“The Victorian Internet” on NPR’s “Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me”

My book was used to set three questions about “old social media” (ie, the telegraph) for Rick Sanchez of CNN on the “Not My Job” slot on “Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me”. What was the single non-military application that Napoleon allowed the French telegraph network to be used for? Which object did a woman try to send by telegraph in the 1870s? And what kind of messages did the Atlantic cable of 1858 carry for the first few weeks after being connected? You can find out here. I was actually asked to suggest some questions myself by Peter Sagal, the host, but my suggestions weren’t funny enough (except for the sauerkraut). Oops — that’s one of the answers.

1 comment
  1. Hello Tom, I just recently finished reading the “Victorian Internet”, let me say congratulations to you, a very fine job you did with that book, or should I say that it is a “fine business (FB in amateur radio Morse code slang) book”. I found it very very interesting, specially being an amateur radio operator since the age of 12 years old (now 42) most of my activity on the radio H.F. bands is CW or Continuous Wave (that’s the most common way for sending Morse code over the air). Morse code nowadays certainly is not part of gold trading transactions or stocks exchange, love letters, race results, military operations or “remote marriage” ceremonies, not too long ago Morse code was retired as a mean to exchange information between commercial boats and ground stations, as far as I know, only the World Amateur Radio community is the only group maintaining alive Morse code very successfully. Even some of our amateur radio satellites such as OSCAR-20, OSCAR-29 and few more can be used to relay Morse Code (or CW) between stations. CW is a very popular and respected mode in our community, there are quite a few CW contests around the world every year where thousands of amateur radio operators jump into a huge rumble of desperate calls trying to make the most points with each contact. This past December 10 and 11 the ARRL (Amateur Radio Relay League) of the U.S had its ARRL 10 meter contest where both voice and Morse code was used, the 10 meter band (28 MHz) becomes a “mad house”! with the first 120 kHz of it being full or CW operators, you have to be able to make a contact with many other stations transmitting at the same time in the same frequency, of course technology help us by adding very narrow filters for our HF radios so we can separate signals from each other. There are many groups within the Ham radio community that are solely dedicated to CW, for example GACW (Argentinean Group of CW) or FISTS in the U.S.

    We have very fine operators, I have heard Russian amateur radio operators at 40 to 50 words per minute, on the 40 meters band and between 7.1 to 7.120 MHz you can hear the novices between 5 to 13 WPM, many like “ragchewing” or a simple conversation rather than just making the contact and exchanging signal reports, name and location.

    Like in the 19th century where telegraph operators were very respected, the same applies for todays CW operators in the Amateur Radio bands.
    The GACW slogan is “From the legions of Samuel Morse”. CW today shakes very hard the ionosphere on many H.F. bands just like it used to do on all those wires back in the 1800’s.

    Nice job Tom, keep up the good work.

    73 de N2IX / XE2BSS Alejandro SK SK
    Mexicali, Baja California, Mexico.

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