May 14, 2017

Sparks31 Official Frequency List For Newly-Minted Technician Class Licenses

For more detailed information see

2m Band (144-148 MC.)

Technician class privileges are CW: 144.000-144.100 MC., All Modes: 144.100-148.000 MC.)

144.100 - CW
144.200 - SSB (USB)
146.520 - FM

6m Band (50-54 MC.)

Technician class privileges are CW: 50.000-50.100 MC., All Modes: 50.100-54.000 MC.

50.090 - CW
50.125 - SSB (USB)
50.400 - AM
52.525 - FM

10m Band (28-29.700 MC.)

Technician class privileges are CW: 28.00-28.300 MC, CW/SSB: 28.300-28.500 MC.
28.110 - CW
28.385 - SSB (USB)

40m Band (7000-7300 KC.)

Technician class privileges are CW: 7025-7125 KC.
7030 - CW
7110 - CW

80/75m Band (3500-4000 KC.)

Technician class privileges are CW: 3525-3600 KC.
3560-3580 - CW (The old NTSC TV Colorburst frequency is 3579.5 KC.  Many homebrew/QRP rigs use this frequency because of dirt common crystal capability.)


These frequencies are common calling frequencies in the Technician (and higher class license) portions of their respective bands. Some of them have had their status for decades. That is what's special about them.

Yes, there are other HF and VHF Amateur Radio frequencies that have been adopted by various survivalist, "patriot", "prepper", and "threeper" groups as of late.  However, none of those frequencies have been used as common calling and "watering hole" frequencies for as long as the ones I've listed.

As a newly-minted Technician class ham license holder, regardless of your sociopolitical leanings (whatever they may be), your primary (and really only at this time) radio communications objective is to get a station on the air, and get up to speed with proper operating technique.  Not just on Two Meter FM with an HT, but also (with CW) on lower frequency bands that work better without having to rely on repeaters.  The frequencies I listed are among the most likely in the bands where you'll either hear someone calling CQ, or have someone reply quicker to your calling CQ.

"We have discussed this before," continued Frank in a tautological tone as he pocketed the Colt. "You are to keep that sort of thing out of my world." "If you chose to do otherwise, you can go back to pawnshop C.B.s."

May 13, 2017

Two Really Good Magazines

I was at my local Wal-Mart, and happened to notice these two really good magazines, favorites of mine actually, right next to one another.

Out here, these two magazines are available on just about every store's magazine rack.

Both are worth getting. Real survivalist information.  Not that TEOTWAWKI Zombie Apocalypse fantasy junk.

May 12, 2017

Some Of fhe Best Survivalist Books Ever

There are only 20,000+ books out there on various survivalist topics. Some are good, some suck, and most are average.  Here are some of my favorites.

I have to thank my friend Wildflower for turning me on to this book back in the early 1990s. My original copy went missing a few years back, and I replaced it for $7 off Amazon.  I've mentioned this book before, and like everything else out of print I've talked about, Amazon vendors took advantage of the notoriety and jacked the prices way up.  Barnes and Noble vendors are less expensive by an order of (the) magnitude, but still a hefty amount.

Dean Ing packs a whole bunch of good ideas in this little mass market paperback, and it's one of those books that just makes you think the right way.  I wish he would get this one back in print, or write an updated edition.  Is it worth what Amazon vendors are asking for it right now?  If I lost my current copy and had the disposable funds available, I'd order a replacement.  Most of you are going to see the asking price and turn away.  The smarter among you will keep your eyes open at used bookstores, flea markets, et al for a copy that costs a few bucks.  I'm sure they exist.

This was another Wildflower recommendation.  I don't subscribe to Backwoods Home, and only occasionally buy a copy of the magazine off the shelf.  What I do is buy copies of the yearly anthologies when I remember to do so.  Lots of good general and specific self-reliance and preparedness information in these. You'll learn a lot from them.

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.
A bit of self-promotion here.  Purportedly some of the stories in here have caused readers to go take a shit on their supervisor's desk, chuck their corporate ID down a sewer grate, and go shack up in the high desert with some hippie artist chick.  I'm pleading the Fifth, but sure hope so.

First of the two books that started it all for me.  A must have with a ton of useful information.

TEOTWAWKI, Zombie Apocalypse, SHTF, and Other Bullshit Survivalist Terms

They're all bullshit, and using those terms is just escapist fantasy.  If you're a true survivalist, you already know how much of a fractured, unrepairable mess this country is in, that logic says eventually even band-aids like President Trump will no longer stop the slow bleeding, and yet the powers that be have an amazing ability to keep kicking the can down the road.  Accept those simple facts, and prepare accordingly without having to resort to all the BS that fails horribly in its attempt to make survivalist activities politically correct.  You want to see Zombies? Take a walk down the street of any decent-sized American city, and you'll see them.  Or take a look at some of your co-workers.  Nice enough people for the most part until their precious status quo gets threatened, and then they'll be at your throat in an instant.  That's life these days.

So what do you do?  Work towards living as self-reliant a lifestyle as you can, achieve as high a level of preparedness against natural and man-made disasters you can, live your life the right way and otherwise try to be a decent person, listen to Atlas, and just shrug.

Just shrug.  That's probably the best first piece of advice I could give you after 30 years of doing this....

What would Henry Bowman do?

