For an overview of radio from an anarchist perspective, check out the zine For An Anarchist Radio Relay League.
Margaret, Cici, Eepa
Hello, and welcome to Live Like the World is Dying, your podcast for what feels like the end times. I’m your host, Margaret Killjoy. Are use she or they pronouns. This week I’m talking with two people who have a lot of experience with different radio communications, mostly HAM radio and other means of two-way radio communications. Their names are Cici and Eepa and they work with the Indigenous Anarchist Federation and/or the Javelina Network which is a network of—well, they’ll explain it. And we’re going to be talking a lot about radio communications, and they actually do a really good job of breaking it down—a subject that could feel very technical. I know I get very overwhelmed when I try and understand radio communications. They break it down in a fairly non-technical way that, well, I’m excited for you all to hear. So this podcast is a proud member of the Channel Zero Network of anarchist podcasts. And usually I lead with a jingle, but this week I’m going to do something slightly different and first I’m just going to say welcome to the Maroon Cast. I don’t believe they have a jingle yet. But there is a new podcast on the network called the Maroon Cast and it is absolutely worth checking out. And the jingle—they actually call it a commercial—that I am going to play is from the Institute for Anarchist Studies who are offering grants. And here’s that. Hooray. Hey radicals, anarchists, and all of you liberatory leftists. Are you a podcaster, video maker, multimedia artist, or writer? The Institute for Anarchist Studies wants to let you know we have grants available for projects focusing on Black and Indigenous archaisms, police abolition and alternatives, and mutual aid. For details and how to apply visit anarchiststudies.org and click on the grants application post on our main page. That’s anarchiststudies.org. Anarchist-studies-dot-O-R-G. Applications close January 31, 2021. Spread the word and tell your friends. Okay, so if y’all could introduce yourself with I guess your name, your pronouns, and then any political or organizational affiliations that makes sense with what you’re going to be talking about today.
So my name is Cici. I do she/her pronouns, I also do they/them pronouns. I don’t really have any organizational affiliations at this time. I am—I have some experience with radio in a like a certain area, but in other areas I’m still learning and I’m trying to get up to speed. I am a licensed radio operator which helps a bit. But obviously, like, you don’t have to be licensed to do stuff with a radio. And that’s I guess enough about me.
All right, [I didn’t catch a lot of this except Eepa] and I use he/him pronouns. My affiliations, I’m with the Indigenous Anarchist Federation and I’m a part of the newly formed Javelina Network. And basically, I am fairly new to the whole communication world. But it’s one of those things that I’ve become very passionate about building up people’s knowledge that way in communities for mutual aid, you know, both in disasters and just for general preparedness. We have ways of communicating that don’t rely on, you know, corporate infrastructure or government infrastructure.
Yeah, so I guess one of the first things that I want to ask you all, for people who are, like—so this will probably be in some ways a slightly more technical conversation than some of the—some of my shows, just because, at least, there’s an awful lot of acronyms and weird technical stuff that comes along with learning about radios. And I think it’s worth—I’m going to ask you all a lot about that stuff. But I guess I was wondering if you all could start with kind of like a pitch for why we should care about radios. Like, we all have cell phones. Shouldn’t we just use cell phones? Like what are some of the advantages of understanding and having an experience with radio communication?
So one of the things that people should consider whenever they’re using—whatever type of communications you’re using on a daily basis, that could be using email through ProtonMail or using Signal or WhatsApp, or just using your regular cell phone service—these are things things that are controlled by somebody. So the infrastructure that makes them possible is controlled by either corporations, or they’re controlled by corporations and regulated by the government. They’re subject to warrants and data collection and they’re subject to a lot of other, you know, less security-related, but more just infrastructure in general. You know, if, as we saw in hurricane Maria, when hurricanes come they knocked down cell phone towers and if you don’t have cell phone towers, your cell phone just becomes a, you know, a box with whatever photos you have on, it doesn’t become very useful for communications. And the same thing goes for emails, when you are logging on to your, you know, ProtonMail account which is, you know, a great service and everything—if those servers go down in Switzerland, then you’re out of luck—that that means that communication no longer exists. If the United States government decides to block a certain app that—that could basically cut off your service and take away all of your context. So it’s a very fragile thing that we have, you know, during normal circumstances cell phone services is great, it’s convenient. And honestly, it should still probably be your primary means of communication because of its ease of use. But there’s a lot to be said for having all of the infrastructure you need to communicate in your own hands without needing any external infrastructure, aside from a community of other people who are likewise equipped and trained to communicate with.
I think that’s an excellent answer. In addition to what Eepa said I would basically just add on, like, yeah, there’s—it’s hard with the infrastructure that people usually use—cell phone towers, servers, routers, or at least, you know, commercially available routers and phones and everything. People don’t have—people in, like, their communities don’t have a lot of control over it. One of the things that I’m actually—I need to do way more study into it, because it’s rather technical. But if something were to happen and the internet were to go down, either unintentionally, because—or, you know, not because of a—because like it’s natural—something natural happens like a hurricane. Or because the government has shut the internet down for the express purposes of, you know, preventing people from communicating. One of the things radio can do is it can actually mimic a internet, I should—I may say mimic but it’s actually a true internet protocol. So you can actually get an internet running up in your community. Those are the kind of things that I think radio is great for. I would echo what Eepa said where it’s not really a—in terms of people saying, “Well, I have a cell phone what’s, you know, what is radio offer to me?” I’d actually say, yeah, I don’t think that just being able to say, “Hey, I communicated with somebody in another spot.” Like, that’s not really the attraction necessarily for learning a bunch of radio things. I would also note for a lot of people who are just doing off-grid stuff, there’s a lot of places where your cell phone just, there’s just no signal, it’s too far away from cell phone towers. You can still get out with a radio if something were to help. A lot of people are like, well, you know, I’m not gonna be setting up a another Wifi internet system. But, you know, if you’re ever hiking or you’re doing stuff that’s just not close to a big city or whatever, it can still be useful if something happens, you get hurt, you’re not out in the middle of nowhere with no cell phone signal needing extreme medical attention immediately. So I just like to point that kind of thing out where it’s useful on an individual level, but it’s also useful on a community level.
Yeah. Yeah. I mean—
I think that that’s probably one of those—I think that’s one of those misconceptions that people have about radio, just in a general sense, is they think that it’s two people on walkie-talkies talking to each other. But there’s a whole realm of radio use that includes, you know, sending messages, photographs, even videos utilizing radio that people are probably not aware of.
I only learned about that really recently when someone was talking about how you can take your Baofeng radio and—I think it was, like, get a photo from the international space station on your cell phone by having your, like, cell phone listen to what’s coming out of your radio?
That was a good moment of like, “Oh, this is some scifi shit.” And I’m like, “Oh, and I mean it’s some like 1970s scifi shit.” But it’s—that’s so fucking cool. Yeah, I mean, okay, so like, I’m rudely guessing that a lot of people who are listening, if they have much experience like, say, direct action stuff, they’re probably their only real experience with radios might be walkie-talkies. Right? And so I was—I was wondering if there’s like a way to, like—the thing that really intimidates me when I look at radios is that I look and then I’m, like, okay, there’s high frequency, very high frequency, ultra high frequency. There’s walkietalkies which use FRS. There’s MURS. They’re CB radios, there’s GMRS radios, there’s the Business Band, there’s a HAM radio. There’s AM/FM, SSB, contint CW, like, there’s like all this shit, right? And so I guess I kind of wanted to like start and try and kind of break some of this down if you all can, like, maybe talk starting with like—maybe you’ll have a better pedagogical sense of like where to start or something. But in my head, I would ask you first about maybe, like, Family Radio Service, the walkie-talkies, that people might be used to, like what they can be used for and kind of build out from there. Or if there’s another way to introduce all of this that you all would like to use.
