Changes in federal law are expected to mean "ham" radio operators will no longer need to pass a test showing their proficiency at Morse code. There are at least 6,000 amateur radio operators in Iowa and some only communicate using the dots and dashes of Morse code. It was created in the 1830s for the then-new telegraph.
Dan Miller, of Des Moines, a member of the American Radio Relay League, says Morse code works when other means fail. Miller says "Right now, we’ve had some geomagnetic storms that interfere with some of the frequencies and Morse code still seems to get through."
Miller says Morse code is still a useful way to communicate over great distances. He says "You can hear that Morse code tone where you can’t discern a voice or if the voice is breaking up real bad and you can’t (understand) it, you can still copy that Morse code." While Morse code may soon not be required for ham licenses, Miller says it’ll still be used on the airwaves — for entertainment and for public service, especially during times when regular communication is wiped out by acts of nature or in a manmade attack.
Miller says "Some people consider it a hobby. I consider it a service. I’m more into the Amateur Radio Emergency Services. We work with (Iowa) Emergency Management at public service events." Those include marathons, large parades and other big events where it might be otherwise difficult to communicate quickly.
Miller says ham radio operators provide critical communications in emergencies world-wide. When tornadoes hit eastern Iowa last April, hams provided communications between the Johnson County Emergency Operations Center and Red Cross shelters until the following day when National Guard soldiers arrived. For information about ham radio, surf to " www.EmergencyRadio.org " or call 1-800-32-NEW-HAM.