Ham Radio Freedom
by David Hathaway: Your
2nd Amendment Cop Buddy Will Take Your Guns
ham radio is something that has not been entirely messed up by state
action. As a matter of fact, it has avoided most of the crazy rules
that have affected commercial broadcasting and commercial two-way
radio in recent years.
policy of converting all over-the-air broadcast TV to digital transmission
has greatly reduced signal coverage. On the eve of that grand edict
taking effect several years ago, many historic stations went out
of business rather than spending the money to convert to less effective
technology that would reduce their broadcast range. The pay satellite
and cable TV lobby won out on that one over the free providers.
Digital doesn’t always mean better. The same thing applies to cell
phones. Remember when cell phones used to sound clear, with fuller
audio fidelity, and very little signal lag? That was back when 3-watt
transmitters and broader band analog signals were an option. Regulators
have caused the robust quality of cell phone communication to degenerate
over time. Your current cell phone emanates a very low powered,
very narrow band digital signal which is also plagued with multiple
other state-caused unintended consequences like poor hybridization
(the ability of both sides to interact at the same time) over the
extremely narrow digital signal, low quality compressed audio, and
latency delays in the digital stream (when you both keep interrupting
each other because you think there is silence when your friend is
change within the past year that has negatively affected users of
two-way commercial radio is a new FCC requirement to use a more
“narrow band” FM radio signal. This reduces audio fidelity
and effective transmission distance. Hams are exempt from this requirement
even though they use identical technology for two-way FM voice communication
in their walkie-talkies, vehicle mounted radios, and base radios.
They can continue to use the much more effective wider band FM signals.
like mandatory usage of less effective digital signals or reduced
radio signal bandwidth have not been applied significantly to ham
radio. Since ham radio is largely considered an experimental amateur
(unpaid) medium, most transmission modes are allowed. Ham radio
operators use many diverse forms of communication including ham
satellites; digital or analog transmissions; FM/AM and other modes;
and a choice of bands ranging from worldwide high frequency bands
to more local VHF, UHF, and microwave bands. Ham operators also
send TV signals, digital facsimile images, and re-transmitted signals
from unmanned mountaintop and tower repeaters over long distances.
There are many linked repeater systems (most having solar or generator
power back-up) that connect multi-state regions throughout the U.S.
These repeaters are accessible via a small walkie-talkie like this
compact full featured dual band VHF/UHF handheld radio for $114
one for $40. The radio and repeater technology is the same as used
by many police departments for wide area coverage via handheld or
vehicle mounted radios.
In many cases,
hams have fewer government imposed antenna restrictions than commercial
radio operators. This is due to the experimental nature of the hobby
and the government acknowledged concept that hams perform a public
service by providing alternate communications in emergencies.
allowed power limits are much higher for hams than most other non-commercial
and commercial radio categories. The familiar Citizen’s Band (CB)
is allowed a 4 watt signal and the Family Radio Service (FRS) is
limited to half a watt. Ham radio, on the other hand, is allowed
1,500 watts on most bands. Most modern state regulated cellular
phones have a maximum power output well under one watt (they are
allowed up to two watts) and they self-adjust to power outputs down
to 20 milliwatts (20/1,000 of a watt).
One of the
best characteristics of ham radio is related to privacy. It is impractical
for a government snooper to easily grab data about ham communications.
The state goes for the low hanging fruit. It has become so easy
to snoop en masse that the government rarely monitors anything that
is not connected to a grid in this country. The extent of government
domestic radio monitoring is usually limited to some review of general
radio frequency activity, not usually hard-targeting any individuals.
It is much easier to require Google to search for key words in stored
gmails. It is very easy to do the same with Verizon wireless for
text messages. It is easy to require a cooperating cell phone company
to tap a cell phone from a thousand miles away and cause the Electronic
Serial Number (ESN) tracked device to route all of its data and
communications to a central government repository. There is practically
no legwork for these mass intercepts and they are required of, and
facilitated by, private communications providers under laws like
the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA). It
is near impossible to grab stored communications content through
a grid for most ham radio communications.
There is no
longer a logging requirement for ham radio, so there will not be
the possibility of an audit of personal logs that were previously
mandated regarding your historical communications. The frequencies
and modes are so varied that it would require a team to try to understand
the vagaries of the communications of one small group of radio operators.
