The Morse telegraphy in modern times
Nowadays, the telegraphy have its dedicated place in
communication museums, being evidenced for been used particularly in the
past. Despite its effectiveness in terms of reliability,
radiotelegraphy has been overtaken by digital communication modes, which
allow the transmission of at least the same amount of information, but
which are in addition more successful dealing with weaker signals in
terms of SNR.
Even in situations of traffic congestion, and thanks to
a slender bandwidth of a few Hz per second, telegraphy achieve true
Unfortunately however, the human ear can not be as
sensitive as needed to handle with a band thickness as narrow as the
modern digital systems make use of.
Nevertheless, a too narrow bandwidth means very slow
transmission speed, not always appropriate for certain purposes, such as
rescue and emergency communications.
Such technological advances, along with the evolution
of electronics and software, have led to the rejection of communications
in Morse code by the official services. By ending with wireless
telegraphy, they were simultaneously discarding one of the most
important communication elements for over a century... the singular
figure of the Morse telegraphy operators or telegraphers.
It is precisely about telegraphers and Morse code
telegraphy compared to modern communication resources, that I wish to
address you a few words.
My memory flees back to those old times when men and
women, serving anonymously, become interfaces between two points needing
some kind of communication link.
Often, such communications have saved lives and
property, without anyone ever met the face of the "strongest connection"
between "rescuer" and "rescued".
For nearly 200 years, these Morse code operators,
either by wire or wireless telegraphy, made the world evolves and
progress. They have carried good and bad news to the four corners of the
world, launching distress calls but frequently bringing the good news
and a cry of joy via telegraphy. This was all made in the name of
assistance.... on behalf of others. They were merely single links of the
Today, only Ham radio operators pay a daily tribute to
them, maintaining fully functioning radiotelegraphy emissions, with the
effectiveness of old times, and always prepared to assert the
telegraphers unsurpassed values.
Commercial services managers, unfamiliar with the
technical aspects and reliability of telegraphic communications,
particularly for emergency response, had in mind other standards like
exonerating expenses with employees and often trusting only on the
reports of so-called experts, who were frequently sailing in a sea of
monetary interests. Advised to urgently swing to "digital",
unconsciously embarking on a "spiral" of "modernity" such executives
forget, more and more often, the real value of the human worth.
In the name of efficiency, Morse code telegraphy
systems proved to be too unsophisticated for their own survival. In
addition, real skilled operators in telegraphy are needed in order to
ensure an efficient and successful service.
Younger engineers, with a more modernist vision of the
world, and who never has been familiar with the true virtues of
telegraphy, tried to implement, at all levels, increasingly complex and
automatic systems, to gradually put aside the interfering capacity of
the human being as a key element of decision in many components of the
They have put together quite dependable webs, but
completely unintelligible to a single operator and highly reliant on
everything or everyone, on an increasingly complex arrangement. This
option leads to the inevitable loss of control over the entire system.
Additionally, the chance of communication failing or
even breakdown, in modern systems, is infinitely higher than in simple
radiotelegraphic method used in the past. This happens because the links
are no longer point to point and since the key element it is not
anymore the human factor.
Nowadays, a sequence of communications between two
single points, even if within walking distance, implies an enormous
asset of technical arrangements, including equipment and software. It is
not rare that, to establish reliable communication within one or two
kilometres, through modern systems, information has to travel hundreds
or more, because the management of traffic is done by means of a remote
server installed at an impressive distance away, nobody knows where
precisely. Repeatedly in order to cover such huge distance, the signal
travels through a variety of circuits and resources such as copper wire,
hertzian beams, optical fibre, etc.
Such number of technical resources in-between two
communication terminals end up being points where potentially failure
can arise and as each one of it becomes a "nexus" of the communication
chain. This means that a single failing can become a disaster and
communication breaks down.
The process of such complex systems needs skilled
operators with some level of expertise and know-how, so any incorrect
action, somewhere on the sequence, can seriously compromise the
effectiveness of communications within these modern technologies.
Besides what have been written above, a natural
disaster, or other calamity event, endangers the operation of at least
some parts in the communication chain, so there is a latent high risk on
being dependent of modern communications systems for the potential
failure they represent under these collapse circumstances.
On the other hand, the modern communication systems,
providing high-speed information are able to serve tens if not hundreds
of Mbps. However, this aspect it is only interesting on the commercial
point of view, where bandwidth versus amount of information is what
progress the business.
The response of such system is only viable in predetermined situations, where events are all planned and predictable.
On the other side of this equation, there are a number
of situations in which a large amount of information has no interest and
is not even desirable.
Thinking specifically about emergency communications,
rescue operations and similar situations, the messages exchange must be
effective and highly reliable. This kind of information should only be
essential to enable rapid decision making and unequivocal response, in
order to react promptly to the seriousness of the event.
It should consist on a unambiguous and precise
communication, with no delays or latencies on the interconnections,
supported by single and simple structure that allows effective
communication between participants in an autonomous way, without
depending on intermediate systems and preferably completely controllable
by human involvement.
At this particular point the radiotelegraphy with its
simplest transmitters and capable radio operators (as many of us
amateurs) can be a paradigm. We continue in fact showing to the world
and to the "devotees of the digital age", that the Morse code and the
wireless telegraphy in particular, can be a valuable resource of
communication. This is in fact a uncomplicated, reliable, effective and
significant communication expertise that will never disappear, no matter
as much as someone try to justify the millions spent on high
technology. Morse code will probably be always a part of the
communications panorama, regarded as the most simple, fast, economical,
reliable and effective way to communicate, even in the harshest
Yet the timeless virtues of radiotelegraphy could never
become factual without the vast capacity of human brain, which is
adaptable to many different listening environments, often populated by
all sorts of noise, where only the experienced and attentive telegrapher
can discriminate a particular very vital signal, transmitted from a far
distant place, where someone needs to be heard.
These words are my reverence to all Morse code
telegraphy operators, who are still operative or who were in the past,
for your ability to communicate in a way as simple as effective way, but
essentially for being able to use your audition and skills in order to
share messages among men, for transforming the tip of your fingers in to
clear signals of simple and accurate information, for the odd place you
occupy in the history of communications... and for all the lives saved
thanks to your transmitted signals, for the joys and sorrows you have
remitted, for your selfless and anonymous work over nearly 200 years.
For all of that I express my admiration and tribute as a world's mere
Carlos Mourato CT4RK
Sines - Portugal