HAM Radio 101

Ham Radio and Morse Code in Popular Culture (Part 3)

For Part 3 in our series on ham radio and Morse code in movies, television, and music, we travel back in the time machine to the 1960s for a show about a spookily hilarious family. Then we set the dial to 2005 for a triumphant Morse code victory on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno before springing forward to a May 2010 episode of The Office featuring pen-clicking and eye-blinking CW transmissions.

The Addams Family

Based on characters created by cartoonist Charles Addams, The Addams Family had a brief but memorable run on ABC. The sitcom’s 64 episodes, featuring Gomez, Morticia, Uncle Fester, Lurch, Wednesday, Pugsley, Thing, and Cousin Itt, aired from September 18, 1964 to April 8, 1966, spawning multiple feature-length movies, a Broadway musical, a popular Netflix spinoff, and, in this author’s opinion, one of the best pinball machines ever to grace an arcade. It was in season one, episode 16 of the show that it also made its contribution to ham radio in pop culture. The episode features an undercover operative—not unlike an HOA official—who investigates the family after picking up strange signals coming from the Addams’ abode. He eventually pinpoints the source—Pugsley’s new ham radio. We can imagine that the operative might have benefited from a DX Engineering NOISELOOP Portable Receive Flag Antenna Kit, which can be used to track down local signals while walking or stationary with a portable HF receiver.

The Tonight Show with Jay Leno

This ranks as our favorite collision of Morse code and popular culture. On May 13, 2005, the Tonight Show with Jay Leno posed the question: Which could be sent faster, a text message sent from a cell phone or a Morse code transmission? While non-hams must have clearly viewed this as a certain win for the youthful speed-texting champion and his partner—the equivalent of, say, a top-fuel dragster blasting past a Yugo on the quarter mile—the intrepid Morse code duo, dressed as old-time telegraph operators, would shock the world (but not us hams) by sending the contest’s message faster than their stunned opponents.

The victorious operators were Ken Miller, K6CTW, and Charles “Chip” Margelli, K7JA, who sadly became a silent key in May 2023 after a lifetime of dedication to amateur radio. Tim Duffy, K3LR, DX Engineering CEO, remembered Chip fondly. “He was an incredible human being, such a fun-loving guy, and a great ambassador for ham radio who made an immeasurable impact. He will be sorely missed.” As for his CW triumph in front of a national audience, Duffy said, “It was a great day for all of us. It showed the world that we’re not doing a Civil War reenactment. Morse code is cool—and relevant.”

You can watch this shining moment in ham radio history in this YouTube clip, which has been viewed 1.5 million times—about 50 times alone by this article’s author.

The Office

In this cold opening from season 6, episode 24 of the mockumentary-style sitcom that ran from 2005 to 2013, Pam (Jenna Fischer) and Jim (John Krasinski) send each other Morse code messages via finger tapping, pen clicking, blinking, and other means. This sends Dwight (Rainn Wilson) into fits of paranoia. “Stop it,” he says. “You’re talking about me in Morse code. You know what? The joke’s on you ‘cause I know Morse code. Ha!” Turns out Pam and Jim admit to taking a CW class, though hams have noted that their messages sent in the scene are gibberish. What do you think?

Want to drive your officemates crazy by learning Morse code and sending real messages across the table? Better yet, how about rising up to the level of a genuine CW operator? You’ll find everything you need at DXEngineering.com, including keys, iambic paddles, Vibroplex Original Bug Keys (below), memory keyers, DX Engineering Paddle Pads, and even pocket-size Morse code tutors.

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