I can’t actually speak too much to the Family Radio Service. I’m glad you mentioned that there’s a lot of different modes. What tends to happen is there’s very few people that know all of that, or if they do they’re a dime a dozen. At least from my experience talking to other radio people, they tend to focus in areas that they think are interesting, or areas that they think are useful, or whatever. So for instance, you mentioned Family Radio and you mentioned, I believe it’s GR-GMRS, I actually have like no experience in those. I mentioned in the introduction that I’m licensed. What I meant by that, or I probably should have been more specific, is that I’m licensed as an amateur radio operator. If people have ever heard someone talk about HAM radio, that’s basically what I’m talking about. HAM is just another way of saying an amateur radio app. I’m an amateur in the sense that I don’t get money. I’m not like a radio station. I’m not commercially broadcasting, like, the radio you might listen to music or whatever. So that’s all that means. Amateur doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t know a lot or that, you know, it just means I don’t get paid. And that my license basically says I can’t get paid to broadcast. So that’s kind of my experience. So yeah, I don’t know if Eepa would be able to talk about the Family Radio Service. Some people have heard CB radio. I believe that’s—it’s similar to amateur radio but it’s it’s still very different. I actually associated with truckers doing stuff in the, like, I know, that’s kind of an old association, doing stuff in their cars. As far as modes, I know Margaret, you mentioned things like single sideband which is that SSB. That’s a voice mode. You mentioned—I guess I should start with the—you mentioned high frequency, very high frequency, and ultra high frequency. Usually people will shorten that to the individual letter. So like very high frequency they’ll just say VH, VHF. Those just basically are a shorthand way of talking about how far you can talk. So for instance, people that have Baofengs are often going to be using very high frequency or ultra high frequency. Very high frequency is usually going to be a line of sight, maybe a little bit further because radio waves can actually see a little further than, like, the way we see the horizon. But for instance, if you and a friend both had Baofengs and you lived in the same city, depending on your antenas, that a bunch of other technical stuff, you should be able to hear each other. A lot of times the type of radio also use a repeater. The repeater is basically something that will send the signal further—it’s it’s own equipment but it will send your signal further than if you just had it by yourself. So when people hear that I just want them to think, “Oh, that’s just distance.” My interest is in very high—or, excuse me, is in just high frequency, just HF. That tends to be very far distances. So like that’s usually talking to people in other countries, or talking to people across, like, a country, like a big country like the United States, or the so-called the United States. I’m in the Midwest, I can use high frequency to talk to someone in California which is obviously not line of sight or, you know, horizon. So that’s all that means. I don’t—a lot of times HAM radio and radio in general uses these terms that make stuff sound really technical and really like scary, but it’s actually just a—there’s an easier way to understand it. So that has to just do with distance. That’s all I’ll say about that for now. I don’t want to overload but uh…
Yeah, and so basically what I’ll add to that is there’s two basic things that somebody who’s new to radio needs to do to understand what their radio is going to be used for. And so like Cici was talking about with the frequencies: Frequency is one of the two things that you really need to pay attention to when you’re a beginner, is frequency and wattage. So wattage is just how much power is actually being emitted from your radio. So one of the ways that you can think about frequency—we’ll start with frequency first—is it’s basically wavelength. And so the shorter your wavelength, the smaller it is, the smaller the distance—or the frequency or sorry, the frequency. So ultra high frequency, very short distance. Very high frequency is going to be kind of a medium distance. And then high frequency is long distance. Now what the Family Radio Service radios that you’re talking about, they broadcast on very high frequency. But what makes them not very good for communicating at distance is they have a low wattage, so they’re legally not allowed to go above a certain wattage. And so that means that they can only communicate at like a very, very short distance. Basically, these radios were designed so that way parents and kids could have radios or, you know, a family convoying on a vacation—this is in the days before cellphones—could have communication with each other. And so they didn’t need very high wattage, and they didn’t want these radio frequencies to be basically blocking other radio traffic. So it’s a low wattage, very high frequency and that means that it’s going to be a very limited distance. So even with like ultra high frequency, if you have a low wattage, you get even less distance. What amateur radio opens up to you is higher wattage, and it opens up more frequencies. So that’s the key thing there.
Okay, yeah, I took a bunch of notes about this right before. Right before we started I was trying to like map out all of this because I’ve been learning about this some for a while. And I was just trying to map all of this out. And what I came up with was basically like three types of, in the US, unlicensed types of radios, and then like two sort of types of licensed radios with HAM radio being kind of like the big—or amateur radio being like the big open one. And it was kind of interesting to me because I learned, like, for example, like I was reading about, like, what the hell is the difference between CB and FRS, and between walkie talkies and trucker radios as I always kind of saw it. And yeah, so I guess if CB is high frequency it needs—it can go further on lower wattage—or I don’t know if it goes through a low wattage, but it can go—it bend—the the frequencies like bend around the horizon and hills and shit better. But apparently it takes like a much, much more of an antenna and it doesn’t like going into buildings and shit very well as compared to like—
UHF, which is like much more—I don’t know, in my head it’s almost like piercing rather than, like, you know, it doesn’t go very far but it like goes through things a little better or something? And doesn’t need as much of an antenna. I don’t know, that’s what I—what I—so I guess—like, what I came up with as the things that you can use unlicensed are—well, I mean, you can theoretically use anything—well anyway—actually, I’m gonna ask you some about some of that stuff and a little bit, what you can get away with. But unlicensed, you can use FRS which are like the walkie talkies, you can use CB which has like a slightly higher wattage limit and is shortwave only but requires more of an antenna, and then something called MURS, M-U-R-S, Multi Use Radio Service, which is, like, a little bit better. And then, I think, in terms of licensed radio, I’m actually—I’m running this past youu so you can like tell me if I’m wrong. But also if I’m right then I’m just expressing everything that I learned to the audience. In terms of licensing, there is one type of license you can get without taking a test, you just give the US government 70 of your dollars. And it’s General Mobile Radio Service, GMRS. And it’s, like, still substantially more limited than amateur radio, right? But it allows more—I don’t know, it’s a little bit—it’s nicer than than family radio service. It’s nicer than a walkie-talkie. It’s like a fancy walkie-talkie. And you don’t have to take a test, versus amateur radio, which I guess you have to in order to—you have to pass these very intimidating tests in order to start using it, or in order to legally start using it. And I guess—I dunno, does that match up with with—does that seem correct? This is just like what I put together right for the show.
Yeah, so if people wanted to just get on the radio, like, tonight, if you could just go down to the store and pick something up and get on the radio. Basically, what you outlined is spot on, you know, Family Radio Service is probably the weakest kind of radio that you can get. And, again, if you’re within, you know, eyesight of the person you’re talking to those kind of radios will work for you. CB radios are larger, typically they’re mounted in like a vehicle. So they are a little bit less easy to keep on your person but they do carry further. So this is what nowadays you tend to see, like, off -oaders and other things like that use whenever they’re going out in the desert and off-roading. Again, you have limited channels on both of those. So you have, like, you know, theoretically there’s a bunch of channels in there, sub-channels, but it’s very limited. So if you’re in a city or something, you could find very easily that all of those channels are occupied and being used by people. And so that could just make things really confusing and really challenging. CB radios are kind of known as, like, the wild west of like the radio world, because you can say and do anything on that radio channel without any kind of punishment. So it’s full of very not great things. And, again, it’s a very busy radio channel because it’s used by a lot of unlicensed people to communicate. Now, when you’re talking about basic commercial radio, which is that license you’re talking about for those handheld, the GMRS, that is going to be something that usually requires that you show you are a business. So you need to have an LLC, a nonprofit, some kind of designator, some kind of, like, you know, tax ID or whatever, to tell the FCC that yes, I’m a business. They will assign you a little tiny frequency of the spectrum that none of the other businesses in your area have and then you’re stuck with it. So that means that you might have a few channels on your radio, but that’s all that’s going to be available to you to legally use. And you’re having to pay money on a regular basis to keep that license.
The one upside to that is you do get to use a slightly more powerful radio that—I mean, they are designed for, you know, like, mines and construction sites and factories, that’s typically where these kind of radios are used. So they are more powerful and they also have the legal ability to be encrypted. So you can actually get encrypted radios, which is not legal on any other radio service. The only way you can do that is through the GMRS. But you have to go through a major company to get your encryption service which means if somebody wants to de-encrypt your radio, all they have to do is get in contact with the company and find out what your encryption keys are and then they’re in. So this is also something that you see a lot of law enforcement that had switched to is this style of radio, just a modified one that are, you know, higher power and use repeaters. So these are all legal non-testing options, but they’re purposefully designed to limit you. They’re designed to basically reduce your capacity to communicate beyond line of sight in a way that, I mean, the amateur radio community would say the reason why is because, you know, you can’t have people running rampant on the on the air, there needs to be, you know, law and order on the air. So that’s part of the reason why the amateur bands are more thoroughly regulated, is to basically make sure that there’s a system of accountability to the government.
