Morse Code
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LAST UPDATED: 14th May 2014

I’m not going to go to much into the history of Morse as there are several web sites devoted to just that topic! What I hope to do here is to give you some information that will be useful when you are on the air and that may not be easily available elsewhere .

sammorse

Samuel F.B. Morse

THE INTERNATIONAL MORSE CODE

LETTERS

SOUND (Click to hear character)

FORMATION

A

DI DAH

. -

B

DAH DI DI DIT

- . . .

C

DAH DI DAH DIT

- . - .

D

DAH DI DIT

- . .

E

DIT

.

F

DI DI DAH DIT

. . - .

G

DAH DAH DIT

- - .

H

DI DI DI DIT

. . . .

I

DI DIT

. .

J

DI DAH DAH DAH

. - - -

K

DAH DI DAH

- . -

L

DI DAH DI DIT

. - . .

M

DAH DAH

- -

N

DAH DIT

- .

O

DAH DAH DAH

- - -

P

DI DAH DAH DIT

. - - .

Q

DAH DAH DI DAH

- - . -

R

DI DAH DIT

. - .

S

DI DI DIT

. . .

T

DAH

-

U

DI DI DAH

. . -

V

DI DI DI DAH

. . . -

W

DI DAH DAH

. - -

X

DAH DI DI DAH

- . . -

Y

DAH DI DAH DAH

- . - -

Z

DAH DAH DI DIT

- - . .

NUMBERS

SOUND

FORMATION

0

DAH DAH DAH DAH DAH

- - - - -

1

DI DAH DAH DAH DAH

. - - - -

2

DI DI DAH DAH DAH

. . - - -

3

DI DI DI DAH DAH

. . . - -

4

DI DI DI DI DAH

. . . . -

5

DI DI DI DI DIT

. . . . .

6

DAH DI DI DI DIT

- . . . .

7

DAH DAH DI DI DIT

- - . . .

8

DAH DAH DAH DI DIT

- - - . .

9

DAH DAH DAH DAH DIT

- - - - .

PUNCTUATION

SOUND

FORMATION

,

DAH DAH DI DI DAH DAH

- - . . - -

.

DI DAH DI DAH DI DAH

. - . - . -

;

DAH DI DAH DI DAH DIT

- . - . - .

:

DAH DAH DAH DI DI DIT

- - - . . .

-

DAH DI DI DI DI DAH

- . . . . -

?

DI DI DAH DAH DI DIT

. . - - . .

/

DAH DI DI DAH DIT

- . . - .

=

DAH DI DI DI DAH

- . . . -

_

DI DI DAH DAH DI DAH

. . - - . -

@  (AC)

DI DAH DAH DI DAH DIT

. - - . - .

(

DAH DI DAH DAH DIT

- . - - .

)

DAH DI DAH DAH DI DAH

- . - - . -

DI DAH DAH DAH DAH DIT

. - - - - .

DI DAH DI DI DAH DIT

. - . . - .

PROCEDURAL

SOUND

FORMATION

CL (Close)

DAH DI DAH DI DI DAH DI DIT

- . - . . - . .

CT (Begin)

DAH DI DAH DI DAH

- . - . -

KN (Over)

DAH DI DAH DAH DIT

- . - - .

SK or VA

DI DI DI DAH DI DAH

. . . - . -

AR (End traffic)

DI DAH DI DAH DIT

. - . - .

ERROR

DI DI DI DI DI DI DI DIT

. . . . . . . .

AS (Wait)

DI DAH DI DI DIT

. - . . .

SN (Understood)

DI DI DI DAH DIT

. . . - .

BT (Break)

DAH DI DI DI DAH

- . . . -

Below are some of the miscellaneous characters, procedural characters and prosigns that may be encountered together with an explanation of their use.

Where two letters are together with a bar over the top, such as some of the procedural symbols, this indicates they should be sent as a single character.

This list is not exhaustive and there are bound to be a few missing but these are the more common ones you will encounter on the air.

= or BT Break’ Used to break up statements during an over, such as “name sean, qth nr London” = “rig is ic756” = etc.

- Hyphen or ‘Long Break’ can be used as a paragraph break.

AR or + ‘End of traffic’ Indicates that the sender had no more information to send in this over so standby for callsigns.

K Over’ Used to indicate that transmission is being passed to the other station but any other station is permitted to break in at this time.

KN Over’ Used to indicate that transmission is being passed to the other station and break-ins by other stations are not wanted.

CT Commence Traffic’ Used to signify the commencement of sending traffic. Not normally used during QSO’s. The main use for CT in amateur radio is during code proficiency examinations to indicate that the test/exam is about to begin.

