Saturday, March 9, 2013

Morse Code

One of the big things that kept me from getting Amateur Extra earlier, and one major stumbling block that many people have had historically with Amateur Radio, is Morse Code. The requirement to learn it for the Technician level was removed in the United States in 1991, and for all license in 2007. I should make this very clear before I continue any further, Morse Code is not required for ANY amateur radio license in the United states, nor is it required by the ITU. Still, it is a common form of communication for amateurs, and if one knows it well, it can allow for communication through methods other than the voice that it typically represents.

 Morse Code was a method originally devised for the telegraph, but found it's way into radio communications as well. The common abbreviation for Morse Code today is CW, for Continuous wave, which refers to how the signal is transmitted, namely in the form of a tone in a signal. However, Morse Code can be transmitted in a variety of ways. The amount of time can signify a dash or a dot, which can be looked up to determine what the letter that symbol represents. The principal advantage of Morse Code over other forms of communication is that there is relatively low bandwidth required to transmit a message, and the message is often clear even with a significant signal to noise ratio.

One of the very cool things to me about Morse Code is that it is geared to make the transmission easy. The most common letter in the English alphabet is e. It turns out that e is the easiest symbol to send, simply a dot. Likewise, the least common letters, q and z, contain 4 dash/dots. Thus, the most common letters take less work than the longer letters.

I've decided to take the plunge and learn Morse Code, mostly just because it might some day be useful. There are a variety of methods to learning it, I've tried a few, but I've found the one that works best for me. The best method I've seen is from What they do is starting with just two letters, have you learn one letter at a time until you've mastered the entire alphabet, plus numbers and such. There are a total of 40 lessons. You are given a variable length test of your abilities, to which it will determine your accuracy rate in transcribing an audible Morse Code. I'm currently just through lesson 7, and I have 8 characters I know well. I've tried a few others, but this one is the best I've seen. I'm going to keep working on it until I've mastered it. If you can learn to listen to it, then you just have to imitate what you are listening, and you've got it down.

Bottom line is, even though Morse code isn't required to learn, it is a valuable tool to any amateur radio operator today, and I do recommend it. It is easier to learn today than it ever was, and can allow you access to a much broader use of Amateur Radio.

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