Actually, I’m really glad that Eepa shared tha. I have—my information outside of HAM radio is very limited so I actually learned a lot listening to that. The only different thing I would like to say is there’s actually a lot of changes coming with the—not with the testing, but the FCC—this is extremely recent. Like, I think the actual report from the FCC is, like, was dated like December 28—of like a few days ago, like last month, basically, it’sless than a month old. But they did actually say they’re going to start charging people for HAM radio licenses. This is extreme because it used to—like, as of right now it’s completely free. You have to take a test, but you don’t have to pay any money. Sometimes if you look online you’ll see people saying they want $15. That doesn’t actually go to the FCC, that goes to the people providing the test itself. Those people are actually just HAM radio operators. It’s, one of the interesting things is that the FCC actually has a very decentralized, like, they basically let HAM radio operators test each other and that’s—they just send the paperwork to the FCC to get your callsign. So if anyone’s at home thinking, “Oh, I was thinking about getting licensed and I think I’m ready.” If you don’t want to pay the FCC $35, like, I would, I would say, like, do what now. Along with that, they actually cut the GMRS license to $35 as well, it used to be $70. So they actually made getting a GMRS license and getting a HAM radio license the same price. HAM radio—people on ham radio, very upset, like, they—one of the big things is, oh, we need to attract people to HAM radio. So, like, the community in general is not happy about this change. It hasn’t taken effect yet. The report doesn’t actually say exactly when it’s supposed to take effect, like, it’s supposed to take effect the month after the report, but then it has to go through a bunch of bureaucracy. If I had to guess I’d say they’re probably going to try to do it sometime around February/March. But it might be sooner, it might be more after that. As far as my experience, I—that’s correct, you do have to take a test to get into HAM radio. Even in HAM radio, the first—there’s three levels. Basically you have to pass each test to get to the next level. So like you can’t just, like—so the levels, the first one you have is technician—technician level. The second one’s a general level, that’s actually where I’m at. I have a general level license. And then the highest one is called amateur extra, a lot of people just say “extra.” That’s—extras basically have the most privileges on the HAM radio.
They all sound inverted. Like, if I was to come up with the hierarchy, I would be like amateur, general, technician.
Yeah no, they’re like actually, like, holdovers from older—like there used to be advanced, there used to be a novice and, like, they’ve changed—the FCC is the one that’s in charge of making these levels. And it’s like, it’s changed a lot. It used to be kind of like five or like three and a half kind of, and now it’s basically just the three. Sometimes you’ll run into a really old HAM who’s like, “I haven’t advanced license,” and it’s, like, what the hell is that? But it’s basically like an old, depreciated license that they don’t issue anymore. So yeah, I’m at the middle level. You can’t just jump straight to, like, one of the levels. So like, if you’re like, “I think I know enough to get an extra license,” you can’t just go and say, “Give me the extra test, I’ll get an extra license.” But you can take them all in one sitting. So like, if you’re like, “I’m pretty sure I could do the extra,” they’ll give you a technician test. If you pass it, they’ll give you a general test. If you pass it, they’ll give you an extra test. The extra test has more questions, it’s—I’m actually studying for it right now. It’s very technical. It’s kind of like what Eepa was referring to. There’s kind of a culture of HAM radio. And it’s, there’s this idea that you basically have to earn your privileges on the bands by knowing what you’re doing and all this type of basically hierarchy type of ideas. But I mean, it is helpful to know some of the things that are in the test. I’ve actually learned a lot, just from having to study for the technician or the general test even though I’ve forgotten some of it. The licenses are good for 10 years. So you do have to actually renew them every 10 years. So yeah, after a few years I’ll have to renew mine, and pay them this stupid fee that didn’t exist when I first got it. But yeah, also something I want to put out is if you—you only need a license if you want to transmit. By what I mean by that is if you want to send a signal out. That’s important if you’re, like, if you’re in an emergency situation, you’re probably going to want to send a signal out. If you’re trying to communicate with people that are not near you, you want to send a signal out. But if you just want to listen you actually don’t need a license, you can actually go grab a radio tonight, tune your radio to HAM radio bands and just listen all day long, as long as you don’t transmit. And technically you’re not supposed to interfere. So you can’t, like, jam other people’s signals. But, like, if you’re not transmitting, you can listen, like whatever. Like there’s no license to listen. So that’s something interesting I want people to know: if you just want to listen to stuff, you don’t actually need a license.
What do they talk about around you? Because around me, like, I got a scanner and, you know, it doesn’t transmit any way, right? And I set it to listen to HAM radio channels, and I mostly heard like a 70-year-old talking to maybe a 15-year-old about like how to cook hot dogs and how to get trucks unstuck in mud, and then started explaining a story about snakes that I found very improbable. And that was about the most interesting thing that’s happened, like, all of the many hours I’ve, like, just had the scanner on in the background. I don’t know. I’m curious what you all have heard people talking about on these things.
So for me, I actually don’t do that much listening. Going back to kind of like different areas of different—I guess that’s something called “rag chewing.” In the HAM radio world that’s if you hear someone say, “Oh, you’re rag chewing,” that’s basically you’re getting on the radio, you’re just listening to other people. A lot of times people will make—I don’t want to say a game, game probably sounds—is the right—is the wrong—but people will actually do this as a contest. Like, sometimes people will try to contact as many people as you can in a certain amount of time. You’ve heard of people called “contesting,” that’s what they mean. You’ll hear some people “de-exing,” this is better if you have that—so if you’re in the high frequency, you try to get people as far away from you as you can. A lot of that, actually, you don’t say much. Because you want to get as many contacts, you’ll actually have this very non-conversation. It’s basically like your call sign, like, some necessary information and that’s it. Some people actually automate it. It’s interesting. So you don’t actually say a lot when you’re doing that. However, I know we mentioned ultra high frequency, the UHV—or excuse me UHF, I’m sorry—UHF earlier, and somebody might be thinking, “Why would I want to even talk”—like they’re very short, like, distances. They can penetrate into buildings which is helpful. So someone’s like, “Why would I want to do that? If somebody right there, like, what’s the point?” I mentioned earlier, one of the things you can do is you can create your own WiFi networks. Those actually operate. And those vary—or excuse me, not very, but ultra high frequency. 13 centimeters is about where that happens if people are able to look at a band plan and, like, see what links go where. If you were trying to set up your own—like, even like the commercial WiFi networks operate in that same thing. That’s why your router is generally limited to your house and just outside your house and why you can’t pick up a router like a mile away. So that’s kind of like—I know, this is getting away from the question of what do people talk about around you.
Oh, no, no. Go on. This is a better tangent.
It’s like you don’t have to necessarily even if you—there’s a lot of people that have radios and they hardly ever listen, they don’t ever rag chew. One of the things I’m trying to learn is it’s basically Morse code. I don’t know why I said basically, it is Morse code. It’s called—for technical reasons it’s called “continuous wave” in HAM radio. So if you hear people saying CW, that’s Morse code. One of the attractive things in Morse code—because someone’s like, “Well, why would you want to do that, that seems way more, way more like technical and you have to learn a whole thing and then”—it gets out when nothing else can. When I say that is a radio signals take up a certain amount of space, basically, in the bigger—the more space it takes up—bandwidth is how, I guess, the technical word for that. But the more bandwidth it is, the harder it can be to get that signal out. This is particularly pression, as Eepa was saying, a lot of times you’re limited in how many watts you can put out. So if you’re running something that’s not a lot of watts—especially you’ve got like maybe an antenna that you’ve made or an antenna that’s not extremely efficient—if you can do something like Morse code, it might get out, when if you were trying to do a voice code wouldn’t get out. Now you have trade-offs with that, like, you know, you have to, you have to have equipment that will use it, you’ll have to have somebody on the receiving end that can listen to it. But actually a lot of people use automatic—something, I forget what it’s called. But it’s basically something where when it comes up to your computer, or your radio, depending on if your radio is nice enough, will just automatically translate the Morse code for you. So you don’t necessarily have to know it. In the HAM culture it’s kind of like, well, that’s cheating, you know, like you’re supposed to like actually learn it and whatever. But if you’re using it as an emergency thing, for instance, it can be really important. Another thing is if you don’t really want to listen to what people around, you have to talk about, like I don’t want to care—I don’t care how people make hot dogs. The jokes is actually that if you are actually—a lot of it’s just what gear do you have, what radio do you have? And like, “Oh, how nice is your radio?” And it’s just, like, this is not information I need. One of the things, you can actually send out images? Which seems kind of like, “Well, I’ve got a computer, why do I care that I can send out images and like actually receive them?” This can be key if you’re in a place where the government’s actually shut down on purpose, you know, your your internet or your cell phone stuff, because they’re doing things that they don’t want people to know. For instance, I don’t actually, I don’t know if it’s still happening. But I remember in the northern region of India, there was a blackout there a year or so ago. The Indian government was doing just, we don’t really know because nothing could get out. But if you had a radio that could send out—there’s fast scan and slow scan—TV is what it’s called. But if you could send out an image without the government knowing, you could potentially let people know what’s going on and in a situation where it’s otherwise impossible to get communication out. So I mean, that’s something that I—basically my answer to the question, “What do people talking around me?” is, “I don’t really know.” I’m not listening to people around me so much and I’m not a I’m not rag chewing, basically. But that’s just to give people examples of what you can do if you’re like, well, I’m really antisocial, I don’t want to talk to anybody around me about just random stuff. So…
