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Halito

Welcome to Sons Of Thunder Signal Corps Ministry. This site is a product of a calling to serve the People, the Body of Christ, with fellowship and skills that build us up in the Holy Spirit with radio communication infrastructure needed in this fallen world. The Lord has called me and I’m just showing up, so this is His work and will in progress I pray humbly to rise to meet it. Keep checking in. See our mission statement here.

“Then the Spirit of the LORD will come upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man. And let it be, when these signs come to you, that you do as the occasion demands; for God is with you.” 1 Samauel 10:6-7 NKJV

We begin our work here by honoring our forefathers and their work in the Holy Spirit.

Case Study: Darkness Falls

Tragedy comes in unexpected ways, and leaves traces that may never be uncovered or understood. We can only be prepared to the extent we are able to anticipate the details of a hypothetical event, yet inevitably there are scenarios we can’t anticipate. Working backwards, examining an event thoroughly in hindsight will be one of our best tools to being better prepared for the unexpected, which will happen again. Any examination will reveal that radio communications (and their effective use) are almost universally integral to any event. Can you imagine a scenario where timely, accurate, widespread, and effectively used communication is not profoundly important?

We had devastating fires in my hometown recently, and being of the first responder crowd I heard the event unfold in real time. While literally suiting up to respond with my department, I had to start preparing to evacuate my family as the fire’s erratic progression became a threat to my neighborhood. This occurred, like much of this fire’s behavior, quickly and without any meaningful warning. County reverse 911 and other citizen alert programs were not activated, and for many there was no informed escalation of readiness; the only warning some got was a police unit driving down a street announcing “get out now” over the p.a. system. People who were in their home didn’t even hear that. Miraculously there were only 3 deaths among approximately 4,000 effected residences and neighborhoods. This is a testament to the actions of first responders who with limited resources and an infrastructure in cascading failure feverishly worked to stop the fire but often were only left with the option of getting people out of the path. How did this work? They communicated, constantly, efficiently, and with honed skills; this is something that many folks don’t think about until too late. And don’t think it was by cell phones, landlines, and social media; it was 2 meter public service radio that made the difference between life and death for over 40 hours during the primary fire event. There is no substitute for this mode of communication, and it is an acquired skill, not simply picking up a radio in place of a phone.

How you communicate over a radio is a distinct and exclusive use of language. The use of prowords, and radio discipline (also see Radiotelephone Handbook in resource library) are fundamental skills to radio communication. It must be learned, practiced, and trained regularly. And when you’re training, you have to ‘train as you would fight, so you fight as you’ve trained”, not just go through meaningless and habitual radio checks as unfortunately I have encountered in some amateur radio emergency services in my area. If you cannot operate a radio correctly, you have no business using a radio in an emergency as you’re a liability and a detriment to anyone who is depending on you. It’s the same with any tool, like a firearm or a vehicle: if you’re not trained and proficient in its use, you will likely harm others and cause the ‘mission’ to fail with horrible consequences. And folks, it’s not rocket science, but its not optional for a radio operator. So learn it, practice it, train with it, repeat. There is no excuse not to.

After the fires, many people weren’t able to return home due to the closure of the affected area. As agencies worked to account for outstanding missing persons, monitor flare ups, maintain safety and security, and address contingent issues, we still were unable to find reliable sources of information about almost all aspects of the status of our neighborhoods. The county still had no other way of giving public updates than their Emergency Operations Center website. Text alerts from the county were non-existent still, and commercial citizen alert programs were only used by a few municipalities so relevant information was not available to many. Interestingly, local broadcast radio stations had almost no usable information for residents, only vague summary statements at the top of the hour. So much for being community oriented, Jefferson Public Radio, a NPR affiliate station; seems your national programming is more important than local events or disasters. So when it came to immediate and important information to help the public, there was little provided by the powers that be, commercial or governmental. Imagine what important information we don’t get during day to day programming: only what they want us to hear.

