HAM Radio 101

The Five Types of Operators You Don’t Want to Be

Sometimes amateur radio demonstrates that our technical skills are a little sharper than our people skills, according to Riley Hollingsworth, former Special Counsel in the FCC Spectrum Enforcement Division. He noted that operators could be more courteous and less inclined to fly off the handle at some perceived on-the-air offense, or, in other words, “You need to lighten up.”

Don’t engage people like the ones listed below; it only encourages them. “Stupidity can’t be regulated, no matter how good the rules are,” says Hollingsworth. “Just turn the big knob. Every rig has one.”

Mr. Know-It-All

A know-it-all is someone who thinks they have all the answers. They have strong opinions on almost everything and believe they’re right all the time. Some people just want to prove how smart or knowledgeable they are, and we seem to cross paths with them at one time or another.

Know-it-alls may be intelligent, but it’s important to remember that they are also arrogant. They believe they possess all the knowledge that others don’t know, and they start forcing it into the conversation—constantly talking about facts, correcting others, and speaking just to show off their knowledge. Also, they are never wrong. Could you imagine? A know-it-all who says they’re wrong? Not in a million years.

Know-it-alls are great at giving unsolicited advice. During a QSO several years ago, I encountered one. We both exchanged details about our radios and antennas. At the time, I had a G5RV. After sharing that information, I got a five-minute lecture on why my antenna wasn’t any good, what was wrong with the design, and a suggestion to use something else—accompanied by more details. Interesting, since he gave me a 59 signal report.

Even worse are the pseudo know-it-alls. They have some limited knowledge and think that’s all there is to know. As the saying goes, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Facts? Who needs them. If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with BS.

Motor Mouth

When I hear hams rag chewing to excess, I find myself thinking, “Please, just stop talking and remove your thumb from the mic switch.” The same ones have a habit of appearing again and again. You often hear about what the XYL made for dinner, updates on everyone’s arthritic conditions, and complaints about why everything’s so expensive. I could overlook content like this if someone, somewhere would just unkey the mic occasionally, take a breath, and maybe let someone else talk for a while.

We have a local ham who takes great pleasure in timing out the repeater—he sees it as a challenge. I’m sure that anyone who has listened to conversations other than the exchange of signal reports and grid references has bumped into someone like this. The repeater is a soapbox, providing a venue for the Motor Mouth to promote his or her particular world view to the rest of us. In ham radio, as in real life, too many people are more interested in talking at you rather than talking with you. 

Want a lesson? Use the repeater for an hour or two at a time, preventing others from using it. Better yet, do it daily. Your quest is to make people so sick of hearing your voice every time they turn on their radio, they’ll move to another frequency. This way you’ll lighten the load on the repeater, leaving even more time for you to talk on it.

Then there’s the opposite extreme—hams that sometimes really don’t seem to have anything to talk about. Their conversations tend to be about the local weather and comparing it to weather patterns from the past 50 years, what they just ate and what they intend to eat later, and agreeing with any cliché you might throw into the exchange. Mobile conversations are full of “Well, I’m going to the store,” eventually followed by “Well, I just left the store and here’s what I bought.”  Every conversation can’t be exciting and thought-provoking, but maybe sometimes these guys can mix it up a bit.

Radio Cop

Ham radio is more or less a self-policing system. Due to lack of personnel and resources, the FCC generally doesn’t get involved anymore unless there are continued and serious violations. However, there are those who police the bands like a mall security guard on Black Friday, discouraging new ops as well as more experienced ones. Arrogant, self-righteous, and condescending hams are bad for the hobby. If ham radio was left in their hands, it would eventually become be extinct. Tact and courtesy are essential skills.

You can’t blame a person for getting upset if they find someone transmitting without call signs or in portions of the band they are not authorized to use. But they should take a more instructive and positive approach by explaining the problem and encouraging the operator by example. In addition to self-policing, we are also a self-teaching/mentoring group.