Yeah, for like around me, one of the things that—I actually do listen. I’m actually still in the process of getting licensed. The tests are themselves are, you know, intimidating and challenging but you can develop a lot of interesting insights, basically, by listening. And, I mean, around where we’re at it’s simple stuff, like, they have little game shows where you can, like, call in answers to trivia questions. And they have, like, little social meet and greets. They’ve got like a technical night where if you’re having a problem with your radio, you can call in and they’ll help you troubleshoot what’s going on with it. And this is all done via repeaters, which means you could use a UHF or VHF, you know, like a Baofeng basically, to talk to somebody in Ohio. Now, again, these repeaters are run by local radio clubs which means, you know, you don’t control the infrastructure, which means if those repeaters were to go down or, you know, the government was to take them over or something like that, you could lose access. And that’s one of the reasons that I’m very interested in HF because HF is a self-contained communication system where you’re able to do everything on your own. The IF’s in contact with some of the people—some of the anarchists in Ethiopia. And during the recent civil war in Tigray that was one of the issues that they were running into and something that they had wished that they had basically prepared was people who could actually send out images and send out news reports on the radio from within Tigray because a lot of the news was only coming from the Ethiopian state forces. And there were, you know, reports and rumors of massacres and other things like that. But there were no images, there was nothing really to substantiate what was happening. And so just touching on that, the ability to send images and things like that is really nice. But just when it comes to listening, I think that’s actually something really critical to think about when you’re looking at radio from a prepper kind of standpoint, from a—the idea that you are trying to get into communications because you want to be a part of community awareness. The primary thing that you will be using radio for in a situation where communications are shut down through normal means, and that could mean just a grid down, you know, Hurricane knocked out the power grid or something like that. Or it could be something more sinister where, you know, the government is purposefully denying people access to communication. The primary thing you’re gonna be doing on radio is listening, is intelligence gathering. It’s figuring out what all the other HAMs that are on the radio are talking about, what are they seeing, you know. Are they seeing, you know—are there rumors of, you know, troop movements to the north? Are there rumors, that there’s a food shortage in the town that’s north to you or that, you know, they’re sick people really concentrated in a certain area? That intelligence gathering is something that you can do with really cheap equipment. You can—one of the things that we recommend on our site is to get a shortwave, you know, receiver or something that can listen to all of these different bands. And just use that as a tool in your community to get people the ability to listen and learn because information is absolutely critical for survival, it’s the central thing you can have in a situation where stability has crumbled, is to have information awareness on the ground. So listening, even when you’re, you know, not licensed, can do that. It also can kind of give you an idea of what your local HAM community is like. Because one of the things that you will very, very rapidly learn, if you’re a minority and you’re involved in HAM, is that the community is blazingly white. And sometimes they can be fairly reactionary. And you can actually start to take notes of people that are actually kind of cool on the radio and people that you never want to talk to you again, just based off their call signs because they’re required to give those. And that can help you decide in the future how reliable somebody information might be, or what kind of perspectives they might be providing in a disaster situation. So that kind of, like, finite information gathering is an important skill to develop even before you consider transmitting, you know, that’s something you can work on right now.
Yeah, that makes sense.
I’m actually really glad he mentioned that. Sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt you, Margaret, I’m sorry,
No, go ahead.
I was just gonna say like, I—I’m gonna preface this just legally by saying, don’t ever do anything illegal on the radio. But one of the things that I don’t think people necessarily realize is that the FCC isn’t—they don’t have the manpower to sit and listen to like every single band. So like, generally, if you’re doing something say, untoward, or you’re not necessarily licensed, it’s not the FCC that’s going to like find out. It’s the other HAMs. HAM radio is largely kind of self-disciplined. It’s self—like, for instance, we do our own testing. Like, it’s not like if you do—if you do something someone’s—the band hammer is gonna come down. It’s basically if you piss off enough HAMs or if they know, they’ll— they’re the ones who’s going to report it. Eepa had mentioned earlier in our conversation that in HAM radio you can’t send encrypted communication. However, you could send—and there’s kind of a formality of how you send information via HAM radio—but for instance, you could say what they would expect you to say if you were doing a regular HAM conversation and it could mean not what they would necessarily expect it to mean. So for instance, one of the things on—I don’t know a lot about voice because I actually am trying to focus more and Morse code, but one of the things that you’re supposed to do on Morse code to call a another radio is CQ, CQ CQ. And then someone will be like is, you know, are you looking for someone? You can use those codes to mean for your intended audience whatever you want them to mean. So it’s not encrypted. But it’s also something where the other HAM radio, if someone happens to be listening, has a HAM radio, they won’t necessarily know what’s going on. Again, you should never do anything illegal on the radio. I just want to let people know that it’s not like there’s a radio police that sits and actively listens, like, it’s really just other HAMs that are gonna report you. Also, that’s something to know. If you note that you’re in kind of a, you know, maybe you live in a really remote area and there’s just not a lot of other HAMs, you’re listening on the air, and they’re just not a lot of other people, you don’t hear a lot of other people. That also might mean there’s not really a lot of people listening, which means there’s not a lot of people that could report you to the FCC. So that’s something to keep in mind as well. If people were, you know—also something to note that even in a licensed situation, for something that’s considered an emergency, and this is actually one part of the test, you can break HAM radio protocol and laws in the case of emergency. And that’s actually something that’s acknowledged. So like, if something were happening where it’s like, this person needs immediate attention, you’re not expected to follow all the—like, you can get on the air and be like, “I’m not licensed, but I need help,” and most HAMs are gonna not, you know, they’re not going to get on you. Like, that’s allowed. So that’s also something I want people to know, like, if you just want to radio for emergencies technically you should be licensed and it’s good, because you’ll have experience and you’ll know what you’re doing, but if it’s something like this is like four death, or this is extreme, other HAMs aren’t gonna report you. Like, people are generally, you know, and also that’s allowed. So even if they did report you other HAMs would be like, well, that’s allowed in the rule. So something I just wanted people to know.
Yeah, that actually helps.
So if you break your leg out in the woods, go ahead and get on your Baofeng and start honking.
So I feel like at this point, I should probably tell the audience what a Baofeng is. Which is, as far as I understand—because that’s actually, that’s how Baofengs were introduced to me, right is like, “Oh, yeah, I got a Baofeng.” Like, “Oh yeah, there’s radios over there, they’re Baofengs.” And like, everyone like talks about it, like, “Whoa, like, this is the fucking coolest thing ever,” right? And it’s just a really cheap radio that can do a lot of things. And it can do a lot of things that are legal like transmit at low wattage on FRS. And it can do a lot of things that would only be illegal if you were licensed. But it’s just kind of like, what, a $20 or $30 radio you can buy on the internet and you can like swap it out with a nicer antenna? And it’s just kind of like—it’s become, like, kind of like a thing in this sort of like tactical and prepper and whatever worlds is like Baofengs is, like, the thing. But actually what you were talking about, about how you can use it in emergencies. That’s kind of how I’ve always seen, like, I have a Baofeng, right? I don’t really know how to use it. I’ve pretty much just used it to listen to things. But I’m like, okay, I could theoretically transmitted an emergency if I needed to. And, you know, for a $20 thing that can transmit in an emergency, that’s cool. It’s also cool that it’s a tool that, like, isn’t limited, like, I hate when I buy something and it’s like, this is locked down to make sure that you can’t do the things it’s supposed to do. Just the things that you’re allowed to do. You know?
I hate that kind of shit, I—there’s a, just, I don’t know, whatever. I’m clearly an anarchist, I—there’s—I don’t really have to defend this position very hard.
Yeah, and so like, those Baofengs are basically like, I mean, the the way that you can think about it is, like, your first, you know, foray into radio if you are, like, just—what I generally recommend Baofengs for is if you’re actually interested in doing like, computer stuff with it, if you’re interested in doing programming, they can be really fun to play with. Also, if you’re interested in a radio that the cops can confiscate and you’re not going to miss it because it’s not that much of an investment, that’s another really good reason to get a Baofeng. But if you’re a beginner and you’re serious about getting into radio, I do think that there are better options for just ease of use, because Baofengs can be very difficult to program, sometimes, they can be very finicky to use all of the functions of it. And so something like, you know, an Alinco, or a Yaesu, you know, these types of like, you know, Japanese radios can be a little bit more easy to use and they’re going to be much more durable, you know, as far as like weather proofing and things like that. But again, that’s something you have to weigh the pros and the cons of, you know, is this something that’s gonna be confiscated at a protest, I probably don’t want to spend a lot of money on it. Whereas if you’re something where this isn’t my go bag, I need something that’s going to survive no matter what, then you might want to invest more money in something that’s going to be easy to use and is going to be durable. So I mean, yeah, the Baofeng s ubiquitous, because it is cheap and there are better options that are still affordable.
