HAM Radio 101

Ham Radio and Morse Code in Popular Culture…Halloween Edition

For the Halloween edition of OnAllBands’ look at Morse code and amateur radio in books, movies, and television, we turn our attention to some eerie pop culture references from sources that range from the obscure to the beloved. In past posts we’ve mentioned the inclusion of SSB transmissions in Halloween-ish offerings such as the War of the Worlds and The Munsters. Here are a few more troubling tales with a touch of ham radio:

Stranger Things: October 31 seems an appropriate time to mention one of the more recent pop culture appearances of amateur radio. Netflix’s award-winning megahit Stranger Things takes place in the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana, where its residents are besieged by unfriendly creatures from an alternate dimension. Four seasons of the series have been aired to huge ratings and critical acclaim. Work on the fifth and final installment of the series has been delayed by a force even more formidable than the show’s collection of baddies—the Writer’s Guild strike.

Now to the ham stuff. For a series that spent a great amount of effort getting the show’s 1980s mojo correct—right down to the Stephen King-like book-cover font of the show’s title (ITC Benguiat)—amateurs have been quick to point out that far less time seems to have been spent making sure the technical aspects of operating a radio were properly addressed. Did this diminish the show’s charms or H.P. Lovecraft-inspired grotesqueries? Not a bit.

Beyond that, many hams reveled in the idea that the show featured youngsters operating ham radios—a great way to get the next generation of operators excited about getting on the air, serving their communities, and creating homebrew antennas like the hilltop-deployed creation that Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo) uses to reach his girlfriend, Suzie Bingham, (Gabriella Pizzolo) via ham radio from her QTH in Salt Lake City. During their ragchew on 20 meters, the couple belt out the theme from the movie The NeverEnding Story—not likely something you’ll hear on the bands but a nice plotting device in the spirit of young love.

Observant hams certainly noticed that Dustin’s antenna, featured in the Season 3 finale, included a 2M Yagi and Slinky dipole, similar to one recently featured in this OnAllBands article about unusual antennas. As OnAllBands blogger Sean Kutzko, KX9X, mentioned in his wonderful October 2019 QST article on Stranger Things and ham radio, the antenna is hardly ideal for worldwide communication, as Dustin claims. Suzie’s Swan-350 rig, Dustin’s Gonset radio, and a Heathkit base station radio at the kids’ school also make cameos in the series.

Jericho: An alert reader gave a shout out to the brief run of CBS’s post-apocalyptic drama Jericho, which aired from September 2006 to March 2008. It was canceled after the first season due to low ratings, but fans of the show (apparently not enough of them) convinced the network to give it a second chance. This time it was nixed after its seven-episode run as a midseason replacement. After its first-season demise, CBS teased viewers with trailers heralding the show’s return. The trailer included the Morse code message, “Spread the Word.” In addition, every episode’s opening title sequence included a different audio message in Morse code relating to that particular episode. Watch and listen to an example here.

John Matherson Book Series: Novelist William R. Forstchen imagines what would happen if the U.S. was shut down by a devastating Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) event. The consequences are detailed in his John Matherson series of thrillers: One Second After, One Year After, The Final Day, and the recently released Five Years After. While amateur radio is not an overriding part of the story, we learn that some of the people who can effectively communicate after the attack are—you guessed it—a group of ham radio operators. These well-written stories (they were recommended to me by my XYL) provide plenty of food for thought about preparing for disasters, including taking care of your emergency communication needs—so get licensed and find what you need at DXEngineering.com, including handheld, mobile, and base transceivers; antennas, coaxial cable, CW paddles and keys, and more.

If you’re looking for an excellent read that includes many references to the early days of telegraphy, pick up a copy of Chenneville: A Novel of Murder, Loss, and Vengeance by Paulette Jiles, author of News of the World. Seeking vengeance for the murder of his sister, the protagonist of this post-Civil War tale enlists the help of an unseen companion—a female telegrapher “whose voice is made of dashes, dots and sparks,” wrote Jiles in her blog. “It is a bodiless voice, sane and comforting, and he is afraid to meet her.”

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