June, 1988             Worldradio                               page 62
         Sideswiper Net             by Bob Shrader, W6BNB

The Society of Amateur Radio Operators (SARO), formed in 1937 in the San Francisco Bay Area, has recently reached back into the far distant past to come up with a "Sideswiper Net."

Old-timers may know what a sideswiper is, but for the younger members of the fraternity, it is a key that operates somewhat like a bug or an electronic keyer. On such keys - as you probably know - a push of the thumb produces a series of dots, and a push of the first finger produces a dash on a bug, or a series of dashes with an electronic keyer. But the sideswiper, or "cootie" key, makes a dash with either the thumb or first finger.

To make a dot, you just tap either side of the paddle(s) lightly. To make two dots, you tap first the left side and then the right side. To make an "S" you tap left-right-left, or you may make it by tapping right-left-right, and so on. For a "K" you can make a dash with the finger, a dot with the thumb, and the second dash with the finger; or again, you can reverse it and make a dash with the thumb, dot with the finger and dash with the thumb.

Sounds easy, doesn't it? Well it isn't. If you don't believe me, try it.

To try to send with a cootie key, you can use one of several types of keys. One of the easiest is to use an electronic key paddle that has a center lead and two outside leads (to the right and left contacts). By tying these two outside leads together, the center and outside leads make up a cootie key circuit. Or you can homebrew a short piece of hacksaw blade held at one end above a base board, that can be pushed against a contact to the right or against a contact to the left.

You can fashion your own paddle out of a piece of 1/8" 3-ply and glue or bolt it to the end of the hacksaw blade. You can also bolt two hand keys together, base-to-base, and fix them so the bases are at 90 from a wooden - or better yet, a heavy metal - base.

By far the simplest cootie key is made by tying the end of the vibrating end of a bug to its backstop with a rubber band so that the rod cannot move off of the backstop. Then with the thumb pushed to its stop, adjust the dot contact until it makes a solid electrical connection - and you have an excellent working sideswiper.

These keys were used 100 years ago by telegraphers, and later by the early-day radio operators. Around the '30s they began to disappear, and it is unusual to hear an old-timer pounding brass on a sidewinder any more. Once in a while you will hear one, probably on 40 or 80 M. They have a distinctive sound because it is extremely hard to make similar dots with both thumb and first finger, or similar dashes with thumb and finger. In most cases, a computer will not copy transmissions made by cootie key because of the "swing" of the sending. It tends to separate the men from the boys as operators. You usually can't cheat by copying cootie key operators with a computer; you have to be able to read the stuff by ear.

Actually, it requires many hours of practice on THE QUICK BROWN FOX JUMPED OVER THE LAZY DOGS BACK 1234567890.?, BT AR AS and SK before an operator dares to put his sending on the air. However, if you are one who enjoys a challenge, you will find your match in a sideswiper.

The SARO Sideswiper Net is on 3668.5 kHz at 9 a.m. Pacific Time on Tuesday mornings if you are interested and live in the central California area. If out of the area, you might try setting up a net of your own, if you can find any people crazy enough to check in with you.

It is a little painful to transmit with these keys. It is surprising how hard it is for an old-time bug or electronic key operator to train the part of his brain that the cootie key operates from. That old thumb just won't make dashes correctly!