[Updated March, 2012]
This is a repost of one I made on another blog. A discussion got going amongst members about who were ham radio operators (its a music blog). If you’ve ever studied Morse Code or spent time listening to it over the air, trying to decipher it, you will understand what I’m talking about.
“I have on the wall of my shack a framed copy of the text of the US Coast Guard’s last CW transmission when they stood down on the monitoring of CW from vessels at sea In April, 1995. Somewhere I have the audio. The text reads:
CQ CQ CQ DE NMN NMN …
0010001Z APR 95
FM COGARD CAMSLANT CHESAPEAKE VA/NMN
USCG NOW CLOSING DOWN CONTINUOUS HF CW WATCH CEASING ALL MORSE CODE OPS IN THE HF BAND. AS WE CONCLUDE OUR WATCH WE WISH THE MARITIME COMMUNITY FAIR WINDS AND FOLLOWING SEAS. WE ARE PROUD OF OUR TRADITION AND LONGSTANDING SERVICE TO THE MARINER. ON MORSE CODE BEGINNING IN 1901 WITH THE REVENUE CUTTER SERVICE EXPERIMENTING WITH WIRELESS AS A MEANS TO COMMUNICATE ON LAND AND SEA TO THE FIRST MORSE CODE RADIO INSTALLED ABOARD CUTTER GRANT IN 1903. OUR ORIG COMMISSION WAS TO RCV DISTRESS ALERTS, BUT SINCE 1901 THE CG HAS FAITHFULLY AND DILIGENTLY LISTENED FOR TRAFFIC RESPONDING TO HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF CALLS FM MARINERS IN NEED OF ASSIST OR RPTG POSITION WX NAV OR SAFETY INFO. OVER THE YEARS WE HAVE PROVIDED MARINERS WITH URGENT SAFETY AND NAV WARNINGS OVER HF CW AND RCVD VESSEL LOCATION UPDATES FOR THE AM SYS. WE WILL FEEL A SENSE OF LOSS WITH THE PASSING OF CW. THE NEED FOR OPERATORS WITH SENSITIVE EARS AND A FAST PRECISE KEY WILL BE REPLACED BY COMPUTERS MODEMS AND AUTO ALARMS. THE SPECIAL EMOTION AND EXCITEMENT ENJOYED BY OPERATORS CAN NOT BE DUPLICATED AND THE CHILLING SOS SIGNAL WILL NEVER AGAIN BE RECEIVED BY A CG UNIT. BUT CW HAS RUN ITS COURSE AND WE NOW LOOK FORWARD TO SERVING YOU ON THE NEXT GENERATION COMM SYSTEMS VIA THE GMDSS. FM ALL CG TELECOM SPECIALISTS, WE BID YOU 73. WHAT HATH GOD WROUGHT.
CAMSLANT DE NMN SK
Listen to the transmission, at 30 words per minute, and for hams to practice copying, 20 words per minute.. (Note, there are a couple of slightly different versions of the text on the web, mostly with differences in header detail, not main message).
For the non-hams, the “SK” at the end is especially poignant. SK is a code short form for “end of transmission as in “final transmission”. Its also ham-slang for the passing of a ham radio operator – “silent key”. So much in two little letters. This was always one of the beauties of CW, saying so much with so little, and if you have a fine “fist”, saying it with panache.
I get emotional every time I read this notice. With regard to the “chilling SOS signal” I can personally attest to the chill that runs down your spine when you hear that out of the ether. The hair stands straight up on the back of your neck when you hear that quavering signal, knowing a vessel is deep trouble. In the circumstance I monitored, a yacht was lost, never to be found. You don’t ever forget that call… **(a sample of what an SOS would sound like is here, text at the end of the blog.)
Even as I sit here and type this in my ham shack(pictured below), watching three monitors driven from two computers with radar and other stuff happening, and surrounded by three generations of radios, I’m still not sure I’m convinced about the “superiority” of technology. When SHTF, somebody still has to act. Its too easy to hand it off to the machine.”
**[20wpm]SOS SOS SOS SOS SOS SOS SOS SOS SOS SOS DE MV MINNOW MV MINNOW LOC 34.5N 60.5W 34.5N 60.5W 34.5N 60.5W 34.5N 60.5W SOS SOS SOS SOS SOS DE MV MINNOW MV MINNOW 5 SOULS 5 SOULS SOS SOS SOS SOS 34.5N 60.5W 34.5N 60.5W 34.5N 60.5W SOS SOS SOS MV MINNOW MV MINNOW K (The signal fading, or “QSB” in radio parlance, is intentional. Real world listening conditions are frequently not ideal, especially for a vessel which may be low on power, and in sea conditions that are rough, bobbing up and down in large waves and troughs.)