April 27, 2017

Radio Recommendations

May Class Update

For full information on classes available, please see http://sparks-31.blogspot.com/2017/04/sparks31-2017-class-schedule-and.html

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 - sparks31commo@gmail.com

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. http://www.hpfriedrichs.com/index.htm
  • 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 www.tubebooks.org.

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.”

April 24, 2017

From The Begining: Communications Monitoring

In the beginning pages of Down-Grid Communications, several considerations were put forth for the readers.  They were:
  • The lack of viable broadcast news media even at the present situation mandates that you conduct communications monitoring activities in order to get an accurate picture of activities in your area of operations (AO).  During certain scenarios, this capability will become even more important.  If you do nothing else in the way of radio communications, you must at least have a good communications monitoring setup.
  • Your communications equipment will need to be capable of operating independent of the power grid.
  • The lack of consistent reliable electric utility service in many scenarios means that you will have to produce your own power for communications.
  • The limited quantity of electricity from self-generation means that you should use the lowest amount of RF power needed to establish reliable communications.
  • Many scenarios will have you operating in field locations.  Your equipment should be portable or at least easily transportable.
  • Commercial electronic repair facilities will not be available in a long-term grid-down scenario.  At best you may have access to a retired electronic repair technician or advanced hobbyist with a small collection of parts and basic test equipment.  Some of your equipment should be capable of being repaired under these conditions.
  • Socio-political effects of certain scenarios may make it necessary for you to implement some form of communications security (COMSEC). Depending on the specific type and severity of the scenario, you may be facing threats ranging from bandits with a police scanner to a professional signals intelligence (SIGINT) asset.
These bullet points are the items of importance that one must keep in mind when setting up down-grid communications capability.  Over the next few issues, we will be discussing these considerations in greater detail, and providing updated information.

The first consideration is the most important of all, and sadly the one that is usually the most ignored.  It would appear that most individuals are more interested in getting transmitting capability (To whom? And why?) than they are in getting useful intelligence  information from their area of operations.  This attitude needs to change.  To refresh the reader's memory, the first consideration is:
  • The lack of viable broadcast news media even at the present situation mandates that you conduct communications monitoring activities in order to get an accurate picture of activities in your area of operations (AO).  During certain scenarios, this capability will become even more important.  If you do nothing else in the way of radio communications, you must at least have a good communications monitoring setup.
Since this was written, the need for conducting communications capability has not diminished, and listening is still >2X as important as transmitting.  A good communications monitoring setup is still considered an essential requirement for any survivalist.  Fortunately, only a minimal amount of commercial off the shelf equipment is needed to set up a modest, but very effective monitoring post in the corner of one's home.

Like any down-grid communications equipment, most, if not all, of your monitoring gear should be capable of running independent of electrical grid power.  That means it should be capable of being powered off of batteries or 12V DC.  This can be at odds with running older tube gear in case of an EMP event.  Some older tube-type radios will run on DC.  Do your research.

The lack of viable broadcast media is still applicable from a tactical standpoint, especially in regard to disaster communications monitoring.  However, from a strategic dystopian present-state standpoint, observation of broadcast media is a useful tool to gauge current and future majority trends.  This is important as your status as a minority group means you need to keep an eye on certain things the masses are thinking and worrying about.  In particular, the things that might affect you.  Also, certain potentially interesting and/or useful memes can be detected and used to your advantage, provided you have the skills to do so.

For example, I was recently watching a show on PBS that featured individuals who were disconnecting from their electronic tethers (aka cellphones).  Intelligence information of such a nature can always be exploited to an advantage by those with the right training.  Psychological operations and propaganda are beyond the scope of this article, but as the well-known axiom states, “Keep one's friends close and one's enemies closer.”  Consider suspect anyone who disparages the act of monitoring mass media broadcasts, often along with throwing out the term “brainwashing”.  You cannot be brainwashed by watching PBS or listening to NPR, especially when you already know their sociopolitical bias.  The worst it might do is make you check some premises, which as a survivalist is not a bad thing.  Let me clue you into a little secret.  Sometimes your biggest problems come from people who claim to be on “your side.”  I have seen more outright lies, fake news stories, and bogus “intel reports” from web sites who claim to be patriot, militia, and three-percenter than I have seen from CNN, PBS, ABC, NBC, ABC, CBS, and Fox.  I have also noticed that the more vocal sites are the worst offenders.

