The Amateur Amateur: Frequency -- the Movie
By Gary Hoffman, KB0H
Novemberctober 15, 2001
Frequency employed ham radio as a plot device. The
film now is available in video, just in time for the holidays.
Dennis Quaid stars as Frank Sullivan in the New Line Cinema thriller,
It's not too early to start thinking about Christmas, so I
started looking through catalogs for gift ideas. While perusing the
video release sections I noticed that the movie Frequency
now available. That brought back some good memories. Here is what I
wrote about the movie when I first saw it.
Amateur Radio, as
any other endeavor, likes good press. I had heard that the recent
was supposed to be about ham radio but had not
heard whether it portrayed the hobby in good or less-than-favorable
terms. Nancy and I decided to check it out for ourselves.
Let me tell you
right away that the movie was engrossing. I can say that without fear
of contradiction. We saw the movie on a Friday night in a small rural
Missouri town. The theater was packed with teenagers engaged in every
watching the movie, and I still
it. That's about the highest accolade I can give a film.
though, is how did the movie portray Amateur Radio. The initial
answer would be "not so good," since the main character
said of ham radio, "Nobody does that any more." Once the
movie got past that first negative statement, however, things picked
up. In fact, it described a number of things that I never knew about
An old, long unused ham radio can be turned on, and it will work fine
without an antenna or even electrical power.
Well, perhaps it
had something to do with the aurora borealis
being visible in New York City. They did say that there were unusual
solar conditions. High solar activity was used to explain a number of
strange phenomena. For example . . .
It is possible to talk to someone in the future using a ham radio.
This is not an
everyday occurrence, of course. Aside from the mandatory presence of
the aurora borealis
, the operator must use the 15-meter band,
and the Mets must win the World Series. Naturally, only Extra class
operators are allowed to contact the future.
I was suspicious
of the inclusion of the Mets in the movie. Everyone knows that
baseball movies are about magic (see Field of Dreams
), and we hams like to keep our radio phenomena strictly
in the realm of science (or at least science fiction).
The movie was not
just a treatise in weird radio, though. It was a bona fide
mystery and thriller. The plot was good, and the characters were
well-developed. Non-radiophiles would definitely enjoy it.
enthralled by the plot, I was a little disturbed that so much of the
movie had to do with unlicensed use of the ham bands. But then I
realized the movie makers had found a loophole in Part 97:
Unlicensed operations are allowed in emergencies or when
communicating with the dead. I was not the only one who learned some
amazing facts. Even one of the central characters learned that:
When communicating with the future, your microphone switch won't work.
Well, of course not! The guy in the future was already using it! I suspect that
cross-time ham operations are strictly QRP (low power). The person in
the future and the person in the past were literally using the same
radio and the same antenna. That would explain why there was no
pileup of hams trying get a QSL card from the future. The effective
range of the transmissions were 0 miles, 0 feet, 0 inches, and 30
years (plus or minus).
The same character also learned . . .
Smoking cigarettes will slowly kill you. Smoking a warehouse will kill you
James Caviezel stars as John Sullivan, Frank Sullivan's son, in
I know that has nothing to do with ham radio, but the
moviemakers were apparently trying to appeal to fire buffs as well.
Getting back to
radio matters, we saw something that is never seen these days . . .
Ham operators of the past could actually repair radios.
One of the main
characters was so good, in fact, that he managed to repair a radio
that was 30 years in the future. Well, it's true that it was an old
Heathkit model. You could actually see the internal components,
unlike the newer high-tech radio components, which can only be seen
with a scanning electron microscope.
I said that the
movie was a thriller, and it certainly was. The end involved a lot of
action, mayhem, morphing household furniture, and the past and
present getting mixed up. In case you haven't seen the movie yet, I
won't say anything more, other than . . .
Psychopathic killers shouldn't mess with ham radio operators, not even
For more information on Frequency
, visit the Frequency Web site
note: ARRL member Gary Hoffman, KB0H, lives in Florissant,
Missouri. He's been a ham since 1995. Hoffman says his column's
name-- "The Amateur Amateur"--suggests the explorations of
a rank amateur, not those of an experienced or knowledgeable ham. His
wife, Nancy, is N0NJ. Hoffman has a ham-related Web page. Readers may contact the
author via email.
© 2001 American Radio Relay League