What to do when you encounter bad behavior on the bands

Amateur radio attracts a huge cadre of enthusiasts. And with licensing at an all time high, it’s inevitable that you’ll run into an occasional knucklehead. My own initial encounter with one of these unique individuals came early in my ham career. I was struggling through my first contest experience and was clearly not following the information exchange protocol. I had read the instructions. I had listened to others do it. But, in one of those “minutes make the man” situations, I just couldn’t get it right.

From the midst of the pile up a sonorous utterance bellowed above the QRM. “Do us all a favor. Get off the air.” The voice had a linear amplifier behind it and I was pretty sure everyone heard him.

I was stunned and didn’t know what to say. And then, thankfully, another voice spoke up. “He’s learning. You were once a beginner, too. Cut him a break.”

I felt like I wanted to unplug my antenna and find another hobby. But only for a few moments. I realized that our beloved hobby reflects the rich diversity of attitude and opinion that defines the human race.

What are some effective strategies for dealing with a nasty operator?

Is there a nugget amidst the trash? Sometimes people inject negativity because of something that’s happening to them. Their anger may have nothing to do with you. But it’s always useful to see if an unemotional analysis yields a teachable moment. If so, put the nugget in your pocket and throw away the wrapper.

Apologize. If you’ve clearly done something wrong, contrition can defuse anger. It’s ok to say “I’m sorry”. Even if it doesn’t get a positive response from the troll, you’ll come across as a class operator to everyone else who might be listening.

The FCC is interested in policing patterns of inappropriate behavior on the air.If the guy is bullying everybody, make a note of his callsign. If you’re on PSK or a digital mode, save the QSO information. It may add value later.

The most common answer I got to this question when I posed it on the Amateur Radio Reddit was this: QSY – VE8AEG says it’s a simple as changing frequency, removing yourself from the unacceptable. KG4AKV says, “Don’t feed the trolls”. There are lots of places to play, pick one where the people are nicer.

As retired FCC Amateur Radio enforcement guru Riley Hollingsworth told a group of enthusiasts at the Dayton Hamvention, “We can enforce the rules, we can enforce kindness, courtesy or common sense, but we can’t regulate ‘stupid’… Spin the knob”.

VA6NWR shared a link to Riley’s farewell speech from the Spring of 2007. It’s a wonderful mixture of wisdom and humor that will resonate with everyone who has ever enjoyed a QSO.