Henry Bowman is a fictional character from a novel that was published 20 years ago, so Henry Bowman is doing nothing. While John Ross wrote a damn good novel in my opinion, it was still a work of fiction.  Enjoy the read, and then come back to the real world. If a Henry Bowman analog did exist in the real world, Obama would not have been elected, the NFA, GCA68, and GCA86  would have been repealed, and you'd be able to pack a sidearm in any of the 50 states without needing permission. Or possibly more likely, some fudd would have turned him in, he'd be occupying Tim McVeigh's old cell, and "responsible gun owners" would be decrying his "terroristic actions."

However, so far the whole RKBA thing has come down to state's rights issue which is why shitholes like Connecticut and New York ban MSRs, and 11 states have done the right thing with Constitutional Carry.  So I suppose realistically Henry Bowman would have listened to Atlas, moved to a free state, and otherwise just shrugged.  It would have been the smartest thing to do.


No man can cut out new paths in company. He does that alone.”
- Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
The creator lives for himself. He needs no other men. His primary goal is within himself”
- Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead


If you are a Republicrat in a Demopublician state, you need to move before your opposition neighbors turn you in for something stupid that wouldn't be an issue in a more civilized state, such as littering aaaaand......having a big gun collection along with the odd piece of World War II German memorabilia. In places like New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, the opposition outnumbers you 2:1, which means you pretty much have no chance to vote your way out of the mess unless the voter demographic changes in a drastic manner. In the meantime, your own personal income is being taxed to fund the war against you. Living in such a place when there are better places within moving distance is stupid, and I'm not advocating anything I haven't done myself, 2100 miles of done myself to be specific.

If you live in an urban area, you have to decide whether the convenience of living close to everything among all those people outweighs the problems you will run into when they turn in zombies. When the shit hits the fan, you will be trapped, will not have enough ammo to shoot your way out of the city, and should you escape you will probably not be welcome as a refugee in the country,  especially if you have nothing to contribute to a small rural community. 

As far as I'm concerned, there are only two really important considerations
for a state that you might want to move to. The first is a lack of state personal
income tax. A state should be able to run its operations without having to put a
tax on the money you earn working for a living, and nine states do this. The
second is constitutional carry. A person has the fundamental right to self­
defense, and should be able to strap on a sidearm for personal protection, and
carry it either openly or concealed without having to ask for permission from the government. Eleven states respect their citizens enough to have constitutional carry.

Here is a list of all states that have no state personal income tax, and/or have
constitutional carry. Included is their nationwide ranking in population density.
I have also included the 10 original candidates of the first Free State Project vote for those of you who wish to do additional research.

State         - No Income Tax - Constitutional Carry - FSP - Density
Alaska                Y                          Y                             Y        50
Arizona                N                         Y                             N        33
Delaware              N                        N                             Y         6
Florida                 Y                         N                             N        8
Idaho                   N                         Y                             Y        44
Kansas                 N                         Y                             N        41
Maine                  N                         Y                             Y         38
Mississippi           N                         Y                             N        32
Missouri               N                        Y                             N         28
Montana               N                        N                             Y         48
Nevada                  Y                        N                            N        42
New Hampshire   Y                        Y                             Y         21
North Dakota        N                        N                             Y         47
South Dakota        N                        N                             Y         46
Tennessee             Y                        N                             N        20
Texas                    Y                        N                             N        26
Vermont                N                       Y                              Y        31
Washington           Y                        N                             N        24
West Virginia        N                        Y                             N        29
Wyoming             Y                        Y                             Y         49

Of the 21 states, there were only three that met all my requirements. They
are Alaska, New Hampshire, and Wyoming. Two of those states rank the lowest
in population density, and the third ranks at 21. Interestingly enough the third
state won the FSP vote, and is currently a battleground between libertarian and
statist political elements. Also note the lack of representation from the
“Appalachian Redoubt,” with only West Virginia making the list because of
constitutional carry.

Traveling To Protests

Those of you who are traveling to protests to go mess with Antifa are wasting your time and money.  Let them go trash universities and cities run by statists, and inconvenience the residents of same.

You should instead be concentrating on what's going on in your backyard, and learning/perfecting the skills necessary to survive after the balloon goes up.

May 10, 2017

May/June Class Schedule

May, 2017
May 27-28 - Basic Down-Grid Communications Class, Riverton, Wyoming.

June, 2017
June 3-4 -  Basic Down-Grid Communications Class, Seattle (area), Washigton. Sponsored by TOWR.
June 10-11 - Communications Monitoring For Preppers, Riverton, Wyoming.
June 16-17 - Build/Fix Your Own Radio Class, Riverton, Wyoming. 
June 24-25 - Basic Down-Grid Communications Class, Riverton, Wyoming.

Class Fees
The cost for the Basic Down-Grid Communications Class and Communications Monitoring Class is $200 in advance, $220 at the door for the Wyoming classes.

The cost for the Build/Fix Your Own Radio Class is $250 in advance, $300 at the door.

A special discount is available for those of you who want to take all three classes: $575 in advance.

There is also a special discount for married couples who want to attend classes. It is $325 in advance for the Basic Grid-Down Communications and Communications Monitoring Classes, $420 in advance for the Build/Fix Your Own Radio Class.  All three classes are $550 in advance for married couples.

Terms are cash or USPS money order only for advance payment.  Cash only at the door.

