NZ Net News 101, 4 Mar 2023

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Featured key

Chrome J-36 Lightning Bug morse key sitting on a well-worn carry case

J36 military speed key with carrying case. Photo: ZL4KX

By Bede ZL4KX

This is a nice example of a Vibroplex Lightning Bug copy – and it’s a legal one! The key is a Lionel J36 made for the US Army Signal Corps. It was a very generous gift to me from my friend Mike ZL1BTB. I believe he acquired it from an older amateur in the Rotorua area.

Unusually, its base is chrome-plated, and nicely done. As the original J36s were made fairly simply, it’s possible this was done some time after manufacture. But I am no expert on bugs, and if anyone has more info I’d be very happy to get it.

It appears the history and makers of bugs in general are shrouded in mystery and intrigue. This webpage has many stories of patent-breaking and lawsuits around the making and use of semi-automatic morse keys!

This key is in very good condition. It has an additional weight attached which is nicely made but not as well plated. The dot finger piece is possibly not original and the nameplate is missing, which apparently is very common as it was made of celluloid. However the five pin holes for its fastenings can be seen. It’s complete with its well-worn carry case and what looks like an original cloth- covered lead.

Sadly, my brain is now wired too well to an iambic keyer and I would have to put a lot of time and effort into using this key. I smiled at the Vibroblex ad in NZ Net News 99 which promoted how easy it is to learn and use a bug….”Even beginners master it in minutes”!

So it occupies pride of place on my bookcase along with a few other interesting keys.

* If you have an interesting key for this feature, please send me a nice clear photo and a few words describing it.

Quick notes

Cartoon. XYL tells OM 'OK Marconi, field Day is over. The lawn is calling.'

Cartoon: Gildersleeve

NZ Net has adopted a Code of Conduct for all stations participating in the Net. Thank you to all operators who responded to the consultation process. You can read our Code of Conduct here.

Stephen ZL1ANY would like to make contact with anyone who has access to Building Antique Radio Equipment: A beginner’s guide (or it may be a similar title) by RJ Wakeman.

Bede ZL4KX reports that the digger man is expected to arrive soon to being the work for Bede’s amazing new tower and HF yagi. We hope to have updates on this project in a future edition of NZ Net News.

Net numbers

Here is the monthly net report for February 2023, as transmitted on 1 March:

NR10 R ZL1NZ 43/40 AUCKLAND 0800Z 1MAR23
ZL1ANY 17 ZL1NZ 20 ZL1PX 11 ZL1RA 18 ZL2GD 12 
ZL2GVA 18 ZL2KE 14 ZL2LN 4 ZL2TE 8 ZL3TK 15
ZL4CU 1 ZL4FZ 3 ZL4KX 11 TOTAL 165 QTC 56

NZ Netters at Field Days

By Graeme ZL2TE

Homebrew paddle key supplied for New Plymouth Field Day team

Here are some pictures of our field station for ZL2AB in New Plymouth.

Yes, the “key” pictured here is really what I used on 80 metres. When I arrived and went to set up the keyer on the radio my eyebrows shot up when I saw the key that was supplied. I found that it would not send dashes, which was caused by the galvanised bolt and the piece of hacksaw blade having reacted, so I had to take it apart and scrape with a Stanley knife until it was making contact.

Needless to say it was very difficult to send with and every now and then it would not make contact on the dash side, although it got better as I used it more. I was grateful for the tolerance shown by my QSO partners. It just goes to show that the simplest thing cobbled together can be made to work in an emergency.

ZL2AB 2023 Field Days site

Our site was at the beach with an unbelievable S0 to S1 noise level on 80m and often I was able to copy stations that could not hear me even at my 15 wpm which was the best I could manage on “the key”. We put the aerials up on Norfolk pine trees using a bow and arrow, and had one 12m mast for one end of the 40m antenna.

The batteries were 150 AH Lithium floated on a solar panel and the rigs were a TS-2000 on 80 and an IC-7300 on 40.

We used a couple of (somewhat ambitiously named) 4-person tents to house each station. Our cover was inadequate when the rain came down, nearly horizontal in the howling southerly, and it was a great relief when it began to abate during the night.

I shot back home on Sunday and got my Bencher key and was able to run at a more comfortable 20 wpm during Sunday.

Propagation was not so good on 80 but 40 was pretty lively, although I did not spend many sessions on that band. We used an interesting key which one of the club members had bought from China. It had been 3D printed and was very cheap at less than $10. I’m not sure what was inside but it felt pretty good to send with and was an ideal key for SOTA/POTA, etc. as it was compact and light- and did I mention cheap?

Graeme ZL2TE operating 40m CW with a 3D-printed Chinese key

ZL2TE operating 40m CW with a 3D-printed Chinese key

None of the keys could be operated without holding them down to the table which was a big disadvantage. We don’t do any computer logging and try to keep as much like the early national field day style as possible but the ZC1s have gone and solar panels have arrived – no more lugging car batteries to the nearest cowshed in a backpack and bringing the other one back!

