From A Reader: Spot-On Observations

One of the best things about running this blog, without a doubt, has been the interaction I’ve had with so many good folks. Communications are that area that makes or breaks a unit at the tactical level and unfortunately, those same tactical communications have been the most misunderstood or neglected area of knowledge in the arsenal of most. Many seem to think either it’s a one and done kinda thing or the skills are supposed to just come to you when they dig that case of Baofengs up during the inevitable crisis. It won’t. And the Ham crowd is definitely not above problems either- there’s a world of difference between tactical communications and what’s done in amateur radio- although it’s the only viable way to practice the necessary skills. Then again that’s why my RTO Course has been the incredible success it is, thus far. This letter from a reader really captures the mindset of many though, and with his permission I’m posting it.


I’ve been following you for a while and applaud your efforts at instructing folks on communications.   I’ve had an interest in ham radio since 1959  and been licensed since 1975.  Main interests have been 160  and 6.  5BDXCC and almost 300 grid squares confirmed on 6 from this QTH.   Enough about me.

My gunny friends know about my radio activities and consider me a subject matter expert.  That means I know more than they do!   The big problem I see are is lazy approach to commo.  They want to buy a top of the line xcvr [transceiver] and plug/play with the magic antenna that does every thing for them.  I tried to make one of those but I couldn’t find enough wire that contained >50% Unobtainium.   I stress that in order to communicate when SHTF,  you must become active and somewhat proficient now.  If your AI/AO is rf-dead now,  someone you won’t like will notice it when it becomes radioactive during bad times.  Make sure that your station is part of the normal landscape.  This is about the time their eyes start to glaze over.   A friend recently established a GMRS network for local comms,  but doesn’t take the time to study for his ham license.  He’s an Airbus Captain with Navy flying experience so there’s no questioning his technical ability.

Getting people to be honest about their realistic AI/AO is a big problem.  How much can you influence,  much less control?  Can you actually defend and control your 1 acre lot?  You don’t need 20M for that!

I consider my technical and operating skills to be proficient, nothing more.  A few years back I wondered how many of the population of General, Advanced, and Extra Class hams could make contacts over a three day span with CA, GA, and ME from their location in GA.  They would be provided a Kenwood 520, a straight key and 150’ of wire and sufficient coax.  Commercial power would be available and all necessary hand tools provided.  I think we’d be shocked at how few could do it.

People actually think there is a  radio that allows for unlimited range and can be man-packed AND is just plug and play.  They don’t like the  idea of a $40,000 satellite phone.  That’s a harsh reality.  A Yaesu backpack radio would work well,  but the skill requirement goes up quite a bit.

The recent article about a G5RV or its derivative was interesting. [Link to that here] Where would the uninitiated  find door-knob caps? I prefer to keep my comm thoughts centered on 80-40-10 and 2.  Let’s also consider the wealth of CB equipment in closets.  That and a dipole strung vertically would probably cover more territory than we will be able to control.

I’m giving some thought to a pair of 135’ dipoles connected at 90 degrees and fed with 450 ohm ladder line.  Probably use a Nye-Viking tuner.  I’ve read about this on 75/80 for broad-banding and wonder if this would work to reduce nulls.

I hadn’t given much thought to the public safety infrastructure and its ability to function as the canary in a coal mine. [Link to that here] Great observation.  I wonder how many departments could revert quickly to their 150/460 systems?

Keep up the good work.  Let’s hope this is all for practice and never needed.


Spot on observations. And if you find yourself or your group with that hole in your training, I can help with that. There’s two dates for the RTO Course this spring and one in the Redoubt. 2019 is already showing signs of instability ahead. Are you ready?

14 thoughts on “From A Reader: Spot-On Observations

  1. Agreed.
    I remember a story written by Dan Morgan about a WROL situation and the broadcast info back to their home base using a KX3 and a dipole that was bare copper and measured out to proper length hung between trees and then (IIRC) the excess wire at the ends was alligator clipped to make the wire “cut” to length. Does this sound familiar or is it too early and my coffee is lacking?

  2. Mustang0268

    Well said, insightful, and in my view quite right. I’m 60, and while I can shoot and move, I realize now that I’m more valuable for my comm’s skills, and perhaps my medic skills.

    That has led me to re-evaluate the “something bad happens (SBH)” scenario’s we all read about in their various configurations. If it’s bad, and someone needs comm’s, then it seems to me that basic, reliable, “jungle” skills/equipment will win the day.

    My amateur radio cohort runs the gamut from tubes to software-defined-radio (SDR), with the broader grouping in the hand-held inexpensive 2m/70cm walk and talk-to-much category. Few of them think about power and antenna, the beginning and end of effective SBH comm’s.