Payment can be sent to:

Tom Filecco
ATTN: Sparks31 Radio Classes
PO Box 1351
Riverton, WY 82501

If paying at the door, please send me an email to to reserve your slot.

Basic Down-Grid Communications Class 

If you are just starting out, this is the class you should take first.

Sparks31 is the creator of the original original 3% down-grid prepper communications course, and is always updating the workshop material to reflect the latest confirmed information received. Other courses recently offered as of late are conducted by graduates of the original Sparks31 workshops, and may not have up to date information.  They are also not offered by an individual who has 30 years of experience in electronic communications, has worked professionally with electronic systems ranging from radio to electronic security/surveillance. and was a member of one of the premiere hacker think tanks.

This is a two-day class. Topics include:

  • Considerations for Grid-Down/Resilient Communications
  • Equipment Selection
    • Radios
    • Antennas
    • Basic Off-Grid Electric Power
    • Basic Test Equipment
  • VHF/UHF Communications Monitoring
    • Equipment Selection
    • Basic Low-Level Voice Intercept Operations
No equipment or prior knowledge is required to attend this class.  All you need is a notebook, writing implement, and a willingness to learn as much as possible.  However, I recommend you have read my book, Down-Grid Communications, before attending class.  You can download a digital copy here, or purchase a hardcopy here.

Communications Monitoring For Preppers 

This intermediate-level two day class builds upon the information taught during the basic class and will teach you how to equip, set-up, and operate a monitoring post specifically for the purpose of disaster preparedness communications monitoring.  It ends with a practical real-world communications monitoring exercise.

To get the most out of this class, you should have basic communications monitoring equipment such as a shortwave radio (equipped with BFO for SSB and CW reception), police scanner, antennas, note-taking equipment, and adequate power sources (batteries, et al) for 48 hours of off-grid operation.

Build/Fix Your Own Radio Class 

This is an intermediate-level two day class that will teach you basics of how to build and fix radios, and the art of home-brewng your own gear and antennas.

To get the most out of this class, you should have basic electronic tools, test equipment, and a small radio kit to work on during the latter part of day 1, and day 2.

It's all about self-reliance.

Amateur Radio is about self-reliance, the ultimate and purest form of preparedness.  It starts like this: You are concerned about fake news and establishment mass media censorship.  You are concerned about the lack of reliability and .gov control of telecommunications and Internet systems.  You seek alternatives.  You get a shortwave receiver and police scanner so you can get information directly from the sources, get alternative viewpoints that aren't readily available elsewhere, and be able to get it when the establishment-controlled systems go down.  Now you have a broader and better idea of what's going on, especially in your locale and region, because that's what matters most. Now maybe you get some CBs or a ham license and 2 Meter radios so you can talk locally with your tribe if the phone and Internet systems go down.  You have just achieved a level of self-reliance that most people don't have, and you are better prepared as a result.

It gets better from there!  You conclude that modern radios, with their tight, cramped, surface-mount component construction are practically impossible to repair. So you start researching and looking into radios that you can fix, and learning the skills needed to fix them. You find a couple of 1970s or 1980s vintage solid state radios with discrete components and thru-hole PCB construction, and a similar vintage ARRL Handbook. You start learning about electronics.  Or perhaps EMP is a concern of yours and you go back to tube gear.  Either way, you now have radios that can be fixed, and you are well on the way to getting the skills to do so.  More self-reliance. After reading a few old 73 Magazine and QST articles, maybe even being inspired by AB5L(SK)'s story, you decide that you can go even further and build your own radios.

"Nobody builds or fixes things any more."
"I do."
"...he realized the enormity that IT ALL was waiting
for his command, and that NO ONE or NO THING was standing
between him and the capability to create whatever at

You discover that electronics knowledge has applications outside your radio hobby.  You are concerned about the electric power grid, and either have the ability to put together your own basic off-grid power systems or have a good idea of how to learn what you need to know.  You start looking at things with a more critical and educated eye.  You are a much higher level of self-reliance and preparedness than you started with.

Building antennas and tinkering with that old generator you picked up for a song at the local auction entails mechanical knowledge, so your skillset starts expanding that way.  The ham radio operators of old even assembled their own chassis units for their radios, and consequently had a basic mechanical shop along with their electronics lab.  More self-reliance and preparedness. By the way that old generator is a diesel, and the owner of the bar and grill down the road that you've been having dinner at once a week for the past few years would be more than happy for you to take all his used cooking oil, so he doesn't have to pay for its disposal.  That's OK.  You got a line on an old Ford F-250 with an NDI 7.3l International V-8 under the hood...

May 9, 2017

Frank: The Reference List - Part 2 (And something extra)

As gleaned from

Chapter 51

Chapter 54 - This is another good one.


  • Some other issues of 73 you should have in your collection:


May 8, 2017

Frank: The Reference List - Part 1

As gleaned from

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter9 -  This is a good one.

Chapter 28

Chapter 33

To be continued...


A Reader Asks: SG-2020

Just found one on ebay for reasonable cost and grabbed it
Any tips for a long and successful operating life? Mods or tricks? Carrying case?
I got the usual stuff off and the manual already

My Reply:

Here is the link for SG Club International -

They are pretty bullet-proof and simple radios, and there is not much that needs to be done with them. Go find yourself a decent hardside case with foam lining to keep it in. When being transported, I keep mine in a milsurp case for an AN/AVS-6(V)1 Aviator's Night Vision System. It is just big enough to store the radio along with it's accessories. I found it at a local army/navy store for $40. You'll probably be able to find something similar locally.

