AMC’s “Halt and Catch Fire” Ham Radio Connection Season 3 Episode 3

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    Layne AE1N
    Layne AE1N
    Participant

    The third episode of the third season of this AMC series about a fictionalized account of the birth and evolution of the personal computer industry was on this week. The title refers to a machine code instruction to stop CPU operation and go into an unrecoverable state, requiring restart. It featured some ham radio operated by the temper-mental genius engineer, Gordon Clark, who led the technical team to build one of the first IBM PC clones in the first season, and who starts out the episode in his  hallway closet (!!!) calling CQ on HF

      Wow, this so reminds me of my first apartment back in 1971 when I accepted a position at the Salt Lake City Air Route Traffic Control Center. It was a small 2-bedroom unit on the ground floor and I had made the mistake of asking the Landlord if I couild set up my Ham Radio.

      “Absolutely Not,” was his reply. Yet, I was determined to get on the air anyway. So we found a center hall closet and stuffed a card table with my old Hallicrafters HT-32A TX and SX-115 RX, tuner and accessories in the tiny space. These were no mini-transceivers … in those days they were veritable BOAT ANCHORS! (Just in case the Landlord came into the unit.).

      I snuck an almost invisible #24 wire out the closet , through the window and used a metal screw into the downspout of the 30-story rain gutter. I don’t know the efficiency, but I would load the thing on all bands except 80 meters. Plenty of signals were received, so I know it was radiating something….

    In this “Halt and Catch Fire” episode, the Ham Radio depiction was reasonably accurate, but had some rough edges:

    1. The callsign, KC4L, is not currently assigned. If fact 2X1 callsigns were not available in the early 1980s. Usually when ham radio is depicted in popular entertainment, the callsign is fictitious (not in a standard sequence, like the TV show “Last Man Standing” where it was X-suffixed, KA0XTT, like an experimental station) or a tribute to a writer or famous ham, like W9GFO in the movie “Contact.” The call is in a sequence appropriate for an Extra licensed in the 80’s, but the district number doesn’t match up with Texas (5) where he lived in the previous seasons or California (6) where he now lives in the third.
    2. When his daughter asks him what he is doing, he says he is using a radio he built himself, though clearly it is an off-the-shelf 70’s-era Yaesu FTR-101B and not, say, a Heathkit.
    3. He has a nice, obsessive-nerd, explanation to his daughter for the origin of CQ (“Comes from the French word se’curite’, which means safety or security.You can hear it when you say ‘secu, secu'”). This is totally bogus. CQ stands for “seek you” which is the general call of inquiry when one amateur operator.
    4. However, some of the rest of his terminology and operating etiquette is a bit off.  He complains about not being able to get an answer back due to a bad “connection” vs. link, or path, or propagation.
    5. He also uses one of the FCC 7 forbidden words (probably ranked #2) over the air, and indiscretely talks about the challenges in his relationship with his wife with the other station he finally reaches (perhaps imaginary, used as a plot device to suggest his gradual departure from reality, possibly as a symptom of his lead solder poisoning diagnosed in season 2).

    I made quite a few QSOs on 40 meter CW with the rain gutter antenna but just a month later the Landlord contacted me. He said, “I know what you’re doing because you are jamming all the neighbors’ TVs and Hi-Fi amps. Knock it off!”. It was time to look for my first house!

    I have not been watching this TV show. If cannot find it, season 3, episode 3 is available here:

    https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B0upfryjKmcqTWFhNWRJaWJtak0/view?usp=sharing

     

    Layne AE1N

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    #6424
    Layne AE1N
    Layne AE1N
    Participant

    Hah,

    He removes the coax antenna connector and blows on it… like that’s going to do any good!

    Layne AE1N

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