Classic Computer Magazine Archive START VOL. 3 NO. 7 / FEBRUARY 1989



by Sal Gutierrez

CQ CQ--are you interested in ham radio, but just don't think you can pass the Mose Code test to get your license? Dab-Ditter was especially written to help the would-be ham pass the rigorous Morse code requirement. With Dab-Ditter and your ST you'll be on the air in no time! Runs on either color or monochrome systems.

_ _ _ _ _ . _ . _ .... - {Learn Morse code on your ST). File DAHDIT.ARC on your START disk!

Around the turn of the century, in the heyday of wire-line telegraphy, operators tapped out Morse-code messages on huge brass keys. If they banged the keys too hard, an extra dot or dash could garble the whole message being sent. As the story goes, operators who consistency transmitted garbled messages were derisively labeled as "hams," referring to their clumsy fingers.

The label stuck, but it quickly lost its original meaning as more and more amateurs embraced the new radio technology. Using mostly homemade gear, hams were the first to demonstrate the great possibilities of short radio waves, previously considered useless. Comparisons to today's computer hackers are inevitable.

If ham radio sounds interesting, there are a few things you should know before you get started. Amateur radio is strichy regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and you must obtain a license from them before you can transmit anything.

To get a license, you have to pass an examination that tests your knowledge of radios, electronics, FCC regulations and Morse code. Amateur radio consists of five classes-Novice, Technician, General, Advanced and Extra-Class--and each class requires a separate exam. But the higher the class, the more frequencies are available to the ham.

Dah-Ditter and the Morse Code Requirement

Most would-be hams agree that the amateur radio license would be a lot easier to obtain without the stringent Morse code requirement. To advance through the classes, you must learn Morse at speeds ranging from five words per minute for Novice and Technician, rising to 20 words per minute for ExtraClass. I developed Dah-Ditter specifically to teach the potential hamradio operator Morse code. And even if you don't want to be a ham, you'll find the program's user interface friendly and straightforward.

There are many versions of Morse code, but Dah-Ditter teaches American Morse only. Check your local library for the different types of Morse code. To run the program, copy the files DAHDIT.ARC and ARCX.TTP onto a blank, formatted disk and un-ARC DAHDIT.ARC, following the Disk Instructions elsewhere in this issue. Double click on DAHDIT.PRG. Dah-Ditter runs in either medium or high resolution.

Click by Click: The Drop-Down Menus

When Dah-Ditter finishes booting, a DEGAS image of a ham station with three message windows will appear on the screen with a menu bar above. The drop-down menus consist of Desk, File, Discourse, Traffic and Hamming. Click on Desk to get program and author info or to access any accessories from your Desktop.

Before you get heavily into the program, let's do a quick run-through to see what Dah-Ditter does. Under the File menu, click on Load Discourse. A file selector box will appear. Select the file INTRO.DIS. Now, under the Traffic menu, click on Receive Discourse. Following the "Get Ready!" prompt you'll hear a series of tones through your monitor speaker; if you don't hear them, you may have to adjust the volume. This is the Morse code "translation" of the text file you loaded. After the tones, the message will be printed on the screen in English. Press Return for another discourse or press Escape to explore other parts of Dah-Ditter.

The File Menu

A discourse is a message sent in Morse code. When you click on either Load Discourse or Save Discourse, a file selector box will appear. I've included some sample discourse files for you to load. Save all discourses with the extender .DIS.

The Discourse Menu

Click on Erase All to clear a discourse from the recording buffer. The buffer holds up to five messages. An alert box appears when the buffer is full.

The Build New option lets you type in any message you wish to hear in Morse code. Each message can be up to 60 characters long. After typing in your message press Return. The message box will go blank and you can type in a new message if you wish. Press Escape to resume control with the mouse and capture the messages in the recording buffer.

Click on Edit Existing to change or correct any messages already in the recording buffer. An alert box will appear if the buffer is empty. Press Return when you're finished editing, and press Escape to capture the message in the buffer.

The Traffic Menu

Select Receive Discourse to hear your message in Morse code. After the "Get Ready!" prompt, you'll hear the discourse transmitted at the word/character speed determined in the Set Parameters option. At the end of the reception the actual message will be displayed. When the buffer is empty, you'll see the words No More Traffic.

Random Groupings is like a test: 10 random five-character groups are transmitted at the speed selected in a range determined in the Set Parameters option. After reception, the characters actually received are displayed for comparison to what you copied.

Key Practice makes your mouse work something like the old paddle keys. Use the left mouse button for dots and the right mouse button for dashes. The character will appear on-screen as soon as you're finished tapping it out. Press Escape to end Key Practice.

Roll Your Own

Click on Set Parameters to customize your drill by setting the speed of transmission, measured in words per minute. Under the heading Word Speed you can set the transmission speed for each word to between five words per minute and 25 words per minute. Under Character Speed you can set the transmission speed for each dot, dash and pause (each dash is three times the length of a dot or pause). Note that you must be in Customize mode to make use of any Character Speed setting.

dahdit.jpg This DEGAS image
of a ham radio sta-
tion is the first thing
you see when you
boot up Dah-Ditter.
From here you can
access all the tools
you'll need to learn
Morse code and
pass that part of the
FCC requirement.

On the Practice Input menu you can choose the type of character the computer will use in Random Groupings drills. You have a choice of Letters Only, Numbers Only, Symbols Only or a mixture of all three.

Under Code Output you can choose one of the two methods of learning Morse. Click on Pure Code to make all character and word speed equal. Pure Code is the way you'll be tested by the FCC. Click on Customize to set your own word and character speed.

Beneath the headings From and To you can set the range of letters/numbers/symbols that the computer will use in Random Groupings drills.

Click on Abort to return all the parameters to their original settings or click on Done when you're finished setting your desired parameters.

Hamming It Up

Dah-Ditter wouldn't be complete without a library of basic ham terminology. More than just a specialized language, ham jargon was developed to make radio communication quicker and more efficient. The Hamming drop-down menu gives you access to several short lessons in Morse code and ham jargon. Each option is presented as a dialog box, accompanied by a short explanation of its use.

Click on Morse Code for a ready-reference chart that displays the American Morse code.

Q Signals are quick three-letter "words" that are used in place of often-used ham phrases. For example, if you want your contact to increase power you can simply tap out "QRO." Click on Q Signals to review the most commonly used of these signals.

Click on RST System to access signals that hams use to relay information about the quality of a contact's transmission. RST stands for Readability, Strength and Tone. Each category is rated by a number system: Readability is rated from 1 (worst) to 5 (best); Strength and Tone are rated from 1 (worst) to 9 (best).

Tapping out a message in Morse code can often be tedious, particularly if you're new to the system. Click on Abbreviations for a list of the most commonly used words and phrases to streamline communications. For instance, you can tap out "CQ" instead of "Calling any station," very helpful knowledge in an emergency.


With Dah-Ditter, it should be a breeze for anybody to pass the Morse code requirement for a ham radio license. All it takes is practice and the code will become second nature.

Ham radio is full of opportunities for computer enthusiasts who want to expand their horizons. Ham radio is also the realm of innovation and ingenuity for developing new concepts. So boot up, key up and get that license. And, by the way, 73's-that's ham code for "best regards."

Sal Gutierrez is a ham radio and computer enthusiast in Valdosta, Georgia. This is his first program published in START.