Learn something new every day.
And have fun doing it.
We have clearance, Clarence…
Roger, Roger! What’s our vector, Victor?
A classic line from a classic movie. But have you ever wondered why people on radios say the word “Roger” when acknowledging a communication?
It seems odd when you think about it. Why not “OK” or ‘Sure, no problem,” or even “Thanks for calling, I hear what you’re saying and will act on it post haste…”
Well, it all goes back to the very beginning of radio technology. Actually, scratch that. It goes back to the “two cans connected by a string” pre-radio technology—the telegraph. While telegraph did go wireless thanks to Guglielmo Marconi after his lab experiments in 1895, the early versions were corded, like some early VCR remotes.
So, bottom line, Samuel F.B. Morse invented the telegraph, capable of transmitting basic electrical signals in 1835. The technology couldn’t handle anything so complex as voice, just pulses of varying duration, so three years later, Morse and associate Alfred Vail created a coding system to represent letters and numbers, what we now know as Morse code—a series of long and short pulses (dots and dashes).
The first iteration was English-centric, not able to handle characters with diacritic marks. So, a bit later, in 1851, with lots of input from European nations, International Morse Code was invented.
All this background has a point, so let’s get back to the “why Roger” discussion.
In the days of telegraphs, tired fingers from all that button pressing (and brief holding for dash representation) led to the development of lots of single-letter shortcuts. If the message recipient wanted to say “received,” they would simply reply with the Morse code representation of the letter “R.”
It was a big deal as you can see by the Morse code for “received” compared to the code for the letter “R.”
.-. . -.-. . .. …- . -..
Ipso, facto, e. pluribus unum, the letter “R” became widely used as the standard acknowledgment of “message received, I got it.”
Enter radios and associated static, especially in chaotic conditions, oh, like… war. A phonetic alphabet was developed, and an audibly unambiguous word was used for each letter of the alphabet. Back in the day, the word for the letter “R” was “Roger.”
Those of you paying attention might call foul on this and claim the proper word for “R” is “Romeo.” You’re right. It is. Now. But back before NATO revisions in 1957, we did, in fact, use “Roger.”
Just for kicks, if we ever have to revert to International Morse Code (it was used in shipping until the early 1990’s, and quite a bit in World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars), we’d code it like this:
.-. — –. . .-.
Of course, in the military, we often hear a slight variation of “Roger” with the acknowledgment “Roger that!” but that’s a story for another day.
So, in one of the greatest movies of all time, Airplane (OK, that’s my opinion—I don’t have a long list of Academy Awards to back up the claim), Victor’s use of the word “Roger” is really a nod to the late, great, Samuel Morse.