I think it’s a given: When you’re out in a public place with a radio and a 20-foot antenna pole, you’re bound to attract attention. In 26 years of portable operating, I’ve gotten more than my share of curious looks from passersby. At first, I was a little self-conscious, but now I don’t mind people wondering what this crazy old guy is up to.
For the most part, people will give my outdoor radio set-up a puzzled look and move on. Once in a while, a courageous spectator will approach me and ask what I’m doing.
There have been times when it’s a law enforcement officer who stops by. One park ranger in Delaware said she was responding to a call about “suspicious activity.” My antenna once attracted a police officer in Havre de Grace, Maryland. We wound up chatting for a bit, and he wished me luck as he drove off.
Recently, at a local park, a fisherman yelled over to me, “Hey, ham radio guy! How are they biting?” I’m guessing we had talked at some point in the past. I replied, “Pretty good. How are they biting for you?”
One of my favorite encounters happened during last year’s Skeeter Hunt contest. A fellow who walked up to ask about my antenna turned out to be one of my earliest childhood friends. We hadn’t seen each other in decades, so I’m glad his curiosity got the better of him.
Whatever the circumstances, I found it useful to give a 30-second elevator speech about ham radio. In business, an elevator speech is a short, easy to understand pitch—one that can be delivered during a short elevator ride. I keep it simple and non-technical. Often, if it suffices to tell them: “It’s ham radio.”
I try to be mindful of my environment. If I’m out in the woods by myself somewhere, my equipment is not likely to get in the way of other people. When I’m in a public place, however, I follow a few basic principles:
- Stay Legal. Make sure you’re following all applicable rules for your location and, by all means, don’t trespass. If approached by authorities, be courteous and launch into your ham radio elevator speech.
- Stay Self-Contained. When I’m in a public place, I like to keep my equipment set-ups as compact as I can. Some parks have issues with putting wires in trees, so I’ll go with a self-supported antenna, like a vertical or small loop. That’s OK; it’s less time I have to spend cursing at trees when my throws miss the mark.
- Don’t Become a Hazard to Others. This goes hand-in-hand with staying self-contained. I like to make sure my equipment isn’t a hazard to other people in the area, so I try to find a location away from others. I also make sure coax or counterpoise wires aren’t a trip hazard and that there’s no risk of my antenna falling on anyone.
- Leave No Trace – Make sure you leave the place as good as, if not better than, you found it. This is a good practice regardless of your location.
Some encounters with the public have resulted in interesting discussions. Here’s a small sampling of questions and comments I’ve heard over the years:
- “Is that a fishing pole? Catch anything?”
- “How far can you get out with that thing?”
- “Is ham radio still a thing?”
- “Cool! My uncle (or some other relative) used to be into ham radio.”
- “Are you communicating with the Mother Ship?” (I have also heard Martians and other extraterrestrial references)
- “Can you talk to truckers with that?”
- “Morse Code? Is that still around?”
- “How many channels can you pick up with that thing?” (Assuming, my antenna is for TV, I suppose.)
- “What exactly are you broadcasting?”
So, when you’re out and about, don’t be afraid of the attention you might be drawing; welcome it. You never know; you might be inspiring a future ham.
73, Craig WB3GCK