|Until 1999, International
Morse Code, tapped out on a telegraph key, remained the international
standard for long-range maritime communication. Whether transmitted
by spark, vacuum tube or a silicon chip, the code remained the same.
Not until the last year of the 20th century has Morse code been formally
abandoned for emergency distress signals.
We can still hear Morse code from amateur "ham" operators,
from directional beacons and from foreign countries - sharing the
radio spectrum with voice transmissions and streams of digital noise.
To tune in to these dots and dashes on a sophisticated, integrated
silicon chip receiver, is to span the history of radio communication.
From the first shipboard wireless in 1899 to the satellite-based
systems of 1999, radio remains our only system of long-distance marine
Above: The last message from station KFS in Half Moon Bay was sent
on July 12, 1999. KFS was the last American ship-to-shore station
to transmit in Morse, or "CW" as it was commonly called.
Replaced by satellite technology, the era of the marine radio-telegrapher
ended. Paul Zell, a professional radio operator for 37 years sent
out one of the last signals. Manager Tim Gorman signed off for the
station after 89 years with the words of Samuel Morse's first transmission
- "WHAT HATH GOD WROUGHT." Photo courtesy Rick McCusker.