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)

Overlining in the following paragraphs is used to mark groups of letters that are sounded together as a single character. Some of these procedural signals have a meaning that cannot be relayed by a keyboard character.

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

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. The receiving operator should just send “R” to “roger” the Wait signal and stand by. Life happens, and the sending operator has either been interrupted by a family member’s question or may want to check or adjust something on the station equipment or lean over to pick something up; the possibilities are endless. The sending operator will resume within half-a-minute’s time or less.

It is not a cessation of transmission which should be looked upon as a time for the other station to begin a full transmission!

I remember one time I attempted to use this WAIT sign for a momentary interruption of sending to grab my pencil off the floor and 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 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. (In other words, he is leaving the air and will not be available to respond to any station.

K (DAH-di-DAH) and BK (DAH-di-di-di-DAH-di-DAH)

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.

Because the prosign K and the letter K have the same sound ((DAH-di-DAH), it is inadvisable to use K at the end of plain conversation for ending your transmission.

It happened to me once when I working a new ham and usually, as has been my experience, many things get sent twice, like name QTH, signal report, and even the name of the rig (radio equipment) being used. He told me his rig is a Kenwood K ... and I am waiting for the finish of the rest of the second iteration of “Kenwood!” This was at an uneven 5 words per minute, maybe less.

Better option is to send “BK” at the end of “KENWOOD” above. Short for the word “Break,” BK is the letters B and K without space between them to signal an end of transmission, breaking back to the recipient to transmit. Please listen to the sound of BK:

Second solution is to send station identification on the turn-over: ... KENWOOD DE KK7XYZ K

KN (Dah-di-DAH-DAH-dit)

KN (Dah-di-DAH-DAH-dit) is an invitation to transmit offered to the specified station or the station being worked and no one else. Please listen:


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 once the shaky fist and nerves give way to confidence and proficiency, one can modify the strict regimen.

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

BT (DAH-di-di-di-DAH)

BT is called the "Double Dash, and represents the end of this train of thought. DAH-di-di-di-DAH sounds like this:

AR (di-DAH-di-DAH-dit)

AR(di-DAH-di-DAH-dit) marks the End of Message. It is definitely better to use this at the end of plain text than that K, to head off the confusion I encountered!

Please listen to the End of Message:

AR is also the Plus sign character, and can be represented as such when copying the end of message prosign.

I might add, End of Message is also used when handling message traffic. It signifies the end of this message, and if there is more, another message is begun, to be passed at its destinatin to its recipient.

SK (di-di-di-DAH-di-DAH)

SK (di-di-di-DAH-di-DAH) marks the End of Work. That means the end of communication with this contact. It sounds like this:

Please listen to the End of Work:

I have seen it called “End of Transmission, but I stay away from that definition and go with the one I had in my books fifty years ago. A transmission gears the engine to the drive train, and End of Transmission is an expensive bill to pay—Just joking. In radio communications, a series of transmissions make a conversation. It is used when signing off.

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

Unlike all of the above, this is not a procedural signal. It is a brand new 21st century addition to International Morse code. The “@” character has the sound of letters A and C joined without a letter space between them: AC; “@”—(di-DAH-DAH-di-DAH-dit)

In December of 2003, the International Amateur Radio Union (IARU) offered the @ sign as an addition to the International Morse code. Lisen to its sound:

It was in early May 2004 when 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.

“ES” short for “And?” How come?

The letters ES spell the word “and” in International Morse code. I did not know the “how come” until I came across a dot-dash representation of the Continental Morse code used over telegraph lines in the 1800’s. This Morse code uses dits and three lengths of DAHs, plus 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 ampersand 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: CW Operating Procedure Previous page: Lesson 5: Amateur Radio Q-Signals First page: Morse Code For the Radio Amateur