With that said, the first pieces of equipment for your monitoring post are items you might already have.  They are an AM/FM portable radio and small TV set.  If possible, both should be hooked up to good quality external antennas to maximize reception capability.  FM broadcast band (Broadcast Band) and TV antennas are available via Radio Shack, Wal-Mart, or most home improvement-type stores (Home Depot, Menards, etc.)  Portable radios come with an internal ferrite antenna for AM Broadcast Band reception which works adequately, but for distant reception, I use a Grundig AN-200 loop antenna, especially when trying to isolate two stations on the same frequency.  Loop antennas have excellent directional characteristics.

The primary stations you are trying to reach are your local PBS and FOX affiliates, as they are your best bet for broadcast news media coverage on the two sides of the nominal political spectrum.  In most places, an omni-directional antenna should work to receive both stations, but I recommend you install a directional “fringe reception” antenna for reasons I will disclose later.  On FM and TV broadcast, a good setup should enable you to receive stations out to a 60 mile radius depending on your location and antenna arrangements.  AM broadcast will have a shorter reception range during the day, and start crossing state lines to offer regional-plus coverage at night.  AM Broadcast Band DX reception at night is the nature of the beast.  TV and FM Broadcast Band reception range will generally be line-of-sight unless the VHF/UHF bands are experiencing some form of enhanced propagation.  Don't bother with getting cable or satellite TV service.  It is an added monetary expense, and you probably have better things to spend the money on.  I live in the region that is among the furthest in the Continental United States from any Interstate highway, and am able to get the necessary TV stations off the airwaves for free.  If I can do it here, you should be able to do it where you are.

Broadcast news adds one more level of information to help with putting together a picture of what's going on in your area.  As an example, within the past month, a Facebook user posted up a video, presumably taken in the Denver, Colorado area, of a freight train transporting a quantity of armored vehicles.  A screen capture of said video is shown at left.  Disregarding the poor video quality and vague information provided with the video (typical of many “militia” and “3per” “intel reports”), routine monitoring of broadcast stations would have brought up this recent story from KKTV, a CBS affiliate TV station in Colorado Springs, CO:
Further research showed that this news story was the first in a series about soldiers from Ft. Carson who are presently training at NTC.  If your area of operations included Colorado Springs, that would be a good news story series to watch and record for later detailed analysis.  Because that's what you do when you want to know what's going on around you.

Setting up a modern TV for reception is trivial.  You turn it on, and have it scan the channels.  It will find local stations that are on the air, and identify them for you.  All you then have to do is check the schedule for the times of news and “current affairs” shows that interest you.  AM/FM is a little more involved.  You will have to tune the dial through the broadcast spectrum, identify what's transmitting in your area, and then check schedules for the times of news and “current affairs” shows that interest you.  First scan both the AM and FM bands during the day, then after dark scan the AM band again.  The reason you should scan the AM band a second time at night is because signals in that frequency range travel much farther at night, and you will be able to hear stations way beyond your local area.

Nighttime AM talk radio is home to fringe shows that provide information of an interesting nature, but remember to verify what you might hear.  No mention of nighttime AM talk radio would be complete without mentioning the Coast-to-Coast AM show, a paranormal news/talk show originally created by fellow desert rat and ham radio enthusiast Art Bell, W6OBB.  It's now hosted by George Noory (weeknights) and George Knapp (Sundays), and is on every night from 1AM – 5AM Eastern/10PM – 2AM Pacific time.  If you are up late one night, give it a listen.  At the very least you'll be entertained.

Your best bet when starting out is seeing how many of the “big guns”, the Class A high-power unlimited clear channel AM stations, you can hear from your location.  Here is a list of all Class A AM Broadcast stations in the United States as of October 2nd, 2016 when the FCC database search was made.  You can do your own search via the Internet at https://www.fcc.gov/media/radio/am-query#block-menu-block-4 .

Class A AM Broadcast Stations:

