The Art & Skill of Radio-Telegraphy

-Second Revised Edition-
William G. Pierpont N0HFF

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Is the Radiotelegraph Code Obsolete?

Outsiders and some of those looking into Amateur radio often ask this question: "Isn't the Morsecode obsolete? Hasn't modern technology displaced it?"

Back in 1912 nobody balked at learning the code: it was simple then -- if you didn't know the code you couldn't even listen and understand, much less communicate by wireless.

But today? However, it refuses to lie down and die. Why? Not only old timers, but many newcomers have found that it is a skill worth learning, a pleasure just as any other skill. There is a real sense of pleasure and achievement in communicating this way. Some find it an excellent means of escape, a way to forget immediate work-a-day problems and completely absorb one's attention.

There is practical value also. It can get a message through where other methods fail. Operators have long known that Morse code signals penetrate distance, and go through interference and static where voice signals can't hack it. This is why low power (QRP) enthusiasts find that it is far superior to voice. Besides this, the equipment required, both transmitting and receiving, is much simpler and smaller, uses less power, and in an emergency can often be built up from simple, available parts.

These factors have not escaped the Russian communists. They were also deeply impressed with the reliability, simplicity and lower cost of equipment for code communication and ease in maintaining it. (In the same line of thinking, their military radio gear has all been vacuum tube type to avoid potential damage due to radiation.) Therefore, through the years they have popularized and promoted learning the Morse code and developing skill in its use. It was included among their civilian "sports" activities. Contests and prizes were offered to the best and fastest operators. This would assure them of a pool of skilled, high-speed operators in event of war. Several years ago a couple of American soldiers who were amateurs were taken captive from a ship which was too close to North Korean shores. They were surprised to find that very many civilians in that country readily understood code.

In recent years our own military seem to have awakened to all this, and have re-begun to train some personnel for Morse code operation. In addition, they have realized that Morse is an effective means of communicating during periods when the enemy is jamming. There are other advantages also. It uses the narrowest signal bandwidth, which for amateur use means more channels are available within a band. It has the best signal-to-noise ratio, and in addition, an operator can soon learn to separate (mentally "filter") signals which are very close together by differences in pitch, speed and style of sending.

The Art and Skill of Radio-Telegraphy-Second Revised Edition-
©William G. Pierpont N0HFF