Amateur radio in popular culture

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Amateur radio has been used many times as a plot device in films, television, and novels. Here is an ever-lengthening list of amateur radio references.



Radio Hams (1939 film), is a classic documentary under the series "MGM Pete Smith Speciality Short Subject". It takes a look at how ham radios can become priceless aids during emergencies. The two stories shown, one dealing with sickness, the other with a missing plane, are bookended by a humorous look at a typical three-generation family's fascination with their ham radio. Clayton Moore, later famous as the Lone Ranger, appears uncredited as a ship radio operator.


Men of Boys Town (1941 film), is the sequel to Boys Town (1938 film). In this movie Whitey Marsh (Mickey Rooney) has frequent conversations with his friend Pee Wee (Bobs Watson) over the amateur radio waves. Whitey transmits from the home of his adoptive parents, while Pee Wee is at the amateur radio club in Boys Town.


If All the Guys in the World (original title Si tous les gars du monde...) (1956 film) A French film largely devoted to the art of Amateur Radio. Jean Louis, a young Parisian ham, receives an SOS message sent from a ship in the high seas. With the help of fellow radio amateurs around the world he tries to prevent a major catastrophe from happening. This is the first movie appearance of the celebrated French actor Jean Louis Trintignant.


The Glass Bottom Boat (1966) - starring Doris Day, who has a "20-foot antenna," shows her corkboard full of DX QSL cards above her Collins and Marine Band gear. Day uses the marine band equipment to talk to "Pop" (played by real-life ham Arthur Godfrey, K4LIB).


The Red Tent (1971 film) is based on actual facts. The dirigible Italia crashed over the Arctic ices after flying over the North Pole in 1928. The authorities believed no one could have possibly survived the accident and soon gave up searching for survivors, until a young Russian radio amateur, Nikolai Schmidt (Nikolai Ivanov), heard on his modest radio set the faint SOS signals sent from the wreck site by Roberto Biagi (Mario Adorf). Thanks to the information provided by Schmidt, the rescue of the survivors was organized. The Norwegian Roald Amundsen, first man on the South Pole, perished in the course of the rescue operation.


The Anderson Tapes (1971 film) Sean Connery stars as a thief who decided to rob an entire apartment building, while unknown to him, the government is watching and listening to every move via telephoto lenses and shotgun mikes. His character disables all telephone lines, but a young boy, in a wheelchair, is able to call on his ham radio and summon aid. The government destroys all tapes because they had no legal business there in the first place.


Qualcuno in Ascolto (1988 film) (released in the U.S. in 1989 as High Frequency) - ia young ham and a satellite-relay operator become witnesses to a murder and must find a way to warn the murderer's next target.


Pump Up the Volume (1990) - a teenager's father provides him with amateur radio equipment to keep in touch with his friends on his native east coast when his job transfers him to Arizona. However, the teenager uses the equipment to start a pirate radio station propounding his cynical views on American life.


Look Who's Talking Now (1993) When Chrisy Allie, John Travolta, and the kids find each other at the ranger's cabin, the ranger puts on the Ham radio so the kids can hear Santa.


Phenomenon (1996 film) starring John Travolta playing George Malley, has the hero's friend Nate Pope (Forest Whitaker) relaxing from his concerns by talking to friends on his ham radio.


Contact (1997 film) starring Jodie Foster playing Dr. Arroway, opens with the heroine operating a ham radio transceiver as a child, using the callsign W9GFO. She later becomes a researcher working in SETI.


The Sweet Hereafter (1997 film) starring Ian Holm playing Mitchel Stephens, features a scene where a man is sitting at a table, holding a pair of communication headphones up to one ear. On the wall is a plastic QSL card holder full of cards.


Independance Day (1996) - Several Military Officers use Code to transmit info around the world and Ham Radio was mentioned by a newscaster in the movie


Frequency (2000 film) John Sullivan (played by Jim Caviezel), and his father Frank Sullivan (Dennis Quaid) use ham radio to communicate; due to unusual aurora borealis activity John is able to communicate via ham radio with his father 30 years in the past.


Bob the Builder: A Christmas to remember (2001 film) Bob has a ham radio at his office and communicates with his brother, Tom, who lives in the Arctic.

Testament (Movie 1983) Nuclear war in the United States is portrayed in a realistic and believable manner. The story is told... Ham radio is used by an old man and then a boy after the old man dies to try to reach outside the small town.


Wrong Turn (2003) - Characters use an Icom HF Radio to contact a police officer from a fire watch tower while they are being chased by the mutants. The radio was set to 7.040 MHz.


Making Waves (2004) - Two Ham radio enthusiasts meet on the air and fall in love.


The Bank Heist (2008) - Jason Stratham movie, a pair of gals overhear bank robbers over ham radios.



ALF (TV, 1986-1990) An Alien Life Form crash lands at the Los Angeles home of Willie Tanner, a ham.

Fleksnes (1970s) A Norwegian TV series about a ham spending much time at his station.

The French Atlantic Affair (TV, 1979) A 3-part miniseries from the Ernest Lehman novel (1977). A hijacked cruise ship story where a smuggled-aboard ham radio (referred to as the "Atlas" most of the time; it is an older Atlas Radio 180 or 250) is the only independent contact with the outside world.