Callsign    Frequency (Khz.)  Location
KYUK         640                        BETHEL, AK
KFI            640                        LOS ANGELES, CA
WSM         650                        NASHVILLE, TN
KENI         650                        ANCHORAGE, AK
WFAN        660                       NEW YORK, NY
KFAR         660                       FAIRBANKS, AK
KDLG        670                       DILLINGHAM, AK
WSCR       670                      CHICAGO, IL
KBRW       680                       BARROW, AK
KNBR       680                       SAN FRANCISCO, CA
KBYR       700                       ANCHORAGE, AK
WLW        700                       CINCINNATI, OH
WOR        710                       NEW YORK, NY
KIRO        710                       SEATTLE, WA
WGN        720                       CHICAGO, IL
KOTZ       720                       KOTZEBUE, AK
WSB        750                       ATLANTA, GA
KFQD      750                       ANCHORAGE, AK
WJR         760                      DETROIT, MI
KCHU      770                       VALDEZ, AK
WABC      770                       NEW YORK, NY
KNOM     780                       NOME, AK
WBBM     780                       CHICAGO, IL
KGO         810                      SAN FRANCISCO, CA
WGY        810                       SCHENECTADY, NY
KCBF       820                       FAIRBANKS, AK
WBAP      820                       FORT WORTH
WCCO      830                       MINNEAPOLIS, MN
WHAS      840                       LOUISVILLE, KY
KOA         850                       DENVER, CO
KICY        850                       NOME, AK
WWL        870                       NEW ORLEANS, LA
WCBS       880                      NEW YORK, NY
KBBI        890                       HOMER, AK
WLS         890                       CHICAGO, IL
KOMO      1000                     SEATTLE, WA
WMVP      1000                     CHICAGO, IL
KDKA        1020                     PITTSBURGH, PA
KVNT        1020                     EAGLE RIVER, AK
WBZ         1030                     BOSTON, MA
WHO        1040                      DES MOINES, IA
KYW         1060                      PHILADELPHIA, PA
KNX          1070                     LOS ANGELES, CA
KOAN       1080                      ANCHORAGE, AK
KRLD        1080                      DALLAS, TX
WTIC         1080                      HARTFORD, CT
KAAY         1090                      LITTLE ROCK, AR
WBAL        1090                      BALTIMORE, MD
WTAM        1100                     CLEVELAND, OH
KFAB          1110                     OMAHA, NE
WBT           1110                      CHARLOTTE, NC
KMOX         1120                    ST. LOUIS, MO
WBBR         1130                    NEW YORK, NY
KWKH         1130                    SHREVEPORT, LA
WRVA          1140                   RICHMOND, VA
KSL            1160                    SALT LAKE CITY, UT
WWVA        1170                    WHEELING, WV
KFAQ          1170                    TULSA, OK
KJNP           1170                    NORTH POLE, AK
WHAM         1180                   ROCHESTER, NY
KEX            1190                     PORTLAND, OR
WOAI         1200                    SAN ANTONIO, TX
WPHT        1210                    PHILADELPHIA, PA
KSTP         1500                    ST. PAUL, MN
WFED        1500                   WASHINGTON, DC
WLAC        1510                   NASHVILLE, TN
WWKB       1520                   BUFFALO, NY
KOKC        1520                   OKLAHOMA CITY, OK
KFBK        1530                   SACRAMENTO, CA
WCKY       1530                   CINCINNATI, OH
KXEL        1540                   WATERLOO, IA
KNZR       1560                    BAKERSFIELD, CA
WFME      1560                   NEW YORK, NY

One of the best radios for AM reception can be had cheaply at your local junkyard, tag sale, or flea market.  Look for a stock OEM car radio, preferably from AC Delco.  Due the vehicle environment they need to work in, they are equipped with exceptionally good noise suppression circuitry.  They run off of 12V DC, which makes them good for off-grid types, and are also designed to work with shorter antennas.

Other broadcast stations of particular interest would be small non-profit “community” stations.  They usually operate in the FM broadcast band between 88 MHz. and 92 MHz., although I have heard some on AM.  This is also the same part of the band where you will usually find college stations and NPR.  This stations usually feature non-mainstream programs, and air time can often be purchased for a nominal fee for an individual or small group to produce their own radio show.  The extent and nature of these stations will vary widely from region to region, and your best bet, as always, is to scan the band to see what you can hear.

I mentioned in a previous paragraph that I recommended installing a high-performance “fringe reception” antenna for FM and TV broadcast reception, even if it's not needed for local stations.  The reason is because you should always aim for maximum performance out of your monitoring post as there may be times when you need it, especially when trying to listen to lower-power stations that feature non-mainstream programming, or when something happens to your local broadcast station(s).

On September 11th, 2001 there were 12 different TV stations broadcasting on top of the World Trade Center in New York City.  Only one station, WCBS Channel 2, had a backup transmitter located on the Empire State Building.  There was also a smaller community station which had their primary transmitter on ESB.  When the towers collapsed, all 12 stations went off the air.  My friend “Craig Johnson” who was living in Queens at the time recalled to me in a recent conversation how he was picking up adjacent channel and co-channel TV stations in New Haven, CT and Philadelphia, PA at his monitoring post when WABC Channel 7 went off the air (they were located at WTC).  As a stopgap measure, many of those stations relocated to Armstrong Tower in Alpine NJ, 18 miles north of the city.  Viewers in Woodlawn might have had better reception, but the same wouldn't have been the case for those in Rockaway Park.  Having that extra reception capability comes in handy when a station goes off the air, and you have to receive their back-up location, or a station that's located in another distant city.

