Do I have to learn Morse Code?

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No, but some folks find it a heck of a lot of fun.

While some old-timers may grumble "Back in my day..." as if there were a moral superiority to knowing Morse code, the fact is that the current state is the best of all worlds--the code is available to you as a rewarding challenge if you decide to pursue it, but it's not a requirement.

You probably learned during the licensing process that the code has some advantages. It can often punch through when conditions are rough, when voice has trouble being understood. It is also quite efficient in terms of bandwidth--it's a narrowband mode compared to voice. So there's a lot of room on the bands for CW operators.

(Incidentally, "CW" stands for "continuous wave," a description of the modulation mode.)

Morse code is like a puzzle that unfolds in real time. At first, you have to do the rote memorization of the characters--no avoiding that. Once you're familiar with them, it's a matter of picking up speed, both for sending and receiving. For receiving, there is an abundance of resources to help you. If you have a smartphone, a code tutor app is probably the most efficient way to do it, at least for receiving. For sending, you can practice mentally, or physically by tapping or silently pressing your fingers against something to form the dahs and dits.

Fun tidbit from your author's past: if you and someone you like to hold hands with both know the code, you can send silent messages back and forth anywhere, anytime via hand squeezes. It can make a dull dinner party much more entertaining.

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