Band Conditions

16 February 2019


Many beginners, when faced with purchasing their first communications gear, invariably wind up buying cheap Chicom handhelds because that's what the masses have been getting. They then put them on a shelf thinking they will become proficient with them when the great TEOTWAWKI Zombie Apocalypse (tm) occurs. They are what we would call in the Army a "NO-GO" when it comes to communications. Commo is one of those basic things that you should be using now and regularly so you can become proficient in its use for when you actually need it.
Personal intra-group radios need to be uncomplicated, rugged, and reliable. That eliminates the common Chicom ham radio handhelds. There is no one one-size-fits all solution when it comes to comms, and you have to figure out some specific requirements when it comes to your communications needs. I offer classes that teach this sort of thing, based on my 35 years of working with radio and electronic communications. Here are a few possible solutions.

Until recently, my wife and I used commonly available FRS handhelds for short-range communications around the homestead. Why would a commo expert use them? They were cheap, simple to use, and LPI when you're only running 500mW into a small antenna in an extreme rural environment. They were also disposable and therefore no big loss if they were dropped in a run and livestock stepped on them. Since moving to a more densely-populated area we've since upgraded to MURS.

MURS is a nice suburban/rural license-free service. It has five channels on the VHF-high band with two-watts output power and an option to encrypt.  Range is similar to what you would get with a typical 2-meter HT.

Here is the currently gold standard in MURS radios. The Motorola RMM2050 operates on the five VHF-high band license-free MURS channels. Unlike the Chicom HTs everyone claims to be using on MURS, these are pretty simple and straightforward in operation. So simple even your Aunt Marge, herbalist and seamstress extraordinaire whose VCR is still blinking "12:00", can use it. MURS Channel 3 (151.84 MHz.) is the nationwide interoperability channel for survivalist-types. See for more info.

If you're looking for something a little more private than MURS, the Motorola DTR series is what I would buy if I didn't live in the hills and have a ham license with a shack full of commo gear. License-free, 900 MHz. digital frequency hopping spread spectrum. Honest 2 mile range in most terrain, which means you'll be able to stay in touch with your group if they're within an hour's walk.

What do I use at present?
Surplus Part 90 VHF-high band HTs programmed on 2 Meter ham band and wideband MURS channels. When running on MURS, digital modulation is used and encryption is implemented.  While not frequency-agile, they are simple to use, and are mil-spec rugged. The VHF-high band is better suited for hilly rural terrain as compared to UHF. An upgrade is planned to a VHF LMR license, and again surplus Part 90 equipment with encryption and the capability to operate on adjacent ham bands will be used.

Want to learn how to choose the right communications gear?

Come to one of my classes this year. The current schedule is at My next class is scheduled for June 1-2, 2019 in Lynchburg, VA. To enroll, please visit I am also available on a limited basis to teach private and group-sponsored classes in the Northeastern and Mid-Atantic US regions. My flat rate for these classes is $2000 for one-day instruction, $3000 for two-days. Subject matter covered includes basic electronic communications, communications monitoring/COMINT/SIGINT, and intelligence preparation. A $1000 deposit is required to schedule, with the balance due no later than 30 days before the start day of class. Payment can be made at, and then email me at to arrange the date.

12 February 2019

Watching the Skies

When we did the Buckholts Texas class in 2014, we detected one of these flying overhead:
It was an RC-12 SIGINT aircraft, likely one from one of the reserve MI units based out of Texas. Not an uncommon occurrence on a weekend, as that's when reservists drill.

How did we notice it, and everything else in the sky that weekend?

By doing ELINT (Electronic Intelligence) with a laptop, $20 RTL-SDR dongle receiver, and some software.

Here is a screenshot from a few minutes ago of most everything currently in the air above NY state. That crowded cluster in the bottom right is New York City. Complements of

While being able to collect ELINT via a website is nice, you're better off doing it yourself. Even a basic setup will still let you see out to 100 miles of so, depending on the terrain.

This is something we'll be talking about, and teaching at class this year. The next class is June 1-2, 2019 in Lynchburg, VA -

Enroll via

03 February 2019

Lynchburg, VA Sparks31 Class - June 1-2, 2019

Sparks31 Communications, SIGINT,
& Special Technology Class

Lynchburg, VA
June 1-2, 2019

This intensive two-day class covers basic and intermediate instruction on the topics of intelligence preparation to support SIGINT, signals & communications intelligence (SIGINT & COMINT), open source intelligence (OSINT), communications systems available for groups and individuals, communications interoperability, and related support technology.

Learn how to identify your intelligence requirements, how to really identify and then bypass "fake news" as it applies to your intelligence requirements, collect intelligence information via SIGINT, COMINT, & OSINT, what communications services/systems are available to you & the advantages/disadvantages of each, and how to interoperate with ad hoc assemblies of groups and individuals in a "come as you are" scenario.

This is a class suitable for both renaissance individuals looking to expand their skill base, or a group's "go-to" person for tech-type stuff. No equipment or prior knowledge is required to attend.

The early bird rate (expires April 1st, 2019) for this class is $300 for individuals, $500 for two people. Enroll via


26 January 2019


Take a minute to think about the implications and (ab)uses of this technology, and possible countermeasures.

20 January 2019

Winter Monitoring

We had a little snow last night. The establishment mass media machine called it a "winter storm". I don't think a few inches constitutes a storm. If you have your scanner going today, give yourself a gold star.

17 January 2019