Tuesday, February 20, 2007

No, Virginia, CW is NOT Dead.

On February 23, 2007, the Morse code requirement for amateur radio licensing will be gone. The debate over whether this should be done has been going on for years - opponents have claimed, correctly, that CW is an antiquated mode that no other radio service uses or requires, and that it is an unreasonable hurdle that keeps many otherwise dedicated and valuable operators out of the hobby at a time when we need them most, as other services seek to grab up amateur frequency allocations that are sparingly used; meanwhile, proponents of code testing cited tradition and warned of the floodgates opening, the HF bands tuning into CB radio, and.... well, damn it, I had to pay my dues and pass a code test, why shouldn't you?

I can appreciate both sides of the argument, but when I weigh the pros and cons, I find myself dancing on the grave of the code test. It's demise will not mean the end of CW on the ham bands; the only thing that will kill CW will be if hams choose to stop using the mode. I doubt this will happen, as CW is very popular among DXers and contesters.

The slippery slope argument is tenuous. It might have been a concern in the 70's during the CB craze, when CB radios were at the cutting edge of personal communications. But today the CB substitutes of choice are the internet and text messaging; ham radio won't capture the nitwit market because, 1.) It's expensive, and 2.) Even without the code test, getting licensed takes a good deal of effort. These are major obstacles to people who aren't serious about the hobby.

Amateur radio has always appealed to people who are fascinated with the science of radio, generally a brighter demographic than your typical chat room inhabitant. I can't see how these people will go through the whole licensing process, and the trouble and expense of building an amateur radio station, then suddenly devolve into a hoard of freaks shouting "Breaker Breaker!" into their echo mics on 20 meters.

So I welcome the FCC's decision to end the code requirement for licenses with HF privileges. I doubt most of the old curmudgeons that bitch and moan about it ever tune their radios off their 75m phone frequency, and probably fail to notice that the average age of US amateurs is quickly creeping up to the Geritol and Depends age bracket, let alone understand that that's a really bad thing. The hobby is in desperate need of a transfusion of new, younger blood, and telling kids that they need to learn CW, the telecommunications version of Aramaic, is the surest way to drive them back to their text messages and MySpace pages.

Do you like all those fancy modern HF rigs with spectrum scopes and DSP filters? Me too. Do you think companies like Kenwood, Icom and Yaesu will continue to devote R&D yen to continue producing these rigs while the market shrivels away? People on Social Security are not going to be buying many IC-7800's and FT-9000's, and sooner or later, if the number of hams dwindles, no one will be making these rigs.

So I say good riddance to the code test. And to celebrate it's death, I have downloaded every W1AW code practice MP3 file to my iPod so I can get my CW chops back.

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Saturday, February 3, 2007


Doing the blog thing again, this time for my radio hobby. I will leave the existing WW2PT page alone for station info and links, and just use this blog for bloviating.