Letter Re: Amateur Radio Frequency Bands and Licenses

Mr. Rawles,
Concerning the mention under the “Communications Gear” category [in a recently-posted Profile]: “CB and base station with modified ham frequencies”. One bit of warning – if you don’t have a FCC Amateur Radio license, who do people think they are going to talk to on the ham frequencies? Amateur Radio is not the free-for-all situation that is commonly found on Citizen’s Band (CB). In addition to the FCC Rules & Regulations (Part 97), it tends to be very self-regulated. Even in an “emergency situation” you might find it difficult to find anyone willing to answer your bootleg transmissions for help.

Many people simply don’t realize the huge differences between Amateur Radio and Citizens Band (CB) radio. Even back in the days when the FCC required a license for CB radio, it was just a matter of filling out an application form and sending it in with the license fee. In spite of this, many folks either did not send in the paperwork or simply didn’t use their call sign on the air. But nobody on CB really cared if you had a CB license or not – everyone used “handles” (nicknames) and just wanted to chit-chat. Few actually used their FCC assigned call sign.

Because of this, the FCC eventually decided the requirement for issuing and tracking an actual CB license and the associated call sign was not worth the bureaucratic costs involved. While the requirement for a CB license was dropped, the various other regulations governing the CB radio service still remain in effect today. (See “Part 95” of the FCC Rules & Regulations for more information. Amateur Radio is a completely different 2-way radio service, regulated by “Part 97” of the FCC Rules & Regulations. “Hams” must pass a written exam in order to receive a license. Because of this, they tend to be very particular about who transmits on their ham frequencies. Unlicensed bootleggers are not welcomed, and will be turned in to the FCC. Many hams practice radio direction finding techniques to help during searches for lost aircraft. Don’t think you can be anonymous and no one will be able to track you down? Again, if you don’t have a license – who are
you going to talk to? It’s an entirely different situation than CB radio. If all you want is a dusty 2-way radio that will be left in a box down in the basement for when the “SHTF“, then a traditional CB
radio is by far the best choice.

I bring this up in the hope that the “Foxtrots” have not convinced themselves that they have their radio communications needs covered because they have CB radios with “modified ham frequencies”. If you don’t know how to use those frequencies, and don’t have a ham radio license, all you will be doing is calling attention to yourself (and also your location). The entry-level “Technician” Amateur Radio license is so simple to obtain, and provides the basic electronics background helpful for setting up other types of radio systems (such as CB) that everyone should have it on their list of preparation “things to do”. Otherwise, I guarantee that if you don’t know what you are doing and end up transmitting in AM mode in the CW portion of the 10-meter ham band, you will get noticed! The local ham radio “posse” will beat a path to your hidden retreat, and they will not be happy. The goal of maintaining a low profile will be busted, and you might wind up on the Federal government radar screen if the FCC gets involved.

Play it safe – get a ham radio license and blend in with the radio crowd. Establish a network of local and out-of-state contacts that could be useful someday. Use a post office box address on the license application if you do not want your actual physical address made public. Amateur Radio is such a useful tool, but like many things it needs to be practiced in order to be effective during an emergency situation. You wouldn’t mark off “Obtain bug-out vehicle” from your preparation checklist just because you have a stick-shift vehicle (but you only know
how to drive an automatic). So don’t mark off “Communications Gear” just because you have a modified CB radio with “ham frequencies”. Take the next step and get your ham radio license. Know how to use your communications gear! – Sarge