For rucking it around, get one of the Harris RF Communications Accessories Bags - - It fits the '2020 perfectly, and is deep enough to also carry a battery pack and accessories in the bottom of the main compartment and side pouch.

If you don't have the manual, you can get it at - While you're at it, visit and download the HF Users Guide. Lots of good info in there.

The SGC auto-tuners are also a good item to have, and will tune pretty much anything. Another good tuner is the LDG. There was an SGC tuner made specifically for the '2020, I think it was the SG-211. I use a SG-237 and have been happy with it.

A CW "leg key" is also nice to have when operating in the field. I got mine on Ebay.

The best battery I have found at present is a simple 12V AGM "gel cell". They're about $30 at the local Ag store for a 7AH model. AGM stands for "absorbent glass mat". Much better than the older sealed lead acid (SLA) gel cells. You can charge one in a few hours with a "battery maintainer" is the one I use. Gel Cells are not too particular about being charged, and are tolerant of minor charging mistakes. They are inexpensive compared to other battery units like the LiPo and Li-Ion boxes, and don't have any electronics in them that generate interference on HF, which I discovered was the case with my GoalZero Sherpa.

Long Term Reliability of Equipment: Antennas

This is a Radio Shack VHF/UHF Scanner Ground Plane antenna that was installed about 2 1/2 years ago in central Wyoming.  Note the deterioration of the plastic insulation and rubber o-ring that isolates the center elements from the ground plane.  This antenna was only $20 from the local Radio Shack, and purchased as a stop-gap.  It served its purpose, but clearly was a short-term "fix" to get up and running.

This doesn't only happen with "cheap" gear.

This is a $230 Yaesu ATAS-25 portable field antenna that broke when being used at a Down-Grid Communications Class.  The failure point was a plastic screw used to attach the coil assembly to the slide contact/whip assembly.  Not what I expect out of a reputable brand that's priced accordingly, especially when its performance was no better than the significantly less expensive FARApole that FARA was selling at Hosstraders, or the (now discontinued) B&W AP-10 apartment dweller antenna that cost half as much.  Not that short portable HF whip antennas are great performers to begin with.

Those HF operators looking for small, portable, potentially covert antennas would be better off acquiring the skills to roll their own antennas. The best book I've found is the old TAB How To Build Hidden Limited-Space Antennas Antennas That Work, by Robert J. Traister, WB4KTC. It was published back in 1981, and is out of print, much like many good reference works. I found mine at a used bookstore for about a third of what they start asking for them on Amazon (the original new price was $9.95 in early 1980s money).  Here is a picture, and the Amazon link for it:

When you consider that an ATAS-25 costs $230, even the higher used prices of this book are significantly less.  Unlike buying an ATAS-25 that might break in the field, the knowledge in this book stays with you so you can make antennas when needed out of assorted raw materials you can find anywhere. Finally, the hardcopy meatspace book does not require electricity, an electronic appliance, or an Internet connection, and has information that has been vetted by a technically competent editor at what was one of the premier technical publishing houses.

May 1, 2017

May 27-28 Wyoming Class Info Sent

If you have signed up for the Down-Grid Communciations Class on May 27-28 in Riverton, Wyoming, you should have an email waiting in your inbox.  I bcc'd it to everyone with my email address as the primary recipient.

If you did not receive an email, let me know.

There is still time to sign up.  Class info is at   If you can't make it in May, I have classes in the Wind River Basin all Summer long, the TOWR-sponsored Washington state class in June, and a Connecticut class in November.

For those of you who have signed-up for the Wyoming class, or are considering it, here is a link to tourist-type activities in the Basin.

We are also only a couple hours away from Jackson and Yellowstone National Park.

See you in class!

April 27, 2017

Radio Recommendations

May Class Update

For full information on classes available, please see

I will be sending out the specifics for the May 27-28 Basic Down-Grid Class this weekend.  If you have signed up, and don't have it in your inbox by Sunday evening, please send me an email -

There are still a couple weeks available for you to take advantage of the prepaid enrollment discount for this class.  It takes a First Class letter about a week at most to get here from most parts of the country.  Otherwise, you can spent the extra $6-$7 and toss it in a priority mail envelope for it to get here in a couple days.

If you can't make it on Memorial Day weekend, there will be a Basic Down-Grid Class every month until the fall.  Check the schedule for details.

See you in class.

REPOST: Confessions Of a Broke Lab Lizard (complete)

This was sent in by an anonymous reader.  Pay attention.

Confessions Of a Broke Lab Lizard
By Anonymous
You don't know me. I'm a politically conservative “small l” libertarian who's not a member of any militia group. Every “militia group” I've come across was full of, and run by, a bunch of whiny assclowns. I own three guns, and neither of them are black or in a military caliber. But I'm not here to talk about guns, militias, or whiny assclowns. I'm here to talk about what I've been doing lately. I like to tinker with electronics. I've started doing it in high school, but have been out of it until very recently. This has been hampered by a lack of hobby cash since the economy around here has gone to shit, but I manage.

