|CW OPS WHIP WHIPPERSNAPPER TEXT MESSENGERS ON NATIONAL TV
It may have been Friday the Thirteenth, but it was a lucky day for Morse
code--and particularly for veteran CW contest ops Chip Margelli, K7JA, and
Ken Miller, K6CTW. During a May 13 appearance on NBC's The Tonight Show with
Jay Leno, the pair was able to pass a message using good old fashioned Morse
code more rapidly than a pair of teenaged text messengers equipped with
modern cell phones. The victory, which replicated a similar challenge that
took place recently in Australia, has provided immense encouragement to
Amateur Radio's community of CW operators, who been ballyhooed the
achievement all over the Internet. The text messaging team consisted of
world text-messaging champ Ben Cook of Utah and his friend Jason. Miller
said afterward in a reflector posting that the CW team won fairly handily.
"Ben was just getting ready to start entering the last two words when I was
done," he said on the Elecraft reflector in response to various questions
he's received following the TV appearance. "I already knew that 28-30 WPM
would easily keep us in front of even the current world [text messaging]
record holder, and also it is the fastest speed that I can make nice
readable copy on paper with a 'stick' [pencil]." Miller said it was decided
he'd be on the receiving end because he wasn't distracted by the noise in
Margelli recalls that he was sending at 29 WPM. "I believe the goods were
suitably delivered," he told ARRL. "CW and old guys rule!"
What the viewing public didn't know was that Margelli and Miller had, in
Miller's words, "smoked 'em every time" during three pre-program rehearsals.
Even so, during the real thing, when Miller raised his hand to signal he'd
copied the CW message successfully, Jason's jaw dropped. None of the players
had any idea of the text they'd be sending, Miller noted. The message? "I
just saved a bunch of money on my car insurance."
As with many Tonight Show bits, this one involved a member of the audience,
a young woman named Jennifer who predicted--incorrectly as it turned
out--that text messaging definitely would top 170-year-old Morse code. She
walked away with a gift of restaurant tickets anyway.
Margelli says the CW team used Yaesu FT-817 transceivers--one of his own and
another owned by Dan Dankert, N6PEQ. Backup units--not needed--were provided
by HRO; Margelli's wife Janet, KL7MF, manages an HRO store. They ended up
using 432.200 MHz as an operating frequency in order to avoid RFI from the
plethora of TV equipment in the studio and to avoid interfering with NBC's
gear. They ran the little transceivers at their lowest power level and with
the antennas disconnected--although they were mounted on the back of each
unit--no problem given the close proximity involved. Margelli sent with a
To add a little atmosphere to the affair, NBC producers attired Margelli and
Miller to look like 19th-century-era Western Union or railroad Morse
telegraphers. The costumes came complete with green visors, white shirts,
sleeve garters, vests and bow ties. The teenaged SMSers wore T-shirts and
Cook told Leno that he'd managed to send a 160-letter message to his friend
using his cell phone's short message system (SMS)--the formal term for text
messaging--in 57 seconds.
A member of the Morse Telegraph Club and a QRP enthusiast, Miller said he'd
been using CW for 38 years. Margelli told Leno he'd been using Morse "for 43
years in ham radio," a phrase Leno echoed. That was the only plug Amateur
Radio got during the appearance on the show's "Dinner for 4" segment. Miller
says that during rehearsal, the pair had come up with a few lines to promote
ham radio and telegraphy, but they were cut during the final dress rehearsal
in the interest of making the segment fit its allotted time slot.
During the Australian competition in April, a Morse team consisting of
93-year-old former post office telegrapher Gordon Hill--the sender--and
82-year-old Jack Gibson--the receiver--topped 13-year-old SMSer Brittany
Devlin. In that event, Hill spelled out the message in full, while Devlin
used text-messaging shorthand. In that competition, held at the Powerhouse
Museum in Sydney, Hill took 90 seconds to send the message, 18 seconds
faster than Devlin's message took to reach her friend's cell phone.
Miller encouraged all who enjoyed the CW-vs-text messaging segment on NBC to
contact The Tonight Show to let the producers know about it--with an eye
toward having the network schedule a more elaborate segment "next time."
"Thanks for the kind comments from all," Miller concluded, advising "let's
keep on having fun!--It is a hobby after all."
Commented Margelli to ARRL: "I completely agree with my fantastic teammate,
Ken Miller. It was a lot of fun, just like ham radio, and the show also
delivered an important, if subtle, message about the benefits of the 'basic'
communication infrastructure that Amateur Radio provides."
From The ARRL Letter, May 20th 2005---