Thinking of the old telegraph offices, communication was accomplished with a “straight key” and the operator, using “Morse Code” simply used the key to generate “dits” and “dahs” on a sounder at the other end of the wire.
It is a bit different on the wireless. Amateur radio uses CW (continuous wave.) The audio envelope of the signal is constant (or continuous in amplitude) therefore the transmissions consist of a steady tone. Each time the key is closed the tone is transmitted over the airwaves to the receiving stations. CW using Morse code was the only mode of operating back in the earliest days of amateur radio. So even today hams will use the terms “CW” and “code” interchangeably.
Over the years, CW has lost much popularity, although many still practice this mode of communications and it is widely held that when all else fails, CW will still get through. Since it uses very little bandwidth and due to its nature, CW can be “pulled out of the mud” when nothing else can be deciphered.
Is CW obsolete? I suppose it is. Army, Navy, and Air Force MARS no longer have CW nets for message traffic. This is handled by more efficient digital communication techniques. Ships at sea and marine shore stations no longer maintain a CW watch on 500khz (The international distress frequency). Ship message traffic is pretty much all handled through satellites with digital communications.
I enjoy operating CW because it keeps the human element in ham radio. CW requires some amount of skill that a person must develop. Much the same as one who enjoys carpentry and building furniture develops the skills to do so even though it would be easier and quicker to buy the furniture assembled and finished. I guess there is a certain amount of pride in one knowing that you have developed the skill to do something fairly well, but there is the ever present challenge of knowing that you could be even better.
I don’t think CW is the only way to go, I just prefer it over other facets of the hobby. I was deeply hurt when the regulators (arrl/fcc) gave us the No Code license. Some say they hung on to the Morse Code requirement too long. I think there were other solutions to keeping amateur radio alive. But I also know that it is impossible to keep everyone happy.
There are many clubs and groups to choose from. CWops (CW Operators’ Club) is International in scope, membership and management. The club’s goal is to bring together amateur radio operators who enjoy communicating by Morse Code (CW). CWops encourages the use of CW in amateur communications, and it supports CW activity through planned events. CWops promotes goodwill among amateurs throughout the world, and it fosters the education of young people and others in matters related to amateur radio.