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hpr3922 :: Silent Key

A brief history of the term "Silent Key" as applied to amateur radio

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Hosted by Trey on 2023-08-15 is flagged as Clean and is released under a CC-BY-SA license.
morse code, cw, amateur radio, telegraph, memorial. 2.
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Duration: 00:04:01

HAM radio.

A series about all things Amateur Radio/HAM Radio.

Hacker Public Radio – Silent Key HPR3922

Hello this is Trey, and I am recording this in the shadow of the loss of a good friend and mentor who helped guide me in my career and in hobbies like electronics, aviation, and amateur radio. The amateur radio area is what I will be discussing today.

Many terms within amateur radio find their origins from the days of telegraph, when operators would use Morse code to send messages across great distances using wires strung from pole to pole. The telegraph “key” (or code key) was basically a momentary contact switch which would close an electrical connection when pressed. Pressing the key down for a short period of time would send a short pulse down the line, which is referred to as a “dit” (Sometimes the term “dot” is used). This may be written using the period “.” symbol. Holding the key down for a bit longer would send a longer pulse down the line, called a “dash” (Sometimes the term “dah” is used) and it may be written using the hyphen “-” symbol.

Telegraph operators became a close knit community, even though they were geographically separated. Often one operator could identify another operator by subtleties in the style or personality of how they sent their messages. This was known as the operator’s “fist” and today we would describe it as a “behavioral biometric”. As the community of telegraph operators moved around or were replaced, new “fists” would be identified, as new personalities of code sending were tapped out on the telegraph keys.

When an operator passed away, it was a loss to the community, and a loss of someone who might have been befriended remotely by other operators. The term of respect created for this situation was “Silent Key” sent as the abbreviation “SK” ( … -.- ). It meant that the particular operator would never send code again. His telegraph key would be silent.

This tradition has been carried on among amateur radio operators or “Hams”. This is also a close knit community of people. While some still use Morse code to communicate (Referred to as “CW” for continuous wave), there are many other forms in use, including voice and digital modes. But regardless of how we communicated with them, when we lose one of our own, we still say they are SK. Silent key. No longer able to transmit.

Organizations like the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) and try to update their records when a Ham passes away. There are also databases like which keep records and memories of deceased operators.

So, it is with great sadness that I have been updating the records for my close friend and mentor KV4YD. Thank you for your friendship and support, and for sharing your wisdom over the years. You will be missed.

(Note: There is intentionally 5 seconds of recorded silence at the end of this recording as a moment of silence to remember our silent keys)



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Comment #1 posted on 2023-08-15 08:22:08 by tuturto

my condolences

I'm sorry for your loss.

Also, interesting to learn about silent key. I wasn't aware of that before.

Comment #2 posted on 2023-08-16 14:59:41 by thelovebug

My condolences

I'm sorry to hear of Michael KV4YD's passing. Everyone in the amateur radio community mourns his passing. It's never nice to hear of new silent keys. Thank you for looking after the administration of his records.

73 de Dave M7TLB

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