Broadcast band reception is a good place to start, as you probably have most, if not all, of everything to proceed, and the monetary investment to upgrade the capability is minimal.  Installing an FM/TV reception antenna is a good beginner project that helps prepare you for more advanced work, and the same applies to AM and FM band-scanning, especially AM since it has some nice DX characteristics at night.

Another item you will want to get is a NOAA weather/all hazards radio.  This is a receiver that listens to the NOAA broadcasts on 162.400-162.550 MHz.  Many receivers are equipped with a decoder (SAME – Specific Area Message Encoding) that puts the radio in standby mode until an alert is received.  All VHF/UHF police scanners will receive the NOAA broadcasts, but not all of them have a SAME decoder.  NOAA receivers are useful because they will alert you to the most common disaster situation you will have to face, historically speaking, which is weather.  They will also, thanks to SAME, remain silent until an alert is generated for your area.

So far I have mentioned broadcast media intended for the general public that is available with commercial off the shelf consumer electronics equipment that you could pick up at Wal-Mart or anywhere else.  An AM/FM radio, TV, and NOAA weather/all-hazards radio will give if nothing else but an adequate overview of general news, sociopolitical status of your local region, agenda direction of your local establishment, and warning of approaching hazardous weather conditions.  All of that is important to help you put together a picture of what's happening around you, and what you might have to worry about in the future.  Now we starting expanding the range out further with Shortwave listening.

The Shortwave bands (1.7-30 MHz.) offers worldwide communications capability, yet many emergency communications concerns (like Amateur Radio ARES/RACES, and state/federal emergency management agencies) use it for regional communications via NVIS (Near Vertical Incidence Skywave) propagation when VHF/UHF communications are unable to do the job.  Shortwave is also the home to a variety of international broadcasters from across the globe.  These stations provide yet another news viewpoint, one that is different from what you'll get from domestic broadcasters.  This is important because no single source of news/information will give you the complete picture, and all sources will have a particular slant or bias.  By collecting news from multiple sources you can eliminate the bias/slant factor and actually get an idea of what's going on.

Make sure you get a shortwave receiver that has the capability to receive Single Sideband (SSB) communications.  SSB is a narrow-band voice communications mode used by amateur radio operators and government/business “utility” stations on shortwave.  You will also need SSB capability to monitor the various digital modes used by amateur radio and utility  stations.  Many inexpensive low-end receivers will only demodulate AM signals used by shortwave broadcasters.  You can tell if a receiver has SSB capability by looking for the word “sideband” or letters “SSB” on the mode switch, or by looking for a BFO (beat frequency oscillator) control on the radio.

I advise you to get the best shortwave receiver you can afford, because you should/will be spending a lot of time listening to this frequency range.  A good receiver will cover from the AM broadcast band (or below) up to 30+ <MHz.  This includes every HF amateur radio band, international broadcasters, “utility” stations run by military and government agencies, assorted clandestine stations that show up anywhere on the spectrum, and CB communications.

Shown to the right is the excellent Icom R-75.  It's a good radio, and one that I would recommend.  It's an easy to use unit, but has enough room for you to grow into.  It receives AM, SSB, CW, and FM from 30 KHz. to 60 MHz.  This starts way below the AM broadcast band, and goes into the VHF low-band and past the 6 meter ham band.  It is the last of the analog architecture (non-SDR) Icom shortwave receivers.  Icom recently discontinued this radio, but they are still available new for around $600.  You can find one used for under $300 if you look around and don't act like an asshole.  Otherwise they sell in the $400-$500 range.

I like the R-75 because not only is a really good performing receiver for the money, but it also covers up into the VHF low and mid-bands that are used by the military for tactical communications, and by public safety and industrial users for regional interoperability.  Military tactical radios operate from 30-88 MHz. in 25 KHz. steps.  When not in ECCM (frequency hopping) mode they typically transmit with a PL/CTCSS tone of 150 Hz. (the standard 151.4 Hz. tone will decode it just fine).  Also, a lot of clandestine radio users typically operate using AM, FM, or SSB from 25-33 MHz. for local and regional communications using modified 10/11 Meter ham rigs or “export CB” radios.  These are the usual terms used to identify radios originally designed for the 10 Meter ham band or the 11 Meter CB band that have been modified to operate on the “uppers and lowers”, the frequency ranges above and below the bands.  Such CB hobbyists are known as “freebanders”, “Hfers”, or “skip shooters”.

Any recent vintage (within the past 30 years) HF amateur radio transceiver should also have “general coverage receive” capability from ~1.7-30 MHz.  If you eventually plan on getting an amateur radio license and operating on HF, you may want to purchase one instead.  Many survivalist types have been happy with the Icom IC-718 and Yaesu FT-857 transceivers.  What you get is not as important as getting something and practicing with it.  However, if you really have no plans of getting on the air with HF amateur capability, you might save some money by simply getting a good used receiver.

