The Art & Skill of Radio-Telegraphy

-Second Revised Edition-
William G. Pierpont N0HFF

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The research behind this booklet would probably never have been done at all if I had not been so eager to learn the telegraphic code, but made such a terrible flop of it. I just barely qualified for a license in early 1930, and for a very long time could not receive it well enough to really enjoy using it. Like most others in those past days, I memorized the "dots and dashes" from a printed table.

A good teacher might have helped, but... If only I could have had just the following key paragraph from the QST article of July 1923, it would have at least gotten me off on the right foot:

"The first step in learning the code is to memorize the dot and dash combinations representing the letters. They must not be visualized as dots and dashes, however, but rather should be "auralized" as sounds. There is no such word as auralized, but if there were it would express the correct method of grasping the code. The sound dit-dah (meaning a dot followed by a dash) in the head telephones mustimpress your mind directly as being the letter A , for instance, without causing black dots and dashes to float before your eyes for an instant ... This is a point that always troubles beginners, but if you learn from the first to recognize the sounds as letters immediately without reverting to dots and dashes, you will make much better progress..."

More succinctly: "Don't try to teach the Ears through the Eyes."
(Wireless Press 1922)

I was not alone in making this first false step: very many others did it that way, too, and probably some today still do. It was and is the inevitable reason why most people who start this way get stuck at some speed, around ten words per minute or less, and can't seem to get beyond it.

The second mistake, even in learning by hearing, is in hearing the characters sent so slowly that the learner tends to analyze each one into dits and dahs, and even counts them mentally. (It is wise indeed for the beginner never to hear code characters sent at speeds below about 13 wpm.) These two errors largely account for getting stuck at higher speeds also -- they mean we have not really learned the characters.

Today, there are many tapes and computer programs available which teach the Morse code in ways that avoid making either of these basic errors. This booklet has been written to share the results of this research of the literature -- also including talks with skilled operators -- with those who want to learn or teach the Morse code, or to improve their own skills. It majors on the methods that have proved most successful, but also discusses some which should be avoided. It offers guidance for those just beginning, and help for those who are stuck and want to improve. It also tells how those who are proficient and those who are experts operate.

Some history and related items are included in the later chapters for those who are interested in telegraphic communication. My hope is that you will find it not only interesting but helpful. This is a "How To" book,not a scientific treatise. Source credits for individual items have rarely been been noted. Many a contribution has come from multiple sources. Most of the significant sources are listed under Sources.

"I have never known a person who was truly proficient with code to dislike it: on the contrary, the more proficient they are, the more they love it." The Morse code is a means of communication, a new way to enjoy expressing yourself.


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The Art &Skill of Radio-Telegraphy-Second Revised Edition-
©William G. Pierpont N0HFF
This page last updated August 01, 1998

Modifications and compile by Thom LaCosta - K3HRN - December 2004