The Road Home

The Road Home
There is no place like home.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

OPSEC Communications

Hello, Frank here.

Nunam Iqua, Alaska
Once upon a time, there were two people that lived in far bush Alaska that could see dark clouds on the horizon. These two people, knowing what dark clouds meant, started to prepare for a serious storm. As the clouds got closer, and the sky darkened, these two adventurous souls packed up all their gear and relocated to a somewhat safer location. Even though these people escaped this particular storm, the storms followed them to their new location. And the storms have continued to grow bigger and bigger and bigger.

Okee-dokee everybody, back to reality. My first experience with radio communication in the modern world we live in now, was with two little walkie-talkie radios. Fern and I were leaving Alaska and we were going to drive to southeast Oklahoma. Through a large portion of this trip there is no cell phone service. Since we were traveling in two separate vehicles, each pulling a U-Haul trailer, I bought a couple of the above mentioned handheld walkie talkies from Cabela's. And that's how this radio story started. That was five years ago, and here we are today.

I knew nothing about rechargeable batteries. I didn't know that you could recharge batteries while you're driving down the road. So we used eight alkaline batteries a day. You see, Fern and I are an odd couple. We actually like each other and enjoy talking to each other, so the radios came in real handy. So, after our little trip, which took eleven days, I discovered the benefits of rechargeable batteries.

110/12VDC charger

So, when we got here, we put the radios away for a while. I'm not sure exactly when or how or why, but we started using them again around our little farm here. And like many things in life, I had to experience a large learning curve. Well, we started using the little radios again and learned
about rechargeable batteries. I decided I wanted extra radios. I went online, found a couple, and not paying attention, realized they did not use a AA battery. But, instead these new radios used a AAA battery. This was not my plan, but I didn't have the knowledge to know the difference. So, now I need AA and AAA rechargeable batteries. Well, this system worked out okay. I found a place online to buy batteries that I like. And I still use this same place, by the way. So, now I have a hand full of radios, two different types of batteries and the system is working pretty good. But the three AAA batteries will not stay charged near as long as four AA batteries. 

So, I decided to buy more radios. That's when I started using the Midland GXT1000 and 1050. They are the same radio, one is black the other is camo. I got lucky when I bought this little radio, because it did something
I didn't know it would do. It comes with a rechargeable battery pack, which looks just like three AA's put together. But it says it will take four AA's, and it will. If you take the cover off and take the battery pack out, you will see that there is an extra slot for a fourth battery. The cool part is, these four AA rechargeable batteries, will also charge in the charging cradle that the radio came with. Here's where I got lucky. Midland makes a bunch of radios that look just like this, that have the same set up with the same battery pack, but the other ones will not recharge the four rechargeable AA batteries while in the cradle. As the learning curve increased here, it was obvious that not all of these radios charge the same way. So, a bonus feature, because later on I bought some other Midland radios that looked identical, but I could not charge the four AA rechargeable batteries in the cradle. So, much for that issue.

I know these little radios are advertised a certain mileage. But that is under perfect conditions. So, remember, these radios are line of sight, and if you need more information about how the radios operate and their properties, go to Frank's Radio Communications page. These are good radios, high quality and they work well, and they did the job we needed around the farm.

I'm still, at this time, not into ham radio. I tried to get some of my friends and neighbors to get some of these little radios so we could keep in touch. No one was interested in this form of communication, and years later, they're still not interested. That pretty much took care of the home issue. Now I wanted to be able to reach my wife by radio 30 miles away. Bigger 
issue. We tried CB radios with SSB and due to the properties of the CB radio, it just would not work. I live in hill country with small mountains. So one day, looking at a retail radio site, I noticed a programmable commercial radio. Did a little bit more research and realized that these radios would broadcast on the same frequency as my little walkie talkies. That is when I started to realize about different frequencies. You see, a CB radio is around 27 MHz. My little
walkie talkies are around 460 MHz. These new little commercial radios are handheld and they would broadcast on the VHF band which includes most local police, fire and ambulance. It was also good on the ham radio frequencies, which at that time, I cared nothing about. All the ones I just mentioned, police, fire and ham, are in the VHF range, that's around 140-155 MHz. But these little radios would also work for GMRS, which is my little walkie talkie, at around 460 MHz, which is UHF. There is also another free public band called MURS, which is around 150 MHz. So, I tried these little handheld commercial radios and they worked great on this frequency. Some of these activities mentioned here, some folks will tell you that you cannot use a commercial radio for, and they are right. But as long as you are not bothering anybody, most people don't care. Also, remember that in an emergency, anyone can use any frequency if no other means is available. 

So, I put a couple of these little commercial radios, remember, these are handhelds, in our cars running legal power, and could talk to my wife most of her way to work. I dug out my old Radio Shack power supply, I put up an outside antenna, and used one of these little radios to talk to my wife all the way to work. The antenna outside of my house is what made the difference.

