Aaah....the perennial ham radio QUESTION..morse code or no morse code? Interestingly enough hams, ex-hams and wannabe hams have argued over the need for morse code as a requirement for a license for many many years. I've read letters to editors in ham magazines 20....30....even 40 years old debating this question. I have the answer. The one answer that really has no legitimately debatable argument. Continuing to require morse code to obtain ham radio privileges below 50 MHz is unnecessary, and..well...just plain silly. Please try to follow along as I babble on about this for a LONG time. And I challenge any reader to provide me a real argument in favor of continued forced code requirements. I may wander from thought to thought, but this is an emotional issue and a somewhat complicated one so if you dare...read on.
When ham radio got its start of course, showing competency at sending and receiving morse code was only logical. Since then it was the only means of communicating by radio. Remember, it started out as telegraph, before there was radio. Since that time the need for morse has been waning. Let me say at the front end that morse is a wonderful means of communication. It can be just what the radio doctor ordered to get a message thru in tough times, it can be fun, and it's is an accomplishment to be able to send and receive morse fast and accurately. But as a requirement it's just plain stupid. What are some of the reasons to require code. Here are some I've heard (note that most are based in emotion and not logic).
"I had to learn it so everyone should". Well, that makes perfect sense. In 1920 everyone HAD to learn how to drive a manual transmission. Times change. Keep up with them.
"It keeps idiots off the air. With the code requirement only smart hardworking people will get their ticket and get on the air. Without code ham radio will turn into CB radio." Year, right. So, when I listen in on HF all I should EVER hear are proper, intelligent conversations with no profanity, rudeness, music playing or other illegal, improper or childish shennagans, right? Well, that's sure not what's happening. Believe me, since I got interested in radio 35 years ago I've listened to plenty of ham QSO's and heard plenty of operators with General and Extra tickets that were idiots on the air. Last night I listened to 4 buddies yacking, swearing, and taking turns singing happy birthday to one of the guys, till one of 'em decided to pull out his electric guitar and wail a few licks to the lucky listeners. I looked up their calls...guess what? They're all generals. They all learned the code. Glad the code stopped these knuckleheads from getting on the air. This argument makes no sense. License testing, self policing, and the close ham community (mostly) will keep it from turning into CB.
"Without the code too many people will get on the air. Bands will become too crowded" Uh-huh. Yeah. That's what I like. Magazines where the editors comments are complaining about how we're gonna lose spectrum space due to lack of use, and the letters column has hams complaining about there being too many of us. Which is it?
Lets think about how this great plan for needing the code would apply if the same concept was carried over to other licenses one might obtain. How about drivers licenses. Lets say you could take the existing test and it would let you drive on residential streets. But you'd like to use the occasional highway. Well, then you'll have to demonstrate you can drive a manual transmission. Stick shift. Required. Even if you say you'll NEVER buy a car with a stick you have to show you can. This will do many things. Help keep some drivers off the road who aren't "serious" about driving. Keep the roads less crowded for those of us who earned the right to use the highways. And of course we'll have a pool of stick shift drivers ready for emergency when the fire is raging at the paint factory and the last firetruck has a stick shift! GREAT! Oh, but WAIT! Now you say you want to get on the FREEWAY! Great, but to do that you'll have to demonstrate your ability to gap a set of points and grind the valves in a 1949 Ford. After all, we hadda do that in the good 'ol days. And think of all the idiots it will keep of the freeway. Driving will be a total joy. Even though you'll probably never want to install a set of points (after all they haven't been NEEDED in a car for years) you should be able to. There could be an emergency where the only car available had traditional ignition, and it wouldn't start, and the points had to be filed and set so you could escape the horrid approaching flood waters. Thank GAWD you learned to set points!
Or maybe for fishing licenses. You've qualified for a license to catch perch up to 8 ounces. But you'd like to go after the walleyes. OK, but to get a license for walleyes you'll have to show you can tie trout flies. What's that you say? You don't intend to fish for trout? So what? This fishing license plan insures more fish available and keeps all those other idiots off the lakes. And you could wind up stranded in the forest next to a trout stream and need to know how to catch 'em to survive. And besides in the old days everyone knew how to tie their own trout files. And whittle plugs too!
Of course with this logic applied to the rest of the world we'd soon have only 3 car dealerships in each state since there's no one to buy cars. We'll get down to just a few bait shops around. But that will be better. We'll be able to control who gets in to our special groups and insure that prices stay high for autos and minnows.
Rather than requiring code MY theory is that we should require continuing education with testing at renewal time to insure our hams are keeping up with technology. Lets have a look at Part 97 of the FCC rules that explain the purpose of ham radio:
97.1 Basis and purpose.
The rules and regulations in this Part are designed to provide an amateur radio service having a fundamental purpose as expressed in the following principles:
(a) Recognition and enhancement of the value of the amateur service to the public as a voluntary noncommercial communication service, particularly with respect to providing emergency communications.
(b) Continuation and extension of the amateur's proven ability to contribute to the advancement of the radio art.
(c) Encouragement and improvement of the amateur service through rules which provide for advancing skills in both the communications and technical phases of the art.
(d) Expansion of the existing reservoir within the amateur radio service of trained operators, technicians, and electronics experts.
(e) Continuation and extension of the amateur's unique ability to enhance international goodwill.