/ Stroke or Slash Usually is sent as part of a callsign to indicate the sender is not at his home location (i.e. can be sent after a callsign to indicate a mobile (as in G4UCJ/M) etc. or if sent before the main callsign indicates the sender is in a different country (i.e. EA8/G4UCJ would indicate that I was sending from the Canary Islands). Here is an example of using ‘MM’ before and after a callsign which completely changes it’s meaning! A station signing as MM/W0ZZZ would mean that W0ZZZ(a USA callsign) is operating from Scotland, whereas if they were signing W0ZZZ/MM, it would indicate that W0ZZZ was ‘Maritime Mobile’ on a boat or ship and could be anywhere in the world, so it is important to work out correctly where any stroke in your callsign should be! One thing that is commonly heard on the ham bands is stations signing as “/QRP” indicating the sender is using low power. This is not good practice as it is actually illegal to send this in many countries! Not only that it confuses most logging software!! If you wish to indicate you are QRP send something like “your callsign  QRP” (leave a space after your call sign before sending QRP and don’t send a stroke character).

CL Close Down’ This is sent by a station to indicate that they are about to cease transmission and will not be available for further communication at that time.

SK or VAEnd of Communication’, Sent at the end of a contact to indicate that the contact has finished. Is usually followed by 2 wide spaced dits, which is a Morse way of saying of ‘Bye for now’. SK and VA will sound the same if sent correctly.

AC or @ Symbol The ‘Commat’ as it is now known is the first new symbol to be added to the international Morse Code in a good many years. Obviously the main use for this new symbol is for e-mail addresses, which invariably include the @symbol.

SN ‘Understood’ This is used to indicate that the previous message has been understood, particularly if an important piece of information has been passed.

AS ‘Wait’ This is sent as an instruction to other parties to standby. Uses for the AS prosign could be to acknowledge a station that is calling at the wrong time or if you need to stop transmitting for a short time you can send ‘AS’ to your QSO partner, who will then know to standby and wait for your return.

R ‘Received’ Not a prosign as such but is used for acknowledgment purposes, particularly in cases such as a station sending the  AS’, mentioned above.

The following passage is adapted from the Wikipedia page on Morse code:

“The modern International Morse code, or ‘Continental’ code, was created by Friedrich Clemens Gerke in 1848 and initially used for telegraphy between Hamburg and Cuxhaven in Germany. After some minor changes, it was standardized at the International Telegraphy congress in Paris in 1865. Later this made the standard by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and is known as the ‘International’ Morse code. Morse's original code specification, largely limited to use in the United States, became known as America Morse code or ‘Railroad code’.”

Here is a chart of the ‘original’ code as devised by Samuel Morse, which is also known as ‘American’ Morse code. It differs in some aspects from the common ‘International’ code we use today as there are not only longer dashes in places but also embedded spaces within some characters.

Character

American Morse

A

. _

B

_ . . .

C

. .   .

D

_ . .

E

.

F

. _ .

G

_ _ .

H

. . . .

I

. .

J

_ . _ .

K

_ . _

L

____

M

_ _

N

_ .

O

.   .

P

. . . . .

Q

. . _ .

R

.   . .

S

. . .

T

_

U

. . _

V

. . . _

W

. _ _

X

. _ . .

Y

. .   . .

Z

. . .   .

1

. _ _ .

2

. . _ . .

3

. . . _ .

4

. . . . _

5

_ _ _

6

. . . . . .

7

_ _ . .

8

_ . . . .

9

_ . . _

0

______

.

. . _ _ . .

,

. _ . _

?

_ . . _ .

MORSE KEYS - The different types

One question I am asked frequently is what is the difference between the different types of keys available? I think what makes the choice of key more difficult is the amount of different names that a key can be known under! The basic manual key can also be known as a ‘Straight Key’, a ‘Pump’ or a ‘Hand Key’, and that’s just for starters.

With the price of Morse keys rising rapidly, now is a good time to get your hands on one before they become too expensive to afford. In the UK you can expect to pay upwards of 15 for an ex WW2 key such as the ubiquitous WT 8 amp. For the better quality and rarer types of service key, expect to pay anything up to 1000 or even more. It’s a collectors market now. Even the WT 8 AMP Bakelite keys that were 10 a penny a few years ago are now changing hands for increasingly large amounts. If you have any of these type of keys, hang on to them and if they need refurbishing, try to use original parts!

For the most part, Morse keys fall into 3 categories: Manual, Semi-Automatic or Automatic (they type that  needs to be used with an external electronic keyer).