* In episode 9F11 of The Simpsons, Selma laments that she has a lot of love to give but her only outlet is her ham radio. A foreign voice is then heard over her radio saying "I have a ham radio", perhaps implying that Selma's outlet isn't the most appropriate avenue for engaging and romantic discourse. In episode Mountain of Madness Mr. Burns decides to use the telegraph to send an S.O.S. The telegraph signal only manages to reach a telegraph machine stored inside a museum exhibit of Samuel Morse. Episode Missionary Impossible Homer the missionary used ham radio to talk to his family (frequency on radio was in 15-meter phone band). Homer's Paternity Coot Where Seymour is a ham, using WA3QIZ as a callsign (WA3QIZ was the callsign of executive producer David Mirkin. That call expired in 1998. On February 4, 2006 it was granted to the Savant DX Group in Ruckersville, VA.)


*Tony Hancock's 1960 BBC TV episode The Radio Ham, in which he plays an incompetent ham, remains popular in the UK.


*There was an episode of the Munsters wherein Grandpa Munster, used an Army surplus BC-654 field radio as a ham station. In another episode, Herman is a ham (W2XRL4) contacting kids on "walkietalkies" in the neighborhood, and they are playing Martians, thus Herman thinks he has talked to Mars invaders (Hmm must have been the 11 meter band)


*An episode of Father Knows Best featured the son, Bud, building a short wave radio receiver as an assignment for shop class. The radio picks up a distress call from a family quite similar to the Anderson family on a pleasure boat, which the Andersons can hear clearly but the Coast Guard can't.


*In an episode of The Loretta Young Show, Loretta Young is snowed in at the ski chalet of a friend who becomes deathly ill. She takes to a ham station at the chalet to summon assistance.


*In a two episode of The Waltons (Season 6 Episodes 12 & 13), Jim-Bob uses ham radio to help 2 young guests to speak to their mother in England.


*In one episode of The Jetsons Elroy uses an interstellar version of ham radio.


*In a season 3 episode of M*A*S*H called "Springtime", Henry uses Ham radio so Father Mulcahy can marry Klinger to his girl back in the USA. The other "ham" that gets in the middle of the QSO with her recipies is Mary Kay Place!


*On the Tonight Show with Jay Leno that aired May 13th, 2005 they held a showdown between Morse code ops Chip, K7JA of Yaesu USA and Ken, K6CTW and "the fastest text messagers in the country" to see who could transmit the message "I just saved a bunch of money on my car insurance" faster. The Morse code operators won by completing the message first. If you google this, you can find a video of it somewhere.


*On the The Monsters Are due on Maple Street (1960) episode of The Twilight Zone, one of the characters is accused of playing with a "strange radio set" apparently to talk to alien invaders, which his wife then says is a ham radio set.


*Highway to Heaven episode Close Encounters of the Heavenly Kind Jonathon and Mark are assigned to help UFO watcher Harvey Milsap gain custody of his recently orphaned grandson, Adam. Harvey's across-the-street neighbor Mildred Kelsey, who is furious when Harvey fools with his radio equipment while her soap is on, slowly but surely falls in love with him. The Grandfather tries to use ham radio to talk to U.F.O.'s.


*In episode 1ACV03 of Futurama, Fry makes the following comment about Bender's antenna: "But it's a useless antenna, it's not like he's a ham radio or something."


*Starsky and Hutch episode circa 1974 or 1975 shows a male teenager operating his amateur radio equipment, getting in trouble from his mother for using it, eventually saving one of the programs leads in a car accident by hearing his radio signal.


*In the anime Paranoia Agent it is shown that Detective Maniwa is a Amateur Radio Operator.


*In an episode of McHale's Navy one of McHale's crew finds out about the birth of his baby back home via a phone patch from a Stateside Ham radio op.


Comic Books and Comic Strips

Incredible Hulk - The series included a group of teenaged ham radio operators formed by Rick Jones, who used the ham bands to relay the location of the Hulk and were known as the Teen Brigade. The Teen Brigade was first seen in #6 (1963) and appeared in several others.


Archie Comics Archie's Ham Radio Adventure (1997) 


Adventures of Zack and Max (2002) is a comic book series published by Icom America designed to provide children with some information about Amateur Radio: applications, history and place in the world. The comic book features Zack, a youngster learning about Ham Radio and Max, his Pokemon - like pet. The comics are drawn in anime style and are available in full color or as line art to be used as a coloring book.


Dilbert published by United Features Syndicate has mentioned ham radio in at least two of its cartoons. In one of them, Dilbert's date hints that Dilbert's sex appeal would be increased if he got his ham radio license. In the other, one of Dilbert's team members says that she got her ham radio license in a workshop held by Dogbert.


Allusions to amateur radio

The following works do not portray amateur radio directly but use Morse code or voice communications that sound like Single-sideband modulation (SSB), communications modes that are very popular on amateur radio.


Star Trek: The Next Generation (TV, 1989) Season 2, Episode 15, Pen Pals. Data uses the Enterprise's communications facilities to talk to a member of a pre-space flight species that is using a device similar to a ham radio. The little alien girl Sarjenka is the now grown up and sexy Nikki Cox!


Star Wars (1977) during the battle of the death star, the pilots communicate with each other over the radio using what sounds like . Director George Lucas and his sound engineer Walter Murch used a similar technique in THX-1138 (1971).


Battlestar Galactica (2004) The communications between the Viper and Raptor fighters sounds like Sideband with doppler effect.


Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004) Communications technology in the film parallels that of the 1930's, including the prevalance of AM and Morse Code. Sky Captain's aircraft contains a Morse Code transmitter, with the key located in a flip-down panel in the cockpit.


Enemy of the State (1998) Every time an NSA satellite flys overhead tracking Will Smith's character, the audio is CQ in Morse Code.


H2 TV commercial The music in the background for the Hummer H2 commercials goes "m m mmm mmm mmm" the number two in Morse Code.