Boy are we getting a lot of articles on Morse code. There are few subjects more controversial than what was once at the very heart of amateur radio. Mr. Morse' code. What was once a radio fundamental seems frequently to be just an opportunity for one old poop to throw shade on another old poop. It has quite literally divided and almost conquered amateur radio. So here goes.
First and foremost, we should look at the father of this feast; Samuel Finley Breese Morse, OIC (Order of Isabella the Catholic Knights Cross.) I did not throw this award in rashly. It entitled him to call himself "His Most Illustrious Lord" if he was of a mind to. Anyway, nobody knows why Morse had to have four names. At least not now we don't because the ones who named him are all dead as a hammer. I am going to guess it is because his mother was a Finley-Breese and they were rich and could have four names, so they had to pick something. His dad was a preacher. Morse went to Yale where he studied, among other things, mathematics, religion (his dad was paying after all) and the Science of Horses. (God knows why the Science of Horses thing; something to fall back on if religion and math went south, I suppose. But then, something amazing happened...
Morse started painting. Not house painting, real painting. He went to Paris and took lessons. While he was there, he painted the Louvre. Well not the whole Louvre. He put up one seriously large canvass (6 feet by 9 feet) and, kept company by Jemes Fenimore Cooper (who, though also famous, only had three names, poor sod) painted one ginormous painting called "Gallery of the Louvre" which, he took back to the states and put on display for 25 cents a view. I do not want to gloss over his painting career. He was actually very famous. He painted such notables as James Monroe, John Adams and himself. His painting of the House of Representatives was a really big one two. It hangs in the national gallery (one presumes in lieu of Morse himself) and measures 9 feet by 12 feet. (The painting not the gallery. I don't know how big the gallery is but I have been there and we are talking seriously large. It has a boat load of paintings and many of them are very "interesting" if you know what I mean. I go there frequently as I find it broadening. But then I digress.)
So, Morse was a really important painter and after getting back from Paris set himself up painting for a living. In addition to his pay-per-view ginormous paintings of the Louvre and the House of Representatives, he found that once he learned to make regular size paintings, a lot of people wanted him to paint them. In fact, he was painting up a storm; rolling in the money, and founding the National Academy of Design, whatever that is.
So you would think, that would be that. But. You guessed it. That was not that...
On his way back to the US from La Havre (France) he happened to have a discussion with a dude named Charles Thompson Jackson. (Chuck.) It appears they discussed sending messages over long distances. I only mention Jackson because he would later claim that Morse stole his idea. But that was just Jackson. He was an odd guy that way. He also later claimed to have invented guncotton, ether and digestion. Jackson was a medical doctor who went on a geological expedition to Nova Scotia (which means New Scotland, but I fail to see why you need to know that just at the moment. Try to stay focused.) Then he went crazy and died so I think we can just drop him and move on. Those of you who want to learn more about Jackson can read up on him but do try to refrain from boring the rest of us with your research. Your wife is angry enough about the endless beeping coming from your room and the fact that you call her pretty house a shack without asking her to sit through an hour of you telling her about how Jackson found copper in Lake Superior and you are not going to believe this honey, he became the first state geologist of Michigan! No jury would convict her.
Anyway. Morse, who had been a man of shining parts; someone to be reckoned with; the painter of his day and friend to Lafayette, decided to become a sort of mechanic and invent the telegraph. So, he did. And that was pretty much that. He clicked here and it clicked somewhere else. He got a repeater and some wire and BOOM! Telegraph. But that was the problem. He could click and someone somewhere else did not have a clue what he was clicking about. It must have been really annoying. (Ask your wife.) It was just then that the wheels really came off.
Morse needed a way to send a message, so he relied on his superior intellect and using an arbitrary and capricious methodology embraced "Morse Code". But don't blame Morse. He was a nice guy and imagined using only enough characters to send a number. Then the poor bored foo... I mean the operator at the other end would look up the numbers in a book and find that they referred to a word or phrase. For example, the numbers (6) and (237) together might mean My wife is eating too many turnips and (341) blowing up like a (987) "blowfish". That sounds pretty easy to me but along came a seriously mean guy named Al Vail (I mean Alfred Lewis Vail) who decided that there should be dots and dashes for every letter and special character and thereby earned, at least from me, eternal condemnation to the fires of...I mean praise for his needlessly complicat...I should say our exciting current system which is sort of mistakenly called "Morse Code". I can only imagine what he was thinking when he decided what an "a" was and what an "I" was, but I picture him giggling a lot. Probably he and Morse worked together"at night".in a forest" with a cauldron...
