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Ioannis (John) Piliounis

A nightmare for HAM Radio operators: The “Russian Woodpecker”

Ioannis (John) Piliounis
RadioGraybeard
RadioGraybeard
2/24/2017 10:04:04 PM
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Newbie
I Remember it Well
I was an active ham in those days, and I remember them showing up in amateur bands all over HF.  I tended to hang out on the 15m band, 21.000 - 21.450, but I'd hear them most at the bottom end where Morse code operators were allocated. 

Someone decided (or heard) that it was pulse radar and decided the obvious way to overcome it was to transmit back at it with a similar pulse rate.  There would be no information content, but you'd probably be much louder than the return.  It was pretty simple really: turn up the speed on your keyer until it sounded like the same pulse rate and transmit back.  If you could peak their signal and your return by rotating your beam, all the better. 

I remember once hearing the Woodpecker stop, as if the operators were saying to each other "what the heck was that??", then they'd start again and the self-annointed jammers would start.  They'd move around the band the jammers would follow them.  It seems they eventually chased the Woodpecker away, because they either changed frequencies or modes or something. 

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Andy_I
Andy_I
2/22/2017 8:39:53 PM
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Artist
The Woodpecker
I was not a ham back then, but was an occasional SWL - shortwave listener.  I do indeed remember hearing the Woodpecker and some of the talk about it.  When their signal was coming in, SWLing was just about useless.

There were other, jamming signals in use back then, to impede reception of certain shortwave broadcasts.  Along with lots of other coded signals.  So it didn't surprise me to find another unpleasant signal on the bands.  What was annoying about the Russian Woodpecker was how much RF spectrum it took up, and my radio didn't have a "noise blanker" which might have helped.

In the end maybe the "Russian Woodpecker" wasn't Russian at all.  Soviet, yes.  Geographically, Ukranian, perhaps.  Although there were Duga sites in other Soviet republics, so who knows which ones we were hearing?

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Andy_I
Andy_I
2/22/2017 7:40:42 PM
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Artist
Re: "ham" not "HAM"
It's been said that the origins of "ham" and "ham radio" are unknown, or that it dates back to pre-radio, with the wired telegraph.

The ARRL has a story for it, which may or may not be true.  Ham was defined as "a poor oprator", also called a "plug", in "The Telegraph Instructor" (1901) by George M. Dodge.  In the early days with spark-gap transmitters, an amateur's radio signal could blanket the whole band -- similar to the Russian Woodpecker.  Commercial radio operators started using the term "ham" to referr to amateur radio stations with huge signals that could hog the spectrum.  Or so the ARRL claims.

"Plug" meant "a telegraph operator, who lacks ability."

"Ham" was in use already before 1901, before Marconi's trans-Atlantic transmission, when there were hardly any radio operators, amateur or otherwise.  So I wonder if the term "ham" was used not to refer to the interfering radio signals, but to the fact that some of those amateur radio people were new with Morse Code and they were sloppy at it.

In any event, amateur radio operators didn't know "ham" was derogatory, and started using it themselves.

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steve.taranovich
steve.taranovich
2/22/2017 4:17:18 PM
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Blogger
Re: "ham" not "HAM"
Thanks for your feedback Dan. Any idea where the 'ham radio' nomenclature came from?

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KB6NU
KB6NU
2/22/2017 9:09:38 AM
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Newbie
"ham" not "HAM"
Great article, but the name of our hobby is not "HAM" or "HAM radio." It's not an acronym for anything. It's simply "ham radio" or "amateur radio." 

73,   <--ham radio lingo for "best regards"

Dan Romanchik, KB6NU

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Jean-Luc.Suchail
Jean-Luc.Suchail
2/22/2017 8:38:34 AM
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Newbie
The Russian Woodpecker
I remember this stuff, in France it was called "The Machine Gun"....

Was a nightmare on HF bands.

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