The Digital Broadcast and RTTY Art

Discussion in 'Digital Modes' started by W.T. Jones, Dec 22, 2014.

  1. W.T. Jones

    W.T. Jones Moderator Staff Member Silver Member Golden GPS Recipient AtlDiv EPA Leader AtlDiv ARES Member

    I have been doing the Luzerne County ARES Digital Broadcast every Sunday night since August 3rd. Nonstop information being pumped out on the 146.61 repeater in Wilkes-Barre, PA, every Sunday Night from 9:00PM to 9:30PM and again at 9:40PM with FLAMP doing the heavy lifting.

    The usual faire is news from the area clubs, the latest WX from the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Airport, Fldigi tips and tricks, special items like radio messages from Pearl Harbor, training radiograms, and other such mundane stuff. I have to say to my surprise it has been well received. One evening I received 24 emails from the area hams saying "keep it up." So I have been. Every Sunday Night. It takes me about 2 hours to put the broadcast together because I don't want it to be boring to the people that receive it. That takes some time so I hunt for something that makes it interesting. The radiograms from Pearl Harbor for example. After digging through the National Archives web site I found a whole bunch of them including the original "Air Raid Pearl Harbor - This is no drill" message. I found out that one of my listener's Father was a Pearl Harbor Veteran. It has been interesting to talk to the Ham and hear the tales that his Father told him about the day of the Air Raid.

    So while the container, FLDIGI, is interesting I have to make sure the content is something that is worth reading or I'll lose "market share" quickly. But even I get bored putting it together and I wanted something different this week since it is the Sunday before Christmas. And I wanted it Ham Radio oriented.

    I started thinking about all kinds of things but what came to mind was Christmas Time back in the late 70's and early 80's. At that time digital was either Morse Code (still is) and Radio Teletype or RTTY. During that time K3RLI was the champion of anything that was 1's and 0's around here. A bunch of us had RTTY gear but for the most part it was K3RLI who made it go since we were really new to this stuff. K3ETN (SK) was also a big help with it. K3ETN could find parts for the old stuff when no one else had any idea where to look. And remember, you couldn't "google it" to find stuff back then.

    The main piece of test equipment was a "feeler gauge" so that you get the relays and contacts set properly. That and a can of good oil was about it. The machine itself looks like an oversized green bread box and used roll paper to print on. And it used a ribbon that looked like a typewriter ribbon. And when it was printing it was noisy and it smelled of hot oil. Appreciate your computers folks. But it was remote printing that was just about state of the art.

    Here is what they looked like:
    model_15.jpeg model_15_printer.jpeg

    The interface between the radio and the RTTY machine was a TU or terminal unit. Tubes for the most part that converted the mark and space to electrical impulses that drove the latching relays which trigger the motor to print a character. The code used was 5-level teletype code or Baudot. ASCII was just something that the big companies used for business.

    But we had fun with them on a local 6 meter net.

    At Christmas time, K3RLI would send us pictures. Now remember that the speed of RTTY for us is about 60 characters per minute. The picture that K3RLI would send would sometimes be in 1,000's of characters. That is right. No JPEG or PNG files. The pictures were made up of characters. X's, O's, and other characters painstakingly entered on the keyboard to make a picture.

    A sample of one is attached for your viewing pleasure. It contains 805 characters and it is a small one. It took about 15 minutes to send it. But to those of us receiving it there was a certain anticipation waiting for it to finish so we could see the picture. Just like a child waiting for Christmas morning to open all the presents under the tree.

    And it was somewhat of a bonding among us who had somewhat mastered the RTTY machine. We were a special group that had figured out the radio interface, the wiring, and somehow gotten these old klunkers to perform again.

    As each picture would come out I would carefully tear off the paper and hang it one the wall of my basement shack. Soon the walls were covered with the RTTY Art. It was hours and hours of patience on our end receiving them and hours and hours of time on K3RLI's end sending them via paper tape. And of course there was constant adjustments and tuning to make sure that our old receivers didn't drift out off the signal and making sure that the old girl's gears didn't run dry but it was fun.

    Now I couldn't recreate that atmosphere today. The old model 15's are pretty much worn out. Roll paper is a thing of the past, the TU's have been replaced by TNCs and sound cards. Just really isn't the same.

    But the RTTY Art still exists. It has been preserved and stored and you can find it on the Internet of course. As I looked at it I decided to recreate to the best of my ability those nights before Christmas of receiving that RTTY Art.

    So the Sunday before Christmas I dropped the regular mundane stuff and sent RTTY Art pictures. I did make some selective judgement. Some of the pictures were many feet in length. Well, we have 8.5x11 paper to work with. So I selected only those pictures that would fit on the regular stock paper. Still I had a lot of them. I assembled them into files and some into Flmsg's blank forms. The first go around at 9:00PM I sent 14 pictures. When the sending stop I heard a call on the repeater. "Can you send them again?" I asked which one he wanted. And I sent his again. As soon as I got done with him and another call "Hey WT I missed part of the skater. Can you send that one again?" So I did. And on it went. I finally went to bed at 2:00AM after filling the requests for more. It seems that many of the people copying this broadcast found something they liked last Sunday night. Who knew that old character based pictures could generate so much interest.

    The last call I got was from WB3FKP, one of our old RTTY group, who simply said "Thanks for the great memories." I went to be really satisfied with my efforts that night.

    If you would like the files I won't send them to you. You can do the googling and find them if you like. Or you can go to and get the .wav file for 12/21/2014. You can use Fldigi to playback the audio and see the files for yourself. If you are old like me then they might bring back some RTTY memories for you.

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Dec 22, 2014
    wedgar likes this.
  2. wedgar

    wedgar Administrator Staff Member Gold Member

    Outstanding! All you'd need now is the eye shade and sleeve holders for the outfit.

    That is a wonderful use of ham radio. Excellent idea!

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