RADIO COMMUNICATIONS EQUIPMENT
Prepared by Robert G. Wheaton for the Committee of Safety of the
Southern Region of the Texas Constitutional Militia
All units are interested in communications and it is quite
natural that they will be considering options and contemplating
equipment acquisitions toward that end. These guidelines are
issued for the dual purposes of letting you know a little of
what's available, and to help you avoid some pitfalls which might
be costly disappointments or bring public disfavor on the T.C.M.
in particular and militia units in general.
Cellular Telephone -- We're all pretty much familiar with
cellular telephone (cel-tel). Around town in metropolitan areas
it generally covers most areas with few drop-outs; however, you
may or may not be aware that in rural areas, once you get a few
miles off major roadways, you may find yourself out of range of
any "cell". Should that happen your communications just failed.
Bear that in mind, especially if your unit's operations might
regularly be in rural areas. Cel-tel, while a valuable resource,
may be unsuitable as your primary communications afield. There is
no practical way to communicate to another cel-tel phone in the
absence of a telco cell site, or if the site equipment goes down
for whatever reason.
Pagers -- Once again, we're all pretty much familiar with pager
systems. These use VHF and UHF micro-receivers, all listening to
a high-powered transmitter which will be located with its antenna
high above the surrounding area. This is essentially "line of
sight" communications. Pagers may be useful in establishing your
alerting or in locating missing members. Range into rural areas
may be greater than with cel-tel, but you should carefully
evaluate a pager system's coverage for critical noncoverage.
System denial can be easily accomplished, another negative.
"2-Way" radio --All commercial, 2-way radio, regardless of
frequency of operation or mode (AM, FM, single-sideband, etc.) is
subject to stringent licensing requirements of the Federal
Communications Commission. Frequencies for new assignments may or
may not be available. Unlicensed operation of these transmitters
is an invitation to severe penalties by FCC administrative law
judges. More on that later. Probably impractical due to licensing
Marine band VHF FM radio -- These VHF FM transceivers are low
power mobile and handheld transceivers operating from 156.275 to
157.425 MHZ on specific channels. In addition to requiring an FCC
license it is imperative that these units be boat-mounted and
used only in marine communications. Improper use can be severely
sanctioned and for that reason equipment for this band should not
be on your shopping list. Definitely not recommended!
Professional/Business band VHF FM handheld -- FCC has authorized
3 frequencies in the VHF 154 MHZ range for shared use by low
power (1 watt) transceivers with an easy-to-obtain FCC license
structure. Radio Shack and other popular merchandisers sell this
equipment o-t-c with a license application in the box. However,
can militias expect to get a license in a special service band
set aside for business and professional users? Perhaps but not
likely. And given the current militia vilification campaign and
the likelihood it will not abate since there are organized groups
who see it as their "duty" to seize every opportunity to vilify
the militia, even if FCC were to authorize militia use it would
likely reverse itself as soon as "interference from militia"
complaints started arriving. It would be foolhardy to recommend
Personal radio in the General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) -- In
the UHF spectrum formerly known as Class A Citizens Band and now
known as GMRS, FCC has authorized several frequencies for low
power handhelds. Radio Shack and several other merchandisers are
currently offering $200-bracket transceivers with at least 2
channels; Motorola has a 10 channel, 2 watt, UHF-FM handheld
specifically aimed at hunters with a leaf-pattern camo case, and
retailing for $260 from Gander Mountain. These radios require a
simple-to-apply-for FCC license and the application form
accompanies the radio. It is mailed by the user with the $35 fee
(may be $80 now) to FCC for processing. It is difficult to see
why FCC might deny licenses to individuals intending to use these
in their militia-related duties; however, the possibility exists,
even if remote. Depending on terrain these are capable of
reliable communications up to 2 miles (or line of sight). If used
as intended, there is no apparent reason not to recommend radios
in the 462 MHZ GMRS.
Personal Radio Service (Citizens Band Class D) -- This is the old
Class D "CB" 27 MHZ band. Formerly 23 channels it is now 40
channels. While no license is required to operate these radios,
they are design-approved by FCC and any modification of the
frequencies to avoid interference by moving them between channels
or shifting them just outside the band assignment is a serious
violation of FCC rules and regulations, and one we cannot afford
to risk. These radios are cheap "throwaways" and subject to a
cacophony of interference, and being amplitude modulated (AM
rather than FM) they are much more susceptible to static
interference, man-made and natural. Their downside
notwithstanding, if you must "do it on the cheap", these "toys"
might get you going. One possible plus is that so many "citizens"
out there also have them, and there might be occasions when that
would be helpful.
Personal Radio Service 49 MHZ (also a "citizens band") -- During
the 1980s FCC authorized a new 49 MHZ citizens band for low-power
FM transceivers. Five channels are authorized and power is well
below 1 watt. Maxon is perhaps the best-known supplier of these
radios but Radio Shack has them as well. Do not count on them for
reliable communications beyond 1/3 to « mile. Don't expect too
much and you won't be disappointed. Five channel units are cheap
enough to be "throwaways". Most operate with "AA"-size batteries,
either alkaline, or rechargeable NiCaD. Some neat accessories,
e.g., headsets and ear-microphones are available. For FTX use
over very short distances these might be useful - and some of the
government agency types might be using them as well, for exactly
the same reasons: cheap and extremely short range (providing a
degree of security). Recommendable, but only for that purpose.
