As I’ve mentioned here, I’m half-heartedly trying to learn American Morse Code. Why? Well, while ham radio is keeping International Morse Code alive, there is not as big an outlet for American Morse. The Morse Telegraph Club (MTC) is perhaps the only organization keeping American Morse alive, but there are far fewer members of MTC as there are amateur radio operators who use Morse Code.
Now, I had heard of some amateurs using Americian Morse on the air, but not only are they few and far between, the American Morse that you would hear on the air is not the same as clicks and clacks of a telegraph sounder. And, now, on top of that, it is apparently illegal for amateur radio operators to use American Morse Code on the air.
This was recently brought to my attention on MTC mailing list, slowspeedwire. Chip, N3IW, noted:
Also, for US amateur radio operators we cannot legally use American Morse on the air. That’s because the FCC has defined the CW mode as using International Code only. There is no legal mode that can use American Morse on the air because of that definition.
Being curious about this, I tried to find out where this was so defined, but was unable to and asked for a clarification. In response, Jim, WB8SIW, MTC president, said:
The issue of the legality of American Morse on the ham bands is a fairly recent development. As I understand it, the issue arose when someone at the NCVEC conference asked a representative of the FCC if the use of American Morse Code on Amateur Service frequencies was legal. The FCC representatives present considered the question and stated that, in their opinions, the use of American Morse was illegal because Part 97 defines telegraphy as the standard International Morse Code.
This statement was reiterated and supported by Gary Johnston, W3BE, who writes a FCC rules column for the QCWA and perhaps other publications. Mr. Johnston has gone on record as being unequivicolly opposed to the use of the Amercan Morse Code on the ham bands. While he is retired from the FCC and his opinion has no official weight, the fact that he has pronounced it illegal influenes many radio amateurs.
I had some correspondence with Mr. Johnston in which I outlined the history of the use of American Morse on the ham bands and argued a contrary opinion. The result was essentially a terse note in response, which, in my opinion, I can only describe as being intended to “put me in my place.”
A couple of points are probably in order, however:
First, no one has ever tested the opinion that American Morse is illegal through a test case under the Administrative Law process. However, I suspect few of us have the time or money to do so if we received a Notice of Apparent Violation.
Second, the old rule of government regulation stands. When one asks a government agency to rule on a hypothetical issue, one will nearly always obtain the most restrictive opinion. Someone made the mistake of asking if it was legal, and, as a result, we have now been told that it likely is.
Still, I was not satisified, and because some of Johnston’s proclamations on the rules irk me so much that I can’t bear to read his column anymore, I searched again through the rules. This time, I found references to International Morse Code in 97.307(f)(9) and 97.307(f)(10), and those parts referred to the use of International Morse Code by Novices and Technicians. I also found part 97.305(a), which says, “An amateur station may transmit a CW emission on any frequency authorized to the control operator.” It does not, however, specify that the CW emission be in International Morse Code.
After posting this, to the mailing list, N3IW did point me at the correct parts. He wrote:
The definition of CW and MCW are found in Part 97.3(c)(1) and 97.3(c)(4):
Part 97.3(c) The following terms are used in this part to indicate emission types. Refer to Sec. 2.201 of the FCC Rules, Emission, modulation and transmission characteristics, for information on emission type designators.
(1) CW. International Morse code telegraphy emissions having designators with A, C, H, J or R as the first symbol; 1 as the second symbol; A or B as the third symbol; and emissions J2A and J2B.
(4) MCW. Tone-modulated international Morse code telegraphy emissions having designators with A, C, D, F, G, H or R as the first symbol; 2 as the second symbol; A or B as the third symbol.
So, there you have it. These two parts conclusively define CW and MCW as being International Morse Code. It seems kind of silly to me that American Morse is not allowed, given that it’s such a well-defined code and that the rules allow the transmission of far more exotic codes using the digital modes. Anyone want to draft a petition to change the rules?