Morse Code Is Dead. Long Live Morse Code.

IEEE Spectrum

February 2007 – When we learned this past December that the U.S. Federal Communications Commission had finally decided to drop Morse code as a requirement for all ­amateur radio technician class licenses sometime in early 2007, we felt despondent at first. Another soon-to-be-forgotten treasure was about to be cast away on the island of discarded human accomplishments.

So we contacted longtime IEEE member Paul Rinaldo, chief technology officer of the ARRL, the national association for amateur radio (, to see what he had to say about the matter.

He told us: “Elimination of Morse code testing for access to MF/HF bands is not a death warrant for Morse code in the Amateur Radio Service. No question, it will reduce the number of newcomers who learn Morse at the outset. Some will pick it up along the way to join in contacts with other operators, happily using Morse code for contesting, rag chewing, or very-weak-signal communications such as moonbounce. Morse code is also a skill, and many operators just like to demonstrate their proficiency, build up speed, and be regarded as good operators.

“Morse code testing has been seen by some as a barrier to getting an amateur radio license with MF/HF privileges. Some have opted for the technician class license without a code test, giving access to bands above 30 MHz. Now operators can learn Morse if they want, when they want.

“The ARRL took the position that keeping Morse code testing for at least the highest class of operator license, amateur extra, would have been worthwhile. I regret that the FCC did not see it that way.

“Nevertheless, Morse code is alive and well in the Amateur Radio Service and is not on life support.”

Paul seems to be absolutely correct. When word of the FCC ruling got out, the number of people who queried the ARRL for licensing information doubled from its usual monthly rate. And those of us who know an Elmer or two (a ham wannabe helper) and the difference between a yagi (directional) and a yeti (abominable) are now convinced that when these newly minted operators get an earful of di-di-di-dit dit di-dah-di-dit di-dah-di-dit dah-dah-dah (that’s “hello” for those of you who aren’t conversant), many will find the lure of Morse irresistible.

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