I for one, being temporarily displaced, had no regular access to internet, and was sending email updates on my family’s status via Winlink Express from my 2 meter portable station, and later from my HF station. Imagine if more people in the community had a 2 meter radio they could send emails from using a laptop or pad or even a smart phone, hooked up to their radio? They could send reports on their well-being and location to family outside the area to a Winlink station connected to the internet. Even without an internet connected Winlink station as I had access to, a community/individual can set up a radio station to serve as a message store and retrieve center. In lieu of that, a simple net (a meeting of radio operators on air, managed by a net control station, that connects on a predetermined frequency and a predetermined time) can gather and disseminate vital information and maintain community coherence and function in many scenarios. Please grasp the significance of this: a community can communicate among its members without the dependence on any other agency than by our own means, using a technology we are completely self-directing and autonomously maintained. Think of the implications of this simple infrastructure being free of control by outside agencies subject to the myriad corruptions of our fallen world and its powers and principalities, as the failures above exemplify. Think of its growing necessity in our times. Think on this and make a decision to act; acquiring the skills and technology are not difficult but need people of integrity to step up. Everything needed is available now but tomorrow may be a different case.

After some days, I was able to return to our home, and grateful to God for it having been preserved. 0.23 miles away there is complete devastation. Having been prepared for such a situation, we were some of the few who were able to return home early. I have water, food, backup power sources, tools, radios, etc. We would not see potable water for 10 days, no grid electricity for 7. Only a few people were in the neighborhood, and with ongoing arson and emerging incidents of looting, I set up a neighborhood net on a FRS channel. Thankfully I had extra radios to share as the few others in the neighborhood didn’t have any radios whatsoever. (Don’t be that guy!) We were able to monitor our neighborhood from multiple vantage points for bad actors. We maintained our net and neighborhood watch until weeks later when the majority of residents had returned.

Since the fires have ended, in the aftermath we continue to experience tragedies in our community. Missing persons, suicides, looting, more arson, domestic violence, and myriad expressions of inconsolable grief and loss. These are not unique events but are heightened among the consequences of a community that has been so damaged. This is a unique junction between community service as a Minister, Chaplain, church member, etc. and radio communications. The need for pastoral care is as important as it ever, but in our current situation it must be able to adapt to the new context of our recovery needs and issues. Personal and family emergencies require qualified church members who can be mobilized and can communicate in any circumstance and scenario, from helping find a lost elderly grandmother to quickly coming to the aid of members who are experiencing a emotional or psychological emergency. Pastoral care must become more dynamic and responsive, and radios can facilitate that.

The role of a church community first responder has never been more important for communities across the world. While public service agencies are staffed with qualified and de facto heroes, they can’t be everywhere and they can’t provide the pastoral care our communities need. The trauma we’ve experienced requires people who are able to respond in a timely, relevant, and effective manner as spiritual physicians, as counselors, as prayer teams, as volunteers to help get groceries and sundries, to protect the vulnerable and needy as Christ has called us to. In short, we need to be a mobilized and effective body of Christ ready to minister in very immediate terms to the members in our community who may be spread out on some of our reservations and in rural areas, who have a wide array of physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual needs. This means a fail safe, robust, and effectively used radio infrastructure. Don’t misunderstand, a radio won’t make you a good minister or church member, but it can facilitate you being of far more effective service as one. And right now you are needed. Answer the call.

Community Communications Command and Control Center. (The Ham Shack).

So this is the place where the magic happens.

