Ham Radio as depicted on Television

Compiled by David Bartholomew, AD7DB

Revised November 7, 2002


Amateur radio operators seem to always get portrayed on TV as, well, kind of weird. Sometimes it's just a friendly old man with a lot of radio equipment; other times it's a complete nerd. But take a look at these episode lists and see if you agree that there might be something more to it on some of these shows.

The Outer Limits

"Feasability Study." A bunch of people, and the gated neighborhood they live in, are teleported to a distant planet. Aliens are studying them to see if humans will make a good slave species. Some of the residents take a neighbor's portable generator by force, intending to break into the home of a ham operator (who was fortunately not at home at the time of the mass kidnapping) and try out some of his equipment.
Now, when was the last time a ham was welcome in a gated community? The CC&R's restrict everything, especially antennas. Do you really THINK he'd publicize to his neighbors that he was a ham? And finally, do you think these regular dweebs would know how to operate his equipment? For what it's worth, they didn't pick up any other stations. Apparently the aliens weren't big on DX.

Twilight Zone

"Three Leather Jackets." Three guys with motorcycles (who are part of an alien race's advance force about to invade Earth) rent a house in a suburb and set up all sorts of antennas. The neighbor (played by Denver Pyle) speculates that they're hams and makes rude comments about TVI.

"The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street." Suburbanites panic when a strange power outage hits their street, causing them to fight each other out of fear. And the aliens watch from their flying saucer parked on a nearby hill, controlling it all. One of the more rational of the people, played by Claude Akins, turns out to be a ham operator so naturally he's suspected of being in cahoots with the invaders. My thinking was, that kid Tommy did the most to panic everybody. (Thanks to AG4DG for bringing this classic episode to my attention.)

This is interesting that hams are associated with alien invaders again. I wonder if there's a connection?

The Munsters

"If a Martian Answers, Hang Up." Herman becomes a ham, with a callsign of W6XRL4. He thinks he has contacted Mars, when it was really some kids with walkie-talkies and their father. At the end of the episode, a real ET tries to call Herman back but he doesn't believe it's a Martian.
I think there is definitely a pattern here about hams and aliens.

At the time this episode was written, suffixes beginning with "X" were reserved for special experimental stations. The first TV station in the western U.S. was W6XYZ, now known as KTLA Channel 5 in Los Angeles.

The Waltons

There was an episode where some folks were in the "radio hobby." They didn't call it ham or amateur radio.
No alien connection here. The Waltons took place in that era between Orson Welles' Martian broadcast and the Roswell UFO crash. The world had something bigger to occupy itself with during that time. It was called World War II.

Ham operators were QRT for the duration. No hams on the air, no aliens either!

McHale's Navy

"A Da-Da for Christy," episode 72. One of McHale's men wants to talk to his baby at home in the states who is just learning to talk. The guy's wife is at the home of a ham operator. The baby eventually says "da da!" a number of times, leading to the usual exasperation on the part of Captain Binghamton and perplexment on the part of the Japanese listening in.
They used a fake callsign for the ham, too. Needless to say, this scenario would not have been happening for real. And, thanks to World War II, no aliens present in this episode.

Gilligan's Island

"Quick Before It Sinks", episode 42, first broadcast October 28, 1965. This is the episode where they thought the island was slowly sinking into the ocean. In an effort to make the other castaways think they'll soon be rescued (don't ask why, no plot device had to make sense on this show), the Skipper has Gilligan hide under a table while the Professor contacts him using a phony radio. He refers to Gilligan as a "French Radio Operator" and the Skipper infers that the guy is in a ham shack.
Dozens of people visited Gilligan's Island over the years, but nothing close to an alien, except maybe the boxy-shaped robot.


Alf's room had a number of pieces of ham equipment and paraphernalia, but since I never watched this program much I couldn't expound. (Yeah right - I was watching the above quality programs instead.)
Aha! The Alien Life Form itself! Mystery solved.

The French Atlantic Affair

This was a 1979 TV miniseries from Aaron Spelling (executive producer). It must have been a pretty forgettable production (like a lot of Spelling's productions, including his daughter Tori) because I can hardly find anything on the Internet concerning it. Telly Savalas was in it, and that's just about all there is. Based on the novel by Ernest Lehman.
The ham radio aspect of it came to my attention when I found an article in QST, August 1977, "The French Atlantic Affair", by Lenore Jensen W6NAZ. The plot called for a ham operator aboard a cruise ship making contact with other hams. In the development of the screenplay they were being careful to use proper amateur radio procedures. One sticking point was the use of authentic callsigns. They decided to use some real ones with the consent of those licensees.

Facts of Life

In an episode from 1980, Molly Ringwald, daughter of Bob Ringwald K6YBV, played one of the girls at a school, providing emergency communications during a storm. She even used her dad's callsign!
Read more about it on this page about Bob Ringwald.


"Ham Radio." This episode had nothing to do with amateur radio per se, but was a wordplay based on the bunch of buffoons (Frasier Crane, Roz, Bulldog, and other people from the radio station) trying to perform a live old-time dramatic radio program in honor of the station's anniversary. I thought I'd mention it because of the title.
Of course everything went wrong! Hilarious episode.

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Dave Bartholomew
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