The Virginian-Pilot
                             THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT 
              Copyright (c) 1995, Landmark Communications, Inc.

DATE: Friday, March 31, 1995                 TAG: 9503310526
SECTION: LOCAL                    PAGE: B1   EDITION: FINAL 
                                             LENGTH: Medium:   90 lines


After today, Russians will no longer have the chance to ``smoke'' the U.S. military with fast talk.

Champions in Morse code transmission, radiomen in Russia's military can communicate with one another via dots and dashes at up to 70 words per minute - more than four times the speed required of most U.S. military personnel.

But with a ceremony at this evening in southern Chesapeake, the Coast Guard will stop using radiotelegraphy frequencies - ending an era of Morse code messages in the U.S. military.

Since the beginning of this century, the Coast Guard has used the radio telegraph for passing and receiving official radio traffic - ship orders, weather information and emergency calls from military, commercial and private ship traffic.

Like all the U.S. armed forces, the Coast Guard has moved to more efficient and secure means of communication, such as satellites and high-frequency radio transmissions. The Navy abandoned Morse code, or continuous wave, in the 1970s.

When Senior Chief Petty Officer Mike Dyer graduated from his Coast Guard class in the early 1970s, the final exam required him to send and receive 18 words per minute via Morse code. A good U.S. radioman can reach 20 to 30 words per minute.

That is slow compared with the speed of the former U.S. adversaries in the Soviet Union, said Dyer, telecommunications officer in charge at Chesapeake.

``The Russians were fast,'' Dyer said. ``They loved to smoke the Americans.''

Five years ago, about 10,000 Morse code messages went in and out of the Chesapeake communications center every month, said Cmdr. Freddy Montoya, commanding officer. That number has dwindled to fewer than 500.

``We've always been leaders in automation,'' Montoya said. ``This event is important because it marks the official parting of ways of doing business.''

The Atlantic Communication Master Station in Chesapeake - the largest Coast Guard communications center on the East Coast - serves as a conduit for messages throughout the Atlantic region.

The end of Morse code transmissions means the end of ``dit dit dit, da da da, dit dit dit'' - the letters ``S-O-S,'' which have become synonymous for emergency in all forms of communication.

Few Coast Guard customers will miss it. The entire Coast Guard received only two S.O.S. messages in Morse code last year, Montoya said.

Many nations entered into the Safety of Life at Sea Treaty, agreeing to standardize communications computers and satellites and help poorer nations update equipment.

In the meantime, Montoya said, commercial radio stations in the United States will continue to cooperate in sending out important messages via Morse code over the airwaves.

The radio stations receiving S.O.S. signals from countries lacking modern equipment would relay the distress message to the nearest Coast Guard base.

Morse code is an international language. The countries that traditionally used it communicate in English.

The Coast Guard stopped training operators in Morse code last summer, and the rate of ``radioman'' was discontinued in October. Today, communicators are called ``telecommunications technicians.''

``I grew up on CW (continuous wave),'' said Dyer. ``You could train a person to do anything a radioman could do - answer phones, run a teletype - except Morse code. That's something that set us apart from other rates.''

Dyer used Morse code almost exclusively during the nearly 10 years he was a Coast Guard communicator in Alaska. It may look basic - striking one piece of metal against another on a plastic or wooden base. But users quickly find they can identify the style of each sender.

``It's almost like having an accent. Each person's style is so unique,'' he said.

While U.S. radiomen did not approached the speed of the Russians, but they weren't the slowest in the world.

``The Japanese got confused, were hard'' to understand, Dyer said. ``They'd spell out the word `wait' and you could tell they were looking things up.'' ILLUSTRATION: Drawing from Bettmann

Samuel F.B. Morse, an American artist and inventor who was born in

1791 and died in 1872, developed the Morse code, using dots and

dashes in place of letters and numerals, to send messages on the

device in foreground. Morse sent the first telegram on May 24,


Photo by RICHARD L. DUNSTON, Staff\ The hand key, left, was used to

send messages in Morse code in the past. A more modern, faster

transmitter of Morse code is at right.

by CNB