Different frequency ranges in the SW band offer better reception depending on the time of day.  As a rule of thumb, the frequency range between 1.7-6 MHz. best propagates at night, 15-30 MHz. are daytime frequencies, and 6-15 MHz. works adequately 24 hours a day.

Your best bet for starting out listening are international shortwave broadcasters.  They run AM mode, and operate on fixed frequencies and schedules.  The US domestic broadcasters are the easiest of the lot to hear, but most of them are all religious programming.  The best, and perhaps most entertaining, US domestic broadcaster is WBCQ1, “The Planet”, out of Maine.  Their motto is "Free Speech Radio."  It is run and operated by former pirate broadcaster Allan Weiner of Radio Newyork International fame.  They operate on 7.490 MHz., 9.330 MHz., 5.130 MHz., and 3.250 MHz.  The best time to listen is on the weekends.  To find information on other shortwave broadcasts, visit the following sites:
The Shortwave bands are also used by state and federal government agencies  for long-distance communications.  These communications are referred to as “utility” stations, as opposed to “broadcast” stations.  State emergency management homeland security agencies are among the most prolific users of HF, and every state maintains a  communications network.  When voice is utilized, communication will in Upper Sideband mode (USB).  You can use the FCC General Menu Reports web site to find frequency data for your particular state.

HF Public Safety Frequencies In the American Redoubt Region:
Frequency (MHz.) - States
2.3274 - Montana, Wyoming, Idaho
2.4154 - Wyoming, Idaho
2.4204 - Wyoming
2.4404 - Montana
2.4644- Montana
2.4724 - Idaho
2.5364 - Idaho
2.8054 - Montana, Idaho
2.8134 - Montana
5.1364 - Montana, Idaho
5.1414 - Montana, Idaho
5.1964 - Montana, Wyoming, Idaho
7.4784 - Montana, Idaho
7.4814 - Montana Disaster & Emergency Services
7.8064 - Montana, Wyoming, Idaho
7.9334 - Montana, Wyoming, Idaho
15.5050 - Montana (Fish-Wildlife-Parks)

Amateur radio is another major user of HF communications, and you will want to monitor the various ARES, RACES, disaster response, and Skywarn nets in your region.  A Google search will be able to find your specific frequencies.  You will also want to take note of AmRRON, The American Redoubt Radio Operators Network.  Their website is at http://www.ammron.net/.

VHF Low-Band

Many HF receivers (and all police scanners) have reception capability up into the 30-50+ MHz. range.  This is known as the VHF-Low Band.  It is a transitional part of the spectrum that has been less utilized as of late.  Many of its characteristics that caused former Low Band LMR users to move up in frequency make it useful for survivalist types, especially in rural areas.  Most of the time Low Band is line of sight propagation, with the advantage of handling hilly terrain better than higher frequencies.  When propagation conditions are favorable, world-wide communications become possible.  It's disadvantage is that the lower frequency makes proper antennas longer in length than the VHF-High or UHF bands.  The longer wavelength also means decreased propagation and more difficult communications in urban terrain.  VHF-Low Band is really for for rural and wilderness use when infrastructure needs to be minimal and “line of sight” communications range longer.  Keep this in mind for future reference.

For our monitoring purposes, many regions use VHF-Low Band for regional mutual-aid and intersystem networks.  With a proper antenna, communications can be monitored over a greater distance than on higher frequency bands.  Since these frequencies are for mutual-aid and intersystem use, they are only active during system tests or a major incident.

Due to the large amount of military and commercial surplus out there, the frequency range of 20-76 MHz. should be considered a priority range for monitoring and band searches.  Within that range, 25-32 MHz. has the most priority due to the ready availability of off-the-shelf CB radios, 10 meter ham radios, and modified “freeband” versions of both.  Expect to see AM, FM, and SSB modes in use.  In this part of the spectrum, one can normally expect to hear communications up to 20 miles away or more depending on terrain and band conditions.  When conditions are optimal, worldwide reception is possible.

