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Ham Radio for Fun and… Profit?


Hams have always been a bit frustrated by the way The Media seems to portray us, on the rare times that they DO portray us.  Dramas centering on a radio transceiver have never been a popular means of conveying action or drama.  It was somewhat popular for war movie scenes, but those have grown very few and far between, and they don’t really touch on Amateur Radio.  Everyone recalls that scene from The Munsters in the 1960’s when Fred Munster played with his Ham Radio Gear in a hilarious manner.  Most Hams, of a certain age, remember Gilligan’s Island with the transmitter that “The Professor” cobbled together using coconut shells for a microphone.


Then there seemed to be a pause for a few decades.


Sure, there was the odd Movie, like “Frequency” (which, reportedly is going to be made into a television series), but Amateur Radio hasn’t even been poked fun at in the popular media for decades!


The past ten years have included a few jabs at Ham Radio in one way or another.  A mediocre action show, “The Finder” that only lasted one season had a scene where the main character was stuck in a little town in Florida during a hurricane when all power went out.  He announced to his colleagues that he will just use his Ham gear!  That led to a scene in his barn where the main character is shown generating power by using a small motor generator hooked up to a stationary bicycle.  The only part of his radio visible was a chrome microphone with a coiled wire leading off stage and he then transmitted not on a Ham band, but illegally on a law enforcement frequency, without any call sign identification.  He reached his law enforcement buddy and saved the day.  So, I guess “sort of” using Ham Radio, although completely illegally, in a clown-like manner saved the day!


Seth McFarlane, the man that turned cynical “snarkiness” into a highly profitable entertainment form, as seen in his “Family Guy” cartoon, took the time to take a swipe at Ham Radio.  A regular character, that had been portrayed as a randy commercial airplane pilot had his toupee blow off and reveal that he was bald.  He decided he would “act his age” and when he wasn’t shooing kids off his property, or using a personal radar gun to yell at people driving past his house at too high a speed, he was hunkered over an open chassis radio with glowing tubes asking the other sad guy on the other end of his QSO if that guy was an old, white, bald guy too (he was).  A short lived HBO comedy,” Family Tree”, had a secondary character that was a Ham, but as the series progressed, he was shown to be a bit of a wacky “Prepper”, those guys that are expecting something like a Zombie Apocalypse any day now…


Perhaps that’s why Ham Radio Operators were thrilled when they heard about “Last Man Standing”.  It was widely written up in every possible Ham related venue.  It was reported that the “Producer” was a Ham and he intended to add Ham Radio as a recurring hobby of the main character.  Yippee!


The problem was that “the Producer” was in fact one of many producers for the show, and really was a “Production Producer” – he was in charge of coordinating the building of sets.  He could talk to the creative people, but he had no influence on what the characters would be doing.  He did build a little ham shack in the corner of the main character’s work office set (how many of you guys have a “shack” at work?), but I don’t think it was ever physically used.


I guess that they couldn’t trick all the Ham Radio publications and podcasts to continue drumming up enthusiasm, so they wedged an unnecessary scene where the main character’s daughter seems to find a basement room that she was previously unaware of, that contained an Icom transceiver that was left on and set to a frequency that received a call from another Ham.  The daughter started having a QSO, but never ID-ed herself and her back story had no mention that she was licensed.  Some people picked it apart, but a lot of Hams were thrilled and asked for more.  It took another year to see another scene that was also wedged into that week’s plot and could have just as easily not been included, where the main character takes his little grandson down to his shack to ask the Hams on frequency if they too are hiding from Thanksgiving partyers.


These don’t seem to be the most rewarding portrayals of the hobby, but any mention is better than none and a mention that didn’t portray us as a bunch of clowns was a definite plus.


I just get the feeling that all this is just a bit too manipulative, to give the show a plug, albeit in a small community with less coveted demographics.  When you figure that it all amounts to two scene dressings and two small, isolated scenes in three years I fail to understand why the show gets so much press in Ham circles.  If you really liked Home Improvement (I didn’t) you might like “Last Man Standing” it looks like a sitcom that could have been produced in the early 1990’s and then” freeze dried” to be shown today.  It’s a bit old and a bit tired and clichéd. Most of the actors are great, but the material is… not.  I am always amused when the plugs describe it as “a Comedy Hit”.  In my book, Comedy Hits don’t languish with very iffy ratings on Friday nights and had to undergo a severe recasting of many of the main characters and their relationships with each other at the beginning of their second season.  It’s more accurate to say it is “limping along” rather than a hit.


Last year the Production Producer came up with a QSO party to promote the show.  It would seem he was unaware that Part 97 of the FCC rules is pretty clear that you can’t promote for financial gain on the air.  He tweaked it a little and re-labeled it as “A Celebration of Hollywood”, but the QSL cards and almost all of the promotion was directed at “Last Man Standing”.  They have done the same thing this year!


So, are you allowed to promote financial ventures on the Ham Bands or not?  Apparently, some people can.  Do I think they saved the show with this “trick”?  Probably not, but I find all this promotion to be a waste of Amateur Radio News’s bandwidth.


What would have happened if “Honey BooBoo” had been gifted a shiny new transceiver?  Would we have to read about her and the rest of her flawed relatives in our monthly QST? (If you don’t have the faintest idea who the heck Honey BooBoo might be, I congratulate you!)


If it’s suddenly fine to profit from your Amateur Radio hobby, I hear “Earth Shoes” are going to be making a comeback.  Maybe I should promote them with a QSO Party…


The (Cranky) Editor


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