    A dear friend once said “Imagine the three D’s: Dirt, Dark, Danger. Plan accordingly, when it comes to gear. Make it simple, durable, reliable and above all else know how to use what you have.” Applies to comm gear, and so much more. As the saying goes “knowledge weighs nothing”.

    In closing, NC has an excellent, well-grounded blog, which I am an avid fan of; and a well-rounded group of contributing readers. Thank you both for bringing your attention to this vital mindset!

  3. I like the idea of specifying a handful of states an operator must make contact with over a set period of time, perhaps over a weekend. Even more interesting would be to require them to make a mixture of digital and voice comms for those same states. In the current solar cycle, the challenge to do so is real, particularly with voice modes of communication. One of the nationwide comms groups that has been mentioned here in the past is currently running a similar exercise. Participants must decode a One Time Pad posted online, which gives US National Grid Coordinates, and then include that location in plaintext in a properly formatted digital message to a specific station, which also happens to be unspecified other than the state they reside in. One point is awarded for directly reaching that station to deliver the message, but an unlimited number of points can be awarded for the number of stations you use to relay the message in. Frequency and modes are specified, which helps you figure out how to make the connection, as most operators on those frequencies and modes can help point you in the right direction. Even more interesting is the fact that the preferred mode of communication is almost exclusive to the organization putting on the exercise, but there are allowances for more common digital modes found in the FLDIGI suite. Exercises such as that are far more relevant to the subjects in this blog than a lot of “training” that I’ve seen EMCOMM groups under go. Good groups are out there, and good people are too. NCScout is at the top of that game, IMO. Keep training! Time is running out.

  4. nick flandrey

    “I wonder how many departments could revert quickly to their 150/460 systems?”

    — if they’ve switched, then probably 0.

    Once they switch to P25 and get up in the 700,800,900 range, they sell off the old gear. I’ve seen lots of repeaters go thru the surplus auctions, lots of mobiles (pallets full at a time), and lots of HTs. They take down the antennas too. There may be designated agencies and facilities that maintain some FEMA INTEROP VHF and UHF, and the more rural areas are gonna keep it just for range, but metro areas have gone all in.

    Additionally, most of the dispatch and reporting is happening thru the MDTs (car computers) on pure data channels. ATT is building out the next gen private internet for responders here in Houston, and there is a node pretty much on every block. It’s a massive effort. (single poles, a ring of MIMO antennas at the top, buried fiber between the poles, one per large block) You can’t hardly sneeze without hitting someone setting poles, hanging antenna, or pushing pipe. This is going to make it even harder for us to monitor, and darn near impossible for them to fall back to simpler comms.

    Our local PD is already using their phones for anything sensitive and they are using stuff like WhatsApp to coordinate group movements and share addresses and phone numbers.

    There’s no going back, because the gear is gone, and the institutional knowledge will be gone soon too.


    1. We had one agency in REDACTED that not only dumped their old VHF gear, but also had the LMR shop drill holes in certain key spots of the radios’ circuit board to render them useless, and then sell them as electronics scrap.

  5. JPJ

    As always, a superb post. Feeling a bit more motivated after reading this.

    Tell us about the setup in the picture atop this post.

  6. nick flandrey

    “also had the LMR shop drill holes in certain key spots of the radios’ circuit board to render them useless,”

    Oh that is just spiteful.

    I’ve got some stuff that really isn’t repurposable and is only good for the scrap value of the giant heatsinks (old data radios and amps in particular), but there is a whole ecosystem of refurb and repurpose for most of the gear.

    Anyone interested can check out Radio Reference and The Batboard for resources.

    Personally, I’ve stopped picking up Motorola gear as it is too hard to re-purpose without a whole bunch of specialty software tools, and the techs jealously guard their knowledge. KENWOOD gear, on the other hand, is usually easy to reprogram and the tools are widely available.

    Kenwood LMR gear seems to be on par with Motorola for durability and build quality, and it costs less 🙂


  7. Chris

    There is an area I find lacking in all the online commo discussions. Perhaps it is covered in the RTO course? It is “conops” or concept of operations. One job of mine just before retirement was part of a multi-billion dollar VHF satellite communications system. All that work, all the design requirements and goals ultimately derived from the conops, which was like a storyboard of how the system would be used and why it was needed. I find myself wondering under what circumstances I would need continent wide, statewide, county wide and neighborhood wide communications that require my radio resources. So far I don’t have much. Maybe some columns and discussion could fill it out.

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