Wire­less, at 20 words per minute, from An­ver An­der­son

Morse code, a wire­less tech­nol­ogy, has been em­pow­er­ing our world for decades

OffComm News - - CONTENTS -

An­ver An­der­son gives us a peek into the days of work­ing with Morse code, at twenty words per minute.

With not so much as a blink of an eye, we can send, re­ceive, edit or for­ward just about any mes­sage be it text, graph­i­cal, audio or video in to­day’s fully in­te­grated and hy­per- con­nected world. But it re­ally is not that long ago when this just was not the case, es­pe­cially for the mar­itime and off­shore cus­tomer. When I be­gan my ca­reer in telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions back in 1978 with the GPO ( now BT), I served as a ra­dio of­fi­cer at the UK’s long range ( High Fre­quency – HF) sta­tion, Por­tishead Ra­dio ( GKA). The long range sta­tion was com­ple­mented by a num­ber of coastal ra­dio sta­tions op­er­at­ing on VHF and MF fre­quen­cies. This gave the UK full cov­er­age of lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional shipping and off­shore op­er­a­tions. For the most part, com­mu­ni­ca­tions with ships at sea was done by ra­dio teleg­ra­phy ( Morse code) or ra­dio tele­phony – although at that time there was a bur­geon­ing mar­ket in the “new fan­gled” Ra­dio Telex – which was able to carry mes­sages at a mas­sive speed of 50baud! But let’s not let the tech­nol­ogy of the mo­ment run away with us… The fre­quency bands we used for this el­e­gant com­mu­ni­ca­tions form were from 4MHz through to 22MHz ( up to 25MHz when the sun cy­cle was en­joy­ing ex­tra ac­tiv­i­ties). So, de­pend­ing on the time of day, and the po­si­tion of the ves­sel, and ap­pro­pri­ate fre­quency would be cho­sen. It’s im­por­tant to know that to use this par­tic­u­lar wire­less sys­tem, you had to un­der­stand a lit­tle about the state of the iono­sphere at any par­tic­u­lar time of day to en­sure the right bounce to hit your tar­get. A ra­dio of­fi­cer in some far flung ves­sel would have to lis­ten in to spe­cific fre­quen­cies and pre- set times to hear a Morse trans­mis­sion, which might – or might not - con­tain his par­tic­u­lar call­sign. This was “The Traf­fic List.” If your call­sign was on it there was a mes­sage wait­ing for you. So you would tune to Por­tishead’s lis­ten­ing fre­quen­cies ( GKB) and send your call­sign. The re­sponse would be to tell you to go and lis­ten to one of two other fre­quen­cies ( GKC or GKD). Your trans­mis­sion fre­quency would be noted be­fore pass­ing all th­ese de­tails on to the op­er­a­tor who would be “work­ing” with you. Th­ese de­tails were writ­ten on a specif­i­cally colour card ( de­not­ing fre­quency band) via a mov­ing belt in the mid­dle of the long desk. The ra­dio of­fi­cer would make a call to you on GKC, you re­spond on your trans­mit fre­quency, and then ( if there was traf­fic for you) he would ask to you lis­ten to one of his own send fre­quen­cies ( GKG per­haps) and the mes­sage would be sent. If you had your own mes­sage – for your of­fice or fam­ily – you would be re­turned to GKC and you could send your mes­sages, usu­ally at 20 words a minute. Once re­ceived, the green tele­gram form was sent on another mov­ing belt jour­ney to the telex room where it was “re- typed” to its fi­nal des­ti­na­tion. To­day you tell the kids that was how it was done and they won’t be­lieve you. In my ca­reer, we’ve gone from Morse code at 20 words a minute, and a lot of palaver, to half a Gig over a sin­gle transpon­der and WiFi on ev­ery cor­ner… what will the next gen­er­a­tion see, I won­der.

An­ver An­der­son

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