Wednesday, April 08, 2009


The AMECO LP I have here first came out on 78. It wasn't the first Morse code training LP but it is the most popular and the only one (from that era) that remains in print today. I really wanted to put a sample on here but they clearly still sell the course and it's almost certainly the same recording they made in the 1950s. Plus it has no introduction, it's all dots and dashes with no introductory monologue.We all know that Samuel Morse invented Morse Code for use with his telegraph in about 1841. Like any other idea it wasn't exactly adopted overnight. I know William Wheatstone invented a tepegraph in 1836, but he was struggling with a system based on a rotating needle that pointed to letters. Morse beat him handily with his paper tape of dots and dashes.

But in telegraph dots and dashes aren't the short and long pulses we have in radio. They were just marks left on paper tape by a stylus attached to an electromagnet. The armature made noises and adept operators could translate by ear. So how did they get so adept? Leaning code was hard. The adoption of Morse code was slowed by the time it took to learn. It was invented decades before recordings were commonly available. Training consisted of charts and hands-on experience. This didn't change for about 40 years.

Learning Morse stayed the same until World War I. It was then that the U.S. military started really using the telegraph to send messages. It wasn't just for the convenience, speed of communication was a strategically sound motive. This meant that they needed a lot more wireless telegraph operators. It was wartime so this need was very urgent. They needed them on land, sea and eventually air.
Victor Records worked out a deal with the navy to do a a six record set along with a training booklet in 1917. The set is very systematic. The first record was for learning the alphabet. The records increase in speed up to 15wpm until you're "competent" by the end of the 12th side. All the lessons are structured similarly; the announcer yells the word or letter and then the telegraph key is heard to send the dots and dashes.

The Victor disc was in print in WWII but was never re-pressed onto vinyl. That made the AMECO code course the predominant method for the last 5 decades. It's been continually in print and modernized for different formats. It's now even available as a software program. But it was never the only course, Columbia records did their own as did Folkways, and a dozen other smaller companies.