I feel like the Baofeng is like such a perfect way to introduce someone to help goddamn convoluted radio looks, like, you know?
It can’t—that’s one of the issues with it is if you were—if I was to hand you a Yaesu. Like if I was to give you just like a Yaesu FT4X you would be able to program that without plugging in into a computer. It’s much easier to use. You can just run to the menu, everything’s right there. It’s not convoluted and complex. And I think that’s one of the issues with the Baofeng is it kind of—if you’re not used to radio it can be very, very intimidating if you see that as your first introduction to radio. At least that’s been my experience. I do have Baofengs, I was that typical person where I went out and I, first thing I got was, you know, a four-pack of Baofengs that I split amongst some of my comrades. And we were, you know, learning how to use them. But it was much more challenging. And the first time I used a radio with a nice, smooth, easy operation interface, you know, a nice, easy menu system. It really—it made it a lot less intimidating.
Now you sold me. I mean, yeah, like, I basically look at my Baofeng and I’m like, I’m an idiot. And I’m like, I know how to program a computer to some degree, like, I’ve been doing technical shit for very long time. And I just look at it, and I’m like, I don’t have enough time to dedicate in my life. Actually, this ties back to something I don’t remember—I think it was Cici who was saying it but I’m not sure—earlier about how like, you know, Cici’s like well, I actually very involved in this community, right, but then you’re like, but I only know about the stuff that I’m interested in. I don’t necessarily have to know everything about everything. And that is one of the things that’s so hard about radio is when you look at it from the outside, it’s just a string of letters that you’re supposed to know how to make sense of. I mean, it honestly reminds me of like when you get into guns or something when everyone’s like, “Oh, yeah, well if you don’t have this thing go attached to this thing and the other thing and then this thing, then you’re just gonna die.” Well I don’t wanna die.
I mean it’s actually—yeah, I’d say with guns it’s a good analogy. Like, there’s very few gun people who, like, their experienced with revolvers, and they’re experienced with like the latest pistols, and they’re experienced with like lever guns, and their experienced with black powder, and their experienced with like—yeah, like, if people are—I don’t know if listeners, if your listeners would have a good sense of like how guns are. I know you’ve done some episodes on firearms, but generally people tend to know more about certain aspects of firearms and they do other aspects, even though—even people that have a broad knowledge will know more about stuff than others, like black powder is very specific. A lot of people don’t—who know a lot about guns, still don’t know a lot about black powder, or vice versa. In the same way radio is kind of like that. There’s very few. And I mean, like, I haven’t met anybody who’s, like, I know everything about every aspect of radio. That’s, like, a crazy person. Like, or I should say, a person who’s like, you know, they might be an engineer or something or that’s their job.
So for most people, like, I actually don’t do too much what I would call local radio stuff and be—that’d be the very high frequency and ultra high frequency. I am interested in mesh networks, which would be the setting up those WiFi networks, but I haven’t actually done a lot with it. What I’m interested in, the stuff is usually called high frequency, it’s more long-distance, it’s very different from the ultra high frequency. So I’m still learning a lot about setting up a mesh network and how to do a decentralized WiFi. I’m still learning a lot about that. What I guess my interests lie more in something called, I mentioned Morse code over there. There’s another aspect of radio called QRP. So yeah, QRP is just a fancy way of saying low power. Generally, when people talk about radio they’re gonna be talking about wattages. So we’ve been talking a lot about Baofengs and I know Eva mentioned the Alinko radios, Yaesu radios, these are generally going to be handy talkies. They looknkind of like what people might think a walkie-talkie would look like. The type of radios that would be a base station, they’ll look very different. They look kind of like a—basically a box. It’s a real, if it’s a nice space station, that might be a really big box. Generally those are going to be at 100 watts or more, but those are also going to be extremely expensive. They’re going to also generally require kind of semi-complex antenna setups, a lot of room to set up some type of base station like that. The stuff that I’m interested in for low power, the difference is that it’s much cheaper. And a lot of people look at radio and they’re like, I don’t have an extra $1,000 to just drop on like a nice radio, I don’t have an extra—especially if you want to do long distance stuff. That was kind of my interest. That’s actually why I have a general license. If you get a technician license, it actually kind of limits you to very high frequency and ultra high frequency. You can do some stuff on the longer distance, but it’s very limited. So yeah, you to even do stuff with long distance in a general sense, you have to get a general license, but a QRP is a way that you can not spend a lot of money—or at least spend less money, it still might be a lot of money, relatively speaking. But um. What’d you say?
And QRP means low powered, right?
Yeah, low power. For Morse code, that’s five watts or less. For voice modes like single sideband, that would be 10 watts or less. Actually, a lot of HAM radios kind of poopoo it because they’re like, why would you use, you know—it’s just, it can be difficult because you’re using such little power, but you get a lot of benefits with it. A lot of benefits is you can use a radio that doesn’t—or you can use an antenna that doesn’t take up a lot of space. If you live in an apartment, that’s huge. If you live in a place where, you know, like, you don’t—you’re not supposed to set up outside antennas or something, that’s huge. I already mentioned that it’s very cheap, or cheaper, I shouldn’t say very cheap. But it’s cheaper than doing other types of radios that use much higher power. Also, one of the big things is that you can make your own radios. We were talking about earlier how one of the benefits of radio was that it’s decentralized, like, you’re not about to go make your own smartphone.
At least I can’t. I don’t know anyone who can. But you could make your own radio. And you can make your own antenna. In fact, a lot of HAMs encourage people to make their own antennas because it’s—antennas are actually kind of expensive to go buy. It’s actually cheaper to make them. So like a lot of HAMs will just learn how to make antennas out of, like, nothing. Like a lot of people make them on a tape measure and stuff, like it’s very—if you’re kind of that person where it’s like I want to experiment and I want to kind of just make stuff with found materials or stuff that’s, like, I have already at my house. Like, that’s a huge benefit. Also, we didn’t mention this earlier, but RF safety kind of is a related to the amount of—it’s related to a lot of stuff, but it can be related to the amount of watts you’re putting out.
What is RF?
Oh, sorry, RF is radio frequency. It’s just—it’s the type of energy we’re using for radio.
So what is—how does it tie in to safety? Sorry, I’m just like…
Oh, it’s okay. So if you’re using something like 100 watts or more and you’re transmitting. Like, for instance, you should never touch an antenna at that many watts that’s transmitting. You’re gonna get an RF burn. It’s basically something that, like, it can get kind of complicated. But—and there’s—I don’t want to like scare people or anything, like, it’s not—I’m not trying to be like, “Oh, we didn’t talk about safety.” But the lower wattage you use the less you have to worry about that, basically, especially if you have an indoor antenna or something. Like, if you have an indoor antenna, you really want to keep your RF, like, levels lower so you don’t—part of it is actually practical, like, we haven’t talked a lot about interference. But if you have a really, really high, like, wattage, and today—it can cause interference. And it can be something where your neighbors are trying to like use their electronics, and they hear all sorts of weird stuff, they hear all sorts of clicks and whatever. That’s because you’re using like a really high power radio. So, like, your neighbors just might get mad and be like, “You’re, we see this antenna outside your house, and it’s doing this thing and blah, blah, blah.” So using a less power, it can be—it can cause less interference. But also it will just cause less RF like fields, which means that it’s safer to operate inside. And someone might, like, might be thinking, “Well, why would I want to operate inside? If I can operate outside, shouldn’t I?” Well, it depends. Are you doing something where you don’t necessarily want people to know you’re operating. A big antennas, like, if you have a huge antenna outside your house, or even just kind of a moderate one but something that’s obviously an antenna and not a TV antenna, it’ll be like, well, that person’s a radio operator. Not everybody wants that immediately known if they were to walk by their house. I’ll just say that. It’s something that, if you’re using QRP, it’s much easier for you to not cause interference, to operate from completely inside, and to be able to make your own equipment.
It’s really cool honestly. Like, talking to you makes me want to learn how to build radios.