And here’s more Field Days news:

Gerard ZL2GVA on 40m at ZL2KS

Gerard ZL2GVA is pictured above operating on 40m at ZL2KS, using his homebrew paddles and keyer (a DL4YHF design partly visible at the bottom of the photo). Love the ambidextrous technique Gerard – so efficient!

Grant ZL2GD operating 40m CW at ZL3RR

There wasn’t a straight key or set of paddles in sight at ZL3RR. The North Canterbury Amateur Radio Club operated from View Hill Domain in Oxford. Grant ZL2GD (pictured above) says: “We used N1MM contest software to run both the Phone and CW logs this year so it was time for me to throw away my trusty pencil and paper and get with it.

“We had perfect weather conditions for a change and 40m was much better than last year. Unfortunately, the number of Field stations was well down and so were the overall scores.

“It was great to hear a number of our Net ops on the air over the weekend.”

40m vertical antenna for ZL4AL, Branch 08, Eastern Southland

40m vertical antenna for ZL4AL, Branch 08, Eastern Southland

Bede ZL4KX operated with Branch 08 (ZL4AL) based in Gore, and points out the group’s very well radialled 40-metre vertical (above). The radials were easy to install, coming off a roll of electrical fence tape!

Dave ZL4LDY turned up for Field Days in Dunedin, only to find that the weight was missing from his Blue Racer. A little homebrewing was required to add some mass to the bug’s pendulum which slowed it down to a manageable 30 wpm. He has since ordered a replacement weight from Vibroplex, which is expected to arrive the day after the original one is rediscovered in Dave’s garage. 🙂

Photo flashback

VP5AR Jamaica radio desk in 1965, featuring Collins S Line

VP5AR Jamaica in 1965

New website

You might have noticed that the NZ Net web pages have moved to a new site.

Performance should be much better, especially for anyone accessing the site from NZ.

A couple of important notes:

1. If you had bookmarked pages from the old site, the same addresses will still work if you edit the URL to replace “” with “”.

2. Similarly, if you have been using a email address to contact me, please update it by changing “” to “”.

If you encounter any issues using the new site, please let me know.

Facebook’s AI doesn’t do CW

SONY Music DCMA takedown for use of Morse Code on Facebook.

From the SKCC group on Facebook:

“Here is something that surprised me. I posted to Facebook a video clip of NJ8L sending CW in QSO with me.

Facebook sent me a message saying my video clip of Vern NJ8L’s CW is in fact music owned by Sony Music!”

– Andrew O’Brien

Sticky situation

Eton FR-200 with sticky case

By Neil ZL1NZ

With all the talk of emergency preparedness recently, I thought it would be a good idea to get out my wind-up radio receiver.

I bought it about 15 years ago when I was working at a huge radio retailer and we got a very large shipment of them to sell cheaply. The price was so good I told a few friends who also bought one.

It’s an Etón FR-200, and it has shortwave coverage (including 3535 kHz) as well as the usual AM/FM broadcast bands.

I tested it, then packed it away for the proverbial “rainy day.”

But then…

When I took it out of its bubble-wrap inside its pristine original box a few days ago, I discovered that the entire case, except for the controls and carrying handle, had turned incredibly sticky. Googling the issue revealed that this is quite common for Etón radios.

None of the home remedies for sticky plastic seemed appropriate for an object with dials, controls and a very irregular surface including a speaker grill.

I suppose it would still be possible to use it, but I really don’t like being stuck to my radios. So my emergency receiver will be my trusty ICF-2010 which has survived thousands of ocean miles and still works fine after 40 years. Plus it has CW mode.

Morse challenge

Here’s an NZ Net blast from the past. Your challenge is to tell me the callsign and name of the net control operator.

Please send your answer via radiogram or email to ZL1NZ.

Answer to previous Morse challenge

Norddeich Radio DAN was open for HF telegraphy 0500-1800 UTC. Correct answers were received from ZL1ANY and ZL1RA.

Video: The Wadley Loop

Who doesn’t love the RA-17 and the FRG-7, two famous receivers that use the Wadley Loop? By the way, that photo of three RA-17s in a rack next to three Hammarlund SP-600s (at 2:01 of the video) was taken deep underground in a nuclear bunker near Ottawa. I have a photo taken from the same spot, but showing me admiring all the radios. 🙂

Advertising archive

Ten-Tec Triton advert from 1973

QST magazine, Dec 1973


If you have suggestions on how to make the NZ Net better, or things you’d like to see covered in these updates, please contact ZL1NZ. You might even like to write something for the newsletter.

Thanks for reading, and I hope to hear you soon on the NZ Net!

Neil Sanderson ZL1NZ, Net Manager
New Zealand Net (NZ NET)
3535.0 kHz at 9pm NZT Mon-Fri