It started about a year or so ago when I found this book at a library sale. It only cost me a couple bucks. One of my hobbies is checking out library sales, used bookstores, flea markets, tag sales, pawn shops, and antique stores. Ninety percent of what I by is from these sources. A few weeks later, the local ham club had a swap meet and I found a well-used 1980s vintage copy of the ARRL Handbook for Five Bucks. By checking these places out you can put together a good “poor man's” electronics/science lab. You would be surprised at what you can find! Here are a few things I've found for my lab.

I was at a tag sale one weekend and found this old AM/FM/SW/PB multiband radio (the one on the left) for ten bucks. It works perfectly! The cops around here run a digital radio system, but the local ham repeater, volunteer fire department, and search and rescue team do not. This radio covers their frequencies. That was my first inexpensive radio acquisition. My next radio (the one on the right) cost me the princely sum of $25 from a flea market vendor. It's newer than the Lafayette I first bought, and covers some extra frequencies like aircraft and UHF. I can't hear digital systems on these radios, but I can still pick them up and analyze them somewhat.
A trip to Harbor Freight got me a cheap soldering iron, VOM meter, and some electronic tools I didn't already have (or find cheap elsewhere). The radios I bought are cheap and simple enough that after learning a bit from the ARRL Handbook I was able to modify the radios to do a little extra. I then got lucky at a ham radio swap meet last Fall and found this old Oscilloscope (Heathkit) and Grid-Dip Meter. I like the old Heathkit gear because the manual comes with schematics and you can fix it when it breaks.

I found this old Wavetek Cable TV SAM (signal analysis meter) at a pawn shop. It was used to test Cable TV systems, and became obsolete when TV went digital. It's really a rugged wideband receiver with 4-300 MHz. frequency coverage. It cost a bit ($50), but I can hook up my O'Scope to it and have a spectrum analyzer. That's pretty useful. The only other item that cost me that much money was a brand new copy of the ARRL book Experimental Methods in RF Design. However, I couldn't find one used (I don't have Internet. It's as bad as TV) and it was worth it because I'll save money rolling a lot of my own gear and test equipment now.

My “research library” consists of the following books. Most of them were purchased used at flea markets, hamfests, and used book stores. Only a couple were purchased new. They are:

  • Radio Monitoring, by Skip Aery
  • ARRL Handbook, 1982 edition. Published by ARRL.
  • Radio Science Observing, Volumes 1 &2, by Joseph J. Carr
  • Impoverished Radio Experimenter, Volumes 1-6, published by Your Old Time Bookstore
  • Voice Of the Crystal, by H.P. Fredrichs.
  • Experimental Methods in RF Design, Published by ARRL.
  • Assorted issues of QST and CQ VHF Magazines, picked up at various hamfests.
  • Various old (1950s and 1960s) radio and electronics books downloaded from the Net and printed out; mostly from

My local Radio Shack went out of business, but before they did I cleaned out their stock of electronics parts: resistors, capacitors, transistors, ICs, et al, solder, and some small tools at 50-90% off. There don't seem to be very many electronic experimenters around here, so there was a lot of stock there. One the best purchases from Radio Shack was this small red desoldering bulb used to remove components. I look for thrown-out electronics on the curb during trash day, grab them, and remove whatever components I can from them. Old picture tube-type TVs (not flat screen) and “boombox” stereos seem to have the best parts, and are the easiest to scrounge parts from. Old microwave ovens are good for high-voltage stuff. I usually don't waste my time with thrown-out computers because the ones I found were truly junked, but I did find a working 1980s vintage TRS-80 Color Computer once.

So far I think I may have spent maybe $300-$500 on my radio experimenter's lab, most of it bought used from local places. I cleaned up a corner of the attic, got one of those light socket adapters, and ran an extension cord from the attic light bulb to my “bench”. It looks like something from the OSS in World War II. I do a lot of “New World Order”-type radio research up there. All my antennas are homebrewed from wire and coathangers. So far I've found some interesting things on the airwaves, but I'm still doing more research on them. As time and money permits, I'm going to expand the frequency coverage of the lab. I found a couple old radar detectors at a tag sale, and am going to see how useful they may be in experiments. My point to all this is that it doesn't take a lot of money to put together a lab where you can do good research.


Since my last article, I cleaned up an even bigger corner of the attic, and replaced that light socket adapter and extension cord with some Romex going to an outlet at my bench. I do a lot of “New World Order”-type radio research up there. I keep finding interesting things on the airwaves that leave me with a lot of questions to answer. Like that dude from Blade Runner, I've seen and heard things you wouldn't believe.
I went to a tag sale a couple weeks ago, and found a few things for my lab cheap. A “Bearcat 250” police scanner and Heathkit tube tester for five bucks each, and an old Readers Digest Atlas for 25 cents. I found some VHF frequencies using my tunable receivers, and now have something that'll let me listen to more than one at a time. The tube tester I picked up because tube-type radio gear is better protected against stuff like lightning and EMP, and the tester will help me keep any tube radios I get running. The atlas is nice to see just where and how far out I'm listening on the shortwave and lower VHF bands.

All you fellow broke lab lizards should be hitting up your local tag sales, flea markets, auctions, antique stores, and pawn shops. You'll find a lot of good stuff at those places that you can use. At auctions, tag sales and flea markets you should be looking in all the cardboard boxes that have electronics in them. That's where you'll find stuff. Hamfests are also good, but you might not find many that are within reasonable driving distance. You should also go through the science, technical, and DIY sections of your local bookstores, especially the ones that sell used books. I've found some nice titles for less than what you would have paid on Amazon.