I mean, it’s like, there’s some benefits to, like, QRP, like low power HF radios for prepping especially because they’re mobile. You can literally put one of these—you can put a full QRP setup—a low power radio, power source, an antenna, and like an antenna tuner—in your purse. You could put it in a very small satchel and be able to talk to somebody states away. So these can be really compact and really mobile solutions that still give you access to autonomous email, like, still give you access to, you know, listening to all of these different bands, transmitting all these different bands. So from a preparedness perspective, that is a huge benefit. The low wattage basically allows you to use less power from your battery so you can use a very small solar panel that folds up and into your backpack to recharge your battery when you need. And so that just has tremendous benefits for mobility. And one of the key things to think about from a, maybe, a situation where you have any type of adversary. So that could be, you know, a lot of white supremacists militia types have created radio nets and have radio training. They’re—they’ve been working on preparing this for years, they have pre-designated frequencies and nets, they’ve got all these different things set up. And one of the things that they can do is they can track you. So it’s extremely easy to triangulate and locate the source of a transmission. So if you are needing to transmit something that is sensitive or that will identify you, as politically opposed to people that might be interested in finding you, you’re going to want to transmit from locations away from your place of residence and also in a way that doesn’t, you know, create a big circle on the map around your house. You’re going to want to choose random locations to transmit from, and you’re going to want to use, you know—low power helps with that a little bit as well. You can reach the people you need to without giving away your position too much. But as soon as you click the transmission button, you’re opening up the world to find out exactly where you’re at. So you can transmit what you need to, pack up, and get out of there if you need to. That’s the nice thing about those low power rigs. So that’s something to really think about when you’re getting into radio. And, yeah, you can build your own, you can build your own antenna. There’s some awesome antennas that you can literally just launch up into a tree with a slingshot and it’s—all it is is one giant long strand of speaker cable, speaker wire. That’s it, that’s an antenna. Nothing more is needed. You just need a little antenna tuner to hook up to it and your radio and you’re good to go. So those kinds of things are—they open up the whole world to you on a very, very—on a lower budget than you would be if you had a base station. One of the things that we talked about with the article that we released the Javelina Network is that handheld radios and QRP HF radios are very good for transmitting on the go and that was our main focus on that. You can do base stations which is like based out of your apartment, based out of your co-op or your bookstore or whatever you want to do. But again, that’s a known location, that’s a fixed location, that means that you have to be much more careful about what you’re transmitting. And if you’re transmitting outside of legal areas, the amateur radio committee has a whole community of amateur snitches that their whole thing—they get their jollies by tagging people on not having licenses and stuff. So it can happen. You just got to be careful about what you do.
That’s actually one of the questions that I—when I asked around basically being like what should I ask these people? One of the questions that came up a couple times was how real is—I think—it was presented to me that’s called fox hunting? Like, the hobby of tracking down on licensed operators. What a great culture, what a wonderful culture where their whole thing is just snitching on people. But so, yeah, my question was, like, how real is that? Like, how much do people—especially like, let’s say if you’re not—I mean obviously if you’re doing something where people are—where the people around you are politically opposed to you, and opposed to what you’re saying, obviously that will increase the odds. But if you’re just, like, coordinating some random bullshit like picking up lumber or something like that, how much do you act—do people—how real is this? How much do people actually get kind of tracked down?
So from my experience, basically, fox hunting—I’m sorry, I’ve got a ICE helicopter flying over me right now. The—as far as fox hunting goes, if you go to any type of, like, HAM Fest or HAM convention or HAM con or, you know, whatever you want to go to, they will all have fox hunting competitions. This is something that, you know, people really enjoy doing is just like, you know, hunting down signals. Now, what this is typically used for is not going to be tracking down the guy who’s saying, “Hey, I got lumber,” or, you know, the person who’s like, “Hey, you know, I need to pick up a quart of oil from you,” or something like that, or the gal that’s, you know, “I’ve got eggs for sale,” or something like that, you know. It’s not typically going to be stuff like that. It’s usually like sources of interference that people are going to be tracking down. So if you’re causing a lot of interferenc, and it’s pissing people off, then they will fox hunt you down, and they’ll find out what’s going on. So if you have a jammer or something like that, which are illegal, and you operate that jammer and it makes people mad—if you operate it for long enough, people will find it and they will make sure that that is put to the stop. And so you have to be careful if you do utilize jammers and things like that, that you’re not using them when you don’t need to. So fox hunting in, like, day to day circumstances is a little bit less of a threat. If you know kind of what radio people sound like—and, again, do this at your own risk. This is something, again, that, you know, is illegal. But if you had like a fake callsign and you just follow the standard protocols of calls, you could basically get away with it as long as you didn’t accidentally have some callsign that somebody there knew as being somebody else. So generally it’s not going to be an issue if you’re just talking between two people, you select a frequency, you listen to it, nobody’s on that frequency, nobody’s been on that frequency for a long time, and you just use it to call each other to coordinate something. Just kind of sound like you belong and you’ll be okay. As soon as you get into an adversarial situation, that’s when you do have police operating like stingers and other devices that will track down cell phone data, they’ll track down radio data, everything—any kind of frequency that’s being emitted, those things will be able to track down the source of so just be very aware of when and how you’re transmitting, and be safe about it.
Absolutely. And I would actually add to what Eepa says: If you’re going to use a call sign, first you want to absolutely know who—you know, if you’re licensed—So, okay, so for people who are like what the hell is call sign?
Yeah I was about to ask.
For HAM radio, what—basically what happens is you take this test. Assuming you pass they’ll—what the license actually—the most important thing that I guess the license gives you is a call sign. I actually have a call sign. I’m not going to say it. The reason I’m not going to say it is because for anybody that says a call sign, it’s instantly look up-able. When you take the test you have to give like an address, it’s supposed to be your home address, of where you live. And basically that data is publicly available. So like, if I were to say my call sign right now, anybody listening to this podcast could go look it up online and find out exactly who I am—or at least, I shouldn’t say exactly who I am. They could find out the name that I gave to the FCC, which is my real name. They could find out the address I have listed. You’re supposed to updat it, like, you know, every time you move or whatever. A lot of people don’t necessarily but like if they find out, like, that can become an issue. So for instance, let’s say you just found a call sign. Nobody’s using it. Cool. Somebody happens to look it up—and they might actually do this innocuously, a lot of people want these—they’re called QSL cards. It’s basically a little card that say, “Hey, I contacted you.” And it’s like a postcard that ‘s like, oh, cool. So they might just look it up just thinking, “Hey, I contacted you, I want a little postcard,” and see that, you know, that call sign’s registered to somebody in Texas. You were transmitting from, like, Washington. Like, they might be, like, well, that’s kind of weird. That’s not necessarily a tip off. Because, you know, you could be traveling. It’s not like you have to change your call sign when you go traveling, you’re on vacation, whatever. But if you’re constantly—like, if you live in Texas and you’re constantly transmitting from Texas and you never transmit for Washington, but that call sign is assigned to someone in Washington, like that’s gonna tip somebody off, like, is this person really who they say they are? Also, you might—this gets a little dicey, too. But if you’re using voice modes and, you know, your call sign says tou’re this 58-year-old guy and you don’t sound like a 58-year-old guy, like, that might start making sound like, you know, is this person who they say they are?
Is it gonna be like four random letters or something? Like is—or is the call sign, like, this is like, I don’t know, Phoenix Rising, I don’t know…
Oh no, they’re random letters. Like, for instance, I’m not gonna say my call sign. But, for instance, I’m reading this book, HAM—like HAM radio people generally love sharing their call signs, like, they’ll put it on books. The call sign of [inaudible] from this guy that I’m reading, it’s G0KYA. And actually, the G in the beginning means that he’s actually from the UK. So not only are they location-specific, but they’re country-specific. So like, if you just made up a call sign, like, people can generally tell if it’s real or not. They’re supposed to be a certain length, they have certain—like, for instance, in the in the US, generally if you get a call sign, it’s gonna start with K or W. So like, that’s something, if you’re going to do that, you should know that these are things. Now of course this could all be alleviated just by getting an actual, like getting licensed and getting an actual whole sign. Still be careful who you share it with, you know. Like, maybe don’t just go around telling everybody what your call sign is like most HAMs do. Just because, you know, maybe there is that really reactionary guy at the local HAM and, like, he gets a whiff that you’re not, you know, you’re not—your politics upset him. He knows your call sign. Also, if you’re broadcasting you’re supposed to actually say your call sign every 10 minutes. So it’s not like, “Well, I’m just never gonna say my call sign when a broadcasting.” You’re supposed to. You’re not just gonna keep it secret so that’s something to think about. As far as fox hunting, yeah, there’s this whole thing where HAMs will set out a radio, they’ll hide it, and the whole game is to try to go and find the transmitter. This is actually something you don’t even need to be licensed to do, you’re just listening for this transmitter. So like, technically, you wouldn’t even—you don’t even need a license to go fox hunt. Anybody could track it down if they’re just listening to you.
That honestly sounds fun.
Also—I would also mention, that’s actually something I’m interested in doing. We’re not the only people at Radio Stash, obviously have radios. And if you know how to foxhunt and you note that there’s this—or maybe there’s just this guy in your local HAM community. If anyone’s interacted with HAM, it tends to be very old, white, retired dudes. Like the average age of HAMs is probably something like 60 or 70. Like, it’s very old. Like, it’s people that have the money to buy like $1,000 base stations usually. So like, maybe there’s a guy there that’s, you know, he’s always got a Blue Lives Matter shirt on. Or maybe, you know, he went to, you know, he went to DC recently, or something. And maybe you don’t know his, you don’t know his call sign, or maybe he’s using a fake call sign or something. But if you can triangulate your signal, you could probably find out where he’s at least transmitting from. Whether or not that’s his house is, you know, it’s a different thing. But you can actually use a lot of this stuff—the stuff that they use against us you can also use, like, to help us as well.