Hmm...don't see anything in there about keeping outdated traditions, keeping newcomers at bay, or demanding the learning of an archaic communication method. No, instead it says we should continue our ability to contribute our advancement of the radio art. So, we intend to do this by demanding code and pooh poohing new modes including the latest digital modes. I've got piles of magazines that demonstrate over the last 60 years hams have made a big stink out of any advancement. Voice was going to ruin ham radio. SSB was just the end all mode that would surely wipe out the bands. Oh my GAWD not FM! We can't have THAT! ANY advancement or new mode has been met with doomsday predictions for ham radio. The whole point of ham radio is to advance.
We're suppose to ADVANCE skills and communications in the technical aspects. Code doesn't do this at all. We're suppose to grow our ranks and become radio and electronics experts. How is code going to help us become experts unless we want to use old modes?
People will say that by dropping the code requirement we're dumbing down ham radio. No, we're not. We're CHANGING ham radio with the times. A recent letter writer compared it to a pilots license and he's sure glad the haven't dumbed down the pilot requirements. Nope, they sure haven't. but they don't teach you how to adjust the rigging in your biplane, nor how to pull through your Wright radio engine. Instead they teach you about computer navigation, GPS, autopilots, and things we couldn't even imagine 50, 30 or even 10 years ago. No code is not a dumbing down of ham radio. It's a move to the future.
Everyone talks about getting kids involved. We set up ham stations at schools, fairs, hamfests. Get the kids involved. Look at this kids, we can tie in your GPS with ham radio. We can talk to hams around the world. We can communicate over radio with our computers. We can join in world wide nets and ragchew about many great things. Boounce signals off the moon, access the internet. Cool the kids say. Then we say...but to do most of that you'll have to learn morse code. Why? they ask. Because, we say. It's an important and efficient way to communicate. Any kid will go "yeah..right..." and you've lost him. Or, sure, every now and then you hit a kid that thinks code is cool, and more power to him. Remember, I'm not saying eliminate code, I'm saying it shouldn't be a requirement. Does this make sense? I'm a no code tech. I also happen to have a General Radiotelephone license. I've been a radio engineer for 28 years. I build, repair and maintain 100,000 watt commercial transmitters. I've been building ham transmitters since I was 9. I've NEVER got to USE any of the transmitters I've built because I won't learn the code and I was designing and building one and two tube transmitters for new novices. Even today I sell a lot of 'em to hams that don't have any idea how to build anything. And I fix a lot of gear for guys who can't even solder a coax jumper. I can, right now, get on 6 meters, or two meters and operate code. Badly. At 1 word per minute. If I want to. I do not have to know HOW to be legally allowed to do that. But I can't SPEAK on 10 meters, or 40 meters. Because I don't do the code. This makes NO SENSE at all. I know that this was required due to international rules, but that's going away now. Lets move on huh? Hey kids..learn morse code and we'll let you TALK on the radio. Learn morse code and we'll let you use digital communications on 10 meters. The book should be titled "Now You're Talking..as long as you learn morse code"
Remember, I do think code is just fine for those who WANT to do it. Just like I like setting the points in my Edsel, and my son likes working on his 1949 Chevrolet. But we weren't required to be able to to be allowed to drive, just like my wife didn't want to drive a stick shift.
I say out with the code, and in with demonstrating some level of technical ability. You know--where part 97 talks about technicians and electronics experts. Right now, we're making 'em learn morse code to they can communicate with 100 year old techniques, while so many hams can't really read a schematic or even solder up a coax cable. The test should include giving each potential ham a baggie that contains a dozen components, a hunk of perfboard and a schematic. They should be able to poke the components thru the perf, wire 'em together as shown in the schematic and then solder correctly. And have to make a jumper cable out of RG8 with connectors on each end. Or heck, make it simple and give 'em RG58. Then maybe we'd be on our way to having a few technicians who can do something besides send code!
I also think that since renewal is every 10 years now that a test at renewal could be instituted. Nothing real complex. Just enough to show that hams have learned something about radio, technical advances, new modes, rules, etc.. that have developed over the previous 10 years. After all, that's one of the purposes of ham radio. To advance the radio art. Not stay grounded in old modes and AM ragchewing when digital modes, satellites, EME and such are going on. Nothing like these guys who send 30 WPM and have never sat at a computer. Computers are now part of the ham radio hobby and if you're advancing with the art, you should at least have a rudimentary knowledge of how it works, even if you don't participate in it.
Some will talk about how efficient morse code is for passing messages. Efficient? yeah, right. This editorial is over 2500 words long. To send this in morse code at 5 words per minute will take you about 8 and a half hours. If you're good and can do it at 30 WPM it would only take you about an hour and 45 minutes. That's if you're good and the receiver on the other end can copy that fast. You could of course send the whole message in a matter of seconds with a digital transmission, or in just a very few minutes if you spoke it. Oh, but it's good for emergencies. Yeah, right, when's the last time you heard a skywarn activation in code?
Code can be a fun mode. That's for sure. It's not my thing. It might be yours. If you've read all this and you an "old-timer" or a hard-core code buff you're thinking "just another whiny no code tech mouthing off". Yeah,maybe, but I can assure you that my engineering, building, designing, and technical knowledge can stand on it's own against your code sending. And I'm doing a lot more to "advance the art" that any code sender is by forcing old modes onto new hams.