Okay. That's where we were. So using a handheld radio, with an outside antenna at my house, I can now talk to my wife in her car. Shortly after this stage, I got my ham radio license, and we've made other changes since
then. But what I'm getting at here is, if you want to have communications, and you do not have a ham radio license, it is available. A small power supply, just about any transmitting and receiving radio, the proper antenna and you can talk to your buddy a good ways down the road, even with your little walkie talkie that does duck calls. That little gizmo thingy that your kid is out playing in the yard with, is probably a GMRS radio. Now, you cannot take a GMRS radio and attach it to an external antenna, you just can't do it. But you can, with a handheld commercial radio, and it's not difficult. Now don't think you're going to take one of these little handhelds and increase the power to 500 watts like some CBer's do. They're just not intended for that use.

But, that CB radio that you have out in your truck, is good for other purposes. All it is, is just a ham radio around 27 MHz, or in the ham world, called 11 meter, that will transmit line of sight. But it will also, when the atmosphere is right, transmit very long distances by bouncing off of the atmosphere. Read the other posts for more information on that. So, you have a CB radio, you can talk to your buddy down the road. If you have a GMRS radio, you can talk to your buddy down the road. Someday, you're going to want to talk to your buddy down the road, because your cell phone and your telephone may not work. Some people say, "Hog wash! We're always going to have electricity and telephones." Yep, and the Titanic was floating just fine, until it hit that iceberg. 

Okay. Some little tips here. OPSEC. That translates into operational security. Anything you say on a radio can be heard by someone else. Let me say that again. Anything you say on a radio can be heard by somebody else. Any point where you transmit from can be located. Ham radio operators have a game where they try to locate a certain transmitter. The military and other government agencies also have that ability. So don't think you can't be found. If you've read some of my other posts, I emphasize, don't be stupid.

Okay. Don't use people names on the radio, because somebody is listening. Develop real simple little codes about locations and where you are. Teach other family members to do the same thing. Well, you say, "How are they going to know what channel I'm broadcasting on?" Anybody with a scanner that has these programmed will know exactly what frequency you're broadcasting on. You ask, "How will they know where I'm located?" It's called electronic triangulation. So, don't kid yourself, that you're smarter than the government, because some of those folks are very, very good at what they do.

So, if you've got a bunch of guys you go to church with, and you all have those little GMRS radios, one day at church, set up a time and see if everybody can talk to each other. Just practice and see if you can talk.
Also try it with CB radios, too. Then if you can communicate, set up a time to do it in an emergency. You say, "Well you talked about the power being off and I don't want to use batteries." Well, then don't. Get you a couple of rechargeable batteries. And you say, "Well, fool. If the power is off, how am I going to recharge them?" Get you a teeny, weeny solar panel and check out this link. It will give you a lot more detail.

I use my little radios everyday. My wife gets this strange kick out of feeding farm animals. I don't need to understand why, but she does. And we stay in contact. We make sure we have contact before she walks out the door. We make sure the batteries are charged. Give it some long term thought. Plan ahead, test your equipment. If you choose to advance to the ham radio hobby, then you will understand a whole lot more about what you are doing right now, and a different radio world will open up.
But if you choose not to, you can still communicate. And if you just want to listen, get you a scanner and a shortwave radio, and there are few things that you will not be able to listen to. The scanner is for local and the shortwave is for long distance. Because you might want to know when there is a forest fire coming your direction. It can also tell you from the National Weather Service, when a tornado is coming. And if you listen to the local ham radio weather clubs, using weather spotters, they will also tell you where the tornado is and what direction it's traveling. Then you may hear when they're loading up people into buses a mile or two down the road from you. By the way, don't get on the bus.

When you see those big black clouds come rolling in, then you need to be able to communicate. It will be too late to find your radio and see if you have any batteries. It will be too late to set up a system of communication. It will be too late. Folks those dark clouds are gathering. Pay attention.

We'll talk more later. 73, Frank


  1. You do give out the best most usable information. I had seen the hand held radio Fern carries in a photo on one of her posts. I asked her about it. Ralph and I had been neglecting the area of on farm communication and you have helped us immensely.Thank you.

    1. The little Midland radios I talked about in the post can be very useful tools. When we first moved here, I would just put it on a channel and let it sit there all day. If there was traffic on that channel, I would go to another one until I found one with no traffic, which is pretty easy to do in our area. Thank you for your nice comments.


  2. Thank you! We just cancelled our landline phone to save money and I wondered if there were some radio we could get to span the 7 miles to my husband's work or the kids' school in an emergency and cell phones weren't working. Even investing a couple hundred in radios, we will come out ahead as we figured we will save $600 per year by cancelling our land line. I knew I should wade through some of your ham radio posts (no offense, electronics are just not in my nature!), but this one was tailored just for the info I needed.