Tactical FM manpack and vehicle sets of 1950s and 60s vintage (PRC-8, PRC-9, PRC-10, RT-66, RT-67, RT-68, RT-70) are capable of operation between 20-58.4 MHz.  More recent FM tactical sets (PRC-25, PRC-77, RT-524) are capable of operation between 30-76 MHz.  A lot of these radios, particularly the older models, have made it to the surplus market and remain in operational condition.  The military and federal agencies are significant users of this spectrum, with operations concentrated on the frequency ranges of 30-30.55, 34-35, 36-37, 38-39, 40-42, 46.6-47, and 49.6-50 MHz.  Many TV broadcasters have moved off the lower channels (2-6 or 54-88 MHz.) with the transition to digital, leaving broad swaths of unoccupied spectrum that may be exploited for clandestine communications.  The author recalls many a night during down-time on an FTX tuning his Humvee's RT-524 above 54 MHz. to hear the audio of a local TV station during the 10/11 O'Clock news broadcast.  Alas, such a technique is no longer viable with the digital transition.  Yet, the way the spectrum is these days you never know what you might come across by tuning though these presumably dead spaces.

Monitoring Tip:
Some older multi-band portable radios from Radio Shack et al are capable of tuning the TV bands. They will typically have “TV1” for Channels 2-6, “TV2” for Channels 7-13, and “UHF TV” for Channels 14-83. The frequency ranges break down as follows:
Channels 2-6: 54-88 MHz.
Channels 7-13: 174-216 MHz.
Channels 14-83: 470-890 MHz.
These receivers can be used to check for clandestine “white space” activity, and communications above 54 MHz. where the VHF-Low coverage on many police scanners ends. Also note that the former UHF channels 59-83 are now allocated for land mobile and common carrier radio use.

VHF Low-Band Frequencies Of Interest:

Frequency (MHz.) - Use
25.04 - Business/Industrial, Hazmat Response
25.08 - Business/Industrial, Hazmat Response
27.49 - Business/Industrial, Itinerant
27.51 - Business/Industrial, Low-Power
27.53 - Business/Industrial, Low-Power
33.12 - Business/Industrial, Low-Power
33.14 - Business/Industrial, Low-Power
33.40 - Business/Industrial, Low-Power
34.90 - Military
35.04 - Business/Industrial, Itinerant
36.25 - Business/Industrial, Hazmat Response
36.71 - Military
36.89 - Military
37.60 - Power Utility, Intersystem
38.50 - Military, Common National Guard Frequency
39.46 - Police, Mutual-Aid
40.50 - Military
40.71 - Business/Industrial, Hazmat Response
42.98 - Business/Industrial, Low-Power
43.04 - Business/Industrial, Itinerant
45.86 - Police, Mutual-Aid
45.88 - Fire, Mutual Aid
47.42 - American Red Cross
46.30 - Fire, Low Power/Mobiles

With the mention of VHF-Low band, we cross into the spectrum covered by “police scanner” receivers.  They cover various frequency ranges from either 25~30 MHz. up to at least 960 MHz. with 1300 MHz. being the top end in most cases (see text frame).  High-end models typically cover 25-1300 MHz. continuous with the exception of the 800 MHz. common carrier “cell phone” band in units made after 1994 for domestic US consumption.  These are “local” frequencies used by public safety, businesses, and hobbyists.  From a monitoring standpoint, most of your local information of a tactical nature will be collected here, and it is on these frequencies you will find out the truth as to what's going on in your town.  In fact, a police scanner is the only way you will hear the unvarnished truth as to what's going on in your area of responsibility.  With that in mind, a police scanner is the second major equipment purchase you should get after defensive weaponry.  The good news is that a police scanner will cost you  about half the price of an AR-15.

The best scanner receiver for your purposes as a beginner is the Uniden Home Patrol II.  It comes pre-programmed with the excellent nationwide scanner frequency database from http://www.radioreference.com/.  All the user has to do is enter in their zip code, and the scanner will program itself for their area.  A GPS receiver/antenna can be attached to the scanner, and it will self-program according to the location data it receives.  The Home Patrol II also has a discovery mode that will search the spectrum for activity to determine its location, and program itself.  The Home Patrol II will demodulate both Phase 1 and Phase 2 P25 modulation, and will track communications on trunked radio systems.  Both P25 and trunked radio systems are seeing increasing use by public safety agencies from local up to federal.  This is a good beginner's scanner because it is the easiest unit for a beginner to program.  Enter in your Zip Code and a few seconds later you are ready to go.

I cannot overstate the importance of having a police scanner among your survivalist electronics kit.  In the grand scheme of things they are reasonably priced, readily available now, and invaluable for finding out the truth about what's going on in your town.  Sell off an extra gun if you need to in order to buy yourself a Uniden Home Patrol II.

Jungle Telegraphs

Back in the heyday of CB, I became aware of group who was using CB to conduct their allegedly less than legal business activities.  They developed a verbal code system that sounded like small talk to the casual listener, and was 100% secure from a technical standpoint.  One of the members was arrested for something or another, and became an informant, which shows you that the real problem with maintaining effective communications security is the human factor.

