The Day The Music Died


   Time sure flies. We are fast approaching the fifth anniversary of the end of Morse code testing for  U.S. amateur radio licensing. Prior to February 23rd 2007, an applicant to the amateur radio service that was interested in world wide communication needed not just exhibit a smattering of radio theory, but was also required to demonstrate a deftness in the manly art of telegraphy.  A lot of predictions were made, from the death spiral of ham radio into the swirling cesspool of citizens band, to an actual heaven on earth brought about by a genius class, who, once freed from the shackles of a five word per minute test, would be able to deliver ham radio to the promised land. So how did it wash out? It turns out everyone was a little bit right.

   A lot of new blood was brought into the hobby, in fact the number of U.S. licensees recently broke the 700,000 mark. Among our new brothers (and sisters!) are some really sharp children of the computer age. I’m of the era when the internet was just a clever system of pneumatic tubes, so I look forward to picking the brains of these nerds. More operators also bring different points of view that make for interesting QSO’s. I’d even call some ex CB’ers true radio men.

   The floodgates also let in a few mopes. Five years later many are still on their HT talking about getting on the HF bands. Most of those that made it really aren’t much of a threat to the airwaves though, feeding their signal into a slinky just isn’t likely to cause an international incident. We shouldn’t throw the babies out with the bath water though. Microphone shyness, or other commitments shouldn’t be construed as a lack of dedication to the radio art. My own on air blunders have been met only with kindness. A warm hand on the shoulder can lead these guys down the right path. Ah the true path.

   So what about CW? Alive and kicking! To the uninformed Morse’s code probably seems rearward looking, like a trip to the renaissance fair, or perhaps a route 66 tinplate sign hanging in the garage. Of course CW has a heritage and it’s traditions, but it’s beauty isn’t trapped in history. Just because 32,000 years ago one of our forebears recorded the glories of a hunt on the walls of a cave, it certainly doesn’t make capturing a likeness with pencil and paper any less lovely. CW gives the operator not just the chance to buy something, but the chance to be something. CW is the mode of craftsmanship. When Tut’s tomb was prized open, the world wasn’t admiring the desicated bones or the incestuous bloodlines of the boyhood king. It was (and still is ) in awe of the craftsmanship of the workmen that filled that time capsule. I don’t expect Morse telegraphy, or even ham radio, to stoke the furnace in everybody’s loins, but Marconi’s gift gives every ham the chance to craft signals that will still be coursing through the aether long after the four winds have reduced the pyramids to the finest powder. To me that’s pretty darned cool.


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10 Responses to The Day The Music Died

  1. Anonymous says:

    Non code nerd, ready to have brain picked! I know that I’m somewhere between the mope and the genius class, but I’m having fun. The code itself will even come in time.

  2. Mike W8MDE says:

    Great post Tom. I really like this line:"CW gives the operator not just the chance to buy something, but the chance to be something."

  3. John Smithson says:

    I also like the description "CW gives the operator not just the chance to buy something, but the chance to be something. CW is the mode of craftsmanship".I often find myself enjoying a CW contact simply because of the "music" I hear from the fist of the other operator. You’re absolutely right about "money" not being able to buy everything! Thanks for a great post! N8ZYA

  4. Anonymous says:

    It’s very heartening to see that someone actually reads this blog. Thanks for the kind words men. Tom

  5. N8ZYA says:

    It’s a fantastic blog….don’t know how I missed it before now. Keep up the great work.

  6. Stewart VA3PID says:

    CW is just another digimode. I have many CW QSOs logged, and I can neither copy nor key.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Very cool Stewart, I’ve always felt it would be neat to bridge the gap between the digital guys and the hand made Morse.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Since most rigs these days use sidetone injection into an SSB carrier for CW keying, using Fldigi is just moving the sidetone generator to my soundcard. I’ve received several positive signal reports from experienced CW operators. It’s very easy to zero-beat a signal using the waterfall, plus I get macros, rig control and logging.What I *don’t* get is the aspect of physically and mentally mastering code, the simple transceiver requirements of a tiny CW rig, or a particularly memorable keying fist. But as long as I’m sending and copying clean CW, and behaving mindfully on the bands, I’m keeping CW on the air.

  9. Mike W8MDE says:

    At my home station I always have fldigi operating quietly on the side. Like Stewart I use the waterfall as a mini band scope. Having a visual display of a few nearby frequencies has helped me zero beat other cw stations and better understand the effects of my filters and shift control. I quiz myself by zero beating a station by ear and then double checking my accuracy on the monitor. As far as the manual keying and copying part of cw that’s the part I like. I look at it like music. If you want to play music you have to play an instrument. Not everyone want’s to be a musician. With a computer an op like Stewart can as he says: keep cw on the air easily and accurately. The more cw signals on the bands the better however they generate that’s my opinion.

  10. W7LNG says:

    CW op for 65 years. licensed 1947. CW is the mode!I like AWA’s 1929 "contest". Use gear designed in the 20s and slow cw limit 10 or 20 watts INPUT to self excited rig. Most use Hartleys or TNTs and #10 tubes. Fun working stations using antique gear. Some times 80 m oopens up for coast-to-coast QSOs. Antique Wireless Assn. runs this in early December. Listen for chirps and rough notes. Some of the rigs even sound modern, some drift, some waver in the wind. Each QSO is an accomplishment like QRP with the hand behind the back.73. Long live CW! I sold my spark rig. (Outlawed in 1927)Bud Larson W7LNG

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