Would you believe me if I told you there was a faster way to communicate than texting?
Probably not! But it does exists. And not only does it exist, but it has been around for many years — well before anyone ever heard of a text message.
Dennis Martin, Evansville, Ind., who recently visited Old Mulkey State Historic Site, explained, noting that an experiment had been shown on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno to prove that the old fashion Ham Radio communications were faster than today’s texting.
On the Leno show, he added, the children chosen for the test were shocked as they typed out their messages on their phones, falling quickly behind those using Morse Code.
Morse Code is a communication code where the alphabet is represented by light or sound, using combinations of long and short dashes.
Martin learned the language when he was 16 and it was, as he says, “the in thing.” Back then, everyone was learning to use it, just as texting is popular these days.
He had an interest in learning to operate amateur radios and in order to participate, it was required that operators have a license.
The first class, known as novice, was good for one year. To stay in amateur radio, one had to learn each day, becoming more proficient over time.
The highest class, the Extra Class, is coding 20 words a minute, Martin explained. He added that he is certified at 25 words a minute, but says he can do around 35 in his head.
Martin notes that he always wanted to be an engineer, “Science and math were cool in my day. Everything we see, touch, smell — all have electricity tied to it.” So of course, he would follow the fad of the time and learn Morse Code and become involved in amateur or “Ham Radio”.
Ham Radio is a hobby which brings people together through, electronics and communication. Users talk across the lines, across the country and even in space — all without the internet or cell phones. He continued, noting that Morse Code is a lot like texting, as it has it’s own shorthand as well, using codes such as the popular texting phrase BTW (or by the way for those not in the text world).
While those who use it do enjoy the hobby, it is also could be lifesaving. Martin noted, “Ham Radio will get through when nothing else will. I am practicing emergency skills. If there were a catastrophe, I would set up my antenna and try to make contact.”
And making contact is just what he was at Old Mulkey State Historic Site to do that day.
He stopped a moment to speak to me as his fingers flew, tapping out messages across the radio. He sat at a picnic table on the far end of the park, surrounded by equipment with an antenna reaching far into the sky, not far from where he sat.
Martin is a member of a group of Ham Radio enthusiasts who travel the United States and the world to activate parks and chase other “activators.” They communicate through a website known as Parks on the Air (POTS), a portable amateur radio operation site that promotes emergency awareness and communications from national and state/province parks. The site gives awards to activators and Martin was trying to qualify for national and international status while activating Old Mulkey.
“Activating” a location is just what it sounds like — getting a new location (or a park in this instance) noticed and on air. Martin explained, “I travel all over the country going to the mountains and parks. I do a lot of hiking. At each park, I, or other activators, set up and start sending out messages looking for other Ham Radio users.”
He continued, “Last week, I was at Barren River and I heard a lot about Monroe County and Old Mulkey, and knew I had to check it out as well.”
He noted that he first sends out a general call to anyone listening. The website also has a bulletin board where he can post his location if someone wants to “chase” him. If he gets a reply, he logs the information and moves on to the next location.
With a goal that day of ten contacts logged nationally and 44 worldwide, Martin switched frequencies as the hits (or answers) slowed down. It usually doesn’t take long, he added, “I rack ’em in. I do alright,” as he continued to mark on the paper next to him, mumbling, “Georgia…Kansas.” his excitement growing “…Texas…,” as answers from all those locations streamed in to him sitting under a tree in Tompkinsville.
When I approached him, he had 30 contacts toward his goal and after only speaking to him for a few minutes he was closing the gap faster and faster, laughing as I told him I would let him get back to his task, “…New Jersey, one more…got it!”
He seemed to be having the time of his life, as I congratulated him and he replied, “I may stick around for a couple extra. This is a lot of fun! It gets you out. An old goat like me, keeps you young, especially all the hiking.”
Martin has activated over 100 parks in the United States and noted that in the United States, there are probably the most licensed amateur/Ham Radio broadcasters with around 750,000 users. He thinks that the group is drawing a lot of new blood due to the internet and says when kids are introduced to Morse code, in his opinion, they love it. “I’m just trying to keep the art alive.”
If you would be interested in learning more about Ham Radio and the art of Morse code, check out the POTA website located at https://parksontheair.com/ and maybe you, too, can learn a faster than texting way of communication and impress your friends far and wide.