So I’m impressed that we made it an hour and eight minutes before we brought up the fact that the fascist attempted to stage a coup in the United States yesterday. Sorry, anyway, what were you gonna say?
Oh, no, I was gonna basically just add that when it comes to that security culture around call signs, that’s really important. I’ve remember going to a protest of a basically a bunch of white supremacists, you know, ethno-nationalists or whatever. And there was a guy there who had his FRA sticker and his call sign on the back of his truck. And so I just went online, I looked at the call sign, and I showed him a picture of his home address. And I said, “Do you live here?” And he’s like, “Yes.” And then I showed him a picture of his little earth and his truck sitting in his driveway of his house, I was like, “This is your house in your truck, right?” And, you know, his face went white. And it was just like, either you put the call sign on the truck, or you put the the FRA sticker, but you’d never put both.
And typically, it’s just don’t even put your call sign in your vehicle. Because if you show up to an event, police will be able to look that up, fash will be able to look that up, anybody who knows about that can look it up. So that’s just a really basic piece of security culture to do. And I can guarantee you that there are people who were in DC that had their call signs that the FBI are going to be looking up as we speak to go and arrest them. So don’t snitch on yourself.
Yeah. So no, I mean, like, be very diligent who you share your call sign with. Talking about repeaters, anybody could call into a repeater. So if you’re using a repeater and you know that there’s people in the area that you don’t want them to know your call sign, like, either don’t transmit longer than 10 minutes or, you know, just be aware of that you don’t want it to be where there’s a situation where you’re constantly saying your call sign and now people you don’t really want to know where you are, either know where you are, or they find out you have a call sign, or something like that. I do want to mention that if you’re doing a data mode—there’s these things called data modes, which are basically not voice modes. It’s, you know, it’s not your voice. Also Morse code obviously isn’t your voice, it’s just a series of beats dits and dots. It’s harder for people to tell that’s not necessarily you—not in the terms of location but in the terms of like, dits and dots. So like, if you have a friend that lives close to you and you know, their licensed, and and they said it’s okay—you should never do anything illegal on the radio, by the way.
Yeah, that would be wrong.
For someone to tell that, oh, that’s not you doing dits and dots. I mean, they could maybe? Like maybe your friend transmits at a certain speed and you never transmit at that speed. But even then you could use a keyer which just puts it in automatically. And then like lots of people use keyers, like, that could be—like someone would have to really know, like, I know that dude and I know, that’s not how he sends code. Like, that’s a really specific situation. But if you’re not using voice you have a little more… I don’t know. Don’t ever do anything illegal on the radio. But also, you don’t have to use voice.
Just gonna say that.
And I mean, like, it’s funny because like, I actually think that—go ahead, go ahead.
No, no, no, no, go for it.
I actually do think that, like, I think it would be great for us all to get licenses. Like it would actually be like, you know, I mean, it’s like—do I think it’s like ethically necessary that people have licenses to drive cars? No. But do I, like, want people who are driving cars to know how to drive cars? Yes. Right? And it’s not the same thing, right? But like, I would say that, like, I intend to slowly work towards getting my license, right? And, you know, anyone who’s interested in radio, it seems like a really good way to do it. And so—but yeah, no, I appreciate that sort of nuance of the conversation around, like, here’s how you can choose to access radios while you’re still working on them in emergency situations, etc. You know?
Well, and I would say, basically, when it comes to getting your license, I think that is actually an important step for people to take because one of the things that allows you to do is to get lots and lots of practice. Practice is going to be the most important thing for you to actually be effective in a, you know, grid down or a, you know—in a sensitive situation, you don’t want to be figuring out how to do new modes, how to, you know, what the bands are in the area, what your radio can operate at. You don’t want to be figuring that out on the fly. And so if you spend a lot of time with a license interacting with other people in the community, even going and learning from some of those old white codgers who, you know, know how to build, you know, nice antennas or mobile rigs or things like that. You can do that and you can learn—you can learn a lot. And so that’s the upside to the license is that you’re going to be able to develop and nurture the skills that will come in handy later. Because one of the things that I’m very interested in is a program called JS8Call. And what that does is basically it creates a network of people that, you can be off the radio, and somebody can send you a text message. And the next time you get on the radio, other radios have stored that and when you get on, it’ll send you that message. So it’s just like an email, or just like a text message.
In that whenever your radios on, you can get those messages. So the other nice thing about that is they have individual rooms. So you could set up a room in JS8Call just for your local mutual aid thing. And if somebody logs in, you will know that they have logged in from your group. And if somebody logs in who’s not from your group, you will know. So it offers you a little extra level of security over just general voice transmission and things like that. So, but learning the fineties of all of these different things and learning what your niche is, because again, everyone has different interests and different talents. The best way to explore that is going to be with a license. Now, the second things go south and you need to be using your radio for revolutionary purposes, you also need to know how to operate securely without your call sign, and how to, you know, vary your location, how to vary your signal strength, how to use transmission that actually bounces off of the ionosphere instead of line of sight, and things like that. There’s all kinds of cool tricks you can learn, but you really need to practice them and refine them and make sure you know what you’re doing before you get to a situation where you’re going to be asked to be the expert. And it can be very intimidating, technically, to be like, you know, there’s all these different things that I can learn, I can do all this, I can do all that. One of the things you can do is if you are one of those people, like, you know, us, that’s very interested in radio and thinks that it’s like really interesting and cool, is become extremely proficient at something and then develop simplified protocols for people who aren’t extremely interested but want to have communication. We have, one of the members of the Javelina Network is a veteran who used to be a radio operator overseas. And basically, you type the numbers in, you push the button, you call. And that’s basically the level of complexity. And that enables large-scale coordination of logistics, of people movement, of intelligence, of all kinds of stuff like that, just having community members that know how to make those transmissions. So if you are the kind of person who’s excited and interested in radio, and you’re developing those skills, your other role is to act as a teacher about just basic stuff. You pre-programm the radio and you give it to somebody and you say, “Okay, this is how and when to transmit. This is why you transmit. This is how you stay safe.” You just give them the basic instructions and that way, they don’t have to worry about programming, they don’t have to worry about all of the minutia that, you know, you can get easily lost in. And that’s the way we can we can lift each other up. That’s part of, like, what the Javelina Network’s all about.
Absolutely. I love that. Also, I would say to people—so yes, HAM radio is generally—it’s going to be more reactionary as a general rule. You’re going to generally be dealing with old white dudes. But it’s not—I don’t want to paint them as all bad people. Like there are—some places are better than others. I liked what Eepa said earlier about just kind of listen and see what kind of people are there. Some HAMs, some like people in HAM radio, they love teaching new HAMs, they love trying to—there’s this kind of subset of HAMs that we always need to be like getting more people into this. It’s like, if you just show up and you’re just like, “I don’t know anything,” or you know, I don’t know anything, but I need help. There’s, depending on the club or the culture that exists in your area, there might be somebody there that’s like willing to just take you under their wing. That’s actually a word in HAM culture for people that teach. It’s kind of hard to find these people actually, but they’re Elmers. An Elmer is actually supposed to be a mentor for you. They’re supposed to, like, help you. You know, you don’t have to be super political and you don’t have to tell these people what you think or whatever. A lot of HAMs, you know, a lot of HAMs actually won’t tell other people what they’re thinking either. They’re there just to have fun with the radio, they’re not trying to necessarily tell people all of their business either. So yeah, you might have a guy that, you know, we were talking about access to equipment can be a huge limitation to this hobby. If you find an Elmer, and a lot of these guys have old equipment or they have just, they’ve accumulated equipment, they might just give you an old radio they’re not using anymore which could be huge, you know, and you can develop like these relationships that they don’t have to be, like, your best friend, like—or you know, maybe they are your best friend. I don’t know. Like, they can, you know, they don’t—not all HAMs are like out to get you or trying to like find all the—they’re not all just trying to find the person messing up so they can report them to the FCC. There’s actually, with a license change, I’ve been reading a few things in HAM radio community and one HAM was so upset that he was like if I hear somebody transmitting and they’re made up a license, like, I’m not going to report it. Because he’s, like, he just doesn’t think people should pay $35 to the FCC. So I mean, like, not everyone is not everyone in the HAM community is like, “Oh, we’re gonna get you.” But also, yeah, I would also say, share what knowledge you have. One of the things that I think, like, if you are somebody that does have a little bit more money, or maybe you do have a little bit of, I don’t know, you could buy 10 Baofengs, you can give them out, teach people how to tune them into the police station—a lot of police have, they basically have it where you can actually listen to them. A lot of people actually do this, not just for political reasons but just to, you know, they just want to know why there’s a million sirens going off. As long as you don’t transmit and as long as you don’t jam the signal, you can listen all day long. And that can be helpful. Listen, see what’s going on, call your friends being like, this is where they’re going to be at or this is what’s happening. As far as the licensing goes, part of the reason people get licenses is so they don’t accidentally do stuff. For instance, like if you were listening into like a ambulance, or like a health—like something for, like, EMTs—you don’t want to accidentally interfere with them. Like, obviously, they’re going to go help people who are in like medical distress. So like, you want to make sure that you know how to use the Baofeng but that’s kind of what Eepa was saying. Like, if you have access to where you can get equipment to people, and you can teach them. “Look, I’ve already programmed this for you. I’ve already set it up to the frequency. This is how to change the frequency if you need to. But in general, like, just listening and if youm you know, want to let somebody know what you hear just, you know, call somebody.” That’s great. Like, no one is expected to know everything in this hobby. So like, yeah, if you can help somebody who—I actually don’t know a lot about Baofengs. I’ve been focusing on other stuff. So like, I’d love for someone to help me do things that are more like VH VHF type of technologies. So…
Well, do y’all have any—we’re kind of running out of time and it’s funny cuz there’s so much about radios that I can easily talk with us forever. But are there any last thoughts that we—or things that we haven’t covered that you want people to know?