Don't worry about what you can't hear. Work on the signals you can pick up with the gear you have on hand. I was corresponding with a friend and fellow broke lab lizard who is finishing up his prison term for something that shouldn't even be a crime in my opinion. All he has access to is this Sony AM/FM Walkman-type radio that he can buy at the commissary. By tweaking the tuning coils this way and that he is able to listen above the AM broadcast band to pick up shortwave communications at night, and listen above the FM broadcast band to pick up VHF aircraft communications. Plans for doing this have been circulating the underground for decades. I have a photocopy that someone gave me from the 1990s that was printed in underground zines like “Full Disclosure” (Issue #30) and “Cybertek” (Issue #9). If some guy locked up in prison can do this, then you should be able to do the same or better. Stuff like this is important because you can pick up old Walkman-type AM/FM radios for a couple Bucks apiece, mod them, and hand them out to people who want to stay informed.

There is this old (1979) book you might be able to find called Communications Monitoring, by Robert B. Grove (ISBN 0-8104-0894-0). He is the dude who founded the old “Monitoring Times” magazine. I got mine at a recent hamfest in a box of old radio books and magazines. It has a lot of good info in it, including directions on how to mod out an AM/FM transistor radio to cover the VHF aircraft band, and how to mod tunable weather-band radios to receive radio signals down in the 150 MHz. range.

While I'm writing this, a line of thunderstorms just passed to the South of my QTH. Some AM band country music station from God knows where is playing Glen Campbell's song “Wichita Lineman,” and I found a few electric company frequencies that are busy with crews cleaning up the mess. Interesting listening. The freq ranges I'm scanning are 37.46-37.86 MHz. & 47.68-48.54 MHz. Give them a listen when the electric companies within a hundred miles of you have a reason to be out working. Sometimes the weather conditions will let you hear signals out even farther than that. The old Bearcat 250 is perfect for this job, and fifty channels is more than enough for now.

I've also been spending a lot of time listening to 25-33 MHz. I'm sure you know that the regular CB band in the US is 26.965-27.405 MHz., and the 10 Meter Ham Band is 28-29.7 MHz., but there are all these radios out there that people can buy that go from 25 to 30 MHz. or higher. Some of the brand names are “Galaxy”, “Magnum”, and “Stryker.” I have also seen old army surplus radios that can tune 20-76 MHz. All this gear with similar frequency ranges means there will be people and small groups simply picking a frequency and using it for a little while before switching to another. The frequency ranges 25-27 & 27.4-28 MHz. (above and below the US CB band) see a lot of use among these hobbyists known as “freebanders,” although I've heard some tactical-type communications that didn't sound like radio hobbyists rag-chewing.

A little birdie told me that I should be paying more attention to 54-88 MHz, especially 54-76 MHz. TV stations originally on channels 2-6 went to higher frequency ranges when they went digital. Now these frequency ranges are not being used. So far I haven't seen any analog pirate TV stations on the lower channels, but there are still all these TV modulator boxes and old VCRs out there that operate on Channels 2 & 3, or 3 & 4. Even Wal-Mart still sells them. Military surplus PRC-25, PRC-77, and RT-524 radios will go up to 76 MHz, and there are plenty of them still around. Some of my cheap multiband portable radios were made to tune in the audio from the old analog TV channels. No good for TV reception anymore, but they'll still pick up audio in those frequency ranges. There are also a lot of small FM audio “Mr. Microphone” type transmitters that work from around 87 MHz. into the low end of the FM broadcast band. All the good FM stations (in my opinion) are below 92 MHz, and the interesting stuff is a bonus.

So as you see, even though you might not running the latest, greatest gear, you can still find cheap stuff that will let you do a lot of “research,” and that's what's important.

April 26, 2017

SWR Meters

Any of these will work well:

Setting Up a Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) Center

So far, a lot of SIGINT/COMINT articles written by the author and others have dealt with the technical aspects of SIGINT/COMINT collection. In this article, the author will discuss the operational aspects of setting up a Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) Center. The purpose of a SIGINT Center is to collect and analyze SIGINT information, working with other intelligence disciplines (HUMINT, OSINT, IMGINT, etc.) to produce an intelligence product that is up-channeled to an organization's leadership. Towards this end, there are several job functions that need to be filled for successful operation. Consider each job function to be an element in your SIGINT Center. They are:
  • SIGINT Acquisition
  • COMINT Collection
  • ELINT Collection
  • SIGINT Analysis
  • S-2 Liaison
  • Logistics & Security
  • Maintenance & Repair
The SIGINT Acquisition Element uses technical means such as spectrum and band searches, and via point searches based on information from other disciplines (OSINT, HUMINT, IMGINT) to find monitoring targets to pass along to the Collection Elements.
The COMINT Collection Element collects intelligence information via point searches on communications emitters based on data acquired from the SIGINT Acquisition Element. They pass that information to the SIGINT Analysis Element.
The ELINT Collection Element collects intelligence information on non-communciations emitter data such as aircraft ADS-B “squawks”. They pass that information to the SIGINT Analysis Element.
The SIGINT Analysis Element takes the intelligence information provided by the Acquisition and Collection Elements and converts it to an intelligence product based on the organization's intelligence requirements.
The S-2 Liaison Element works with other intelligence centers, handles OSINT, HUMINT, IMGINT, etc. information that is of interest to the SIGINT Center, and acts as the SIGINT Center's representative when working with the organization's S-2. The S-2 Liaison Element also works extensively with the SIGINT Analysis Element in providing the intelligence product to S-2.
The Logistics & Security Element is primarily responsible for supplying the SIGINT Center with all the items they need to maintain operations. This includes food, consumable items (toilet articles, writing implements and paper, et al), and laundry service. They are also responsible for the safety and security of the SIGINT Center. This includes physical security, operational security, counterintelligence operations, force protection, and medical support.
The Maintenance & Repair Element is responsible for keeping everything working in good order. This includes not only the radios, but also any computing equipment, network infrastructure, power generation & lighting, and shelters.
Once a SIGINT Center is properly staffed and equipped, they can being the process of providing the intelligence product. The process goes like this:
  1. The S-2 Liaison receives its tasking, requirements, and any relevant intelligence acquired via other disciplines from the organization's leadership via S-2
  2. The S-2 Liaison works with the SIGINT Acquisition Element to use technical and non-technical means to perform their mission.
  3. The SIGINT Acquisition Element passes information they acquire to the Collection and Analysis Elements for further action.
  4. The Collection Elements use technical means and information received from the SIGINT Acquisition Element to perform their mission. They pass information they acquire to the SIGINT Analysis Element for further action.
  5. The SIGINT Analysis Element takes the information they receive from the other elements, and processes it via technical and other analytical means into an intelligence product based on the requirements received via the organization's S-2. That product is then passed to the S-2 Liaison.
  6. The S-2 Liaison then passes the product to the organization's S-2, receives feedback, and brings updated requirements back to the SIGINT Center. The process repeats.
  7. During the entire process, the support elements ensure the logistics, security, and maintenance requirements of the SIGINT Center are met, working with the relevant staff (S) functions of the organization to accomplish their mission.
A SIGINT Center will require no less than four people for each workstation in the operational elements. This provides an equipment operator and logging assistant/messenger for two 12-hour shifts over a 24-hour period. Support elements will be by necessity much larger, due to the greater variety of functions required by them. Adequate personnel should be available to provide for two 12-hour shifts over a 24-hour period for each job function, with adequate back-up coverage available in the event of sickness or other incapacitation. It should also be noted that the SIGINT Center is subordinate to the organization's S-2, so a competent S-2 staff (and by association a competent organization) is also required for the SIGINT Center to produce a quality product.
Lone wolves can also make effective use of this process on a smaller individual scale provided they are able to mentally separate different functions at the appropriate times while keeping an eye on the big picture.

April 25, 2017

Class Information

Plenty of spots available for the whole summer.


There may be occasions when the reader is on-scene at a location, and need to determine the extent of radio frequency spectrum usage. Elements of interest may include fixed, mobile, and portable assets over a typical frequency range of 25 MHz. To 1.3 GHz.
In the United States, OSINT1 can be used 99% of the time to determine the frequencies licensed at a particular location. The primary source is the FCC General Menu Reports page on the Internet. From there, the researcher can enter in latitude and longitude coordinates to get a listing of all FCC licenses in a given location. This will not account for Federal Government radio transmitters, amateur radio repeaters, or transmitters that are unlicensed for whatever reason. It also will not tell the researcher what frequencies are actually actively transmitting at the location. To determine that, the researcher will need to conduct a field exercise.
The most common tool used for on-site frequency determination is a police scanner with nearby signal detection capability. They are known by the trade names “Close Call” (Uniden/Bearcat), “Signal Sweeper” (Whistler), and “Signal Stalker” (Radio Shack). For the purposes of this article, they all function in the same manner and are referred to as “CC/SS.” With a Radio Shack #20-032 Magnet-Mount Scanner Antenna (or similar unit), the operator should be able to receive transmissions from a tower location at line of sight distances of up to one mile with the scanner's CC/SS function. Busy frequencies will be detected in short order. Less active ones will take longer. Some CC/SS scanners have an auto store feature that will automatically record CC/SS hits into memory. A scanner with said function could be left in a hidden location and recovered at a later time. The disadvantages to using a CC/SS scanner are:
  1. The operator is limited to the frequency coverage of the scanner itself.
  2. The operator will be unable to detect certain digital signals.
A better solution would be to use a recording digital frequency counter such as the Optoelectronics Digital Scout. The Digital Scout has a frequency coverage range of 10 MHz. To 2.6 GHz. In addition to detecting analog signals, it will detect TDMA2, GSM3, FHSS4, APCO 25 (P25), ON/OFF Keying, TETRA5, RF remotes, RC controllers and other pulsed RF signals. It will detect an RF burst with a duration as low as 300us, and accommodate any RF modulation as long as as long as zero crossings are produced by the RF carrier. Although not specifically mentioned by Optoelectronics, based on its specifications it should also be able to lock on to DMR6 and NXDN7 signals. The Digital Scout has 1000 memories, and can record up to 65,000 hits per memory. It can be used to Reaction Tune the following receivers:
  • Icom PCR1000
  • Icom R10
  • Icom R20
  • Icom R7000
  • Icom R7100
  • Icom R8500
  • Icom R9000
  • AOR AR8000
  • AOR AR8200
  • Optoelectronics Optocom
  • Optoelectronics OS456/Lite (for Radio Shack PRO-2005 and PRO-2006)
  • Optoelectronics OS535 (for Radio Shack PRO-2035 and PRO-2042)
  • Optoelectronics R11
Optoelectronics also makes near-field receivers that perform the same functions as CC/SS scanners with full-spectrum frequency coverage. Before the advent of CC/SS scanners, amateur SIGINT8 operators used the Optoelectronics Xplorer. This is an FM-only unit with frequency coverage of 30 MHz. to 2 GHz. This model is still in production along with the newer X Sweeper that has frequency coverage of 30 MHZ. to 3 GHZ. Optoelectronics products start crossing over into the realm of entry-level test equipment, and thus will outperform a CC/SS scanner in regard to their intended function.

