Morse code fans sending out an SOS

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Morse code fans sending out an SOS

Postby W4CLM » Wed Mar 08, 2006 10:22 pm

Morse code fans sending out an SOS
2006-03-07 06:10:02.0
Chicago Tribune


CHICAGO - A century-old hobby filled with dots and dashes is embroiled in a debate about its future and what level of training should be expected of those called to help during local and national emergencies.

Morse code, a slowly dying language, has become radio's equivalent of Latin: historically important, but increasingly irrelevant in a world of cell phones, computers and instant messaging.

With mariners and the military having moved to other technologies long ago, ham radio operators are virtually the sole practitioners of a technique that made national and international communication possible with the telegraph.

Now, after decades of requiring code proficiency to obtain certain amateur radio licenses, the Federal Communications Commission is considering a proposal to do away with the prerequisite, generating strong emotions among the nation's more than 600,000 operators.

The debate comes after the completion of one of the highest-profile missions in decades for amateur radio operators, who relayed messages about everything from medical supplies to missing people when Hurricane Katrina wiped out telecommunications along the Gulf Coast.

As ham radio operators debate the need for Morse code, military officials say it is taught in an expansive way at only two U.S. bases, with just a few dozen members of the full-time military learning it each year. It is primarily used as a back-up for joint operations with less-developed nations.

"Morse is a fading skill in today's day of information, especially as we get into networks and cyberspace," said Capt. Kevin Hooley, commanding officer of the Navy's Center for Information Dominance in Florida.

The International Maritime Organization officially phased out Morse in 1999 for ships in peril, replacing it with the high-tech Global Maritime Distress and Safety System. Before that, in 1993, the Coast Guard shut down its Morse code emergency distress network, a system that was a throwback to when ships used the chilling "SOS" as their internationally recognized call for help.

Code requirements for amateur radio licenses have already been eliminated in some other nations, including New Zealand, Ireland and Singapore. The FCC is expected to issue a decision this year after reviewing more than 3,700 written comments submitted by interested parties.

Although his radio is capable of transmitting voice with near-perfect clarity, Mike Dinelli prefers to tap away on a Morse code key when he sends messages around the world to other radio hobbyists. "It's part of the romance of radio," said Dinelli, 49, a commercial real estate broker from Skokie, Ill., who has been a ham radio operator since 1980.

Others say the code requirement is needed to keep the ham radio bands from degrading to the level of Citizens Band radio, which peaked in popularity during the 1970s and was known for its often-colorful conversation.

"I've always said that we need some hoops to jump through to make it viable," said Ed Hayes, a ham radio operator in Longview, Wash. "If you don't have to do anything to get the license, it puts you in the CB world."

Hayes, a retired community college teacher, first learned the code when he was a Boy Scout. He belongs to the International Morse Code Preservation Society, which claims about 12,000 members in North America.

Although glacial when compared to modern, digital technologies, Hayes can send and receive about 25 words per minute in Morse code. "I don't even have a microphone hooked up," he said.

For others, such views are pure nostalgia for a hobby that has been hurt by the popularity and communications power of the Internet.

"To require young people to learn an old language that is very seldom used is a stumbling block for a lot of people to get in the hobby," said John Kuntz, a ham radio operator from Fennimore, Wis., who wrote the FCC to support eliminating the code requirement.

Making it easier to obtain a license could bolster the number of operators at a time when the frequencies authorized for their use have come under increased pressure. Some in the hobby fear the government could move to auction off portions of their radio spectrum for other purposes.

Although few young people are entering the hobby, about 660,000 are licensed nationally, according to the American Radio Relay League, a national organization with about 150,000 members.

Kuntz, an electronics technician, said he has little concern that the ham radio bands will be turned into the trash-talking environment of CB radio if the Morse code requirement is dropped.

"A bigger problem is not getting enough new people into the hobby to keep it going," he said. "If we don't keep attracting young people into the hobby, we aren't going to have that back-up system of radio communications out in the country, which can really be an asset for public service."

Backers of the code requirement, meanwhile, maintain that Morse has tremendous advantages during crises. Morse can be sent and received when less favorable radio conditions prevent voice signals from being heard, and it requires only basic equipment that is readily available during emergencies.

"There are counties that are very poor that don't have other kinds of equipment," Dinelli said. "Hams have to be able to use this mode so they can communicate in times of need."

Morse code's storied history started on May 24, 1844, when Samuel Morse transmitted the question, "What hath God wrought?" over 35 miles of wire from Washington to Baltimore.

The accomplishment amazed observers and started the process of speeding information across the country and world, replacing the Pony Express and courier pigeons. The Associated Press formed a few years after Morse's demonstration, using the telegraph to move news in minutes that once took days.

After the 1912 sinking of the Titanic, which used wireless code to try to attract help, Congress enacted legislation that required U.S. ships to use Morse code radiotelegraph equipment for distress calls.

Over the years, the code has changed very little. Bowing to the importance of the Internet, the @ sign was added in 2004 by the International Telecommunications Union, the first new character in decades.

