29 June 2006
SETI League
PriUPS Project


Ham Arguments (Part 1)

It's been said that academic arguments are particularly vicious because the stakes are so small.  If that's so, consider how ungentlemanly and wild discussions over the fine points of amateur radio must get!  Amateur radio operators have a long tradition of using Morse code (or "Morris Code" if you say "athalete") in their pursuits, and knowing "the Code" has until very recently been a prerequisite for obtaining a government-issued ham license.  <Horror>Governments and many hams have realized and recognized that Morse Code is no longer a critically needed or especially useful skill.  Many national governments have dropped or are considering dropping the Code from the license requirements.</Horror>

There are hundreds of thousands of hams in the United States.  And a million or so throughout the world.  It would be hard to find an active one who doesn't have an opinion about the subject.  There are basically two crowds:

  • I had to learn Morse to get my license, it's a valuable mode for emergency communications and sometimes the only one that can "get through" at all.  Besides, having to learn the Code keeps the riffraff out of the hobby.
  • I'm a nerd, I can use the internet, there are forms of digital transmission that are far more efficient than Morse, why should I have to learn this obsolete nonsense, and who are you calling riffraff anyway, old codger (or worse)?

It would be somewhat unfair to segregate these groups based on age.  There are undoubtedly a number of people in the first group who are able to become vertical under their own power, and I'm sure I'll meet the other one some day.  Yes, despite my relative codgerdom, I personally don't believe people should be required to learn Morse to get their ham licenses.  That's not because I don't think there's value in Morse; rather it's because I'm not a "no riffraff" kind of guy.  For better or better, there are people who can make major contributions to the hobby without ever using a key (or bug or paddle or nowadays a computerized Morse sender) in anger.  And, not to be politically correct, it's a skill that is simply much easier for some people to learn than it is for others.

Whether or not the FCC drops the Morse requirement for getting a license, there is no prospect at all that using it will somehow be forbidden.  There will be plenty of us who actually enjoy communicating in this arcane and arguably archaic mode, and we'll be able to babble to each other to our spleen's content until they pry our cold dead fingers from our keys.

As a special bonus for anyone who has actually read this far, I've made a little Morse Code sound file.  Translated to English, it simply says "Bens best bent wire"(sic).  If this speaks to you in rhythm and speaks to you in rhyme, you're either Sarah McLachlan or you might make a good candidate codger.  If it doesn't, and even if you are riffraff, as far as I'm concerned you're welcome to join this great hobby.  Of course you'll have to check with the FCC as well.

Richard Factor