For those unaware, a “lid” in ham radio speak means someone with very poor operating technique. As in an inept, newbie ham. Or an experienced op that comes across like a newbie. According to multiple ham radio sources, speculation is that the term originated from wired telegraphy. An example:
"I’ve heard that the term was first used in the days of railroad telegraphy. Apparently, some of the operators would put the lid of a tobacco can on the mechanical sounder to make it easier to hear. Veteran operators would derisively call these operators “Lids.”
The problem that I have with this definition is that in ham radio speak, a “lid” is someone with very poor operating technique. Such as someone who sends CW so poorly it is uncopyable, or perhaps uses voice in CW sub-bands, etc. Any ham who would put the lid of a tobacco can on the mechanical sounder to make it easier to hear would:
#1) Be indistinguishable on the air from an operator who didn’t do this. The only way other hams could evaluate them is by what they transmitted. How would another ham know if a certain ham put the lid of a tobacco can on the mechanical sounder to make it easier to hear?
#2) How would putting the lid of a tobacco can on the mechanical sounder to make it easier to hear make someone a bad op? If this made it easier for them to copy CW it would merely improve their efficiency as an operator. A hallmark of a “lid” would be an op who couldn’t copy received CW even if it was sent by another ham with an exceptionally good fist.
Can anyone find when the earliest print cite is of “lid” being used to mean a poor telegraph operator happened? And perhaps an early cite where it is said exactly why such an op was called a “lid”? I have my doubts about this tobacco can lid explanation.