Morse Code: What It Is & How It Is Used Today
Ever watched a historical film where soldiers tap on a machine to send coded messages? That’s Morse Code. It allowed for the easy and simple transmission of complex messages across telegraph lines. And surprisingly, it still lives on in today’s digital age.
What Is Morse Code?
Morse Code was a means of early communication using sets of short and long pulses corresponding to each letter, number & punctuation. Long pulses have become known as “dahs,” while short pulses have been called “dits.” Under the code, every letter in the Latin alphabet, number & punctuation was designated with a unique set of dits and dahs.
In the original iteration of Morse Code, not all dahs were created equal. Some dahs were longer than others. Plus, the spaces between the dits and dahs varied widely. The International Morse Code simplified the original version by simplifying timing of the dits, dahs, and spacing. Specifically, the dit became the base time element, and all spaces were measured by how many "dit times" were required. The dah was set to be equal in time to three dits in length. Dit spaces between letters and words were set to three and seven dit times. This new and internal version has become widely recognized and is still being used by ham radio enthusiasts and other hobbyists today.
How Did It All Start?
The world credits Samuel Finley Breese Morse as the inventor who was also popular as a painter. He began working on the first electrical telegraph—and the Morse Code—in the 1830s. His initial version of Morse Code only represented numbers, but Alfred Lewis Vail improved it by including letters and punctuation.
When the original iteration of Morse Code (the one with numbers, letters & punctuation) made its way to telegraph operators in Europe, officials quickly determined they needed to make some changes to accommodate the diacritic characters in languages other than English. That led to the creation of the International Morse Code in 1851, which standardized the code as described above.
How Is Morse Code Used Today?
While it was originally transmitted using a telegraph, Morse Code can also be used in just about any circumstance. You can use it to create a signal or send a coded message by flashing a light or tapping on something. It can even help you in emergencies. Say you’re being forced to tell your loved ones through a video that you’re safe even when you’re not. Like how a prisoner of the Vietnam war blinked the word “torture” in Morse Code during an interview, you can send a signal by tapping “SOS” on your leg or a table while being recorded. The police or anyone who knows Morse Code could help decipher your signal.
Morse Code can help beat censorship, too. In China, citizens use Morse Code and other codes to communicate crucial information without being detected. It turned out to be vital during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. In March 2020, an article about the virus was deleted from the internet in China. Fortunately, citizens were quick enough to repost versions of that article on social media platforms using Morse Code, ancient Chinese symbols, QR codes, and emojis. In turn, the reposted texts were harder for China’s censorship programs to detect and delete—and the world finally learned about the COVID-19 virus.
The simplicity of sending a message through Morse Code is one of the reasons it remains an important part of training for soldiers. It is most prevalent in aviation and aeronautical fields, especially since most radio navigational equipment can still identify it. The US Navy & Coast Guard also use signal lamps between shipsto communicate using Morse Code when in radio silence status.
Morse Code is also used today by people with disabilities or whose communication abilities were impaired by paralysis or stroke. With limited mobility and speech, they can tap on something, use a flashlight, or use a Morse Code transceiver to communicate with others.
Morse Code has had such a big impact on modern life - should I mention the telegraph? - that we even have an official Morse Code Day, April 27, to celebrate the impact this simple code has had on the development of modern technology and modern life.
And even though it is no longer as widely used as it once was, Morse Code remains popular among radio enthusiasts. Even though proficiency in the code is no longer required to obtain an amateur radio license, many ham radio enthusiasts still strive to master Morse Code. Activities such as contests, online nets for various purposes, code classes, and so much more goes on in the amateur radio world around Morse Code! Because of all of this interest and activity around the code, including using it on the air, the Morse Code continues to be alive and kicking in today’s digital age. The FCC (Federal Communications Commission) continues to encourage new hams to learn the code by restricting the HF bands to only use via Morse Code for the first class for new hams, the Technician Class licensee.
Morse Made Easy!™
PreppComm was founded on the idea of providing a way for Technician Class licensees - the lowest class of amateur radio license operators - to be able to access the HF (high frequency) ham bands without having to learn the code first. At the present time, while they are not required to learn the code, they are not allowed on the HF spectrum unless they are using Morse Code - an off-hand way of encouragement from the FCC.
PreppComm devised a unique Morse Transceiver system that enables hams to get on HF with either no previous knowledge of Morse, or with some past or recent, but rusty or limited experience. The unique system contains the most effective but sneaky learning system - learn while you operate and communicate! The operator may not be thinking about learning the code. Rather, the Morse Transceiver is enabling him to communicate with contacts all over the world by reading text, and typing back his comments, questions, answers, and thoughts on a keyboard.
So how is he learning the code? It is by a "sneaky" process called cognitive association. This sneaky learning system is built into every human brain, and operates automatically in the background. If it hears "dit-dah" and sees an A appear on the screen, after a while it connects the two events. Over time, the operator begins to "think" the letters before they appear on the screen. Faster than the computer can get them put up on the LCD! Amazing! And no work. Now that is a learning system that is magical because it is so easy! As easy as using the transceiver to communicate!
Learning to send with a key - if that is a desire of the operator - is also aided by a very unique approach. Generally, keying is considered to be much easier than reading code via the ear. However, getting good timing is not so easy. Many aids have been developed, such as bugs, paddles, iambic and other kinds of complex keys that do automated series of dits and dahs either mechanically or via a keyer. A keyer is an electronic device that takes the input from a key and converts it to Morse Code. Because series of dits and dahs are timed by the keyer or the mechanical design of the key, the resulting Morse Code is better timed.
All true, but if you listen online to the code being sent, there is a lot of improvement needed for "human" Morse Code. PreppComm provides a way for hams to improve their timing by of feeding the key signal to the decoder in the Morse Transceiver when the rig is in receive mode. Normally, the key is not used while receiving, of course, but if you are working on your sending code technique, then disconnect the antenna, and key into the decoder. It will display your sending on the screen, as if it is coming in over the air. If it is not perfect, well, you know what to do to fix it! Keep working on it until the decoder can decode you perfectly, and you can be sure humans will be able to as well.
Of course, using a keyboard is not keying code. Rather, you are feeding characters to the computer for it to generate computer-timed Morse Code, which is to say, with perfect timing. PreppComm offers many features to make this work well, including a typing speed test and a visible type-ahead buffer. This enables you to have the time to think, correct errors, and type your thoughts without stress, as the text is fed to the computer to convert to Morse Code for transmission.
And add to that PreppComm includes the world's best decoder in all Morse transceivers! It works in heavy noise situations, where most other decoders fail. It can even decode when you can't even hear the signal under the noise!
You can read more about Morse Made Easy!™ in another blog about Morse Code and CW.
PreppComm gives learners a hand-up by offering transceivers & other devices to help them master Morse Code while enjoying all the fun within the amateur radio community.
Check out our entry-level product, the DMX-40 Decoder & Converter Transceiver, which starts at $299 and gives you the full capability of all of our more expensive Morse transceivers, but only on a single band, 40 meters.
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