Unlicensed Radio

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Earlier this week, those good people at Slate ran a story about how “right wing extremists” are using unlicensed radio services to “plan crimes”. It was slanted heavily to try and suggest that the unlicensed services should go away, because on January 6th, there were some right-wing people holding radios.

The article fails to mention that ANTIFA and other left-wing extremist groups HEAVILY use unlicensed radio service to coordinate their activities. I’m able to find them operating on FRS/GMRS/MURS fairly quickly every time. I guess it’s only bad when one side does it.

Now, before we go any further if you are a HAM operator, this article isn’t for you. You already know everything in here, and you are doing the right thing. I recommend everyone go to the FCC and get an amateur license, because according to HAMs, that is the only way you can ever learn to use a radio, and it’s the right thing to do, just like complying with every single gun law. Free Men beg for permission. Now, listen up HAMs: The rest of this article is about UNLICENSED RADIO SERVICES, so it is obviously beneath your interest level, and we ARE NOT asking for your opinion on why we should NEVER use them. Thank you for your service.

Let me give a little advice, before you leave angry messages about how wrong I am for teaching people this….Are you encouraging or discouraging them in these trying times?

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up….

1 Thessalonians 5:11a

Unlicensed radio services include the Family Radio Service (FRS), Citizen’s Band Radio Service (CB), and the Multi-Use Radio Service (MURS). The General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) is NOT license free, although it is marketed as if it were.

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FRS shares 22 channels with GMRS, but the difference is in equipment allowed and power levels allowed. You cannot use repeaters or more than 2 watts on FRS channels, and only 0.5 watts on channels 8-14. To placate the HAMs who are still reading: It is unlawful to use Baofeng radios for FRS communications. Cool? Cool. You must use non-programmable radios with permanent antennas. You CAN use FRS radios for digital modes, as long as you don’t exceed power levels. The US FRS channels can be used in the US, Canada, and Mexico, and in most parts of South America (check first). In the UK, you have “PMR”, and there are similar services like FRNET and KDR throughout Europe.

When you use it as intended, for short-range point-to-point communications, it’s far more useful than most HAMs will admit. It’s a great medium for patrol communications within a team moving in close proximity to each other or for fixed site security. HAM radio isn’t ideal for this, as it is meant to be longer range. This is an area in which unlicensed comms can help. As a practical matter, using FRS rather than HAM bands and units gives you a “low probability of intercept” by hostile parties, as the radios aren’t powerful enough to be heard a long distance, which is a plus.

CB radios are a great medium for mid to long range vehicle communications, and they are widely available. I know, HAM guys, it’s CB. While CB was once a big thing, it’s now virtually unused in most of the country, giving you 40 channels to use in mostly vehicle mounted units. Even in Detroit, only about 10 channels ever get used, leaving 30 more available. A great factor too is that the US CB channels are usable throughout the EU and most of the Americas.

Handheld CB units have come a long way and I recently started using the QYT CB-58 handheld CB which is a pretty solid unit. I would use it in conjunction with my vehicle radio.

As far as the use of CB radio in your preparedness plan is concerned, I’d recommend using it for vehicle-to-vehicle communications during convoy operations. You can also have one handheld per vehicle for dismounted operations. I recommend vehicle units with Single Side Band (SSB) capability for longer range.

Multi-Use Radio Service, or MURS, is in the VHF range, which will give you a little boost in range. There are only 5 channels, so it is indeed limited in scope, but again, at the ranges we are honestly talking about, for say patrol-to-base communications of about 1-2 miles, they are fine.

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For longer range communications, your team does need a dedicated, licensed HAM who makes contact with other radio systems, but as you can see, using license free systems can help your preparedness team with local operations within your team, which is what most of your communications will be anyway.

Now, let’s talk about the FCC. Despite what HAMs spread around, the FCC doesn’t just roll around patrolling, triangulating the position of every outside-the-limits use of the radio. If they did, half of American business would end. Allow me to explain.

All sorts of suppliers like Motorola, Kenwood, and Icom make handheld “business band” radios, preset with generic frequencies from the FCC’s business band pool in both VHF and UHF. These frequencies require a license. Businesses don’t care. They buy radios and distribute and use them at stores, warehouses, and jobsites all over the country. They use them without licenses all day, every day. They may even have a license but use a different frequency on their radios. Cue HAMs screeching in horror and agony. Such wanton lawlessness!! Guess how often the FCC investigates? Never.

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If you still don’t believe me, do this experiment. During the daylight and evening hours, tune a CB radio to Channel 6. CB has a power limit of 4 watts. That should get you about 1-5 miles, maybe up to 20 in perfect conditions. You will hear people from Detroit, North Carolina, and out west all talking to each other pushing thousands of watts from FIXED LOCATIONS. These guys have lived there for years, broadcasting at illegal power levels, and the FCC has never arrested them.

Here’s the deal: The government is already trying to limit your freedoms by altering free speech, proclaiming Christians to be a threat, calling canning extremism, and trying to remove the Second Amendment, so why would you invite EVEN more government control and oversight into your life? The Dobbs ruling may even make a lot of the FCC’s rules null and void, as they were arbitrarily made under “regulation authority”, rather than by legislation. Make your own informed risk assessment and decision.

More important than just buying radio equipment is getting to know how to use them and train with them. A great way to do that is by working with your team on unlicensed radios or maybe taking a course, like NC Scout’s (www.brushbeater.org) RTO and Advanced RTO courses. I loved the classes.