Frequencies must not be tampered with! No license required.
Amateur Radio Service (Ham Radio) -- FCC-licensed, the Amateur
Radio Service (ARS) dates back to the earliest days of radio.
"Hams", as they are called, have spectrum assignments virtually
everywhere. Some assignments are good only during the day, others
only at night. Some are short-range and some can blanket the
entire country, day or night. Others are primarily "long haul" or
"DX", capable of international communication with other hams.
Hams do not normally communicate with operators in other radio
services. Band segments are assigned by specific frequencies are
not. Authorization of different bands or "privileges" is
dependent on the operator's class of license - "no-code"
tech(nician) being the lowest and limited to radiotelephone
operation above 50 MHZ, all the way to "extra" class with all
privileges on all bands. The pool of technical knowledge among
amateurs is great and amateurs are loosely organized in clubs.
The "public service" aspect of ham radio is well-known and long-
established. Many hams also specialize in performing public
service, establishing communications links, monitoring weather
nets, providing communications for public events, etc. If we can
overcome the vilification of the militia through positive acts,
many hams will see militias as a natural ally. A good many are
already involved. For all classes other than "no-code" tech it is
necessary to master the Morse code. All classes must pass
comprehensive technical and regulatory exams. Tests are multiple
choice and done by local radio club groups in most instances,
participating in a volunteer examiner system. A modest testing
fee is required. Equipment prices run the gamut, but a VHF or UHF
handheld radio generally costs $200-300 without major
accessories. Interference levels on some bands can be severe, but
on the VHF/UHF frequencies most likely to be of use to militia
personnel, interference is not a major problem. In addition to
the testing and licensing requirements, there are serious
downsides. Frequencies generally "belong" to whoever gets there
first and has the strongest signal; privacy of communications is
nonexistent; and codes and ciphers are prohibited. That would
probably not prohibit the use of "authenticators" for messages in
plain text, but it certainly prohibits the use of encryption of
messages by any means. Whether or not this actually presents a
problem is open to question. Given the current P-R problems we
are having, encrypted radio traffic by militias on any radio
service is likely to invite even more problems and hostility and
would seem unwise for that reason alone. In all metropolitan
areas hams have now installed VHF and/or UHF FM repeater systems
to extend the operating range of their handheld and mobile
radios. While typical range between 2 handhelds might be a mile
or two, going through a repeater (a remote receiver and re-
transmitter with an antenna high above the surrounding area)
ranges of 40-50 miles are commonplace, and in the case of
mountain-sited repeaters the range may be 100 miles or more.
Amateurs who choose to align themselves with the militias will
bring with them two invaluable resources: equipment and training.
Many, but not all, will already possess a great deal of technical
expertise in both radio communications and related fields.
The foregoing is prepared to acquaint you with some of the legal
ramifications of radio communications by militia personnel (in
the event you were unaware of or simply ignoring them), and to
give you a "menu" from which to evaluate your needs and
If your unit has access to, say, 10 military surplus PRC-6
"walkie-talkies", do not automatically assume you can "battery
them up" and that will solve your unit's communications problems.
Such a wrong assumption might be the beginning of your unit's
The Federal Communications Commission regulates most radio
communications under the Communications Act of 1934, as amended.
Due to understaffing and underbudgeting constraints, FCC acquired
a reputation a few years ago of being a "toothless tiger".
However, in recent years Congress has authorized FCC to "rape,
plunder and pillage" the few scofflaws they catch, and use their
highly publicized cases as examples of what will befall the rest
of us if we do not toe the line. They now routinely use their
administrative law judges to levy "financial forfeitures" of
$10,000 for each day an offense occurs. Toilet-tongued talkshow
host Howard Stern is a current example - notwithstanding that the
millions levied against the network for broadcasting offensive
material has probably been cheap advertising for Stern. FCC may
still be underbudgeted and understaffed, but they are by no means
toothless. They call on the U.S. Marshal Service when dealing
with "hardcase" types.
The Texas Constitutional Militia does not need either the expense
or the public relations problems that might result from violating
FCC regulations. Staying "legal" is essential; there's too much
at stake to invite problems from the feds. Hook up all the
batteries and wire you want to on your EE-8 or TA-312 field
phones, but do not assume that because PRC-6s were made for the
military that you can just reactivate them "on the air" because
you are militia. An ARS technician or higher class licensee can
lawfully use PRC-6s in the 50-54 MHZ band. Newer radios are not
nearly so heavy, batteries are o-t-c at Radio Shack, and they are
far more reliable.
Prepared for the Committee of Safety by Robert G. Wheaton,
Committee of Safety member, and Petty Officer 3rd Class
(Electronic Technician), U.S. Navy Retired, and a licensed radio
amateur, currently "extra" class, for 40 years.
Submitted: 24 July 1995
For study material and licensing info on the Amateur Radio
Service, contact you local Radio Shack store or any of the
American Radio Relay League, 225 Main St, Newington, CN 06111
Gordon West Radio School, 2414 College Dr, Costa Mesa, CA 92626
The W5YI Group, Inc., PO Box 565101, Dallas, TX 75356