No Code

December 17th, 2006

The FCC has eliminated the requirement for Amateur Radio Operators to know the Morse code.

It probably seems a small thing to most people, but to many hams its a big deal.

I became an Amateur Radio Operator sometime around 1970, when I was in high school. I had to drive to Houston from Austin, and took the test directly from the FCC.

My first callsign was WN5ISP. My first radio was a code only Heathkit radio, the HW-16. I enjoyed the code, it was kind of fun. Code is a slow way to communicate, but it really does get through the QRM (interference) better than just about any other technology. Even back then the code requirement was controversial.

I had a number of periods of activity over the years. I was very active when I was stationed in Okinawa in the late 70s. I used the military issued callsign KA6JH.

It’s hard to imagine now, but back in the 70s an overseas military base was almost cut off from the world unless you had a shortwave radio of some kind. Long distance calls to the states were fantastically expensive, and required a trip to the post office. There was in the world something called ‘DARPANET’, a computer network run by the military for use by major defense contractors and big universities. Nothing like it existed in Japan.

There was one English language radio station, and one TV station. Both were operated by the military and heavily censored. I used my first microcomputer, a Digital Group, to pick up shortwave radio teletype news feeds. This was terrific. I was one of the few people on the island getting uncensored news!

My last period of active operation was in Virginia in the late 80s. By then we had computer-to-computer protocols such as AX.25. I used my Mac SE to send what we now call email to and from other hams.

I’ve been using a little of my very rusty Morse Code lately. I’ve been watching the lame TV show ‘Jericho‘, a post-apocalypse soap operate set in Kansas. It starts every episode with a short Morse code message, which I have almost copied on several occasions.

I still have my ticket, N4WBO. One of these days I’ll get active again.

2 comments to “No Code”

  1. At Hahn AFB Germany in the late 70’s, the band was “citizens”, and it seemed like everyone on base had one. For those of use who lived on the economy, it was like a telephone. We could call a guy who lived in one of the dorms, and he would use the base phone to order us a pizza. One of the radio geeks with a tube type CB figured out how to tune it with a knob in between the regular channels and get skip back over to the “World”. We were connected.

    Nobody had a computer yet. We just read about them in “73” magazine and drooled.