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Created 16 Jun 97, Updated Last modified on: Tuesday, 18 May 2004.

The abolition of the international requirement for morse proficiciency testing of radio amateurs

Note: this document is now retained purely for historical interest. The removal of the morse examination requirement has been achieved. I support the abolition of the morse test as a licensing requirement, because:
  1. the role of the test has been reduced to a filtering mechanism which reduces the number of people able to satisfy the licence requirements (so is like a sign saying "do not throw stones at this sign")
  2. passing the test is no indicator of whether people ever become good or frequent users of morse (just as a primary school history test is no indicator of anything other than memory)
  3. the test is no longer a test of a vital skill required to operate a station (which it once was, i.e. in the 1920s)
  4. the testing of morse speed is not a proper test of proficiency (a true test would be interactive)
  5. different countries have vastly different standards for the test, supporting the concept that the test exists for its own sake, rather than to prove a skill at a given standard
  6. morse is increasingly irrelevant in the information age, where we would be better off having heaps of amateurs who are able to integrate technical radio skills with technical networking and computer skills.

WIA Survey

In the June 1997 issue of its journal Amateur Radio the Wireless Institute of Australia included a survey asking members whether they believed that the international requirement for morse code testing should be retained.

The text of the survey is repeated below, essentially unaltered except for explanatory notes added in square brackets [].

[start quote]
                      WIA Federal
                 WE NEED YOUR OPINION

Regulation S25.5 of the ITU Radio Regulations, an international
treaty, makes it an obligation for countries to test morse code
ability before granting an amtaeur licence allowing operation below 30

The WIA has the results of the previous questionnaire which confirms
that a majority of WIA members wish to see Morse Code retained as an
examination requirement in Australia.  Any change to the international
regulations would not necessarily require Australia to drop the Morse
Code Exam requirement.

As explained in Amateur Radio, April, 1997, Article S25 in the ITU
International Radio Regulations dealing with the Amateur and Amateur
Satellite Service is to be reviewed at the Word Radio Conference in
1999, the first time since 1979.  It is unlikely that there will be
any review of the amateur service regulations again for many years.
In the replies received in response to our discussion paper there were
a number which while supporting morse code as a national examination
requirement, did not see the necessity of it continuing to be an
international treaty obligation.

As the FASC Report is on the agenda for the IARU R3 Conference to be
held in Beijing in September this year,

We [the WIA] would like an answer to the following further question:

Do you consider that S25.5 [a section of the ITU radio regulations
which currently reads as follows:]

  "Any person seeking a licence to operate the apparatus of an
   amateur station shall prove that he is able to send correctly by
   hand and to receive correctly by ear, texts in Morse code signals.
   The administrations concerned may, however, waive this requirement
   in the case of stations making use exclusively of frequencies above
   30 MHz."

should be maintained as an international treaty obligation on
administrations, noting that removal does not preclude local [specific
countries'] regulators from continuing to test for morse code

[  ] Yes     [  ] No   [ ] No Opinion      Callsign  _____________
please tick one

Please return this survey to PO Box 2175 Caulfield Junction, 3161 by
June 30th 1997.
[end quote]


I reposted that survey in the aus.radio.amateur.misc newsgroup and urged all Australian radio amateurs to respond to the survey. The last such survey indicated that the majority of *Respondent members* supported the retention of a morse licence test for Australian licences.

This raises many questions, including

The majority of arguments for the retention of morse examinations I have read in the last few years make a solid case for the USE of morse code, based on the benefits of the morse mode on the basis of efficiency, simplicity of transmitter construction, the pleasures of using morse being similar to other simple pleasures such as boat building and bushwalking, etc.

I fully agree with these feelings about the use of the mode. But many of those authors then make a superb leap of logic in claiming that because of all those wonderful attributes, all amateur radio licencees (subject to the band restrictions of various licence classes) must be examined in morse code.

What is missing from the "logic" of their arguments, consistently, is a link between the advantages of using morse and being examined in morse.

They don't address these issues, for example:

  1. whether examining people in morse actually promotes morse as a mode for new amateurs to use on the air;
    We all know of many licenced amateurs who have passed their full call morse test yet proudly state that after passing the exam they put the morse key away, or sold it, and never intend to use it again in their life.
  2. whether morse exams improve the "quality" of licencees, whatever the definition of quality is;
    There are plenty of examples of people without morse qualifications but who are leaders in their professional fields. There are also plenty of examples of amateurs who are leaders in amateur VHF/UHF communications. To risk losing such people to other hobbies in 1997 because of a requirement to pass a practical test in the communications technology of 1920 is ludicrous.
  3. whether conducting morse exams support the continued existence of the hobby, knowing as we do that all government-controlled activities require political clout;
    There must be many people whose ambitions for using amateur radio have been thwarted by the morse test requirement. The movement needs all the numbers it can get. Again, to lose such people to other hobbies because of a slavish adherence to the rules of a bygone era is shortsighted.
  4. whether morse exams are anything other than a filter mechanism to reduce the number of successful applicants for licences, ie. an artificial device, a "hoop" to jump through.
    One writer claimed that the government needed to limit the number of HF licencees because otherwise the bands would be too crowded. Other claims are based on the essential excellence of morse and that people passing a morse exam have proved they are the right kind of people to allow on the air.

    My response to that argument: take a listen to HF. All those people chatting about the faults of the government, their arthritis, their latest car or, these days, their computer (!) all passed a morse exam! Did the filter work?

    And the people using bad language, which used to be frowned upon back in those oh-so-good old days, all passed morse exams too. So this claim is also spurious.

Why it is necessary to examine people's morse skills, but not necessary to examine skills in any other mode, such as those using voice or keyboard, nor to examine technical skills such as construction of crystal filters for SSB generation, colour TV adjustments, alignment of notch filters for repeaters, tuning of bandpass filters for wideband intermediate filters. Why pick on morse code as the skill that needs examination when lots of other skills relevant to today's amateur radio operator are simply not mentioned?

I think the answer is that there is no good reason why skills in morse alone are examined.

Responses to some frequent objections and "facts"


My opinions on this subject are clear. I do not support the compulsory examination of amateur radio licence applicants in morse code. I do support the use of morse code on the air. I like it, in fact. But I respect your right not to use it if you don't want to, and will support your right to gain a radio licence without passing a test in morse.

Comments and suggestions may be forwarded via my feedback page.


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