At the time, there were a number of social groups who used CB to stay in touch and trade gossip.  Each had their own channel, and with 40 channels to pick from there was plenty of room for everyone.  Channel 19 was always popular in areas near an Interstate highway.  Some groups went so far as to purchase high-end radios with SSB capability, and some took up “freebanding”, operating on the unofficial illegal CB bands above and below the usual 40 channels.

Many areas still use a discrete CB channel as a local jungle telegraph.  Most of the time they will be running AM on one of the standard legal 40 channels, but it is worthwhile to band search 25-28 MHz. in AM, SSB, and FM modes.  A proper antenna should enable you to monitor local jungle telegraph nets out to a 20 mile radius at night when daytime skip conditions are not active.  In urban areas, FRS/GMRS handheld radios are used in addition to CB as a local jungle telegraph, particularly among younger users.  Ham operators in an area will usually have a discrete, usually 2 meter, simplex frequency they will congregate on, and I'll guarantee you it won't be 146.520 MHz.  Do your research.  Band searches during the evening hours are your best bet, if you can't find it by asking around.

It was survival communications blogger “Dan Morgan” who first mentioned the “bubba detector.”  It is an inexpensive police scanner that is programmed with common handheld/portable VHF/UHF radio frequencies to be used as a means of detecting activity out to a couple of miles.  This is a great idea, and should be among the first electronic intercept capabilities you acquire.  The best way to do this is to get a Radio Shack Signal Stalker I (one), or Uniden Close Call police scanner.  These two are the best types to get for this purpose.  Signal Stalker I and Close Call are full-spectrum nearby RF detection modes that can run in the background while scanning memory channels.  When a nearby (average 1000 feet, but out to one mile for base stations) RF signal is detected, the scanner will give an alert, display the frequency of the signal, and allow you to hear the transmission.  This feature is available on the following scanners:

Signal Stalker I, Radio Shack:
PRO-83, PRO-84, PRO-2051 , PRO-433, PRO-528, PRO-160, and PRO-162.

Close Call, Uniden:
BC-72XLT, BC-75XLT, BC-92XLT, BC-95XLT, BC-125AT.

You will want to avoid Uniden Scanners with Dynamic Memory Architecture because they are a pain in the neck to manually program without a computer.     You will also want to avoid GRE/Whistler Spectrum Sweeper and Radio Shack Signal Stalker II models because their nearby RF detection modes can not be programmed to run in the background.

The idea is to program in the common handheld frequencies into the scanner's memory channels to give you a 1-2 mile detection range on the common stuff, while having the SS-I/CC mode running in the background for “danger close” detection of any RF signal, regardless of frequency.

In the book, a list of common portable radio frequencies was given to assist readers in programming their scanners for detecting nearby portable radio communications.  The list was as follows:

VHF-Low Band
This range still sees use by old-school types using surplus gear and CB radios.  Specific frequency data is not as important as VHF-High and UHF since a lot of the gear, particularly the military surplus stuff, is frequency agile from 20-76 MHz.  This would be a good target band for SS-I/CC use, but be aware that most SS-I/CC scanners don't tune below 25 MHz. or above 54 MHz.
35.04 – Itinerant
43.04 – Itinerant
49.830 - Part 15
49.845 - Part 15
49.860 - Part 15
49.875 - Part 15
49.890 - Part 15

VHF-High & UHF Band
The VHF-High and UHF Business bands is where most portable radio activity occurs these days.  These are frequency bands of the license-free MURS and FRS radio services, of all the Ritron and Motorola "job site" portables available from Home Depot and Grainger.  There are cheap portables operating on FRS and GMRS repeater output frequencies available from places like Wal-Mart and Target.  These are the most active frequency ranges for portable radios.
This is also the spectrum of the VHF Marine Band between 156.25-157.425 MHz.  Despite being a violation of FCC regulations, many individuals and groups use VHF Marine portables on land, especially if they are more than 100 miles or so from a navigable waterway.
151.505 – Itinerant
151.625 - Itinerant, Red Dot
151.820 – MURS
151.880 – MURS
151.940 – MURS
151.955 - Purple Dot
154.570 –MURS/Blue Dot
154.600 - MURS, Green Dot
158.400 – Itinerant
169.445 - Wireless Mics
169.505 -Wireless Mics
170.245 - Wireless Mics
170.305 -Wireless Mics
171.045 - Wireless Mics
171.105 -Wireless Mics
171.845 - Wireless Mics
171.905 -Wireless Mics
UHF Band
451.800 – Itinerant
462.550 – GMRS
462.5625 – FRS1
462.575 - White Dot-GMRS
462.5875 – FRS2
462.600 – GMRS
462.6125 – FRS3
462.625 - Black Dot-GMRS
462.6375 – FRS4
462.650 – GMRS
462.6625 – FRS5
462.675 - Orange Dot-GMRS
462.6875 – FRS6
462.700 – GMRS
462.7125 – FRS7
462.725 – GMRS
464.500 -Itinerant/Brown Dot
464.550 –Itinerant/Yellow Dot
467.5625 – FRS8
467.5875 – FRS9
467.6125 – FRS10
467.6375 – FRS11
467.6625 – FRS12
467.6875 – FRS13
467.7125 – FRS14
467.7625 - J Dot
467.8125 - K Dot
467.850 - Silver Star
467.875 - Gold Star
467.900 - Red Star
467.925 - Blue Star