The ‘manual’ types of key include the familiar hand operated “straight” key or ‘pump’ as it is also known and the ‘Side Swiper’, which is also known as the “Cootie” Key.  Side Swipers were introduced in the early days of land line telegraphy after many telegraphers developed the ‘Glass Arm or ‘Glass Wrist’ syndrome (a painful problem caused by the repetitive action of keying up and down over long periods (similar to RSI and Carpal Tunnel syndrome). The side-to-side movement of the side swiper and bugs lessens this problem and allows code to be sent at a higher speed over longer periods.)

The semi-automatic key, also known as the ‘bug’ (a term originally used by and is still copyright of Vibroplex, because of the ‘bug’ logo on their keys) falls between the two as it is part manual and part automatic. You make the ‘Dahs’ manually, but the ‘Dits’ are generated by a mechanical arrangement using springs and weights (to regulate the speed of the dits). It takes time to master a semi automatic key and when used on air they have a distinctive sound that can be easily recognised. There are a few examples of ‘Twin’ bugs, where both the dots and dashes are made automatically. These would come under the heading of fully automatic keys, but it makes more sense to group them with their simpler semi-automatic cousins. These keys never really caught on because of the mechanical complexity involved in making them work. Vibroplex made one in the early 1900s and the Japanese company GHD makes one at the moment, but at a premium price.

Fully automatic keys are, on the whole, designed to be used with an electronic keyer which generates the ‘dits’ and ‘dahs’ automatically. Some of these keys have a built in electronic keyer, which can be useful although most modern radios have some form of electronic keying circuit built in. Some older radio’s, particularly those of the valve era, can generate some high voltages between the keying contacts and care must be exercised when attaching an electronic keyer to one of these (this can also happen if you get RF in the shack, you can get a ‘tingle’ or burn if you touch an exposed metal part of the key or radio when the transmitter is keyed.  Automatic keys come with either 1 or 2 ‘paddles’ (the parts of the key you touch when sending). A key with one paddle (Single Lever Paddle, or SLP) is easier to use than one with two paddles, but a key with two paddles (a Twin Lever Paddle) is easier to send faster Morse with, also a twin paddle key can be operated in ‘Iambic’ mode where squeezing the key will produce a string of alternate dits and dahs (hence it’s other nickname of the ‘squeeze key’), and can speed up sending common phrases like CQ, but like the ‘bug, takes time to master. To a certain extent electronic keyers have removed the operators ‘fist’ as a form of identification as they send each character with the correct timing i.e. a dah is three times as long as a dit (although the spacing is left up to the operator, unless you are using a really automated system where most of the QSO is generated and sent for you by computer). Operators using manual yeys or bugs could be identified by the way they formed the characters of the Morse code.

Below are some links to manufacturers, retailers and collectors of Morse keys.

N1FN Collection: http://www.morsex.com/n1fn/keys.htm

Morse Key Heaven (a Japanese collection): http://foster2.hp.infoseek.co.jp/key1.htm

A very interesting site: http://www.radiotelegraphy.net/

Begali Keys: http://www.i2rtf.com/html/keys_paddles.html

G4ZPY Keys: http://www.g4zpy.go-plus.net/g4zpy_index.htm

Kent Keys: http://www.kent-engineers.com/morseKEYindex.htm

Vibroplex Keys: http://www.vibroplex.com/

Schurr Keys: http://www.mtechnologies.com/schurr/

Here are some examples of various keys. I would like to thank everyone that gave permission for their keys to be displayed here, in particular a special thank you goes to Herman Willemsen, VK2IXV, who sent pictures of his extremely rare 1913 Vibroplex dual lever bug. The bug has been restored to it’s former glory by Herman and he used genuine parts from the same period that they key was originally made wherever possible. I have included a couple of adverts for this key as they describe it better than I could.

db_Bencher db_Kent
db_Brown
db_J-38,-medium---web
tn_2002_0726_130530AA
Sideswiper
db_g4irqMk3
db_key45a[1] tn_key1
Vibroplex Double Lever advertisement
db_mcelroy2 tn_2002_0801_172457AA db_J-Bug
VIBROPLEX_small1 db_M0BTB SIG1
SCHURRPROFI Vibroplex 1913 Double Lever bug - pic3
1913 Vibroplex Double Lever advertisement
Vibroplex 1913 Double Lever bug - picture2
db_swedish key

KEEP MORSE CODE ALIVE !

 — — .   . . . .—   . .—   —.—.   .— — —

Click on the Morse code above to to hear me working the Sudan  (callsign ST0RY) on 30m CW!

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