I [heart] ham?
August 27, 2007 12:50 PM   Subscribe

Why do ham/amateur radio operators so often have their call signs on their license plates (or license plate frames)?

Do other operators contact them while they're driving down the highway? If so, what would they possibly talk about? All I can come up with is "Hey, you have a ham radio? Cool. Me too." Are there so few of them that there's instant camaraderie when a fellow radio geek is spotted in public?
posted by mudpuppie to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (23 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Are there so few of them that there's instant camaraderie when a fellow radio geek is spotted in public?

Pretty much, yes. People just like the amusement of it, pretty much.
posted by twiggy at 12:51 PM on August 27, 2007

Best answer: Hey, you have a ham radio? Cool. Me too.

This is the essence of the hobby.

[NOT HAMIST] and, in all fairness there is a big experimental component that is really interesting. But a lot of it is just guys talking to one another about their rigs...

Are there so few of them that there's instant camaraderie when a fellow radio geek is spotted in public?


HAM radio has been dying since the advent of the net. It's entirely conceivable though, that one HAM could have made contact with one that he later recognizes the license plate of (especially if they're working a local repeater).
posted by phrontist at 12:53 PM on August 27, 2007

Best answer: To answer both your questions: yes.

My father has a call-sign license plate, and he gets emails and radio calls all the time. He has a shortband radio right under the dash, and talks on it all the time. We've been sitting in traffic and gotten 3-5 calls on the radio within an hour.

In fact, he's had a 'patch-through' service in which the local phone net can be connected through the radio; he's called home on it to find out if my mother needs groceries for years.

posted by Cycloptichorn at 12:53 PM on August 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

I think that's part of it. But I also think that a good portion of ham operators are kind of like boy scouts - very civil minded, always prepared, etc. Like this guy.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 12:57 PM on August 27, 2007

(Imagine if MeFites had custom license plates!)
posted by phrontist at 1:04 PM on August 27, 2007

In Connecticut, you get a special plate, and it's relatively cheap ($25). I can see the appeal. It's just a specialized vanity plate.
posted by smackfu at 1:08 PM on August 27, 2007

Just think of it as analogous to putting a link to your MeFi profile in your blog.
posted by hermitosis at 1:13 PM on August 27, 2007

I sometimes listen to the hams on my shortwave set. There is a remarkable sense of "neat!" when I figure out that I'm listening to a bunch of people talking to each other, each hundreds miles away from me and hundreds of miles away from each other. There is a sense of mild disappointment when I realize that they mostly just talk about their gear. Hams have the technology and the ability to bounce signals off the ionosphere, to reach the world with 100 watts, and all they have to say is that they really like the sound of the new XB47 contour modulation oscillator. The only other topic I've ever heard them talking about is medical problems.
One night I was tuning through the 40 meter band, and came across a bunch of hams rattling away in CW, and a friend asked me, "So, do you know what they're saying?" I said, "Yeah, they're saying, 'Can anyone out there hear me? I paid a fortune for this thing, and I darn well better be able to talk to someone.' All of them."
posted by leapfrog at 1:13 PM on August 27, 2007 [2 favorites]

IAAH (VE3OYT representing), and yeah, it's definitely a fraternity thing, like a secret handshake. If you don't know what's going on, it just looks like another license plate.
posted by Schlimmbesserung at 1:15 PM on August 27, 2007

Best answer: Ham with a vanity plate speaking here: because everyone else does it. ;)

The "instant camaraderie" is definitely a part of it. I've periodically run into other hams and only known it because of the plates. It's not that uncommon for hams to call each other (on the air) when they run into each other while driving. (Unless you're like me and don't have a radio in your car...)

Another aspect of it is that getting a ham license can take a lot of work, so it's something most hams are awfully proud of.

I think it's also just a sort of sense of community. You can spot fellow hams by their plates. (Just in case driving around in a porcupine didn't give it away.)
posted by fogster at 1:20 PM on August 27, 2007

Blast. I was going to make a mockup of that old Kentucky license plate with the EVIL SMILING SUN that would have said Metafilter: It's That Friendly on the top and would have had mathowie's smiling mug leering out of the sun at us.