    1. Eileen,

      If you are line of sight, 7 miles is no problem. Just about any GMRS type radio will work, it just depends on the features you want. Most come with an internal rechargeable battery pack that will work just fine.

      As I mentioned in the post, with the GXT 1000 or 1050, you can remove the battery pack and insert 4 rechargeable batteries. These batteries will recharge in the cradle, just like the included battery pack will. Other types will recharge the battery pack, but not always the rechargeable batteries that you put in the radio.

      The biggest issue is going to be what is between you and the receiving station. That's the issue. The only way to get around that is to get a ham radio license and transmit to a repeater station, which gets a little technical. The little commercial radios I talked about are also line of sight, so it just depends on what is between you and who you want to talk to.

      The GXT series is made by Midland radio, the link is included. If you're interested in this radio, the GXT 1000 or 1050. Read the Midland website. Then do a Google search. Prices vary sharply between different dealers.

      If you are interested in a commercial handheld radio, you can put an exterior antenna up on your house, or you can put a mag mount antenna on your car. This will increase your transmitting and receiving capabilities greatly.

      If you have any questions, email me at:

      If you know anybody that has two GMRS radios, lots of hunters use them, ask to borrow them for the day. Outside is the best way to communicate. If inside, try to be near a window facing the direction you want to transmit. If inside, and I'm not trying to be funny, don't have your head or body in between the radio and the direction you want to transmit. Hold the radio straight up and down, not tilted or at an angle. If I can answer more questions about the commercial radio, please email me.

      Good luck.


      Midland Radio:

  3. Frank,

    Some advice, please. I have long recognized the advantages, even the need, for communications just as you describe here. My problem is I have spent a lifetime around noisy tools and my hearing is quite damaged. I can carry on a conversation ok, but usually need the other half to raise their voice a bit. I have hearing aids, but cannot use them with the telephone because of feedback loops. In fact I usually don't use them at all because the plastic cases get my ear canals very itchy. Consequently I have avoided any form of radio communications.

    I would appreciate your thoughts on this issue.


    1. Winston,

      I have a hearing impaired person in my immediate family. I don't feel comfortable discussing their needs in this forum, but there are many things that you can do. One, I have never worn a headset doing radio, I just have an external speaker and turn the volume up. Fern, on the other hand, keeps her handheld radio in her pocket and attaches a microphone to her coat or shirt collar. So here are two ways.

      If you will email me at:
      we'll discuss other techniques, because I also have a hearing problem. And as mentioned earlier, I have never worn a headset for any type of radio. If you'd like, email me.


  4. Frank, great advice. On our 5 acre patch we also have small HTs, as well as some 2, 16, and 32 channel Motorola Maxtracs for our Base and Mobile Operations. Keep up the good post.

    1. Thank you for reading, Tim. If I remember correctly, Motorola made a number of these radios available to the public a few years back. I think they were used by maintenance, police and fire departments. Are you able to program yours?
      Many moons back our police department used a radio similar to this. Good solid radios. Do you program your HT's to also work with your Maxtracs?

      As you noticed, I removed your call sign for security purposes. Again, thank you for your comments.


    2. I bought my Maxtac radios at a Ham Fest Yard Sale. You can find then for $30-50 each. And you can program them to match your HTs. Or even wire them to operate as a repeater.

  5. Hello Frank and glad I came across your site through Patrice Lewis' site. Your site is awesome and so informative. I'm new to homesteading and have canned twice so far; and don't have anything left that I canned. So next month I plan to start many seeds and by the end of the summer I hope to can away until I run out of things to can. I know hard times are coming and I want my husband and I to be ready. Little by little and your site has great recipes and looking forward to read all your posts. We live in east texas;how are are you from us? Would like to ask you some gardening questions since we might be in the same planting zone.
    God bless you both and Happy New Year...

    1. When I was a boy I used to play around a lot in east Texas. I was born in the Dallas area. The area around Caddo Lake was always an exciting place to visit. You probably have a lot more humidity than we do and more heat. Not that we don't have our fair share here. I just love humidity, heat and ticks, and don't forget the fire ants.

      Thank you for reading, and we wish you the best in your endeavors.


  6. Frank, just wanted to let you know that your radio posts have been the push I needed to finally get my ham license. I tested for the technician license on Jan 2 and passed with flying colors. I checked the FCC ULS database today ( Jan 8 ) and my name and new call sign were listed, so I am legal to transmit. Thanks for all that you and Fern are doing to enlighten people. I also enjoy reading all the other posts on the blog. Thanks for your help. E. South of Forth Worth

    1. Congratulations and thank you. In a short time I'm going to start discussing information for the General test. It will be a slightly different format though. Since you now know how to get around in the system, it won't be the line for line type teaching.

      I think it's really cool you got your license. Now you need chickens.