In 1927 the city of Pittsburgh
built an office building designed by architect Henry Hornbostel. It
has 40 floors and was built of limestone and brick. It is called the
Grant building and the most interesting feature is at the top of the
building. There is a beacon, which at the time was the largest in
the world. This beacon spells out the name of the city – Pittsburgh –
in flashing light Morse code. The beacon is so bright it can be seen
for 100 miles.
Pittsburgh resident and HAM
operator, Tom Stapleton N7JKJ, noticed a problem with the signal
broadcast while casually watching the beacon. Tom realized that the
beacon had broadcast the letter “K”. There is no “K” in “Pittsburgh”
so he de-coded the entire message and realized that it was actually
spelling “Pitetsbkrrh.” Tom contacted the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette to
inform them of the Morse code error and the story was run July 12,
2009. Owners of the tower have no idea how long it has been
misspelled but without the expertise of someone who knows Morse code
and flashing light Morse, the problem may never have been identified.
One can only wonder why no ham radio operators had discovered the
Flashing light Morse code has been
used as a communication mode during hostilities, as a way to maintain
radio silence. Seasoned operators can copy up to 14 Words Per Minute
while radiomen can decode at 25-35 auditory words per minute.
Although the speed of transmission in order to be deciphered must be
slower than with sound, flashing light even from a source as small as
a flashlight or a mirror can be read for great distances and requires
no power grid. Who knows how many rescues have take place from
flashing car lights or flashlights in blizzard situations. The
author heard a story about a hunter lost from his party on a cold
winter night who was rescued by flashing an SOS with his flashlight.
In a “Dear Abby” column, Dots
and Dashes in Tennessee states, “I’m a female in my mid-30s. One
night a few years ago, my cousin and I were driving through Oklahoma
on a lonely dark stretch of road. When I ran out of gas, I turned on
my emergency flashers, but nobody stopped. After approximately an
hour I flashed ‘SOS’ to several big trucks going by, and within 10
minutes, a state trooper pulled up. He said several had called and
reported seeing “SOS.’ (Nobody called about the emergency blinkers!)”
Her kind of preparation may also save your life.
Most radio operators have never
learned to decipher flashing light, but the characters remain the
same as for international Morse code. With a little effort, a person
adept at auditory code can often pick up enough flashing light to be
able to send and receive in as little as a few days. The secret to
copying Flashing Light Morse code is to locate a consistently spaced
signal and practice turning the flashes into code dahs and dits or
sound-alikes in your mind. Some amazing software is available for
this purpose. It is a skill well worth your time to master.