Madison Co. radio amateurs get

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Jason Hissong (right), a member of the Madison County Amateur Radio Club, demonstrates Morse Code keys to (from left) Doug Bell, Ken Tilford and Bob Lewis.

The Madison County Amateur Radio Club was treated to a walk through history at its most recent meeting.  

Jason Hissong (hamcall, N8XE), a club member, historian and collector of telegraph keys, walked the club through the early days of telegraphy and into the 21st century.  

The focus of the presentation, which took place at the Pleasant Valley Fire House in Plain City, was on the bug telegraph keys. The bug keys were designed to alleviate the stress of repetitive up and down wrist movement of the traditional telegraph operator which often resulted in an illness, then known as “glass arm” and now known as a variation of carpel tunnel syndrome.

In response to the glass arm syndrome, Horace Martin invented a series of devices to change the range of motion form up-and-down to a side-by-side. The first version of Martin’s telegraph key was patented in 1902 and consisted of electrical and mechanical components. Later versions were mechanical only as the sources of electric power were limited and not consistent at that time. The mechanical version became known as the Vibroplex key, which also became the name of Martin’s manufacturing company.

The Vibroplex telegraph key quickly became a favorite among early telegraph operators. As the technology advanced, the key design advanced. During World War I, the Vibroplex key became a staple among military telegraphers. Although the use of telegraphy diminished somewhat during World War II and thereafter, the Vibroplex key continued as a primary tool of military telegraphers.

As amateur radio blossomed as a communications hobby, the Vibroblex continued its reputation as a significant Morse code telegraphy tool. Earlier models have become valuable collector’s items and current models are in use. Today, bug telegraph keys continue to be used by amateurs around the world. The Vibroplex Co. is still in business, having begun in 1890.

In addition to learning a history lesson, those who attended the Madison County Amateur Radio Club meeting got a hands-on opportunity to view a large number of early and current telegraph keys, many of which were Vibroplex keys owned by club members.

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