March 3, 2024

By Arthur H. Gunther III


     We all have rhythm – in the way we talk, walk, move. There is rhythm in the workplace – keyboards, factory machines, assembly lines, construction crews. There is rhythm in religious services, certainly in music. And then there was rhythm in Morse Code, International Code.

     Now almost gone from the ether, especially ship to ship, ship to shore, replaced by satellite communication, Samuel F.B. Morse’s 1837 code and  subsequent variations are largely silent except for a few enthusiasts, limited use and some continuing military instruction.

     But in its day, including one of the first SOS (…—… “Save Our Ship” or “Save Our Souls”) signals on the sinking Titanic in 1912 to Johnny Cash’s earphones intercepting Soviet code noting Stalin’s death in 1953 (he was an Air Force  operator), rhythmic transmission, which are the dots, dashes and pauses of keyed code, filled the airwaves.

     When radio was invented and developed, you could not tune to shortwave frequencies without hearing an overlay of code. It could be mesmerizing because each operator had his/her signature.

     Young kids moseying by the train stations of old would hear the operator at his key, always distinctive. Western Union offices would echo with keying and receiving. 

     So, rhythm, and as in life for all of us, though we may not be Morse Code operators, there are the dots, dashes, pauses of our being. Always evident. Listen to Cash melodies – the self-taught guitarist never forget his code rhythm.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.