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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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  • Matt W1MST, Managing Editor