But I have no skills.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:35 PM on August 27, 2007

My MetaFilter screen name is JimN2TAW. Enough said.
posted by JimN2TAW at 1:54 PM on August 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

I live in Ontario and for years was confused by these 'VE3' plates I would see, and it wasn't until I actually asked one of them in a parking lot what it was all about that I found my answer!

(I could have Googled, but my short term memory has a knack for saying "I wonder what that is..." while driving then forget by the time I get home.)
posted by smitt at 2:08 PM on August 27, 2007

my partner spent about a year working (on and off) on the qualifications for his ham radio license. he's very proud that he took the test before they got rid of the morse code requirement. i know he considered getting the personalized license plate, but the lack of an actual ham radio is getting in the way.

his response to this thread:
"ham radio plates are awesooooooooome" (all the o's are his.)
posted by kendrak at 3:05 PM on August 27, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks, y'all. I figured there had to be a larger reason at work, but I'm somewhat pleased that it's all about the nerd factor, pure and simple.
posted by mudpuppie at 3:09 PM on August 27, 2007

Well, in at least one state (Arkansas), the Ham plates were actually cheaper than regular license plates for a long while. My dad kept his license up just to save money on the plates long after he had stopped being an active ham.
posted by jedicus at 3:10 PM on August 27, 2007

HAM Radio operators are allowed these personalized plates free/for a fraction of usual vanity plate fee. At least this was the case when I* got my license.

*Yes, I'm a huge nerd.
posted by basicchannel at 3:29 PM on August 27, 2007

It's for the same reason that people keep up on their morse code skills* after they get their broadcast license** for FM Radio: nerd cred.

*I didn't
**I don't even know if Morse Code is a requirement any more, I'm just that old
posted by davejay at 3:58 PM on August 27, 2007

Best answer: There's a practical advantage besides spotting another member of the club. When a ham drives into a disaster scene (say after a tornado hits a town) to provide emergency communications, his license plate tells the law officers that he's the genuine article and they should let him pass so he can help.

I'm an amateur radio operator, like my father before me.

And davejay, the Morse requirement has bit the dust. I think my dad (who was licensed as a teenager in the late '50s) and a lot of his friends are still in mourning for the "good old days."
posted by bryon at 4:09 PM on August 27, 2007

IAAH as well (a newbie - KI6*) and the only thing that's discouraging me from getting a ham plate is that one google search on the callsign and you've got my name, address, and phone number. Not what I want to advertise as I cut someone off :)

Amateur Radio is alive and well, despite (or maybe because of) the Internet. Google IRLP (on which I'm active) or EchoLink for how hams have integrated the two. I did it for the emergency comms/public service aspect (I participate in comms for bike races and other events).
posted by aberrant at 5:18 PM on August 27, 2007

Also, from listening to the local ham frequencies, I notice that a lot of random voice chatter is from hams who have jobs that involve lots of driving around, or long daily commutes. So they chat to pass the time while driving. It makes perfect sense to put your identity on your car in that case.
posted by hattifattener at 7:08 PM on August 27, 2007

I've avoided getting the plate because I'd lose my current vanity plate ("MYSELF"), and because of the name/address factor aberrant mentioned, AND because it functions as a big "Hey, there's expensive stuff in this vehicle!" sign. Not the kind of attention I want my parked car to get.

If I were to get one, I'd drop it after a year and hang it on the wall. Government-issued stamped-metal signs make nifty station placards!

As for talking to each other: Chitchat about each other's gear is a fine way to pass the time, and learn some hints and tricks, so you're ready when an emergency happens.
posted by Myself at 11:24 PM on August 27, 2007

Mod note: a few comments removed -- question is about license plates not whether you personally think ham radio is boring, metatalk or email are for your "your favorite hobby sucks" derails
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:00 AM on August 31, 2007

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