Clipart courtesy FCIT
I watched an interview with the actor Colin Firth, who played King George in the recent movie, The King’s Speech. Watching a clip from the movie brought back the claustophobia of my own stuttering, which lasted from perhaps age 12 to 15. I’d try word substitution, slowing down my speech, shortening my thoughts . . . nothing that I tried allowed me to speak a complete sentence. I felt imprisoned.
About that time, I became interested in electronics and radio. Using money that I earned at odd jobs, I bought a used Hallicrafters S-85 shortwave receiver. That was my gateway to the world: I’d listen for hours to Radio Moscow, BBC, Voice Of America, Radio France, Radio Deutschewelt, etc. Next, I became interested in amateur radio (“ham radio”). I spent hours in libraries, and taught myself the simple theory and Morse code (a mere 5 words per minute) that were needed to pass the FCC Amateur Novice Class license exam. A friendly ham neighbor, Ken Freeland, administered the exam . . . and I passed.
In those days (c 1962) Novices were limited to CW (Continuous Wave — Morse code) — not voice. I converted a surplus WW2 era ARC-5 T-19 transmitter for Novice use, built a power supply using a power transformer from a trashed television, and was soon “on the air”, using a telegraph key to “speak”, and decoding by ear the aural dots and dashes. My first contact was in Lockport, NY — about 60 miles west of my parents’ home — I was thrilled. It was the first of many hundreds, or maybe thousands, of Morse code conversations.
Something happened while I was pounding out those dots and dashes — I’m not sure why — slowly my stuttering problem subsided. I later upgraded my license and began to enjoy voice conversations over the air. I could adopt a persona, and not fear my audience, so I became (relatively) glib. What a miracle! And none of it by design.
Now that I think about it, I think that communicating via Morse code on a telegraph key helped strengthen the link between my brain and my muscles. Certainly, rhythm and timing are critical to good Morse code communication . . . and to good voice communication, as well. By using a telegraph key, I had unknowingly shielded myself from the embarassment and ridicule that’s part of the stutterer’s experience. All of this happened a long time ago, purely by chance, or by the grace of God.