Made in Vermont: W1SFR

Published: Nov. 20, 2023 at 6:27 PM EST
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SUDBURY, Vt. (WCAX) - Steve Roberts spends a lot of time messing with metal, making Morse code keys.

“HAM radio is a very tight community really, and you have friends like all over the world, people you’ve never met,” said Roberts, whose call letters are W1SFR.

His side hustle is key for the community, and it’s not something you accidentally start doing. Roberts’ journey into dots and dashes began in Vietnam.

“I wanted to be a war photographer,” he recounted, sitting in his Sudbury shop.

After joining the Navy, he took the aptitude tests. As it turns out, he’s a bit of a brainiac. In a flash, the Navy took his photography dreams and turned them into rotations on the radios.

“Went through all the courses, learned Morse code. I wound up on an island in the middle of the Pacific doing surveillance stuff and I listened to a lot of code while I was there,” he said.

After getting out, Roberts was happy to leave it behind. That is until a friend got into it about a decade ago.

“He sort of talked me into it 40 years after my stint in the Navy doing Morse code stuff there,” Roberts said. “It’s like you don’t forget it, it’s like riding a bike.”

Without one of the keys to tap your message, you’re left with dead air. Morse code keys don’t come cheap, so Roberts started making them himself.

“It’s all about function and design,” he said.

This hobby started just for himself until a local HAM radio group bought his keys. The message spread from there. Now he’s making waves with his intricate, hand-made keys.

“I’m pretty well-known in this echo-sphere, you know, all over the place,” said Roberts.

Attention to detail is the name of the game... smoothing, shining and adjusting these keys for customers around the world. Roberts turns out four or five keys a week. It’s a bit of a slow process, but quality is crucial in this business. Engraved call letters, bases made of local granite... if you’re looking for a top-notch key, dash over to W1SFR.

“When people get them, they actually say, ‘Boy what a work of art this is... you know, I’ve never used anything like this before.’ So I guess, that’s definitely gratifying.”