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Minimum character set for good CW operation

Students of Morse code have not recently been given all the tools for a well-stocked toolbox. This page aims to correct that. Study materials have concentrated on just the 43 characters found in an FCC exam for Morse code for years. They don't include some good tools that used to be taught a few decades earlier. They will be covered here, together with the newest character

Prosigns (Procedural signals)

AS di-DAH-di-di-dit ~ WAIT

Overlining here indicates that the letters of the alphabet so-styled are sounded together as a single character. AS, made of the letters A and S run together as one character, means, "Wait." It indicates a brief pause in sending, and sending will resume in a moment. It is not a cessation of transmission which should be looked upon as a time for the other station to begin a full transmission.

A situation has arisen for which the transmitting operator needs to shift attention away from sending CW. Possibilities include any of the following:

  • Operator needs to stop and readjust the transmitter. Please stand by.
  • Operator needs to stop sending and open or shut a window. Pick up a fallen pencil. Respond to a question from the spouse.
  • Any number of interruptions which demand momentary shift of attention before transmission can resume in a moment.

Once this situation has been cleared, the operator may resume where he or she left off.

I remember one time I attempted to use this WAIT sign for a momentary interruption of sending to grab my pencil off the floor, was in mid-story when I stopped sending. Before I could resume, the other station picked up with a full transmission of his own. He was a victim of the "FCC-43" and he obviously did not recognize AS as an instruction to wait. So much for the punch line I was preparing to deliver on that story!

If it is going to be a longer interruption than anticipated, the sending op can resume transmission to say that something has come up and "I" must QRT. (QRT means to stop sending. It is used in a context in amateur radio to mean the station will be off the air for awhile. For those who are familiar with QRT's use on CB, "We're QRT and standing," it is of a more long-term nature, not a simple end of contact.

K (DAH-di-DAH) and KN (DAH-di-DAH-DAH-dit)

K is the Invitation to transmit signal open to anyone, and is appropriate at the end of a CQ call, or in any situation where you will accept someone joining your conversation.

KN (Dah-di-DAH-DAH-dit) is a private invitation to transmit that has not been covered in Morse code training materials in recent years. It was not required knowledge in any FCC exam. It is not appropriate to end a CQ with KN, for you are putting out a call to any station, and it needs to be capped with the public invitation, K. It is appropriate to use KN when turning it over to the one that you are working, or if in a group, the one station you specify. Others should yield if they are not specifically invited.

The next chapter will cover operating procedure. It is safe to say, when one is starting out new to Morse code, a strict regimen should be followed when turning it over, and one can grow accustomed to that and grow in proficiency and pick up speed, then modify the strict regimen.

For those interested in advanced characters, KN is also the open parenthesis "(" and KK is the closed parenthesis ")." Therefore, if you are copying procedural signals, to paper, the related symbol for the "private" invitation to transmit, KN can be represented as an open parenthesis. Just be sure it looks nothing like a C!

AC (di-DAH-DAH-di-DAH-dit) ~ @ symbol

In December of 2003, the International Amateur Radio Union (IARU) offered the @ sign as an addition to the International Morse code, and in early May 2004, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) officially added the first new character in decades to the International Morse code. It has been heard on CW beacons on 10 meters, in email addresses used for receipt of signal reports.

AR (di-DAH-di-DAH-dit), SK (di-di-di-DAH-di-DAH) and BT (DAH-di-di-di-DAH)

AR (di-DAH-di-DAH-dit) marks the End of Message. It is used in message handling to mark the end of a message, but also used in general practice at the end of a transmission, usually after a station ID and before an invitation to transmit. AR is also the Plus sign character, and can be represented as such when copying the end of message prosign..

SK (di-di-di-DAH-di-DAH) marks the End of Work. It is used when signing off. I have heard SK used ahead of and after station ID, but mainly after on a station's intended last transmission in a QSO (conversation). I say, "intended" because sometimes there is the "final-final" that follows what was to be the "final."

BT is the sound of DAH-di-di-di-DAH. It is also the equals sign, (=) and can be represented as such in your copy. It is used between thoughts, moreso than a period. Its use will be seen in the next chapter.

ES short for "And"

The letters ES spell the word "and" in International Morse code. I did not know the "how come" until I came acroass a dot-dash representation of the Continental Morse code used over telegraph lines in the 1800's. This Morse code uses dits, DAHs, longer DAHs and spaces to form characters. Out of that comes the "&," with the sound of ES (dit---di-di-dit).

International Morse operators have adopted the sound of the amersand from the Continental code, only it translates into the letter group "ES" because this code does not use spaces.

Now you know the rest of the story!

Next page: Operating Procedure