Owing to the need for a central point for a power supply, antenna feed lines, grounding cables, and centralized operation, most amateur radio operators create a single space where all the base communications are installed together. In radio code this is called your QTH, your station’s location. It’s also called a ham shack or if you want to get nuts, the Community Communications Command and Control Center, C5. The major components are these:

  • 12 volts DC power supply: this is how your typical American residences’ 110-120 volts AC gets turned into the necessary 12 volts DC. All radio’s need this type of power (pretty much). I’m using a Samlex SEC-1235M which has served me well. I haven’t been an operator long enough to use something different, but there are many good makes and models out there.
  • A Ground Bus is simply an electric grounding point independent of your house’s ground. Yes this is necessary, no it isn’t complicated (unless you want to go down the rabbit hole of info on the web). Many radios have a grounding point on their chassis as do other components that are connected like antenna tuners, and other myriad components. Each of these components should have, ideally, a tinned flat copper-braid strap that goes to a good earth ground. This is, in my shack, a copper plated rod driven into the ground outside my shack. Each component that has a grounding point on it should be grounded to the same single end point, and never via another component (see illustration below). What this looks like is a flat braid connected to the ground rod that goes into my shack; at this point it is connected to each ground braid that comes from each component individually. That’s it! It is important to have only one grounding point, as this could create a grounding loop which causes interference as well as potential surface charging of components in the shack.

[In the illustration above, the length of the cable from the single end point to the ground rod is labeled 30ft. I have no idea why they have this labeled as such since the shorter the distance, the better. Longer lengths of any wires and cables, including the antenna feed lines and ground cables, makes for unintended resonance of radio waves on those wires and is to be avoided. In my shack, the length of the braided cable from the single end point to the ground rod is 5 ft]

  • Antenna Feed lines are very simply the cable, most commonly a 50 ohm coax cable, that take the signal to and from the radio from the antenna. There are other common types of antenna feedlines, but the radios and antennas I’m suggesting all use this same type of coax. This keeps things simple. They go from the radio to the antenna, shouldn’t be longer than necessary (always less than 100ft), and can be bought ready to install or cable can be bought in bulk and connectors soldered on.
  • A wall ‘port’ is simply a place where all these cables cross from inside the shack to outside. There are very nice ports one can buy and install that create a water-tight interface that cleanly and neatly serves this purpose. It is most important if you are married and don’t want your spouse to freak out about holes in the wall and wires going everywhere. In my case a remnant dog door just happens to be in the right place. Choose wisely.
  • Component arrangement is the physical set up of your radios, components, computer(s), displays, and everything else you’ll acquire that’s radio comms related that will end up in your shack. The first picture above shows my shack. A web search for images of ham shacks will show the wide wide world of ham shacks. It makes the nomenclature of the C5 not so far fetched. Yet this is my favorite ‘field QTH’ in contrast, a Russian fellow I made contact with using a digital modulation mode called JT65 on the always busy 14.075.00 mhz USB (20 meter band):

The irony here is that regardless of the fancy equipment, it comes down to persons skill; all those fancy ham shacks in the link above are nice, but it comes down to getting the message through, which this casual fellow in the picture is doing just fine.

So your own communications center is where you can manage communications for events in your community from a stationary and secure location. Your base station can have other functions such as maintaining a repeater (the highest location central to the community is often the ideal choice for a repeater), a packet mail node (like a email server, where messages can be stored and accessed. The most popular and easily used system is Winlink), a known location where people can physically meet to gather information and disseminate it, a Net Control station, (more on that later), and where different information is gathered from multiple radios and sources, 2 meter, HF, C.B. news, scanner, first hand observations. Often the cost involved can be prohibitive, and as a church oriented servant to your community, a great location for a base station would be your physical church or community center. This shared station allows people to get their Amateur Radio General license, the necessary license to access all the modes on the High Frequency bands (160 meters to 10 meters) without each person having to invest in separate shacks. It would be a long-term goal that everyone who can will get a shack, but having a shared, central amateur radio station that qualified operators can use and others can assist, is a great place to start. If there is only one station, choosing a place that is a community gathering place, has outside space for antennas, is on high ground, easy to secure in a disaster or other emergent event, can make it an obvious rallying point.

Coming soon: using radios with discipline and skill is as important as having them to begin with!