Ah, I didn’t mention this earlier, but I’m actually a volunteer examiner. I mentioned earlier, like ham radio people are the ones who actually give the exams. If people are interested in getting licensed, either now or in the future—I don’t know I didn’t put out any contact information, but feel free to let get in touch with me. I’m actually currently studying for the extra license. I want to do it before they have to pay the FCC $35. But once I get the extra license—one of the things the licenses actually let you do is test other people to get licensed. So maybe you’re in an area where, again, the HAM club sucks, they’re really reactionary, they don’t want to help new HAMS, they’re just mean, whatever, but you still want to get licensed. If you have a friend that can help, like, basically a—you need three VEs to do a test. But like, if you have three people in your community who could basically be those VEs and help you get tested—
What does that mean? Oh, a volunteer examiner?
Oh, yeah, volunteer diameter. Yeah, sorry, VE. That can help tremendously. One of the things that pandemic’s actually done is that you used to have to do that in person but now there’s actually a whole system of people doing this remotely. So you can actually take your tests on Zoom, you don’t have to show up anywhere. So that’s great if you’re, you know, you’re homebound, or you know, it’s a pandemic and you just don’t want to leave your house because you’re quarantining. So yeah, that’s actually one of the benefits that’s happened recently. Like, this is recent in terms of, like, I think, April they—the FCC authorized like 14 groups to give remote exams. So yeah, if people have questions about getting licensed, questions about QRP which was the low power stuff, questions about Morse code, please get in touch with me. It can feel very overwhelming but I want people to know that they’re not—they don’t have to sit there and struggle. I’m actually also trying to learn how to do antenna stuff—antenna stuff’s just one of the coolest things. But yeah, I guess that’s my last little bit.
Um yeah, for me, basically, I want to encourage people to check out the Javelina project. This is something that we have launched together, basically a bunch of decolonial, anti authoritarian kind of people who are interested in building autonomous communications, building networks, creating ways for us to basically keeping in touch and to get information in and out of places as time goes on. You know, we want to be the kind of people that help, you know, next time there’s a Standing Rock or Wet’suwet’en and actually set up indigenous communication networks in and out. So that way, you know, when you’re frozen out of any type of other media, you can still get media in and out. And we’re trying to create resources for, you know, like, a how-to guide of how to set up digital modes on your Baofeng, that’s gonna be an article that’s gonna be coming out soon.
We’re going to be doing an article soon about pirate radio, how to set up a pirate radio station. We’re going to be doing articles about, you know, like JS8Call. So I definitely encourage people to stay tuned for that. We already have a guide up on the Indigenous Anarchist Federation website called Skills for Revolutionary Survival: Communication Equipment for Rebels. And that has information, all the basic information about what radios are, what radio you need depending on what situation you expect to be in, recommendations based off of price and like weatherproofing, things like that. And then video resources that you can watch to not only start studying for your test if that’s what you’re interested in, but also to look at kind of the logistical side of communication. So those videos are a part of that article as well. And basically, you know, just get out there and you can start working with a very cheap radio very fast, use a shortwave radio scanner and start listening to all your local channels. If you want to be the person in your, in your little anarchist cell or in your community who’s, you know, next time there’s a big storm system that comes through and you want to listen to weather bands, you can learn how to do that. Learn how to listen to it on your radio. And that’s a skill you can start developing right now. So there’s no time to wait. You can always start the next day that you have access to it and get involved.
Yeah. Okay. And then how can folks find you all online?
So for the Javelina Network, our Twitter literally just got launched. And it is @JavelinaNetwork which is spelled like the animal: J-A-V-E-L-I-N-A-Network. We decided to go with Javelina because, you know, instead of being hams from Europe, we’re the Indigenous little pig so. We’re the Javelinas is on the air.
I love that, by the way. I didn’t even think about like people contacting me.
You don’t have to say it if you don’t want, but you just—you said earlier that people should contact you. So I’m giving you a chance if you want.
I guess Twitter but, like, I don’t know if people should contact me on Twitter. I’ll go ahead and put my Twitter, why not? I think @postleftprole I think?
That sounds right.
Yeah. Get in touch with me I guess. Just, I guess, request to send me a DM. I guess you can’t like to send a DM if I haven’t friended you or whatever. But just send a friend request be like, “Hey, I listened to the podcast, I’m curious.” I’ll, we can talk further. So. I’m not always online but uh, I try to respond—I’m actually on Twitter a fair bit so I guess I’ll try to respond. I’m not always on Reddit, or at least I’m not always checking my messages on Reddit. So Twitter’s probably more reliable. Right now I’m not a—I don’t have any official channels. I should probably think about that. In the future, actually, I hope to put up some videos and stuff to help people do radio stuff. So if people want to get in touch with me to see if when I get that going, like, I’d be happy to let people know.
I’m really excited about that work.
And you can contact both of us. I was gonna say basically you you can contact both of us at email@example.com. That’s an email that all of us that are part of the Javelina Network more generally have access to. And so, like, if you’re interested in something as well, that’s a—if you’re just want to use email, that’s a good way to get in contact with us as well.
Cool. All right. Well, thank you all so much for your time, and I’ve been I’ve been looking forward to this conversation for a long time. And I—you’ve really helped break the, like—I’m like, okay, I was like, I came into this with practically a spreadsheet being like, “Alright, this thing maps to this thing. And then this thing has 40 channels and blah, blah, blah.” And then you’re all like, “No, no, no, you just, you find something you’re interested in and you go with it. ” It’s brilliant. Thank you so much. Thank you so much for listening. I hope you enjoyed that, or at least got something out of it. And if you want to support the podcast you can do so by telling people about it, you can tell people on the internet, you can even tell people about it in person, although you should tell them from far away—so you should probably shout about it from far away. Like walk up to strangers and scream, “Hey, Live Like the World is Dying!” That would actually be pretty cool if it became the new YOLO… because everything is YOLO. Anyway. But yeah, people have been doing an amazing job of telling people about the podcast, and it’s been really wonderful bringing in new listeners. It makes doing this podcast feel worth it. And if you want to support me more directly, you can do so by supporting me on Patreon. If you support me on Patreon, it’s how I pay for the podcast. My Patreon is patreon.com/margaretkilljoy. And I put up zines ostensibly every month but I am very far behind because of the pandemic and my resultant complicated ability to interact with my own mental space and the amount of work I have to do—which I’m sure no one else is dealing with, it’s a thing with the pandemic that actually only affects me. I’m the only person who is dealing with it. [chuckling] Anyway, sorry. But yeah, and you can support me there. And if you live off of less money than I make on Patreon, don’t support me there. Just contact me and I’ll get you access to all of the information, all of the stuff that’s behind the paywall of Patreon, I can give that to you for free. But in particular, I’d like to thank Eleanor and Mike and Satara and Kat J and The Compound, Shane, Christopher, Sam, Natalie, Willow, Kirk, Hoss the Dog, Nora, and Chris. Thank you all so much for making this possible. I never expected to get as much—anywhere near as much support as I do get from people. And I’ve been able to start passing that along and, you know, hire a transcriptionist to keep this podcast more accessible and hopefully start looking into other ways to expand this content beyond just me in the near future. So thank you. Thank you all so much for listening, and I hope you’re doing as well as you can with everything that’s going on.