Jan
10
2009

Who still uses Morse code?

Morse Key (photo by traindetrainer - CC-BY)

Morse Key (photo by traindetrainer - CC-BY)

Morse code, developed by Samuel Morse in the 1840s, is still used by thousands (probably hundreds of thousands) of people worldwide. Foremost amongst those are radio hams (amateur radio operators) who until recently were required to pass a Morse code exam before gaining their license. In some countries, the Morse test is still needed.

The advantage or Morse code to a radio ham is that a weak Morse signal will cut through the static more easily than any other signal. Radio hams can use Morse to bounce weak signals off the moon, with other hams receiving the tiny signal reflected from the moon’s surface.

Also, Morse code transmitters and receivers are relatively simple to build and easy to design, and appeal to those experimenters who like to “roll their own”. Because the equipment is simple, Morse code is sometimes used for emergency communication in remote disaster areas, although the satellite phone has mostly taken over this role.

Some military forces, too, still make occasional use of Morse code because it’s very hard for the signal to be jammed.

Many navigation beacons still broadcast their location using Morse code to send their callsign, and many pilots are fluent in Morse code.

A small number of severely disabled people communicate using Morse code devices such as breath-operated switches or skin-buzzers.

Many mobile phones, particularly in Europe, sound SMS in Morse code when a text message (SMS message) arrives. There has been a whimsical suggestion that Morse should be integrated into mobile phones, because a skilled Morse operator can send a message faster than a skilled texter!

Morse code won’t ever die out completely. Every time someone plays Beethoven’s Fifth, it starts with the Morse code for “V”.

I remember during the 1970s that the Sydney radio station 2UE started its news broadcasts with the Morse code for “CQ” which is a calling signal. Another Sydney station, 2GB, started its horse racing reports with the Morse code for “TAB”, for the Totalizator Agency Board that oversaw the gambling on the horse races. Those stations have dropped the Morse since then.

If you want to hear your own name (or any other text) in Morse code, try Morse Resource. I suggest to use the “18 words per minute” setting, and leave everything else at its default setting. Crikey, they describe 18wpm as “Fast”! Not long ago, 18wpm was “Slow” and a serious Morse operator would be doing 25 to 40 words per minute.

Once you’ve used that site to generate an MP3 or your Morse code, you can use it as your phone’s ringtone if your phone can use MP3s as ringtones.

On 27 April 2009, the birthday of Samuel Morse, Google displayed their logo using graphics to represent the dots and dashes of the code. Here’s what “Google” actually sounds like using Morse Code: (google-morse.mp3)

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3 Comments »

  • mvguy says:

    Where I live, many of the emergency-services radio repeaters use Morse code to provide the ID that’s required by the Federal Communications Commission. The volume is low enough that it doesn’t interfere with speech communication, yet it can clearly be heard.

    Although I got a ham radio license at a time when the exam included a Morse code test, I was never very good at it, but I’d still find it easier than texting on the standard 12-key phone pad.

  • Rud says:

    I want t learn Morse. Receiving 80 or more letters (codes)for minute to the brain (without writting on paper). Is there any radio club in East Sussex to train it as a grope?) Thank you (Eastbourne/Brighton, etc..)

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