2 Meter Radio: a primary tool

2 meter band radio (referring to the electro-magnetic wavelength) for amateur radio operators are the frequencies between 144.000 mhz and 148.000 mhz. The modulation most commonly used today is FM. and packet (data). There are amateur radios that are capable of SSB which is permitted but not as widely used. The band (part of the VHF range of bands) is divided into segments for different uses phone (voice), packet, and repeaters being the most common. In emergency radio communications (referred to as ECOM) the 2 meter band is often called the ‘first mile/last mile’ band, meaning it is the communication link between local events and personnel on the ground to their command and control centers (2 meter band for public safety and first responders is more commonly referred to as the public safety spectrum, starting where the amateur radio band ends at the top end) . For local amateur radio operators and first responders, it is probably the most used and most valuable resource for communications in the community. It is also the one of the primary bands you get access to with the easiest and entry level Amateur Radio Technicians license. Most 2 meter amateur radios available today include the public safety spectrum along with the amateur portion but without the ability to transmit on the public safety spectrum unless the radio is modified for use by authorized persons. For situational awareness in your community, having public safety frequencies programmed in the radio’s memory allows one to monitor events, especially using the scan setting most radios today have. While a strictly 2 meter/public safety spectrum radio is highly useful, many people get radios that also include the 70cm band (in the UHF range, also typically used with FM and phone signals). These radios typically add a broader range of frequencies that can be received and monitored but not transmitted on, such the AM airband and other agencies and utilities that use the remainder of the upper VHF range and the lower end of the UHF, sometimes including the 1.25 meter amateur band which a small segment of frequencies from 222Mhz to 225Mhz. Radios that have 2m and 70cm capability are commonly called ‘dual banders’; less popular are ‘tri banders that include 2m, 1.25m, and 70cm.

Having a 2m radio in your vehicle is a must, a dual bander is even better. It is extremely popular and versatile. You can communicate and move in real time, an essential capability in responding to your community’s needs. Having one in your home is almost as important, to be able to make calls for assistance, and to be the reciprocal base station to the mobile stations. In fact I would highly recommend having 3 radios to fully take advantage of 2m and 70cm bands: a home/base dual bander radio, a mobile dual bander, and a HT dual bander (HT is short for handheld transceiver, also more well known as a walkie talkie. With each household having a base station, mobile vehicle, and a handheld for each individual, you are more prepared to handle any situation by magnitudes. Repeaters for the 2 meter band and 70cm bands are quite literally everywhere (see the Repeater Directories entry on the resource library page of this site). If your interest in this site’s articles were to stop after reading this article, you would have awareness of one the most important communications tools available for maintaining safety, security, community interdependence and cohesion there is, one that is strictly maintained by the community and will work in a grid down situation which would deny cell or internet traffic.

Generally speaking, the 2 meter frequencies are a ‘line-of-site’ radio wave which means exactly as it sounds: a FM 2 meter signal will propagate through clear air until topography interferes or it goes out into space. If you imagine a tangential line from a point on a circle, that point being your antenna and the circle being the surface of the earth, that is how this signal basically works. A FM signal can, potentially, follow the curve of the earth over the horizon by as much as 15% as the bottom of the radiowave drags on the surface of the earth. Transmitter height, signal strength and atmospheric conditions are always a factor as well. 70cm signals have less range, but do have a particular advantage of being more viable inside building and structures. They are a good choice for shorter range communications (shorter than 2 meter) which can be used for the advantages of security and privacy in conjunction with other practices. Antenna polarization plays an important role in FM transmissions: the vertical antenna transmitting a signal is best received by a vertical antenna. Although there is a significant loss in power, a horizontal antenna will better picked up by another horizontal antenna. It is not commonly done, but this technique also can create a security advantage. In an area with a lot of topographical changes, a 2 meter FM radio wave will drag, reflect, and bounce; this can result in an elliptically polarized wave. This can be best observed when holding a HT radio: while receiving a transmission, slowly rotate (up and down, left and right) your antenna to see if your reception improves. Also requesting the transmitting party to ‘better their position’ can improve how well their signal is getting out, the major adjustment is holding up the HT higher. A HT held directly in front of your body restricts transmission and reception by 180 degrees; this could be desirable, but if you’re trying to get help from anyone available, holding your HT high and using a speaker/mic can incredibly increase the reception of your signal.

