I was brousing my downloaded 'The Art and Skill of Radiotelegraphy' and noted a discussion of the 'Chicken Fat Operators'. I found a website full of pictures and a roster of members. I even got to hear the famous CFO anthem! The site is:


What is the history of this group? I take it the club is inactive.

Joe KH6/W3GW

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The last "cluck-in" I attended was in Chicago in '91 (where does the time go?) Sadly, a few of the members are now silent keys, some are still active on the bands but seldom mention their club membership.....It would be nice to try and resurrect this group and get some new members--------There were/are some really good operators there......I never did like the 'hokey' "anthem" though!!!! (-:

Rick VE3MFN CFO #888
I've checked back several times since you posed the question about the CFO. Figured you might get several replies. Since that hasn't happened, I'll do my best to offer something worth reading..

I've been a ham since 1962 and most of my operating has been on 40 CW. It became clear to this teenager that former military and commercial CW operators were making some mighty fast and clean code. A lot of these fellows along with other gifted operators were really pushing the envelope on speeds that could be achieved with electronic keyers and to a lesser extent, bugs. While some had a magic touch and could leave the pack in the dust, most would hit a brick wall, often around 45 wpm, where near perfect sending would quickly turn to slop. Being able to read code much faster than one could send was a common condition and I was a victim of that too.

Reading K5TO's comments about the state of CW sending in the early 70's brought back a lot of memories. Wally mentioned the one character buffer K4KN keyboard. Over the course of two or three years I tried to buy one of those boards but K4KN always had more orders than he could handle. Although the design was rudimentary there were plenty of QRQ-hungry guys anxious to buy. As the decade moved forward, numerous manufacturers offered increasingly sophisticated CW keyboards to enthusiastic buyers. Overnight, we were all sending better code and having more fun than we'd had in years. I remember being astonished at some of the fellows who never learned to touch type and despite that would hunt and peck their way to high speeds. When we entered the 1970's, 60 wpm was considered lightning fast. By the end of the decade, the bar had been raised and QSOs over 100 wpm were not unusual.

The phenomenon of exceeding the keying circuit capacity of transmitters began to appear. Many a rig was removed from shacks because it couldn't keep up with the new speeds we were running. Ten Tec gained rapid acceptance because most if not all of their models (back then) were designed with CW wave shaping ideal for QRQ. That and the smooth QSK made their rigs very desireable for this new way of operating CW. I ran an Omni C and Info Tech M300C board. I think of those days as something of a CW epiphany with frequent outbursts of glee and joy on the low end of the band. Such were the prevailing conditions that helped hatch the Chicken Fat Operators.

I first became aware of these excellent Morse Code conversationalists in 1980 and was a daily participant for about 5 years until work duties took me off the air. You could join the club by being sponsored by a member. The entry requirement was not set in stone or dependent on what keying method you used. Generally members would be someone interested in fast speeds and CW ragchewing. Darnit, over the years I managed to lose my membership certificate which was truly a work of art crafted by Stan W9WBL and his wife Doris. Also ashamed to confess I forgot my membership number. I think it was 70 or 71. I don't think it was initially anticipated that the member count would go as high as it did. I had the impression that W9WBL was frequently overloaded with the work part of maintaining the club and that he did not always receive adequate funds to cover his out of pocket costs. Never heard him complain.

Chicken Fat Operators were first to harness the mystical properties of said fat. Smeared on keys and/or keyboards it made your code speed increase in quantum steps while eliminating all human errors. Rubbed on antennas it made small signals big, and big signals bigger-er. Members were obsessively experimenting with CF and broadening the scope of its applications. Our shared interest in such pursuits remained high and was frequently the lead topic in lengthy conversations.

The rooster was the member list. The coop was the gathering spot. Cluck-ins were social events. The "official" CFO sign-off following each QSO was a clucking sound made by a labor-intensive combination of dits and dahs at strange spacings, variable character lengths and abrupt shifts in speed. The official theme song, In The Mood, was sung by clucking chicken impersonator Ray Stevens.

That there were all these goofy metaphors and the sense nothing here was all that serious was wholly intentional. Human nature what it is, any group of high speed code operators could easily become snobs. As I understand it, some other fast code groups were offputting and turned away many a good operator. I remember occasions when some CFO members felt there was need for a more formal organization, for more recognition of accomplishment and/or status, for stronger filters to keep less gifted operators out of the club. Elitist attitudes were nipped in the bud and a lightheated, friendly feeling prevailed. However, those wishing to strut their stuff had many opportunities to move into the really really high speed lane with others equally up to the task.

I was never among the fastest of the fast, but all those contacts with CFO members did much to help me send and receive code faster and cleaner. The old theory about hanging with people better at a given pursuit than you proved true in my case. I'd say most of the on-air activity was in the form of traditional two station ragchews. There were group chews also, sometimes containing many stations. Saturday mornings on the low end of 40 we might have a dozen participants in a QSO that would keep going for several hours. They'd be at a pretty good clip of maybe 60 wpm, all running QSK and each of us able to discern who was talking at any given moment. Bursts of laughter were common. Imagine someone saying something funny followed by a dozen stations sending "hi hi" simultaneously. What a happy sound. Eventually somebody would say three little words that stick with me even to this day: Let's get going!

