In the modern world of smartphones and lightning fast internet, amateur (ham) radio operators still enjoy communicating over the radio by tapping telegraph keys just like the pioneers did in the earliest days of over-the-air communications.
Morse code may be a lost art to many, but local members of the international Straight Key Century Club still enjoy its simplicity of it. Ken Rogner has been a ham for over 45 years and still enjoys every second of it. “It’s just a lot of fun. I can’t say that enough.”
“I use the word archaic art because it’s a lot easier for us to pick up a cell phone and communicate, but with this, you need a radio and an antenna, plus a telegraph key to make it all work.”
Rogner says he learned Morse Code by listening to a tape in the late 1970s. “It took me about three weeks to learn, and that was at about five words a minute. The more you operate, the faster you get.” Good operators can tap out 25-30 words a minute. By comparison, typical verbal conversations are about 150 words per minute.
Joshua Long has been a ham for over 20 years. “If you’re trying to send an encyclopedia via Morse Code, it would take a while, but operators use abbreviations for common messages and can send things rather efficiently and quickly. It’s not as fast as the internet, but it’s not always about speed.”
Communication is made through a series of “dits” and “dahs” as they’re called. Rogner says the music comes out in some of the operators because there is a rhythm to it. “Once you learn the combination of it, you can grab a cup of coffee with your left hand and tap out to a person that may be a thousand miles away or across the street.”
Long relishes the nostalgia of it. “Morse Code has been around for over 150 years starting with telegraphs back in the 1800s. It’s a simple, fun way to contact people around the world.”
Long also feels a connection to his family’s past when he taps away. “Decades ago my grandfather practiced telegraphy when he worked for Grand Trunk Western in the 50s and 60s.”
Rogner appreciates the history of his hobby and has a collection of vintage telegraphs from around the world. Many still work to this day.
Rogner estimates there are over a million ham operators in the world and you can always find a conversation. “It can be late at night, early in the morning, or any time during the day. There are ham operators on all the time.”
Once you try Morse Code, many are hooked for life. “I’ve been a ham since 1978,” Rogner says with a smile. “That’s a long time, but I’m not tired of it at all. It’s always a lot of fun.”
Long agrees. “Oh gosh. It’s cool. It’s pretty cool.”
If you’re interested in learning more about ham radio or getting involved, Jay Farlow, Volunteer Public Information Officer for the National Association for Amateur Radio suggests checking out the Fort Wayne Radio Club website which has a wealth of information, or the national organization of ham radio operators, ARRL which has everything anyone would want to know about the hobby.
Farlow provided some of the video for this Positively Fort Wayne story.