Digital media might not be losing its shine, but many people are discovering — or rediscovering — different ways to do things.
The appeal of vintage technology explains the re-emergence of the Polaroid camera or vinyl records. But the comeback taking everyone by surprise in 2023 is Morse code.
Morse code is enjoying a revival, not just among amateur radio users. So how do we explain its resurgence? This guide looks at some of the reasons.
Radio 4 Morse Code Interview – Howard Bernstein from CW Club
In an interview, Howard Bernstein from the Long Island CW Club said the main reasons for the resurgence of Morse code are its international reach, reliability and portability. It can be a lot of fun and an exciting challenge for your brain.
Reasons Why Morse Code is Making a Comeback
Morse Code and Amateur Radio
You communicate using Morse code on radio frequencies and it is therefore very popular with Amatuer Radio enthusiasts.
In the UK, amateur radio is a popular hobby, but is also widely used in other activities such as hiking, encouraging people of all ages to get outdoors and communicate using Amatuer Radio.
Summits on the Air, or SOTA, was formed for this very reason some 20 years ago. The organisation aimed to shift the image of radio users and connect it with a broader community. The group devised a plan to create an award programme to encourage more users. It now operates in around 100 countries across the globe.
International Users and Audience
Radio operators haven't needed to learn Morse code since 1990 to obtain a UK Amatuer Radio license. So why would anyone be interested in this old-fashioned and laborious form of communication nowadays? In the digital age, you can send the same message much faster and add images.
However, looking more closely at who’s using Morse code provides surprising answers about the current audience. Indeed, it's still significant and relevant today on the world stage.
Morse code is international. There’s always someone to ‘talk’ to, with hundreds of thousands of people worldwide using it on ham radio frequencies.
The most famous Morse communication is SOS, a universally recognised message. Morse code provides an international language everyone can understand in wars and disaster zones.
It’s also not reliant on digital communication, which is why aid charity workers and the military use it. Cell signals are often unavailable due to the location or collapse of the local infrastructure.
With digital warfare a genuine concern in the 21st century and hostile forces potentially able to take control of military vessels via a cyber or malware attack, Morse code offers a safe and reliable way to communicate when other systems are unavailable.
US Naval trainees are learning Morse code and also the old-fashioned skill of learning to navigate via the stars using a sextant for the same reason, to reduce their reliance on digital and satellite communication.
The code isn’t just prevalent among emergency personnel, though. Some international K-pop bands use Morse code to leak information and hint about their forthcoming song releases, so Morse code, somewhat surprisingly, is right down there with the kids! Young people are learning Morse code to decipher messages from their favourite Korean groups.
The Covid pandemic also may have had an impact. The lockdowns acted as a spur as people had more time on their hands and wanted to learn new things. One of the Long Island CW Club members is a teacher and offered to teach Morse code to kids in different countries stuck at home.
The club forums allow participants across the world to talk about Morse code and practice in conversation with other people. They listen to presentations about the history of Morse code and debate its relevance in future military warfare or even in space.
Parents like it as it’s more academic and a bit of a brain workout, better than sitting behind a screen for hours plus scrolling on social media.
Good Exercise for the Brain
Morse code is good exercise for the brain, and that’s official according to a study by Bochum University’s Department of Neurology in 2017 and published in the National Library of Medicine.
Morse code is an excellent way to sharpen brain function alongside jigsaws, crossword puzzles, and word and number games.
Scientists found that learning Morse increases neuroplasticity, making new neuron connections. This capacity is essential for functions like memory and learning, keeping the brain young and reducing the risk of age-related cognitive disorders.
Morse code uses an alphabet made up of dots and dashes. Characters are sequenced in two different signal durations using dots and dashes with pauses for the correct gap duration. Longer gaps separate words.
The radios transmit these codes as electrical pulses of different lengths. The number of dots and dashes and the gaps’ duration determine the words that make up the message.
Despite the presence of an alphabet, this is not a language but a code. How long it takes to learn depends on how you apply yourself and how much time you spend practicing.
Most users can transmit Morse code at a rate of 10-15 words per minute, but experienced users will receive and send at over 20 words per minute. As your skill develops, you can work faster.
Howard Bernstein’s amateur radio club in Long Island has become a global hub for amateur Morse code learners, with members from 47 counties, including plenty from the UK.
Three thousand five hundred members log on to practice their skills, ironically using Zoom as the teaching platform. The club runs, on average, 80 classes and forums per week, and around 400 participants are children and teenagers.
Romance and Nostalgia for a Bygone Era
Many people are finding that instant gratification and digital media aren’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Witness the rediscovery of the fountain pen, the increasing popularity of listening to music on vinyl which is an all-around sensory experience, and the re-emergence of Polaroid film cameras with the long-anticipated wait for the pictures.
Morse code fits right in with nostalgic leanings towards a bygone age. The element of code piques natural human interest, plus the requirement to decipher the message increases expectation and anticipation.
Morse code also has a wartime connection, frequently the subject of drama and romance in modern filmmaking with high-earning Hollywood blockbusters. It also elicits nostalgia for the era of black-and-white movies even up to the 1980s. Popular shows like Stranger Things have banked on this nostalgia while inspiring a new generation of users to explore the fun of using Morse code for communications.
How Long Does It Take to Learn Morse Code?
In his radio interview, Howard Bernstein suggests a couple of their classes a week and practice sessions of 20-30 minutes a day. This frequency gives a reasonable skill level in around three or four months.
Morse code takes time and persistence, but it’s possible to be competent quite quickly.
Is Morse Code Still Significant in This Modern Era?
In the UK, Michael Stanton, who helps run the Long Island Club, said that K-Pop has significantly influenced the popularity of Morse code amongst younger people.
South Korean K-pop boy band, TXT, uses Morse code in their songs and music videos to send fans messages about new releases.
Is Morse Code Still Used in 2023?
The US Navy have Morse code on the syllabus for cryptologic technicians at the Training Center for Information Dominance in Pensacola, Florida.
Morse code is also popular amongst people with speech defects or impairments that impact their communication, like speaking on a call or typing on a keyboard.
How Many People in the UK Know Morse Code?
The Morse Code Preservation Society state that around 5% of the two million radio amateurs worldwide use Morse code regularly.
As Morse code is not a requirement for a UK radio licence, it’s impossible to know how many users there are.
Got Questions? Contact Moonraker Today!
Samuel Morse sent the first encoded Morse code message in 1844. It’s funny to think that with all the digital gadgetry and wizardry around us, people are still choosing to use this communication medium in the 21st century.
Whether you’re looking for vintage tech or 21st-century radio communications, Moonraker has it all. As the leading provider of radio technology in the UK, we have everything you need to setup your own Morse code radio station. Visit our online shop or contact Moonraker today for professional advice.