Hooley, the commanding officer at the Navy's information center, said he is not aware of any military usage of Morse code in recent years. Still, during operations in the Middle East, he said there were discussions about whether coalition partners had the capability.

"We never had to resort to it, but it was sometimes asked as a possibility," he said. "It is a skill that we have to keep."


(c) 2006, Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.
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Postby n5hny » Sun Apr 23, 2006 8:34 pm

I think we are going to have to face it. CW is an outdated mode in the world outside of amateur radio. And the proponents of dropping CW in tha amateur ranks have strong aguments for their views.

I read somewhere the average age for an amateur radio operator in america is in his or her 50s. This alone tell you we need new younger amatuers for the future. The hobby does not need a bunch of 90 year old people waving their keys and paddles around. Saying CW is here to stay dag nabbit.

Then again we don't need some sort of upgraded 70s era CB mentality either. If you don't think that is not happening, try tuning around 80 meter phone some night.

I think if the code requirement is dropped, we will see something that will happen that is happening in other hobbies. That is there will be a rush to be retro in some form or another.

Look at some of the cars in hot rodding. It is cool now to have an old "rat rod" like the original ones of the 40s and 50s. Somethoing that is cobbled together and is primered and rusty.

Same with motorcycles. It is the 60s all over again with "choppers". You see all sorts of programs where people are building motorcycles.

We think computers are new, but we type everthing out on them and that is something that is over 100 years old. Yeah yeah I know there is voice over stuff and the like. But the general public pecks away at their keyboards.

People want old everything. It has always been like this. I promise you, when the code requirement is dropped, you will see a pick up in code activity. It will be slow at first, but when people get tired of all that dribble you hear on the voice portions of the band, the cw activity will increase again. YOu won't be a "real ham" unless you can work CW. I think homebrewing will pick up again as folks then try to build little simple CW rigs as something to further their experiences in electronics.

I know an argument can be made that this activity is going on now. Well I am talking about when it reaches new levels. We may even see increased activity on the CW portions of the VHF/UHF bands.

So you see, dropping the CW code requirment for a license may be a good thing. Lets get young or new people involved and lets help them along. This is our most important task at hand.

As far as CW goes, in the future, we need to make sure we have a segment of the band that is usable for that mode like it is today.

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Postby BillV » Mon May 08, 2006 6:17 am

I'll have to admit, from a newbie point of view hr, I was excited abt getting ready fer my element 1 and 3 test,, the big day came and the VE said congrats, I said thanks and off I went to HF SSB.

Well after abt a month of rag chewing on SSB, it finally happened,,, I fell asleep at my desk listening to SSB,,, you know those types of stations that can rattle on forever on a single breath :lol:

I then said to myself,,, self, you need to dust off that old Navy straight key and try out sum CW! Well I did just that and have since moved up to a Begali Signature Series paddle,,, nice :wink: since then the mic collects the dust nw!

Man what a ball I've bn hving since last yr! I ve QSO'd wid more far away places than I thought I wud evr get to, Europe, Russia, Asia, So. Pacific, Japan, New Calendonia, Ukrane, Budapest, Mexico, So. America, Maritime Mobiles and the log just keeps on growing wid CW contacts fm arnd the world!

So in short my point to this is,,, try sum CW and I guaranty you'll like it!

73 Bill KG6VPU
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Postby Ghostwriter » Tue Dec 19, 2006 8:44 am

I hate to see the Morse Code being dropped from the Amateur Radio License Exams because it was one thing to define this great hobby. The Amateur Radio Community had a certain level of knowledge and determination to conquer and pass the CW / Morse Code and Electronics Theory portions of each testing level: Novice, Technician, General, Advanced and Extra Class Licenses. We take great pride in knowing that we hold Amateur Radio Licenses and conduit ourselves more on a professional level on and off the air.

Unfortunately Amateur Radio mimmicks todays society in life and like so many other things that have occured throughout the years. The dumming down of our public educational system, the people that teach and the students that learn the minimum knowledge some how manage to scrape by in life. These same people never seem to strive for a challenge or cherious an achievement, just "give me" everything on a silver platter and I'll never appreciate what I have or the time it took to learn, earn and enjoy what I've accomplished.

For now over 38 years as a licensed Amateur Radio Operator, I've talked to people on and off the air from all walks of life that stepped up and accepted the challenge to learn Morse Code and the Electronic Theory to pass the license exams and not one of the people had the license handed to them on a silver platter, we all earned the licenses the hard way.



P.S. You'll find my same comments on QTH dot com
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Postby KE5PKB » Tue Oct 23, 2007 11:46 am

I can understand the romance and, to an extent, the practicality of cw, however I do resent the analogy to CB. Once the various governments deregulated CB the band got cluttered and just about unusable. As long as we have the various levels of license and the restrictions on frequency but license class I think we will keep most of the CB attitude off.

I was one of those who didnt get his ticket a long time ago because of the morse requirement. I never could learn it enough to get my license; now with this requirement dropped I have managed to get my techincian's and am working on my general. It is my feeling that, with the code requirement dropped, we will bring more young blood in.
Jon Phipps
Mountainair, NM
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