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Curtis Keyer Chip Developer Jack Curtis, K6KU, SK


The developer of the groundbreaking Curtis Morse keyer chip, John G. “Jack” Curtis, K6KU (ex-W3NSJ), of Granite Bay, California, died on June 4 after a long illness. An ARRL member, he was 87.

Growing up in Bradford, Pennsylvania, Curtis became fascinated with the “magic” of Amateur Radio as a youngster, and it eventually would become his career. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Penn State in 1952, he was employed by Sperry Rand, served in the US Navy in Japan, and worked for Corning Glass — earning three patents — and for Signetics.

On his own time, Curtis started Curtis Electro Devices on the side in 1968 and marketed his prototype electronic Morse iambic keyer — the EK-38 — which had “dit” memory. The follow-on EK-39 had “dah” memory and weight control, and later models offered a small scratch memory.

Putting the electronics on an IC chip revolutionized CW keying. The first Curtis keyer chip was the 8043 in 1973. The 8044 family of chips followed, to include the 8044, 8044B, 8044M, 8044BM, and, finally, the 20-pin 8044ABM, produced in 1986. It incorporated A or B iambic modes, and output for a speed meter. In their heyday, Curtis chips were at the heart of an array of commercial memory CW keyers — Curtis’s last keyer, produced in 1982, was the Lil’ Bugger. Curtis chips also were incorporated into amateur transceivers and were favorites of homebrewers, who could construct their own keyers around Curtis chips with a handful of additional components. Curtis Electro Devices also developed and manufactured memory chips for the nascent cellular industry. The advent of microcontrollers stalled demand for keyer chips, and MFJ later purchased the 8044 line. Curtis Electro Devices closed in 2000.

Curtis is survived by his wife, Mary Ann. A service was held on June 14 in Oklahoma City. — Some information from “A History of Curtis Keyers,” by Brad Mitchell, N8YG (August 2016 issue of QST)



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