So then Morse sent What hath God wrought," and Vail answered "tell me about it" and we have all been saying this same thing down through the years. Vail got what was coming to him. He was only paid $900.00 a year. (In today's dollars $900.00 is what conservatives believe the annual minimum wage should be). So, he got Pis... I mean vexed and moved to New Jersey to do penance for inventing that lovely code, because it (penance) requires a shorter sentence if you go to New Jersey to do it.
MORSE CODE MOVES ON
Back in the day people had bupkes to do all day long. I mean maybe they painted the outhouse or petted a horse or cooked some beans but that was about it. (One of you just got that and the rest of you didn't. But don't let not having gotten it keep you up tonight.)... So, learning this complicated code was easy for them. I mean what else did they have to do? Learn Latin or choke their chicken (so they could cook it for dinner, come on boys) or learn Morse code and get a good job sitting around all day waiting for someone to send something and pass it along. Good money for easy work. So nobody was harmed and people made money from the code until along came an Italian.
Guglielmo Giovanni Maria Marconi, later 1st Marquis Marconi. (He kept his own four names when ennobled unlike most people who chose a place name like 2nd Earl of Peoria.) Anyway, this guy invented radio and stole Morse's code. It was a dark day in history. Soon tons of people were playing with radios so the government decided that it should screw around with...that is to say, ensure that radio was used carefully for the benefit of the adults and the amusement of little children. But how to do that?
License it. Make everyone who wants to signal someone else get a license. And this should be a prestigious license to have. Even if all you want to do is talk to Alfred David McGillicutty Jones down the road about borrowing a chicken for dinner you should have a license.
And what better way to make it hard? (The ah license I mean.) Make them learn Morse code. Or, to be more accurate, learn Alfred Lewis Vail's code.
So the FRC did just that. They made everyone who wanted to talk on the radio learn Morse Code. As amateur radio was anticipated to be a joyful hobby for its participants the FRC realized that if they imposed a code requirement, they would make new hams almost ecstatic. It did too. Countless hams have discussed this little piece of genius on the FCC's part using the most colorful language imaginable. Sometimes even evoking the deity. But it was not exactly the FCC's fault, I mean idea.
Digressing for a moment. Before there was an FCC there was an organization called the Federal Radio Commission I referred to. It ran the show from 1912 to 1932. Many members of my local radio club and almost all people writing reviews on this site remember it well. (The reviews that begin... I have been a ham since U.S. Grant was on KP...) Anyway, this FRC established the code requirement because it was thought that we would love it and anyway, if the military needed radio operators, there would be a ready supply. In those days radio licenses were mostly younger than today so they could join the military or be drafted without having to put prunes in all of the C Rations.
Well the good news is that congress abolished the FRC in 1932 and the bad news is that these new guardians of the airwaves kept the code. But on that glorious day of honored memory, February 23rd, in the fifth year of the reign of President George W. Bush, in the year of our Lord two thousand and seven, the requirement for Morse code to get an amateur radio license, ended.
But the whining had just begun. On that day in history, the geezer patrol went into full doomsayer mode. They sky was, after all, actually falling. A piece of American history was going to go away. "Appliance Operators" and "CB'ers" were taking over. It is the end of Amateur radio forever. Might as well sell your equipment (ham equipment I mean) because soon everybody in the country will be nattering away on 80 meters. Well they were partially right. Some pretty nefarious characters were indeed nattering away on 80 meters, but then they always had been. After all, what is required to operate on 80 meters but a dipole, a 1500-watt amplifier and a bad attitude? Funny thing though is that they were the same nefarious characters who had been nattering away there for decades. But then I digress again...
The new hams were a HUGE surprise to everyone. They were polite, by and large used proper radio procedures and were enthusiastic about the hobby. They studied, learned about radio, experimented with new equipment and gave the hobby a boost it had needed for a couple of generations. But then, to the disappointment of many in the Amateur Radio Service, a great many of the disloyal bast...that is to say our fine new no-code hams, went out and learned Morse Code anyway.