The International Morse Code, sometimes referred to as 'CW' in Amateur Radio jargon because a continuous wave is turned on and off with the long and short elements of the morse code characters, is a type of character encoding that transmits telegraphic information using rhythm. Morse code uses a standardized sequence of short and long elements to represent the letters, numerals, punctuation and special characters of a given message. The short and long elements can be formed by sounds, marks, or pulses, in on off keying and are commonly known as "dots" and "dashes" or "dits" and "dahs". The speed of Morse code is measured in words per minute (WPM) or characters per minute, while fixed-length data forms of telecommunication transmission are usually measured in baud or bps.
Why is it called 'Morse Code'? This character encoding was devised by Samuel F. B. Morse, the creator of the electric telegraph. This 'Morse Code' came in two flavors, in the beginning. One was in use by the railroads of America, and is known as 'American Morse Code'. And, there was a unified, internationally-used version (adopted by radio operators), now known as the 'International Morse Code'. Now, when most people refer to 'Morse Code' or 'CW', they mean, 'International Morse Code.'
Currently, the most popular use of Morse code is by amateur radio operators, although it is no longer a requirement for amateur licensing in many countries. In the professional field, pilots and air traffic controllers are usually familiar with Morse code and require a basic understanding. Navigational aids in the field of aviation, such as VORs and NDBs, constantly transmit their identity in Morse code. Morse code is designed to be read by humans without a decoding device, making it useful for sending automated digital data in voice channels. For emergency signaling, Morse code can be sent by way of improvised sources that can be easily "keyed" on and off, making Morse code one of the most versatile methods of telecommunication in existence.
From Jim Wades, WB8SIW comes the following information regarding the origins of the term "continuous wave" (or, "CW"). Here is his abridged version:
The first radio transmitters generated RF by discharging a high voltage spark across an L-C resonant circuit, which was coupled to the antenna. Each spark discharge across the gap would "ring" the L-C tuned circuit, which would then oscillate at its resonant frequency with decreasing amplitude until the decay was such that oscillation ceased. This created a "damped" oscillation analogous to ringing a bell or plucking a guitar string.
The biggest problems with spark transmitters were occupied bandwidth, resulting in relatively poor efficiency, and the fact that they could not be modulated. This problem was solved through a number of approaches, which produced "undamped oscillations," also called "continuous waves." The earliest methods of producing an undamped oscillation were the arc transmitter and the radio frequency alternator. Both were usuable only at very low frequencies, and both produced RF directly at high power levels, which were difficult to modulate. However, such systems remained in service well into the mid 1940s, and one Alexanderson long-wave alternator remains intact and operational in Sweden as a museum piece.
With the development of stable, good quality vacuum tubes in the 'teens, it became possible to develop a "modern" RF oscillator. Better yet, a RF oscillator could operate at low levels and be buffered and amplified in stages to produce reasonably high power levels. Furthermore, such vacuum tube oscillators could be conveniently modulated. Therefore, immediately after World War One and through the 1920s, we begin to see a variety of applications arise centered around voice communications including radio broadcasting, police radio, and point-to-point SSB circuits for international telephone service.
The term "continuous wave" during this early period emerged as a tool to differentiate a modern radiotelegraph transmitter generating undamped oscillations from its antecedent, the older spark transmitter producing damped oscillations. Over time, as the spark technology receded into the past, the term "CW" became somewhat idiomatic; a term used by radio operators and engineers in reference to all radiotelegraph communications.
In reality, all modern communications systems use "CW," from your ham radio CW equipment to the latest cellular telephone or wireless router! I hope that explains things! - 73, WB8SIW
I'm Tomas David Hood. I am a Radio Amateur (Extra), living in Omaha, Nebraska. I enjoy having two-way communications by way of shortwave radio signals, in the Amateur Radio hobby. The Shortwave bands are in the High Frequency radio spectrum. I especially enjoy the art of using Morse code (more specifically, the International Morse Code) in radio communications.
This key, below, is my most-favorite straight key, for using CW Morse code.
My daughter, KD7QKT - Ashley, and son-in-law, Douglas, gave me a father's day gift. They obtained for me a beautiful N3ZN ZN-SL single-level, dual-paddle precision Morse code key instrument. N3ZN, the maker of the key, sent me this photo of my completed ZN-SL key. It is a very well-made instrument of Morse code.
The ZN-SL SINGLE LEVER PADDLE is built on a 3 1/2" W x 3" D x 1" thick steel base and weighs 3 pounds 4 ounces. It features 3 ball bearing per lever arm (total of 9 bearing) , magnetic return, solid silver contact points and very fine threaded magnet and contact screws (56 TPI). It has 4 non-skid feet. All screws are stainless steel. The fingerpieces are lexan and have an OTO of 3/8".
You can visit the N3ZN Morse code key website, here at this link. Tell him that I sent you.