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February 1, 2007

Goodbye to Morse

New FCC rule makes Morse code obsolete

CUMBERLAND - Amateur radio buffs have less than a month before the licensing exam changes, making obsolete what has been considered a difficult but historically important part of being a ham operator.

When a new rule by the Federal Communications Commission goes into effect Feb. 23, amateur radio licensing exams will no longer feature the Morse code component. Previously, most applicants were required to know that language.

The change will signal an end of an era, and follows the footsteps of a 2003 conference of the International Telecommunication Union, which resulted in revisions in international law.

Several classes of license exist within the ham radio world, each with increased operating privileges, giving ham operators more freedom. This allows amateurs to use additional radio frequencies, giving them a wider range of people to talk to, as well as longer distances over which to talk.

"You can go more places on the dial," Bill Tucker, vice president of the Mountain City Amateur Radio Club, said.

Using Morse code helps hams in that endeavor, for if a radio signal is too weak, a voice transmission may not be strong enough to understand.

"That is really the beauty of it. (You can) pick that signal out when speech is unintelligible," Tucker said. "It will get through bad atmospheric conditions when other modes won't."

Morse code was invented by Samuel Morse in the 1800s, when the American inventor devised what has been called the world's first Internet. Operators tap out letters using a series of short signals (dots) and long signals (dashes). Perhaps the most famous Morse code transmission was that used by sailing vessels in distress - three dots, followed by three dashes, then three more dots, in sequence, known as an SOS signal.

Morse code allows its users to communicate over a much greater distance, using far less power than with other methods. To communicate with a ham radio takes 500 watts of power, compared to only 15 watts of power to "talk" using Morse code.

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