 AOR is offering a “D” upgrade to their AR-8200MK3 that enables the demodulation of P25 signals. With this feature now available in a high-quality communications receiver, the optimal near-field signal detection receiver choice would be an AOR AR-8200D with an Optoelectronics Digital Scout. The combination of digital signal detection, extreme wideband frequency coverage, and P25 demodulation capability make this the preferred system for detecting, discovering and demodulating nearby RF signals.

 The author has been experimenting with near-field signal detection technology since Radio Shack introduced their handheld #22-305 Frequency Counter in the mid 1990s. Over the past 20 years he has used everything from the Radio Shack Frequency Counter to Optoelectronics Xplorers, to Close Call/Signal Sweeper scanners. His experience has shown that the most versatile setup has so far been the Optoelectronics Scout frequency counters Reaction-Tuning a handheld wideband communications receiver.

Regardless of actual make and model of equipment in one's possession, having the capability to arrive at a location and determine the extent of tactical frequency use is an essential function of a SIGINT element. It should be among one of the first capabilities a SIGINT element should develop.

In addition to intercept equipment, a SIGINT element tasked with “on-scene” collection activity should be equipped with adequate STANO9 capability. This can range from a simple pair of general purpose 10x50 binoculars, to spotting scopes for long distance observation, to NODs10 for night-time operations. STANO equipment can be used to visually identify radio communications equipment and determine frequency band(s) of operation based in the models of radio identified. This technique was proven successful at Ferguson, Baltimore, and more recently Burns. Burns was a prime example of the uneducated, perhaps ineducable, committing gross OPSEC11 violations, and should serve as an important lesson to those readers who are serious students of such matters.
In addition to frequency counters and CC/SS scanners, spectrum analyzers and panadpater-equipped receivers such as the RTL-SDR can be used effectively for on-scene frequency identification. They may also be employed for the detection of non-communications emitters and a greater variety of spread spectrum communications. Prices on these devices have come down to where they are now easily affordable. They still, however, have a steeper learning curve as compared to other equipment. Specifics on their field employment will be covered in a future article.

When conducting electronic intercept operations of any sort, proper compartmentalization is essential. The COMINT12 intercept team should be divided into two separate elements. The first element concentrates on signal acquisition (acquisition element). Upon identifying an active frequency, the acquisition element passes the frequency and other electronic identifying information (mode, CTCSS/DCS13 tone, et. al.) to the second element. The second element (collection element) is tasked with a brief identification of the frequencies via OSINT (if possible), and the ongoing collection of COMINT information.
An especially active location will require multiple operators in order to effectively fulfill the tasks of the acquisition and collection elements. Each acquisition operator may be assigned a different band or sector search depending on mission requirements, or a particular band may be assigned multiple operators depending on OSINT results. A particularly busy frequency may have a collection operator assigned specifically to it, as opposed to the usual SOP of an operator performing point searches of a small selection of frequencies. One acquisition operator should always be initially assigned to STANO if the opportunity for said activity is available. The key objective is to quickly and accurately acquire frequency information, and collect COMINT information in as complete and accurate a manner as possible.
The information acquired by acquisition and collection elements is passed along via secure means to the analysis element. While certain pieces of COMINT information may require little in the way of analysis for tactical intelligence purposes, a competent analysis team is needed for proper generation of strategic (long term) intelligence. The analysis element should be completely separate from the acquisition and collection elements, although they will be working closely together. Those with the aptitude who are interested in intelligence and traffic analysis may refer to the following publications:
  • Field Manual FM 34-3, Intelligence Analysis, March, 1990 - U.S. Army
  • Field Manual FM 34-40-2, Basic Cryptanalysis, 13SEP1990 – U.S. Army
  • Technical Manual TM 32-250, Fundamentals Of Traffic Analysis (Radio-Telegraph), October, 1948 - U.S. Army
The previous three publications may be found via the use of any Internet search engine, and downloaded in PDF format. Make sure to print them out, and add them to your library.
1Open Source Intelligence
2Time Division Multiple Access
3Global System for Mobile Communications
4Frequency Hopping Spread Spectrum
5Terrestrial Trunked Radio (formerly known as Trans-European Trunked Radio)
6Digital Mobile Radio, aka MotoTRBO
7Implemented by Icom in their IDAS system, and by Kenwood as NEXEDGE.
8Signals Intelligence
9Surveillance Target Acquisition and Night Observation
10Night Optical/Observation Device
11Operational Security
12Communications Intelligence
13Continuous Tone Coded Squelch System/Digital Code Squelch. Known by Motorola as Private Line and Digital Private Line (PL/DPL). Bubble-pack radio users call them “privacy codes.”