Theodore's World: It's Taps For Morse Code

« Enough is Enough We Need To Be Strong Again! | Main | Explosion outside main U.S. Base Afghanistan ~ VP Cheney There And Is OK »

February 27, 2007

It's Taps For Morse Code

Wayne Spring scans the airwaves for fellow ham operators from his Orange home. He uses Morse code, but doesn't oppose licensing operators who don't know the language.

It's taps for Morse code
A new FCC rule is seen as a sign that the language is fading into history like smoke signals

Morse code is in need of some serious SOS.

The language of dots and dashes, first used during the infancy of electronic communication in the mid-1800s, is going the way of Latin.

Beginning today, amateur or "ham" radio operators in the United States won't be tested in Morse code – also known as Continuous Wave – in order to be licensed by the federal government.

In an effort to advance the hobby, the Federal Communications Commission in December agreed to eliminate the five-words-per-minute Morse code requirement for people seeking their upper-level class licenses.

So with another nail in Morse code's coffin, some of the 15 or so ham radio clubs in Orange County are hoping the less stringent testing will ignite interest and beef up declining membership. There are more than 9,600 licensed ham operators in the county, according to FCC data.

But the loss of Morse code has also created a rift between longtime operators, some who say the tap, tap, tapping is a skill steeped in tradition.

"There's a tendency for people who use Continuous Wave all their lives to shun or think of the people who don't use it as second-class citizens," said Fullerton Radio Club President Larry McDavid of Anaheim.

Walt LeBlanc, a member of the Anaheim Amateur Radio Association, learned Morse code when he first got licensed in 1976. He laments its loss as part of the licensing process.

"I think it's all part of the dumbing down of America," said LeBlanc of Westminster. "They keep lowering requirements like they did (for ham radio beginners) in 1991. But it didn't do anything then, and I don't think it'll do anything now."

The Anaheim association, which formed in 1964, saw as many as 300 members in its heyday; now there are about 30, with only 10 active.

The Fullerton Radio Club began in 1950, but while its ranks peaked at about 300 members in the early 1960s, there are only about 60 today. Most of the members are over age 50.

Amateur radio operators say cell phones, text messaging and the Internet have easily become more popular outlets for making long-distance contact.

But the need for ham operators is great, especially during disasters, operators say. Ham radio played a key role in early communications during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina.

"We're often there first, and we're often the only communication early on," McDavid said.

Wayne Spring of the Orange County Amateur Radio Club is one of the ham hopefuls who think nixing Morse code testing can only help the hobby.

Spring, who lives in Orange, learned Morse code as a search-and-rescue radio operator for the U.S. Coast Guard in the 1940s. While his code has gotten a little rusty, he isn't quite ready to say "73" (Morse code for "goodbye") to the electronic language.

Wild Thing's comment.......

How are they 'advancing the hobby' when they are taking one of the more interesting aspects of it away? I think it is sad, another vanishing skill and why say it is a hobby like that is all it is. It has meant much more to this country over the years.

I have heard that here in Florida there are very active, effective and experienced crew of hams on the hurricane net who give of their own time and resources on a regular basis in times of emergency.

Click HERE for a Morse Code Translator I found online.

.... .- ...- . / .- / --. .-. . .- - / -.. .- -.-- / . ...- . .-. -.-- --- -. .

Have a great day everyone

Posted by Wild Thing at February 27, 2007 12:47 AM


"But the need for ham operators is great, especially during disasters, operators say. Ham radio played a key role in early communications during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina."

Hmm... Katrina makes sense, the hurricane took out communications. But what role could ham operators have played during 911? Two buildings went down, but the phone infrastructure was intact, the emergency crews could use their own radios, and anyone could be kept reliably informed by just putting on a new channel on TV or radio. The emergency services knew from no more than a minute after the first crash exactly where they needed to be.

Posted by: Suricou Raven at February 27, 2007 05:42 AM

'Bens Best Bent Wire', Learned this one to imporve rythm at Radio school. It is a shame they are dumming down the License. CW can be invaluable and is almost sure to get through where voice and other methods can not. Last I heard you were only required to be able to send/receive 10WPM which is painfully slow.

I remember that when the speed goes above 30 WPM, until you are used to it, certain words have a tendency to run together. A word like 'Sheet' at 30WPM keeps coming out 'shit', we had to be able to read 30WPM because all of the ships used 'Speed-Keys' all we had was the 'J-45' knee key and you were lucky to bang out 15-18 wpm but the ships were good.