Want to do something helpful and constructive? Participate in the ARRL Volunteer Monitoring program. Volunteers trained and vetted by ARRL monitor the amateur bands for possible instances of misconduct or to recognize exemplary on-air operation. Cases of flagrant violations or noncompliance will be directed to the FCC for action, in accordance with FCC guidelines.

The Instigator

There’s always someone who wants to antagonize, stir the pot, or poke the bear. There was one infamous California repeater that had only one rule—there were no rules. That left the door open for any kind of talk, including verbal abuse, politics, religion, and sexual topics. A ham who made the mistake of calling on the repeater to ask if his signal was clear was told, “It’s fine, stupid. Now shut up and get the hell out of here.”

During one five-minute period, various hams heard themselves labeled on the notorious repeater as a lying scumbag, pothead, and drunken fool. But that’s a relatively mild example—racial and gender insults, the “F” word, and slang for body parts and functions were also part of the conversation. Heated debates on abortion, police brutality, and Supreme Court confirmation hearings were common topics.

Such comments and attitudes give ham radio a black eye. There are people listening on scanners, and when they hear such comments on the air they assume all hams are like this—and they’re not. It’s bad press for the ham radio community, and some tactful peer pressure needs to be applied.

The Lid

Many sources agree that the term “lid” originated during the early 1900s. It was used by telegraph operators to describe someone who was an inexperienced or poor operator. One early mention of the word related to radio appeared in the story “Gold Braid” published in Boy’s Life, February 1932. “A lid is a radio operator who is either fresh from school or hasn’t taken the trouble to learn to use his head and his fist at the same time.”

So what things potentially make you a lid?

  • Use really snazzy phonetic IDs—the more humorous, the better. “This is W3SOS, whisky three smelly old socks.”
  • Call DX stations operating split on the same frequency they’re calling CQ. Ignore the “up 10″ that others are screaming.
  • Use excessive microphone gain to see just how loud you can make your audio.
  • Think up interesting and bizarre things to do to tie up a repeater so you can entertain all the scanner listeners out there.
  • Always make sure you try to communicate with only a handheld and a rubber duck antenna. You will score maximum “lid points” if you are mobile and have the radio lying in the passenger seat, preferably covered with a coat or grocery bag.

Of course, this is just a small sampling of lid behaviors.

Embrace Change and Growth                      

As their experience grows, many amateurs become more expert, courteous, and knowledgeable, which is how it should be. But the real troublemakers are rarely the newcomers to amateur radio. When I first got on the air in the 1960s, the old hams grumbled at the new, less experienced hams—who were all lids according to them. Now that I’m old, I listen to some of the newbies and grumble.

Return of the Wouff-Hong

It seems that poor and inconsiderate operators are creeping into the bands daily. Like a game of Whack-A-Mole, the offenders always seem to escape. If we look back into the history of ham radio, an ultimate weapon exists to maintain order and peace on the bands. Just speaking its name brought fear and respect to the hearts of ham radio operators everywhere.

Do the Wouff-Hong and Rettysnitch still hold their mystical power over us today?

The Wouff-Hong is used to enforce law and order in amateur radio operating work. (Photo: ARRL)

The Rettysnitch is used to enforce decency. (Photo: ARRL)

L.B. Cebik, W4RNL, answered this question well, when he asked, “Why were the Wouff-Hong and the Rettysnitch so powerful to those early hams? Because those hams cared about amateur radio in their hearts. They desired that which they knew they could never have: A perfectly law-abiding, decent radio service that would inspire young and old alike to become hams or, lacking the inclination to electronics, to become admirers of hams.”

Cebik continued, “Every minute of on-the-air time was a chance to show how noble a pursuit amateur radio was and should always be. They feared the Wouff-Hong and the Rettysnitch as instruments of their own consciences, as they strove to meet the standards they set for themselves.”

And that is where you will find the Wouff-Hong and the Rettysnitch today—deep in your own conscience. If they seem to hold no power, then you know it’s time once more to elevate your standards a notch higher, and then to strive to achieve them perfectly. May you never deserve their sting.”

Leave a Reply