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Ham Radio Weirdos on NCIS TV Show

ham radio weirdos
Ham radio operator depicted on NCIS Season 15 Episode 6

Ham radio weirdos? Haven’t heard that one since high school. A recent NCIS episode hits closer to home than we may care to admit. 

Okay, let’s have some fun. This week’s episode of NCIS featured two ham radio operators. One was murdered, the second was strange but endearing. Also, it turned out that one of the show’s characters, Timothy McGee, had been a ham in his youth. Amateur radio was portrayed as a hobby for the (at least mildly) eccentric and geeky.

For example, when agents turn up to question the ham, there is a slight delay at the door. “Please wait. I have got to put some clothes on.” And soon thereafter: “I don’t get many visitors”. The audience is told that hams are a unique breed. “For some, it’s their only contact with society.”

While Tim Allen’s Last Man Standing portrayed hams as ordinary folk, NCIS took a different slant.

The old aphorism “any publicity is good publicity” is questionable, but mostly true. NCIS raised awareness of ham radio and, on balance, did no harm. It did mention the importance of ham radio for emergency communications. And, by tracing contacts in the dead ham’s logbook, a crime was solved.

As for the eccentricity, well we have our share. And, truth be told, there are days when I get side tracked playing with my radios and forget to get properly dressed.

Early in the show, agents enter a sparsely furnished house and wonder what the owner spent his money on. Then, they discover the radio room, full of expensive equipment. This is weird, says agent Nick. No this is not weird, says agent Tim: it’s a ham shack, the original social media.

Ham Radio Weirdos gets it mostly right

NCIS made two serious script errors, one behavioral, one technical. First, it depicted hams relying on “handles”, thus confusing ham with CB radio. Second, and very subtle, it contained voice communications on 10.124 Mhz. While the frequency was in band, they forgot 30 meters is digital only. Also, the logbook contained times, handles, call letters, but not frequencies – a minor oversight.

Otherwise, they sure got the ham shacks right. When they dressed the set, no expense was spared in setting up either shack. Lots of expensive Kenwood, Icom, Yaesu, Flex and other radios. Even the large monitors with ham software. As well as microphones, rotor controls, computers and test equipment. Even a tower with a tribander. Someone had fun putting that together!

So, thanks for the plug, NCIS. Good script. And a good conversation starter for us hams when friends ask about the show.


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