanced antenna system. I was using a 270 foot end-fed long-wire. It was fed at one end with balanced (450 ohm) feedline. The system was unbalanced due to the fact that at the antenna end, one conductor of the feedline was connected to the 270 foot antenna and the other feedline conductor was simply floating (attached to nothing). This was basically an end-fed zepp.

I was using a homebrew tuner however, very similar to the MFJ tuners circuit-wise. On some of the HF bands, I could not get the system matched with the tuner. Finally to get the system to behave, I tried using some variable capacitors (I used ones I had taken from an ARC-5 command xmtr I had dismantled for parts – about 250 pfd) and either put one in series with each conductor of the 450 ohm line at the balanced output of the tuner or put a single one across the balanced output of the tuner where the feedline is attached.

I don’t now, 10 years later, remember which method solved the problem but one of them did. As I recall the capacitor or capacitors were set about mid-range (that would be about 100pf) but that would depend on the antenna characteristics anyway. This is probably not real critical anyway – what you are doing is changing the system impedance enough to get it into the range that the tuner is capable of matching.

Once I had done this with the longwire, it worked very well on all bands although I had to remove the capacitor or capacitors when operating bands where not needed. If you try this, the capacitors should have fairly wide spacing between plates (the ones I mentioned have about 1/8 of an inch as fairly high RF voltages can develop and with close spacing arc-over might occur.)

As far as grounding, that is probably as good as anything short of completely disconnecting the gear from anything associated with the antenna. Just do your best to have a good ground and use a heavy conductor with good electrical connections and no sharp bends from switch to ground if at all possible.

Let me know how things work out with the antenna. I would be interested to know. 73’s Bill, W9PPG

Back to the question index

Mobile Antennas

Hello Bill,

Q. I read your column on Ham radios. I am currently teaching myself CW and studying for the FCC test. My first goal in the Tech/no-code. I have friends who are at Extra level. I have a HF radio which I use as a mobile using a steel whip. I am looking into several options for tuners.

My main interest is in a 10-80M mobile antennae. In addition, I was interested in your column on antennae. I am interested in putting up an antennae for home listening. Currently, since I do not have a license, I am just listening in. If you have any suggestions on multi-band mobile antennae, and homemade antennae, I would love to hear what you have to say.

I live in Long Beach, CA, and there are several towers in my area. Until several months ago, when I picked up a 40 channel CB, I never noticed them. Since then I picked up a used TS-50S radio. It will be awhile before I can get a UHF/VHF radio due to finances. In the meantime, I wish to study/study/study and experiement with antennae. I know very little about antennae, and it is my weakest subject. I have only experiemented with my steel whip, and there is a lot of QRM (I think that is for electromagnetic interference) in my little vehicle. I have seen so many different antennae >>configurations on the towers in the area, from 40 foot poles, to heavy duty 40′ towers with many different antennaes coming off of them (one even had a TV antennae, as you had mentioned in your article (somewhere in Lakewood).

I wish to get started in HAM and HF experience, but have only a little to invest in antennae (which is the most important part next to the radio). If it is more advantageous to get a 40M set up, or multi-band, I am just excited to get set up.

At 31 years old, I wish I had gotten into this earlier. I can remember building my first crystal radio set. I guess I missed something, as I have always loved electronics, but missed out on the fascinating world of radio.

73’s Derek Jackson, Long Beach, California


A. Hello Derek, First let me wish you good luck on your efforts to get an amateur license and hope that you will soon have one. Seems as though you have some licensed friends and hopefully they can help you with your getting licensed and also getting set up with antennas.

As far as your mobile antenna situation is concerned, I have never done much mobile operation on the HF bands. What little I did was about 30 years ago and on the 40 meter band. Mobile antennas tend to be kind of expensive and not too easy to build for the home builder, although you will find some in some of the antenna books. I have seen a multi-band one advertised in several of the ham magazines from time to time. It is called the "Out Backer". I don’t really know how it performs but some of your friends might.