Be aware that the increasing number of cheap Baofeng-type HTs in use by the technically ignorant has resulted in unlicensed activity showing up all across the VHF/UHF frequency coverage range of these radios.  It is those instances where SS-I/CC capability will come in handy.  There are a total of 169 frequencies in those lists.  They easily fit into the memory capacity of even a low-end SS-I/CC scanner such as the Radio Shack PRO-83.  Let's put things in perspective.  At 50-100 channels per second, most scanners will go through that number of channels in 2-4 seconds.  The SS-I/CC function searches through its entire spectrum coverage in about 5 seconds.  Note that information for later.


Interoperability is the ability for different agencies and jurisdictions to communicate with one another when the need arises.  There are specific frequencies assigned for interoperability purposes, and they are also known as “mutual-aid” channels.  These are useful to monitor because they are only active during a major incident, and are unencrypted.  Back in the day, you had a handful of channels for mutual-aid systems, and everyone was on them.  They were 39.46, 45.86, and 155.475 MHz. for police, and 45.88, 154.265, and 154.280 MHz. for fire.  At a fire scene, 33.50, 46.30, 154.010, and 154.070 MHz. saw common use.  Search and rescue was on 155.160 MHz. Ambulances used 155.340, 155.400, 462.950, and 462.975 MHz.  The federal government was usually on 163.100 MHz.  These frequencies are still being used today, but more frequencies have been added for such purposes.  Some states use other frequencies for interoperability/mutual-aid purposes.  For example, New York has their MRD channel on 155.370 MHz, Wyoming uses 154.875 MHz, and Connecticut has CSPERN on 858.2625 MHz. 

The Department of Homeland Security publishes a book titled National Interoperability Field Operations Guide (NIFOG) that contains a list of all the current federal and non-federal interoperability/mutual-aid frequencies, emergency operations frequencies, and other useful electronic communications reference data.  It is available for download at the following url:  https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/National%20Interoperability%20Field%20Operations%20Guide%20v1.6.pdf.  You need to download a copy of this, print it out, and keep it at your operating position as a reference.


Some public safety agencies have begun to implement encryption on a part or full-time basis.  The only thing you can do is challenge them on the political side.  Depending on the social and political situation of your community, this has a 50% chance of working.  I came up with that figure from actual field experience, by the way.  What needs to be done is convince either the chief law enforcement officer or his/her bosses that (constant) encryption is not in the best interests of the agency and community.  The last time the author noted a successful outcome with this approach, it was because the police chief became enamored with the idea that “old ladies with police scanners” could act as extra sets of eyes in the community when alerted to something via their listening activity.  The last time the author noted a lack of success with this approach, the city was so corrupt the mayor wound up going to prison.

From a technical standpoint, most radio encryption used in public safety and business/industrial radio communications is only of moderate difficulty to break, but federal law (ECPA) has left a dearth of domestic open-source resources and research material for the cryptoanalyst.  However, like most technology, the human is the weakest point in the security chain.  Crypto keys are often never changed once programmed into a system, and have been known to be bribed out of disgruntled employees and contractors.  Inadequately-trained (or maybe disgruntled)  dispatchers have made operator mistakes at the console and (unknowingly?)  shut down encryption on a radio system for a month before it was noticed by a local reporter who heard something that shouldn't have been said over the air, and wrote about it. 

During disaster situations, encryption is often turned off on a radio system to permit agencies responding via mutual-aid to communicate with the affected jurisdiction.  Interoperability and mutual-aid channels will generally not be encrypted for the same reason.  Also, the communications monitor should seek to discover which radio users are not running encryption in their area and monitor them for useful information.  Communications on the jungle telegraph frequencies will almost always be unencrypted, but savvy operators may talk in a manner that makes it difficult to impossible to figure out just exactly what they're saying.  Savvy monitors will combine their monitoring activities with other forms of information/intelligence gathering to help them see the big picture and figure things out.