New Zealand-made Morse Code keys: Bug keys

Listed below are Morse Code keys known to have been mass-produced in New Zealand for use in landline telegraphy, commercial radiotelegraphy, the military, or amateur radio.

This page features semi-automatic keys (often called “bugs”). Please see the links at the bottom of the page for other types of key made in New Zealand.

If you know of other keys, or have additional information of photographs to share, please contact the editor.


A&W McCarthy bug

A&W McCarthy semi-automatic Morse key
A&W McCarthy semi-automatic Morse key. Photo: ZL2RX

Roger Wincer ZL2RX has one of these bugs, which he purchased from McCarthy’s shop in Dunedin in 1968. They told him that it was made locally.

Roger comments that the key is quite light for a bug (only 777g) and seems to have an alloy base.

“I used it at sea for many years, which is why it got damaged. It did not work well in storm conditions and often ended up being chucked about by the motion of the ship. I have to hold it down whilst keying, or screw it down to the operating table.”

A&W McCarthy semi-automatic Morse keyRoger has done some rebuilding of his bug, particularly around the damper frame.

“What you see in the pictures is 90% original parts including screws, etc.”

The second key pictured (with the red base) is in the collection at the Com-Centre in Auckland.

The small object opposite the terminals is an extra weight for slowing the bug down. Roger’s key also has this additional weight.


Supreme bug

Supreme bug Morse key
On this Supreme bug the dot contact is bent but the reason is unknown.

Two Supreme bug Morse keysSupreme keys were made in the 1970s and 1980s by Eric Sorenson and sold by Tricity House in Christchurch.

Construction is a steel base with brass fittings and all are chromium plated.

The photos were taken at the Com-Centre in Auckland during February 2000.

Advertisement for Supreme bug in Break-In magazine, Oct 1987In the 1977 NZART Callbook Supreme bugs were advertised at $21.85. In 1986 they cost $72.50, and a year later they had gone up to $95.

Pictured: an advertisement in Break-In magazine, October 1987


1928 Copy of Vibroplex Original

1928 copy of a Vibroplex Original bug by Ron Venables
1928 copy of a Vibroplex Original bug by Ron Venables

The following story appeared in Gary Bold ZL1AN’s Morseman column in Break-In magazine of February 1989.

One weekend early in 1928, Ron Venables OZ3BZ* borrowed a Vibroplex semi-automatic key (a “bug”) from a US freighter berthed in the port of Lyttleton. He disassembled it, took measurements and made mouldings for all the parts. Then he reassembled it and returned it.

Within a few weeks he had manufactured and nickel-plated all the parts for six keys. He presented one to Dan Wilkinson ZL2AB, who mounted it on a three-ply base. Dan found that the adjustment was not difficult and he really appreciated the ease of operation compared to the old hand-key.

After 60 years use the contacts were worn but the key still performed as well as the best. This key is now in the collection at Kapiti Coast Museum, Waikanae, near Wellington and is sometimes used by the operators of the amateur radio station at the museum.

In Gary’s June 1989 column, it was reported that Wally ZL2GG, was offered one of the new clones for 25 shillings. By the time Wally had saved his five shillings-a-week pocket money, the keys had all been sold. Wally said that Ron was a craftsman and had an eye for mechanical finish and detail.

The fate of the other five keys is unknown. Have you seen one anywhere?

* In 1928 OZ3 was a NZ prefix. Ron later became ZL3AE.


More New Zealand keys

Straight keys
Paddles