For home use, my inclination if I were you would be to use a commercially made G5RV type of antenna or a home-made version of it. To begin with it is shorter than an 80 meter dipole (104′ versus approx 136′) thus it is a little easier to fit onto city sized lots. It is a multi-band HF antenna and the commercial version will work without a tuner. It will function better though over the HF bands with a tuner. I myself use a home made version, the length is the same 104′ but I use entirely balanced wire feedline, therefore I must use a tuner with mine, but it gives me the advantage I can operate anywhere in all the HF bands 80-10 meters with no problem.

My new column on antennas may be of interest to you.

Hope this helsps you a bit. Good Luck, 73’s Bill W9PPG

Back to the question index

Novice needs helpQ. I’ve been a Novice now for about 23 years. Pretty bad, huh? I’ve only made about two or three on-air contacts and was terrified each time. That’s probably why I never got very far, but now I’m trying to get going with some old equipment and very little spare time. My dilemma, as I see it, is finding a source of information that will provide me with the facts I’ll need on the theory part of the General exam, and a first class recommendation of a code course.

If you have the files zipped up that comprise a good practice regime, that would be a wonderful thing. Anyway, I’d really like to pick things up where I left off, but now I’m afraid I’ll have to start over with the code. It’s been so long since I tested that I find I can’t pick anything out. I’ve never had any help from anyone before and it might be just what I need to get over the hump.

A. Good Morning, There is a lot of good info on the ARRL website: http://www.arrl.org/

Also the Boston Radio Club has a wide variety of files on the Oakland University server:


These are available for download for free. There is a subdirectory which has code and theory programs which are presumably up-to-date: http://oak.oakland.edu/pub/hamradio/dos/theory-and-morse/

These are most likely more current than anything I have. Radio shack has study material for each license grade. Also there is a CD ROM called "QRZ" which is available from vendors at most hamfests and also at computer hardware/software shows. This has the ham radio call sign data base on it but also has several hundred programs on it some of which are code or theory software programs.

I think that the computer code programs are better than cassette tape material in that they are more random and less likely memorized. To prepare for the code test, try to use a program that simulates on-the-air QSO’s as this is what the content of the code test will be. If you can get on the air and make QSO’s this will help a lot also. If you can receive W1AW well from your location, remember, they have on the air code practice sessions and you can find their schedule on the ARRL website.

I hope that this has been helpful…73’s, Bill W9PPG

More on learning code

. I have been working on learning code for months. Last year I started with tapes & then I read about the Koch method and started using Supermorse. Took off the summer and when I went back at it last fall found that I had retained most of it.

But I still only have the first 20 letters/characters down. I am usually a quick study but this is like learning a new language (which I also don’t have a problem with).

So what is my point here? WHAT AM I DOING WRONG???

I very badly want to learn morse to allow me onto the HF bands. I am going cruising on my boat and need it for offshore work.

Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Bob, VA3BCA.

A.    Hi Bob….Sorry that you are having difficulty with learning morse code. In this day and age, I am not too fond of tapes. It becomes too easy to memorize the content without even realizing it. Since the test consists of answering questions pertaining to a typical amateur conversation, I think once the characters have been learned that this is what the content of the practice should be.

My wife used a computer program called "Morse Tutor". This not only takes one through learning the charcters but generates random words and random QSO’s. This and other morse learning programs are available on CD-ROM such as the "QRZ" CD that is available from software purveyors at hamfests and sometimes at computer shows. This CD is primarily the ham call letter data-base but it has many utility programs on it including a number to teach the code. Programs such as these are available for downloading from ham radio sites. A good starting place is the ARRL site www.arrl.org which has links to many other sites.

The Boston Radio Club has a number of programs availble for downloading from the Oakland Univ server. You can get there by a link from the ARRL site. I don’t know what the KOCH method is and I don’t know about Supermorse…is it a computer program? Learning the code is easier for some people than others so don’t get too discouraged…. With persistance and practice it will click into place.

Hope this may help,73’s Bill

Back to the question index

More questions and answers coming, when we get them.

Column ©1999 Wm. J. Weinhardt


Long Jumps:

Email W9PPG at wswart@parlorcity.com

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