Oh well such is progress, it still sucks. I think knowing the Code should be a requirement.

Posted by: Mark at February 27, 2007 02:16 PM

It just seems that the ability to use Morse Code is like an insurance policy. A viable backup if all else fails.

I tried to learn MC once just to know it. I failed.

Posted by: TomR at February 27, 2007 03:22 PM

I used to be an operator, Morse Code was and still is a challenge, but once learned it's like speech and you can keep up. I prefer a straight key over a bug. I have an electronic keyer that I used for a while but went back to the straight key. Once while at 72 degrees North I had a 20 meter phone chat with McMurdo Sound, difficult from both ends due to the Aurora's. Back then there was an over the horizon radar we called the woodpecker, used by the Russians, that raised havoc with all communications. My most memorable CW session was a 30 minute chat with a Russian operator who was flawless and slowed down from his 30 WPM to 20 WPM just for me, I could barely keep up, that was fun, I knew he was an old timer and just loved chatting with us newcomers, I was wringing wet from sweating during that session but I knew that old guy was just laughing at how slow I was. The thing that has hurt the Amateur Radio more than anything else has been the advent of the computer and the internet. I hate to see the old standard eliminated, one of my mentors never wrote down a thing, he would be responding at the same time as he was recieving the message. I should get back into it as I have all the gear, just lazy I suppose. I do miss the etiquette though, once you establish contact everyone went silent until the conversation signed off, quite a change from CB.

..-. .-. --- -- / -- -.-- / --.- - .... / - --- / -.-- --- ..- .-. / --.- - .... --..-- / .... .- ...- . / .- / --. .-. . .- - / -.. .- -.-- / --- ..- - / - .... . .-. . /

Posted by: Jack at February 27, 2007 04:00 PM

Mark that is really interersting, thank you so much. I agree with you too that the Code should be a requirement. Especially for a person to know enough for survival and emergencies.

Posted by: Wild Thing at February 28, 2007 12:03 AM

Tom, I tried more then once.hahaha On the second try I was able to learn a few of the things just for emergencies.

I saw right away how hard it was and how special it would be to know MC. Amazing how they do it.

Posted by: Wild Thing at February 28, 2007 12:06 AM

Jack that is so neat, I love hearing about it. How cool!! Gosh though it sure is hard to learn.

Posted by: Wild Thing at February 28, 2007 12:08 AM

WT if you don't use the Military method it is hard to learn.

They way they do it. Is you sit at a table for 8 hours a day, with breaks in between, with headsphones on, and you listen to code. the first few days are farily easy, you go throw the alpabet with a few letters at a time: something like, Di dow, 'alpha', dow di di di 'Bravo', Dow di dow dit 'Charlie'... you hear, the code letter for alpha and a Speaker says, Alpha, and so on, this goes on for the first few days, through the whole alphabet then the numbers. You get to a point that you start hearing Code in your sleep, in fact you live, feel and breathe code.

After about 3 and 1/2 weeks you no longer hear the code but words, some people never get to that point but in order to copy higher rates of speed you have to be able to hear the words as they are sent.

During the second world war, Navy Radiomen could send 40 to 50 words per minute, these of course were exceptions but it seemed each ship had one or two that could go that fast.

Another thing to speed things up was the use of Q and Z signals: For example, one that sticks out in my mind was Net control, he would send ZKA, ZKB, INT ZBO, which is short hand for, 'I am net control and all messages go through me' the INT of course is 'Interrogatory' 'do you have any messages.'

In a squadron of ships or a small Task Force, the command ship was usually designated Net Control.

The Radio we used to communicate with the ships, was called an AN-GRC-9 it had three parts and Weighed about 75 pounds, there was the trans-ceiver, then a portable Generator which the assistant radioman would carry and a portable seat for the Generator. You always wanted the biggest guy in the platoon as your assistant, when sending on the "9" the generator operator had to maintain 60 revolutions per minute, the more cw sent the harder the generator was to push, like trying to run in knee deep sand. And Of course the 'J-45' knee key, this was strapped around the leg near the knee, hence it name, knee-key.

The AN-GRC-9 also had a battery pack but that was for Receive only. Hence when the Marine Corps got rid of the 'Angry 9' no-body was dissappointed.

They were however well built and could be dropped into the water and still work fine,,,Dammit

Posted by: Mark at February 28, 2007 08:59 AM