CW: The defining mode of Ham Radio



Amidst the zillions of exchanges online, on the air and personal discourse, Hams have debated the merits and/or relevance of CW for decades. I’m guessing it began in the 60’s as single sideband emerged as the dominant phone mode and the spectrum efficiency wars began with the old school AMers. (I fondly recall the insults that flew between the slop bucket crowd and the AM enthusiasts!) From there it simmered and then flashed again as talk began of reducing and/or outright elimination of Morse as a part of licensing criteria by the FCC and endorsed by the ARRL. Of course, in the end, it faded away as a requirement and we are left with a completely optional choice for the new Ham radio operator. To learn Morse Code.  Or not.


Morse Code is largely irrelevant in 2017 as a critical mode of information exchange.  World maritime authorities turned their back on CW some years ago, as a vital requirement. Despite the Morse code’s gripping historical beginnings and moments of consequence (think the “Titanic” incident and WW I and WWII), it has been displaced by far more sophisticated methods and tools. But to the hobbyist it’s relevance is more than a mere technical operating choice. To many long-time hams, the mode reflects the essence of Amateur radio. Those first moments of CW recognition cutting through the crackle and interpreting the message are the “magic” that many old-timers speak of. I would argue that it is also a reflection of the accomplishment and discipline required to learn the mode. Some Hams tell us the mode is dead!   Yet I would offer, that those who never learn this first mode of our hobby have missed a rewarding experience.


 The heritage and soul of the hobby have been shaped by Morse Code.  ( I was going to conclude with a final sentence: “CW literacy still matters in the 21st century”)  But then who am I kidding? It doesn’t matter. But I still revere the mode.


mike whatley. wa4d.       Learn Morse Code ARRL.Org.      W1AW Code Practice Schedule