NZ Net News 46, 9 January 2021

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Featured key

Mercury paddles by Steve Nurkiewicz N2DAN

Mercury paddles by Steve Nurkiewicz N2DAN. Photo KG2ED

Steve Nurkiewicz N2DAN was a Polish immigrant to the USA who worked as a precision machinist when he wasn’t fishing or operating CW on the amateur bands. Even after he retired to Florida, hams beat a path to his door, asking him to build them a set of his famous “Mercury” paddles, and he created a few hundred of these masterpieces. They were all hand-made, as Steve found it was the only way to get the quality he demanded.

Early models had lacquered brass bases, although the chrome version became more popular. The keys are magnetic, very heavy and renowned for their wide range of adjustment and minimal ‘play’ in the bearings.

Steve died in 1997 but his paddles remain highly prized on the used market.

Vibroplex acquired Steve’s patent and built the key under the name Bencher N2DAN Mercury. It is not currently in production but is listed on the company’s website at US$525.

Here are some links where you can learn more about the Mercury, and the amazing life of Steve Nurkiewicz (he was separated from his parents at the start of World War 2, going on to join the Royal Signals, and only finding his family 40 years later).


If you have an interesting key you’d like to see featured in this spot, please send me a nice clear photo and a few words describing it.

Quick notes

New Plymouth Junk Sale poster

HNY to all NZ Net stations and NZ Net News readers. The nets have been fairly brief lately, with many of our regular operators away on summer holidays.

Does you have a New Year’s Resolution related to amateur radio? I have quite a few, but haven’t decided which one to get serious about yet. 🙂

I’m hearing from several ops that propagation on the higher bands is quite good at times, so hopefully 2021 is a good year for amateur radio.

As mentioned previously, if you know of any new hams, I’d be pleased to send them a congulatory radiogram so they know CW is alive and well in New Zealand. Please send me their name, callsign and contact details. If you are able to hand them the radiogram at a club meeting, or drop it in a letterbox, that would be excellent.

Did anyone try participating in the ARRL SKN on 1 January? I listened and called on 15m but heard no SKN stations.

Net numbers

In December we had 17 stations checking-in, for a total of 151 check-ins. Both numbers were increases over one year ago. The biggest change, however, was in the number of messages passed, which grew from 15 in December 2019 to 40 last month. Congratulations to our traffic-handling members.

Graph of NZ Net stats to December 2020

Although formal traffic is very popular at the moment, NZ Net welcomes all CW operators – not just traffic handlers – and provides a nightly meeting place to catch up with friends. Please invite your CW mates!

Here’s the December QNI report:

NR2 R ZL1NZ 43/40 AUCKLAND 0800Z 4JAN21
ZL1PC 1 ZL2GD 16 ZL2GVA 17 ZL2KE 16 ZL2LN 5

Photo flashback

Maurie Challinor at Scott Base, 1979

Maurie Challinor ZL1FK/ZL5MC during winter 1978-1979 at Scott Base, Antarctica. The amateur radio equipment was a Collins KWM-2A transceiver and, to the left, a Collins 30L-1 linear amplifier. The gear was supplied by the Americans at McMurdo Station. Photo courtesy Maurie Challinor

Maurie lives in Auckland and a couple of weeks ago he told me:

“During my stay on the ice I made over 2000 contacts, all on CW. The straight key in the pic is just for show. I used a homebrew ZL Keyer which had been featured in Break-In magazine.

“After training as a Post Office telegrapher, around 1950/51 I was stationed at Musick Point Radio ZLD, arguably the most enjoyable regular job I have had. Due to staff reduction, I was transferred to the Auckland Chief Post Office telegraph branch where I spent eleven years.

“I am no longer active on the bands. I get my Morse kicks via the Morse Telegraph Club. It is a group dedicated to preserving the original Morse Code, now named “American Morse” but referred to simply as “Morse” by its proponents. We communicate with each other using software available through the club. We use telegraph sounders and Vibroplex “bug” keys for an authentic representation of an inland telegraph circuit from back in the days.”

Morse musing: learning the code

I often marvel at all the ways people can learn Morse these days.

ARRL Radiotelegraph Code bookThere are online classes with live instructors, such as CW Academy. There are websites and apps galore. You can type text into software that will send it back to you in perfect Morse so you know exactly how it ought to sound.

There’s Farnsworth spacing and the Koch method, two things I had never heard of as a young ham, but which apparently make the learning easier.

I started out with a book from the ARRL, sounding out the letters until I had learned the alphabet, numbers and a few bits of punctuation. Then I alternated between copying W1AW code practice over the air, and sending with a code practice oscillator, hoping that it sounded OK. I think the first person to hear me send was the Radio Inspector administering the examination for a ham licence.

How did you learn CW? Drop me a line and I’ll post the replies in the next newsletter.

FT-101 gets a zerobeat indicator

One of the challenges in answering a call from another CW station is getting your signal onto their frequency. Learning how to “zerobeat” is an essential skill of the CW operator.

Most of us have probably used the traditional method of zerobeating, i.e. mixing the signal from our transmitter’s oscillator with the signal being received until the resultant beat signal heard in our receiver is at its lowest frequency. It’s easy to get within a few Hertz this way.

Even with transceivers, it’s usually not too hard. Most transceivers use a sidetone frequency that is the same as the transmitter offset. So we can key our transceiver with the transmitter disabled (e.g. by switching off the VOX) which enables us to beat our sidetone against the incoming signal.

The problem I had, using an FT-101, was that the sidetone frequency was considerably different from the transmitter offset, so I could not zerobeat that way. The solution was to attach a visual zerobeat indicator to the audio output of the FT-101. This can be adjusted to display “zerobeat” at any audio frequency I choose. I adjusted it until it matched my transmitter offset, which now allows me to zerobeat other stations easily (within 10Hz at least). As I tune across a signal the LEDs in the display light up in sequence. Zerobeat is achieved when the two green LEDs in the middle of the display are illuminated.

Another LED flashes with the incoming CW if the sensitivity is properly adjusted. I found that once I had adjusted the sensitivity it was quite accommodating of variations in audio output from the rig.

This indicator is called Grandson of Zerobeat and is available as a kit, although I purchased mine already built in a nice little enclosure by Bob ZL4CE in Dunedin.

Mystery Morse station: TP4C

CW remains a popular mode for intruders in the amateur radio bands. One of the intruders calls itself TP4C and seems to be on 7045 kHz every evening. I don’t know who they are, but if you have information I’d be interested to know. This recording was made this week around 0830Z with RST 559 QSB.


Net tip: SVC Messages

radiogram form showing message number fieldIf you are using the NZ Net radiogram forms, you might have noticed the two very small tick boxes at the top of the message number field.

These are where we indicate whether the message is a Standard or Service message. Every message is either Standard or Service (and cannot be both).

If it’s a Standard message, then it will be sent like this example:

NR1 R ...

If it’s a Service message, then it will be sent like this example:

SVC2 R ...

The two types of message share the same numbering scheme, generally starting with 1 at the beginning of each year.

What’s a Service message? It’s a message about a message. Here’s an example: Suppose ZL4KX sends a radiogram to ZL2LN for delivery to a third party. Such a message will typically include (in the preamble) the handling instruction HXC (“Report date and time of delivery to originating station”).

After delivering the message (or failing to deliver the message because the addressee could not be reached), ZL2LN would send a SVC message back to ZL4KX, something like this:

SVC3 R ZL2LN 13/11 MOTUEKA 0800Z 31JAN21

To summarise, any time we send a message about a message, it should be sent as a Service message.


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 see you soon on the NZ Net!

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