Letter from “F1” on Amateur Radio Gear and Out of Band

A couple of comments on a couple of things: All of my (ham) radios are modified for out of band operations. No, it’s not legal to use them to transmit on those frequencies, except
in an emergency. However, I can listen to public service agencies (not using trunked radios), listen (in the city) to the direct feed helicopter traffic reporters and get traffic reports all the time (one helicopter crew will report for a half-dozen or more different stations at different times during the hour), etc. Since most modern radios are very, very easy to modify (clip a diode or jumper) it’s silly not to. My [Icom] IC-706G radios in the vehicles go just about from DC to daylight in frequency range. They don’t transmit too well on certain bands but they receive on all of it. And, when I’m out of cell phone range (5-10 miles off an interstate freeway in the desert will usually do it although there are stretches of interstate highways that have no coverage at all) and nobody is answering on a ham repeater, I can call a public service agency for help. To use the radios on these frequencies, you need to have some technical data including not only the receive frequency but the transmit frequencies, and the CTCSS (Controlled Tone Coded Squelch System, also known as PL or Channel Guard) frequency since virtually all agencies use repeater systems. Getting this data is sometimes difficult, but it can be done. I concentrate on the state agencies (Highway Patrol, DPS, etc) and Federal agencies like the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, and Border Patrol. These agencies are changing their technology to trunking and so-called APCO-25 technology, these radios are still quite expensive to buy, and are not terribly ham radio friendly.
The radios that are capable of 10-meter bands are also usually able to be modified to cover the CB band (11-meter band). Also, for the old crystal controlled radios, for a small degree of instant secure channels, one can simply swap the transmit and receive crystals for a particular frequency and be on totally different [than expected] frequencies. This doesn’t require finding new crystals (which is a lot harder than it used to be, and more expensive). BTW, the HF radios on AM bands (including CB bands if modified) put out a lot of power, which can burn out the front end of receivers if they’re too close — don’t listen for a high-powered signal with a cheap handheld next to the antenna. Marine band handheld radios are pretty durable (water and shock resistant) and pretty inexpensive (on sale, well under $100 each). In a post-Schumer world, they may provide a convenient form of communications for those that are not technically adept. They have somewhat better range (similar to 2-Meter ham radios in simplex) than FRS radios, which are very short range.
Of course, a comprehensive communications setup will have a variety of frequencies and bands (circuits) available, since each band has it’s advantages and disadvantages. There’s no one-size fits all radio (except maybe the MBITR, but nobody can afford one but the military).
Hmmm, maybe I should write an article for consideration on communications…Imagine the howls of outrage you’ll get from the die-hard hams about my sacrilegious suggestions to modify radios and use them for different services than intended 🙂  Telephone company backup batteries are a bargain. To refill them with acid, all that you have to do is buy some battery acid to refill them. Carboys (plastic bags in a box) of battery acid are available from auto parts stores, that’s how they fill dry shipped batteries the first time. [Unless you own a forklift],  the phone batteries have to be emptied anyway for transport to a new location. If someone finds a deal like that, they should jump on it. The batteries have a service life of perhaps 30 years or more, and can have 1000 amps capacity. Yes, you have to wire them up for whatever voltage you want but if one cell goes bad you just replace the cell. Again, we wish you a happy, safe and secure new year. – “F1”

JWR Replies:  The phone companies are religious about rotating their batteries, and tend to do it when they still have about 1/3 of their useful service life left. So whenever you see any offered fro sale by the phone company itself, jump on them.  Be more cautious about those offered on the secondary market, as they may have been sitting around for a few additional years and hence may be badly sulfated.