HAM Radio 101

Ham Radio and Morse Code in Popular Culture—Year-End Edition

While we’ve already covered many references to amateur radio and Morse code that have found their way into movies, television, and books, OnAllBands keeps finding new examples to share with our readers. We’ll keep them coming every month until we run out, or until you all start sending us … __ __ __ … (your way of saying you’ve had enough). Until then, here are a few more to round out the year:

Paul McCartney: Sir Paul and the Beatles are once again on top of the charts thanks to the single “Now and Then,” a song built around vocals recorded onto a cassette tape by John Lennon in the late 1970s and recently extracted by means of modern studio wizardry. Such technical achievements and trickery can be found throughout the Beatles George Martin-produced catalog, from back-masked messages to the randomly re-spliced calliope music found on “For the Benefit of Mr. Kite.” Among McCartney’s post-Beatles output are two songs that involve Morse code. “Morse Moose and the Grey Goose,” the nonsensically-named final track on Wings’ 1978 London Town album, originated during a jam session in which an electric piano, in McCartney’s words, “had a funny sound on it and I was just hitting it and it sounded like a crazy Morse code.” Listen to the decidedly odd sea-shanty-like screamer here. Several internet sleuths have also pointed out that “Through Our Love,” from the 1983 McCartney solo album, Pipes of Peace, begins with a quiet string arrangement that spells out PEACE in Morse code.

The Big Bang Theory: In a previous post we highlighted the formative years of uber-nerd and genius theoretical particle physicist Sheldon Cooper as portrayed in Young Sheldon. While not a ham, Sheldon (played by Jim Parsons) certainly knows his Morse code (or at least pretends to know it). In season 11 of The Big Bang Theory, he hilariously attempts to blink out Morse messages to his wife, Amy Farrah Fowler (Mayim Bialik) and Sheldon’s perennial punching bag, engineer Howard Wolowitz (Simon Helberg). Watch the clip here.

When Hell Was in Session: On a much more serious note, it was Navy Rear Admiral Jeremiah Andrew Denton, Jr., who blinked out the word TORTURE during a propagandized television interview while a prisoner of war in North Vietnam. His message confirmed suspicions about the treatment of American POWs in North Vietnam. Denton, who went on to become a U.S. Senator after being held captive for eight years, was later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and Purple Heart for his heroism. His experiences were detailed in his book When Hell Was in Session, which was made into a 1979 TV movie starring Hal Holbrook.

Rush: We end this post, appropriately, with the letters YYZ. For fans of the Canadian powerhouse trio Rush (this poster included, you hosers!), you’ll recognize these letters as the name of an instrumental which appears on the band’s 1981 album, Moving Pictures. YYZ is the IATA airport identification code of Toronto Pearson International Airport. Band members have said they were attracted to the rhythm of the YYZ identifier code being broadcast at the airport. For those who enjoy “slappin’ da straight key,” you’ll be interested to know the piece’s introduction repeats YYZ in Morse code using several musical arrangements. And if you’re looking to make Morse code music of your own, you’ll find everything you’ll need at DX Engineering, including straight keys, paddles, Paddle Pads, CW reference books, and more at DXEngineering.com.

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