K5LAD - 50+ Years of Ham Radio Memories

Volume XXXII

An Accidental Contact

By Jim Pickett – K5LAD

Search keywords:  Elecraft, K3, RTTY

My Elecraft K3 transceiver has some wonderful features where it does what other rigs can do but just does them better.  In addition, it has some features that few or no other rigs have.  One of those features is the ability to, not only receive and decode RTTY, PSK31 and CW but it can also send (encode) these same modes.  This is all done with no connection to a computer and its sound card circuitry.   Obviously the encoding of CW is no big deal since even the simplest transmitters have been able to do that for decades.  The other modes, however, are not a common feature built into other rigs.

The Icom IC-756Pro, ProII, and ProIII, and perhaps a few others, have all had the ability to receive, decode and display 60 WPM RTTY (Radio TeleTYpe) for quite a few years.  If you wanted to actually send that mode, however, it required some additional hardware, software or both; but their decoding feature worked quite well.

The K3 has almost everything it needs, all built into its small package, to do both the encoding and decoding of these modes.  The only additional piece required is a dual-paddle type key.  This is the kind you usually see with two keys knobs, mounted in a vertical plane, which are pressed (or squeezed) with the thumb and forefinger to form the characters.


  Using this type of paddle allows the user to use the K3's internal keyer circuit and that is a necessary requirement for using this extra encode/decode feature, i.e., you must send via the dual-paddle through the rig's internal keyer.  These keyer paddles can be built at low or no cost with simple components or can be purchased as a very fancy unit that is so ornate as to cause your home finances to take a severe hit.  The example shown here is the MFJ-564.

To use these features on the K3, you can set up the receiver section to receive; pick out a particular station running, say, PSK31 and it will display the decoded text being sent on a small area of the transceiver's display.  It is only necessary to key the dual paddles using regular CW and the inner workings of the K3 will convert the CW you send into PSK31 and send out the proper mode to the station on the other end.   Even though you are sending CW, they will be receiving whatever you send in perfect PSK31 format.

The same is true for RTTY.   You set the K3 receiver to receive the 45 or 75 baud signal and it will display the individually sent characters on the transceivers display panel.  To return the call, you use the dual-paddle key, plugged into the K3's internal keyer, and it converts your CW to RTTY.

In the case of CW, you can key the transceiver with the paddles via the internal keyer, use an external keyer plugged into the regular key jack or just use a plain old up and down key (like the J-38) plugged into the rear key jack.  If you want the transceiver to also decode the CW for you, that is easily configured so that it displays on the LCD panel as the characters are decoded.

The K3 Utility program; a piece of software which is continually upgraded and can be downloaded free from the Elecraft site, also has a built-in terminal program for use with the K3.  If you choose not to send your CW, RTTY, or PSK31 with a key, you can easily use the Utility software's Terminal feature and both display, on your computer screen, the same characters that are showing on the transceiver's display and also you can type in the characters you want to send to the other station.  In the latter case, the computer’s regular keyboard is used to input the data.

Usually I have been using the Utility program’s Terminal for my RTTY contacts, mostly because it's easier and the previously displayed text remains on the computer’s screen where I can go back up and check something previously displayed.  On the transceiver's display, there are only 8 or 10 character positions so the letters and words march by from right to left for you to read the decoded characters, and when they exit the display, they're gone.  I do keep an MFJ dual-paddle key sitting on the desk directly in front of my K3 always plugged in ............. just to be ready.  When the transceiver is not in CW or DATA mode, the dual-paddle key is not electrically connected.

Recently I had been following a DXpedition that was operating from Cameroon, West Africa - TJ9PF, and had worked them on several bands in several modes.  I had just heard them on 12 meters and I had not made any contacts with them on that band so I quickly scooted all the junk out of the way........ no, no......... I should say that I quickly prepared the operating desktop in anticipation of working them.  They were, at this time, on RTTY and had yet to go split frequency operation.

I had not had a chance to bring up the Utility/Terminal program on my computer but had started the steps to do that.  As I moved things around, I accidentally bumped one side of the keyer paddle and it immediately started to send a letter T in radioteletype code.   Ooooops.  Suddenly, I looked down at the K3's screen and TJ9PF was sending "QRZ?"   They'd heard me........ and I wasn't set up to copy or send to them on the computer.  Oh well..... I should be able to make the contact with just the key since that's the way this transceiver is designed.

I grabbed the paddles and threw out my call and they immediately came back with


I called them, still using the MFJ key paddle, and gave them my report and they returned with K5LAD  QSL.......... CQ CQ DE TJ9PF.

My plans had been to get more comfortable with RTTY and PSK31 using the Terminal program before I dived into the CW to RTTY or CW to PSK31 mode using the dual-paddle key.  I was active in RTTY operations back in the 1960s and 70s but that was with big old MARS-provided, WWII surplus machines that were noisy, dripped oil on the floor, and sometimes shook the floor on which they sat.  This quiet RTTY operating was a new thing to me, but I must say, a big improvement.

This had been a somewhat accidental QSO but it went well and this accidental QSO counts just as much as the ones that are pretty (and more organized).  All's well that ends well..... that is, except back in the 50s and 60s when Lassie came racing up and somehow communicated to the family that -- 'Timmy has fallen into the well...'   How could they understand what that dog meant??????  Oh well..... all's well that ends well, and with that…………….. I end.

 Written March, 2011 - published TARC Newsletter March 2, 2011


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