There is no ESN assigned to your device that allows the government
to track you. The common usage of directional antennas in ham radio
would require an interceptor to not only know the band, frequency,
mode, and time of the transmission but, to effectively calculate
angles and azimuths and place himself in the path of the signal
with suitable equipment. Too close or too far from a transmitter
would cause an interceptor to miss the communication entirely when
ionospheric bounces are involved in international communications.
Most ham communications immediately vanish into the ether after
the conversation and it would require an old school recorder, a
pair of headphones, and a real-time dedicated team of government
operators spinning the dial to try to grab a snapshot of your specific
communications. The truth of the matter is that this is cost prohibitive
and is not often attempted on a domestic level. Why would law enforcement
agencies bother trying to mobilize a bunch of unionized, carpal
tunnel, flexitime, flexiplace, overtime-seeking, perdiem-seeking
teams for one-off targeted intercepts anyway when Americans have
given up gazillions of bits of data that only require a contractor-provided
computer system to profile, slice, dice, sort, and spit out the
The ham operators
in your region spend lots of their own money on free access equipment
like repeaters and digital radio bulletin board systems (like email
sent over the radio). These ventures are usually free for any ham
to use. It is very much a self-organizing activity using privately
procured equipment. There is a lot of plug-and-play equipment available
that requires very little technical knowledge to set up. If you
have very little money, it is a perfect hobby and a perfect way
to talk to your family while you are on the road because you will
be able to access lots of strategically placed communications
equipment belonging to others with no monthly access charges.
A hundred dollar handheld radio will allow you to communicate back
to your family via repeaters over a large area at no cost to yourself.
China produces a fantastic array of compact full frequency products.
Many ham radios can be modified to operate in other bands. Google
“ham radio mods” and you will see many step-by-step articles
describing how to get the most out of your radios.
feature of ham radio is that it furthers the Jeffersonian ideal
of friendly relations with foreign countries that are so often demonized
by the state. Ham radio operators collect proofs of contact (called
QSL cards) from many countries around the world. They learn that
these foreigners are normal people just like they are. The government
cannot simply turn off or block access to certain countries or certain
individuals like they can when the internet or a cell phone is used.
A present day
positive aspect of ham radio is an improvement in international
signals during the peak of the 11-year solar cycle (which we are
experiencing right now). Although you have heard on the main stream
media about the current negative effects of these solar flares on
communications, hams eagerly look forward to this predictable point
in the cycle. The almost fully digitized, feeble, weak-signal world
of satellite entertainment and communications dreads this 11-year
atrocity. Hams love it. The ionization of the ionosphere by heavy
solar activity actually improves the ability of high frequency signals
to bounce (“skip”) within the atmosphere to other distant
parts of the earth allowing better communications with persons thousands
of miles away.
Study for licensing
in the U.S. is still easy. The main reason the system works so well
is that it is privately operated by volunteer hams called “Voluntary
Examiners.” Some charge a nominal fee to administer the test
but, only about $10 to recoup some of their expenses for mileage,
etc. Study for the license used to require a preparation
book which you can still use but, all of the question pool is
now available on line at qrz.com for free. You can take as many
practice tests as you desire using a test generator on qrz that
creates endless numbers of tests using the real questions. The question
pool stays the same for a few years, so it is a memorized multiple
choice gig (in case you thought the FCC would require real learning;
remember the government set this up). Nine members of my family
have passed the radio theory tests and obtained their licenses,
some advancing to higher license classes, usually doing so as part
of their homeschooling when they get to about 10 to 14 years of
usage of your U.S. license is allowed while you are travelling in
many countries with no additional licensing requirements. Many foreign
countries will grant you a license if you simply show them your
U.S. license and pay a fee. In reality, residents of many third
world countries use modern ham radio equipment for short and long
distance communication as commonly as Americans use telephones and
no licenses are applied for and no fees paid.
Hope to hear
you on the air. 73’s from KK6HG / CP6XZ.
him mail] is a former supervisory DEA Agent. He is a cowboy
and aficionado of Latin America where he has lived and traveled
extensively. He homeschools his nine children and maintains the
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