By and large, the HAM community is a bunch of great people who are willing to help. Their biggest problem though is elitism and their belief that only their way works. I’m going to give two quick examples to illustrate this.

First, I recommended the above Baofeng AR-152 radio, because both NC Scout and I ran them through some serious field testing and found them to be great units. A HAM objected and sent me a video “review” by a HAM guy. The “Review” video was a guy just complaining about cosmetic features because he doesn’t like Baofengs. He NEVER EVEN TURNED ON THE RADIO during the review because he felt he “knew” how it would work. Sadly, most Hams think that radios that cost more work better. That’s not always the case. Note: Most of the Japanese radios they love, come from factories in China, too.

Second, when I did the review of Scout’s class, I got an email from a guy, asking me if there were any licensed Hams present while we were using the radios. I explained that most of the stuff we did used unlicensed radios, but that every time we used a Ham band, a Ham was operating the radio. I asked him why he wanted to know, and he claimed that whether or not Hams attended was his measure of the quality of the class. What?? That doesn’t even make sense. I suspect it’s because he wanted to report unauthorized radio use, but there was none.

In summary, get your comms in order. Using license free services is fine, no matter what Hams say, for most things you will really be doing in a WROL situation. Besides, in a WROL situation, there are no licenses.

Prediction: No less than 4 comments from Hams explaining why I’m wrong and how bending the knee to tyranny is the best way to resist tyranny.

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Published by JD

I am the author of the Tactical Wisdom Series. I am a personal protection specialist and a veteran of the US Marine Corps. I conduct preparedness and self-defense training.

19 thoughts on “Unlicensed Radio

  1. There’s a lot of ham operators who use and recommend all the options, both licensed and unlicensed, for comms. I’m one of them.

    Whatever works and fits the need. Baofeng’s are hard to beat in the ROI in performance balanced against price, especially the BFF8 class (which, IMHO, includes the AR 152)

    I was surprised to find how little the 2 meter band is used in SE MI.

    Nice post!


  2. Joe,

    Great article encouraging folks to learn something new! We all benefit from lifting one another up. (I’m also a general class licensee)

    Re: curmudgeonly hams who don’t know quite as much as they think they do. There must be a term for it? What is the ham equivalent of ‘Karen’?

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Fudd, maybe. Elmer is a more experienced HAM that assists others in learning about the hobby. They may be sticklers for the rules, but they’re not generally a Karen about it.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi folks, I’m new to radios and am looking to get started. Aside from getting your ham license, are there any books or youtubers that you would recommend for a completely new wet behind the ears person to start learning about radios in general (not necessarily just ham)? Thanks in advance.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. When I took Scout’s course there were a large contingent of HAMs in the class, myself being one. But as Scout says, his RTO/Advanced RTO classes aren’t HAM classes. Does the knowledge between the two overlap, sure. I encourage everyone to get their license because it’s generally desirable to operate within the law and there are a lot of things you can learn by doing so. And while the fuddy duddy’s often mean well (though not all), I’ve found the majority of ham operators (particularly younger ones) to be less obsessed with the rules.

    I’d also like to note that WV vs EPA could have far more an effect on FCC rules than Dobbs. Dobbs was narrow on an interpretation of the 14th amendment. WV vs EPA was about regulatory action outside the bounds of defined legislation.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Great article, Joe.
    We have done real-world testing w/ the Baofeng radios for several years in fairly harsh conditions (wildland firefighting) and I’ve been very impressed. A few of our teams have ended up switching from the $1500 radios we normally use to only using the Baofengs.
    They aren’t as rugged and may lack some features, but I can get a dozen radios (at least) for the replacement price of one of our standard radios. We use the dual band models so we can use our approved freqs.

    I have also seen many of the ranches I work with switching over to them for the same reason. You’re also right about the FCC, they definitely don’t seem to spend much time out in rural west TX.

    I got my GMRS license just so I could use a little more powerful radios for general family comms. I wasn’t too worried about getting in trouble, but figured $70 for 10 years wasn’t that big of a financial burden. I renewed it recently and was surprised that the fee is now only $35.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agreed. We have the GMRS license for the same reason. My corporate security team have all started using personal baofengs instead of the issued Kenwood or Motorola units. They’re just fine.


  6. Excellent article and great content Joe.

    I have worked in the avionics and marine electronics field for many years and I appreciate the honest assessment of the different comm capabilities.

    One other piece of gear that may be of interest is the Garmin inReach. It uses satellite to enable text by interfacing via Bluetooth with a smartphone. The only downside is the $15 per month subscription.

    One more item of note is radio programming. The CHIRP software is ideal for this and you can set up the radios with presets for your group across the different bands.

    Keep up the good work.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. As a HAM, I have to say that I LOVED your take. Yes, there are radio snobs. I’m not one.

    Love spreading the love and the knowledge. It’s always fun to read comments from special crew with extra chromosomes that think their way is the only way. Even with ROL, tyranny is still tyranny. WROL is just when the common folk realize the tyranny they’ve been subjected to.

    Please, keep on keeping on.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. As a Ham Tech, there are plenty of radio snobs (Fudds/Elmers) out there, and by the letter, they are usually ‘technically right.’ That being said, it has nothing to do with spreading the love and knowledge that you have. Thank you and keep on keeping on, Sir.

    “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” – Thomas Jefferson

    No free man ever needed to beg permission from his gov’t for his basic daily activities.

    Liked by 1 person

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