Now, I am sure some of you recognition those seemingly random dots and dashes. And to most of you, they don’t make a bit of sense. But for those trained in ‘CW’ [constant wave] or Morse Code, then you know that it reads ‘Morse Code.’ In an attempt to extend my amateur radio privileges, I need to learn this “new language” and be able to pass a test of 5 WPM [words per minute].
There are many different ways in which to learn code, including countless computer programs, books and CDs that will teach you how to study and make sense out of “dits and dahs.” That is what they actually call the characters, not dots and dashes.
I have actually tried to learn morse code one previous time when I was a newly licensed ham back in back in 1995 as KC5NWR in Arlington, Texas. I bought a set of eight cassette tapes from Radio Shack and started listening, but got quickly frustrated and stashed the tapes until I found them late last year while going through boxes of my stuff. Wouldn’t you know it, I start listening to them on the way to work in my truck and the damn tape breaks. So I upgraded. Since Radio Shack no longer sold the tapes, I hit up Ham Radio Outlet in Oakland and picked up a set of CDs.
In the meantime I have also downloaded about 5 different programs that allow you the luxury of setting up specific parameters in order to copy the code as the characters/words are sent. Now, this is no different than learning a new language. Can you learn to speak 40 words in a foreign language? Morse Code is no different. One method teaches using the dichotomic search where you follow a table, like the one below:
To be honest, I have not studied using this method, but like all it takes is a bit of effort in order to learn code. In the past few days, I have learned the entire alphabet and all the numbers, 0-9. There are also some prosigns that need to be learned. A prosign is a procedural signal that holds a special meaning. One example is AR [.-.-.] that means stop or end of message.
I have already successfully passed the necessary tests [called Elements] in order to have HF [high frequency] privileges, but it is the knowledge of Morse Code that allows to operate on those frequencies. So until I pass the test, I am very limited as to where I can operate, none of which is too terribly exciting, mostly local contacts using a repeater. I have until November to learn, understand and pass the 5 WPM test or else I will need to retest the written portions because they will expire after 12 months.
I am not worried…too much. I feel I am ahead of the game here, I can be driving along and spot a sign and spell it out in Morse Code. Talk about being a geek! But hearing a letter, such as ‘_..’ and being able to recognize it as ‘D’ is something else and does take some practice, even at 5 WPM for someone just learning or relearning the code.