An Ol' Story
|Are There Any Real Radiomen in the House?
A U.S. NAVY CODE STORY
by Paul H. Bock, Jr. - K4MSG ETCM, USNR-RET, January 19, 2009
Around 1967, the U.S. Navy announced that it would no longer require candidates seeking promotion to Radioman (RM) 2nd Class (E-5) to pass a code test. Not surprisingly the response was mixed, with older Radiomen decrying this "dumbing down" of the promotion requirements - the same argument that thousands of older amateur radio operators would use after the turn of the new millennium when the FCC dropped all Morse code requirements for a ham license - while younger RMs were jubilant, seeing the code requirement as archaic amid the growing use of narrow-band, multitone radioteletype and the just-emerging technology of shipboard satellite communications. (NOTE: I never quite understood the "dumbing down" argument. While I have used code since the late 1950s and highly recommend it, I know that intellectual prowess has nothing whatsoever to do with learning it; code-copying ability is just an acquired skill, like typing. In fact, if you think too much it will impede your speed development progress.)
There were also those pessimists who expressed the usual gloom-and-doom scenarios about the time when code might be needed and no one would know how to use it. Thankfully I know of no disasters caused by the demise of the code as an operational tool, but I did have one personal experience that is interesting enough to share.
Chief Decker grinned broadly and we went out gleefully to begin our new assignment. With the LOP receiver set to 500 kHz and the telegraph key connected to a high-power (probably 3 kw) transmitter at Bouknadel, the Chief and I took turns sending the following repeated message (with 10-second pauses to listen for a reply) for a three-minute interval twice every hour. I don't recall the merchant ship's call sign so I have substituted KXYZ; CNL was the NAVCOMMSTA call sign.
We sent the message at about 15 words per minute while the RMs on watch observed us with a mixture of curiosity and perhaps a little envy; it was a history lesson in how Naval communications "used to be." We continued throughout the morning and into the afternoon, taking turns going for lunch or coffee, with one of us monitoring the 500 kHz distress frequency continually between transmissions although we never received a response from the ship. By early afternoon we began discussing setting up a two-man watch schedule to continue our vigil into the evening, but a call came from FACON notifying us that we could stop the transmissions because the problem "had been resolved."
Best Regards, Paul Bock - K4MSG de Hamilton, Virginia