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Fun Facts About Morse Code

Although Morse is best known for sending messages over telegraph lines or the airwaves, there are other methods of using it. It can be communicated verbally by sounding out the characters using dit and dah or by flashing lights long and short bursts. You can also tap out code by hand or the blinking of eyes.

Morse code was invented in 1844 by Samuel Morse.

In 1858, the first transatlantic telegraph cable was strung 2000 miles along the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean from America to England.

When the first transcontinental telegraph system was completed in 1861, it soon put the Pony Express out of business. It could transmit messages rapidly from coast-to-coast while it took a lone horseman ten days to ride from St. Joseph Missouri to Sacramento.

In 1886, Thomas Edison taught his second wife Morse so she could tap out secret messages on his arm in front of her parents.

Morse code was credited with saving many lives on the RMS Titanic on April 14, 1912. When it set sail, the ship was blessed and cursed with the latest communication technology- the wireless telegraph. In the last hours, its frantic calls for help sowed confusion because of competing distress calls (CQD versus the newer SOS) and interference from amateur radio operators. The liner Carpathia was eventually apprised of their final position. As it was, 1514 of the 2216 passengers perished in the frigid waters.

During World War II, the BBC used the opening bars of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony because it simulated the Morse symbol ‘V’ (dit-dit-dit-dah) for victory.

In 1950, Johnny Cash enlisted in the Air Force Security Service and was eventually stationed in Germany. As a Morse code operator, the Man in Black copied Soviet Intelligence transmissions. Country Music Hall of Fame singer Don Williams was in the Army Security Agency from 1957 through 1959.

On May 2, 1966, captured Commander Jeremiah Denton was interviewed by a Japanese television reporter at the infamous Hanoi Hilton prison. By blinking out t-o-r-t-u-r-e in Morse, he alerted the US Intelligence officials who viewed it that the POW’s were being abused by their North Vietnamese captors.

The 1967 song ‘Western Union’ by The Five Americans used a heavy dose of dits and dahs in the refrain to create the rhythm of a message being sent.

Death by Morse. During the Vietnam war, Morse code was instrumental in killing an untold number of Viet Cong & NVA regulars. Operators, including myself, would find a unit sending a message and then alert Aerial Directional Finding aircraft of its frequency. After they had a fix, B-52 bombers were scrambled to fly over and arc light those units into oblivion.

Kraftwerk’s 1975 single ‘Radioactivity’ has two instances of ‘radioactivity’ spelled out in Morse using a Minimoog synthesizer.

At the end of the 1979 song ‘London Calling’ by the Clash, Mick Jones played (dit-dit-dit    dah-dah-dah    dit-dit-dit) or SOS on his guitar.

The beat of the ‘Mission Impossible’ theme song spells out ‘MI’ (dah-dah    dit-dit) in Morse.

The underlying rhythm from Rush’s 1981 song ‘YYZ’ comes from spelling out the characters in Morse (dah-di-dah-dah    dah-di-dah-dah    dah-dah-dit-dit).

Mike Oldfields 1990 album ‘Amarock’ was specifically made to piss off his record company. It was 60 minutes of uninterrupted music from which a ‘single’ could not be made. The underlying phrase ‘f… off RB’ in Morse was intended for Virgin Records President Richard Branson.

The blinking lights atop the Capital Records building spell out ‘Hollywood’ in Morse.

When Buzz and Woody were at Sid’s house in the 1995 movie ‘Toy Story’, the baby with spider legs taps out the Morse message ‘RR come out’. RR is shorthand for message received.

Morse training has continuously taken place at the Pensacola Naval Air Base since 2005. The basic manual Morse course is a 560 hour/70-day course with an average completion time of 60 days. Passing 25 GPM is required to graduate.

The clapping at the beginning of Muse’s 2006 song ‘Starlight’ spells out ‘tits’ (dah   dit-dit    dah    dit-dit-dit). Some say it was intentional while others claim it was purely a coincidence.

The 2010 song ‘Better Days’ by Natalia Guiterrez y Angelo was created specifically to contain a Morse message for soldiers being held captive by guerillas of the Revolutionary Armed Force of Columbia. It read- ‘19 people rescued. You are next. Don’t lose hope.’ The prisoners later confirmed hearing the message and were eventually rescued.

In the animation film ‘Rio’, a blue macaw named Blu sets off to Rio de Janeiro to mate with Jewel- the last surviving female. They are pursued through the streets by a gang of marmosets who have scouts everywhere. When one of the monkeys spots them at a farmers market, he uses the flash on a camera to signal in Morse to another member who then uses flags to convey the message to their leader Mauro.

The British quiz show QI has a hidden message encoded in its theme song- it spells out the URL in Morse.

A clockwork rover is being built to explore Venus. Because the planet’s atmosphere creates enough pressure to crush most submarines, electronics are being avoided. Instead NASA is using steampunk computing with the use of mechanics. To communicate to an orbiting spaceship, a rotating shutter will turn reflected light on and off much like signal lamps used on navy ships.”

The Temperature of War

by Rick Waters

Whether it be hot lead flying in the jungles of Vietnam or the coldness of Russian aggression, Morse code was the thread connecting every outrageous adventure in the secretive Army Security Agency. During a three-year hitch spanning three duty stations in the early seventies, Spec 4 Waters copied encrypted enemy messages transmitted in high-speed Morse. The communiques were then dispatched post-haste to cryptanalysis to be deciphered.

Imagine the uncertainty of defending an isolated intelligence compound with a full Company of rogue brainiacs. Such was life as a newbie Morse Operator rolling through the frequencies in search of talkative NVA and Viet Cong units to copy. If the rockets streaming overhead weren’t enough of a distraction, the go-go girls fronting nightly bands sure were. It was an untenable situation destined for failure until fate transformed every soldier into a Saigon Jed Clampett flush with women, fancy living and fast times; even Frankenstein in khakis would have received the rockstar treatment. Right up until the last remnants of the 175th were rounded up and ushered out of Vietnam.

The shock of moving to Augsburg Germany was reinforced by a visit to the Field Station where officers expected a snappy salute. Spec 4 Waters was assigned a position in the Russian bay copying the high-priority network of shock troops. Along with mastering the lightning-fast Morse came the freedom to ignore many of the rules. And to explore a summer of love during the waning days of flower power. Especially when Munich, the epicenter of rock concerts, was just an hour down the autobahn. Over time, storm clouds threatened to form as Spec 4 Waters continually pushed the boundaries at operations and made a powerful enemy. Any likelihood of receiving an honorable discharge grew fainter as his enlistment drew to a close.

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