Next thing you know, this might be an 80 wpm QSO. Sometimes, the really fast guys would excuse themselves and go one-on-one for a while at 100 and better. I don't recall anyone ever being arrogant about having extraordinary code capability. Dozens of us would listen in awe as the fast boys let it rip.

I would feel just awful overlooking any of the great folks who forumulated this thing. But I think all would agree that the Big Bird, Jim W9TO, CFO #1, was inspirational to us all. Jim, as most will recall, designed the HA-1 TO Keyer first manufactured by Hallicrafters circa 1960. As was the case with many CFO members, Jim had an array of CW sending devices within easy reach and he used them all. Keyers and paddles, keyboards, bugs, straight keys. I was not quite as well rounded and tended to stick with the keyboard at home and paddles when running mobile.

That just about everything I can recall. Oh, one other thing. Some of the guys thought it would be a novel change of pace to hold a CFO net on 40 meter SSB. So we'd go up into that rowdy phone portion of the band and attempt to talk to each other. It was novel to finally hear the voice behind the fists we'd been hearing for years. But we usually didn't fare well up there with our 100 watt pea shooters and the crowded, noisy conditions. When this experiment concluded, many a microphone was put back in the desk drawer.

A good portion of CFO membership were already retired when the group formed so I'm sure a review of the rooster would yield mostly silent keys among the early members. By the time I became active again in the mid-90's I was shocked at the lack of QRQ on the bands. I found no evidence of CFO group activities but did run into the occasional QSO with a CFO member.

I hope some or all of this was interesting. 73, Mike W8MW
Thanks Mike. I found your tale very interesting. I have been a ham for over 50 years and there are still parts of our hobby that are completely new to me. The Chicken Fat Operators would have been fun to meet and work. I was tied up in Viet-Nam in the late 1960s and than medical school and post graduate training in the 70's. Thanks for filling in a gap in the history of CW for me. I am hoping to get on for some QRQ QSO's when the sunspots gear up. I have heard little over the past few months out here on Maui. I have been using Rufz and Fldigi to get my code speed up. I have an old Apple II, MFJ 1278 data controller that will send up to 99 wpm, and a TenTec Omni D ready to go when solar flux picks up.

Aloha, Joe, KH6/W3GW
Hi Joe,

Wow, you sure did have your hands full in the 60's and 70's. What area of medicine did you pursue ... and are you still at it? I worked in radio & television broadcasting and later as a consultant before retiring recently.

Have fun with your QRQ pursuits. I remember Omni D's as generating some of the finest high speed CW.

Those of us who enjoy this are a strange (that's a given) and shrinking (in more ways than one) special interest group. One thing we did way back then and is probably even more necessary today ... when we run into a good operator, try to arrange an ongoing schedule. I found it very rewarding to be in regular QSO with fellow enthusiasts. Amazing how genuine friendships can result from these esoteric pulse streams most people would consider highly inhuman.

Sorry I can't join you Joe but am off the air for the forseeable future.

Aloha Mike W8MW
Too bad you are off the air, Mike. Is it an antenna problem? I can't put up an outside antenna due to community association rules so I wrapped a loop under the eve of the roof of my two story wood house and brought the ends in through the shack window. The loop works surprisingly well on all bands, 80 through 10, with the help of my tuner. I hope to set up some QRQ skeds with some of the folks I have met through this site. Just a few more sunspots are needed to get across to the mainland with a good enough signal to make QRQ enjoyable. There will be more time to devote to hamming when I retire as a Cardiologist in Feb09

Joe KH6/W3GW.
Yes Joe, I am taking a break while living in a not so HF-friendly location. Congrats on your upcoming retirement!
73 Mike

Could I cite this write up describing the Chicken Fat Operators in an article I am writing for QST?

Joe KH6/W3GW
Here is the letter I got in the mail when I joined the group @1995
CFO # 967
see attached PDF file
Hi Chuck,
Thanks for posting the letter. The lighthearted nature of it is exactly what I remember the group being very good at. I take it you didn't receive the full color customized membership certificate? Must have been discontinued cuz it was a whole lot of work for Stan and Doris. You probably know, the image shown on the web page that Joe linked at the beginning of this thread is pretty much how the certificate looked.

Thanks for the memories,

Mike W8MW
here is a little CFO music while you browse this article
Here is the new CFO WEBSITE:

Here is the CFO SKED website page where you can login and see where other CFO'ers are listening or operating on the
HF bands:


Here is a picture of my original CFO membership certificate:

I am glad to hear the Chicken Fat Operators are gearing up for action again. I sent Ben, N6SL, a copy of your note as he is member #441!

Last night, Sunday, 23May09 at 1900 HST( or 24May09 at 0500Z) on 7033 khz, I heard what sounded like a QRQ group operating at speeds of 50 to 60 wpm. They were weak and I couldn't get the calls but I got some of the conversation. I hope conditions improve enough to allow me to join in soon. We need more sunspots out here on Maui!

Joe KH6/W3GW


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