Quick recommendations: the Yaesu FT-2980R is an incredibly robust and powerful radio. See my field deployment radio ‘Go’ Box:

It also has a packet TNC and USB interface but more on that later. It is a great mobile unit and base unit. Kenwood also makes a great 2 meter only radio: TM-281A

I also use the FT-60R and in my truck a FT-8900R Quadbander as well as the FT-7900R in my shack. Again, there are many good models out there, I just have used these mostly and can recommend them based on my use of them, not for any other reason.

As a member of the Body of Christ in your community, a person whose role is to acquire the skills and capabilities to serve, lead, and minister to your church, it is imperative to get the licensage and radios necessary. Action item: lead your community by studying for your Technicians license, get your license, and budget your resources to get radios. Then help others to do the same. Train and use these tools regularly. When you train, do not just chat on the radio; practice all the skills you would use in a very bad day scenario. As an autonomous communication infrastructure in your community, any member may have to respond to an urgent need, and so everyone needs to have the complete skillset at their fingertips and be able to use it competently. This is no light matter as radio use and net discipline (to be discussed further in another article) can be the difference between life or death, no joke.

If you are called to serve then let nothing stand in your way of being a proficient and professional radio operator (this applies to any role and function in your community; this is the fallen world and corruption abounds, the great opposer is always working to deceive and mislead. We must be out front. Put on the Armor of God and stand!). It is incumbent on each of us to acquire the skills and hardware, learn and train how to use it, and teach and train others how to use it. Then continue training regularly.

COMING SOON: Running a 2 meter net in your community and using APRS and packet radio on 2 meter

Radio Frequency Scanners and their use

People who use scanners get a bad rap, stereotypes ranging from wanna-be super heroes to vigilantes. Like any tool, how it is used is its defining characteristic. A scanner is a radio receiver that is designed to store programmed frequencies and scroll through them constantly. When there is an active transmission on a programmed frequency, the scanner stops scanning and receives the traffic, then resumes scanning either immediately or after a set pause to allow for ongoing traffic. This is an excellent tool to monitor many radio users from public safety, to amateur radio operators, to telemetery signals and emergency and weather alerts. If you reference the “Frequency Spectrum” files under this site’s resource library, you can see the myriad user agencies of radios. Your basic scanner won’t cover the whole spectrum but depending on the model you buy and its features, a newer model scanner will cover from 25Mhz to 1200Mhz which is more than enough to be very useful. A typical feature of scanners new and old is how the programmed frequencies are stored in the memory, which can facilitate listening for a specific type of transmission, a type of agency, or a user selected group of frequencies.

When I briefly lived on the Colville Reservation, everyone it seemed had a scanner. I saw how the community supported itself by monitoring for traffic, and could quickly render aid, respond to assist, or simply know when one is being called. This was before cell phones so the common technology was 2 meter amateur radio, public safety radio, and C.B.’s. (and crystals determined what frequencies you could use, not your fancy modern radios with variable frequency oscillators!) The topography varied so there was rarely any traffic that wasn’t nearby if one was receiving it. Given the nature of Tribal governance and the close knit community it was likely the game warden, police officer, utilities, or other public servant at work was a friend or relative and if he or she was in trouble or simply need a hand, a quick call on the radio would get a response. Fresh road kill was always a welcome gift of fresh meat, and if you knew it would be your turn next, keeping in touch with the game warden was particularly fruitful result of having a scanner. Getting stuck in the snow (which took some humility to make a call for help) or dealing with a bear or moose that was not letting someone get on with their day because it decided to park itself in the road, or a creek was too high to get out for groceries, having a radio and likely more than a few people listening was just how things got done. This is how things will get done if there’s no cell service or internet, or someone lives a lifestyle where those things are considered optional and undesirable (ahem).

There are many models of scanners out there, and while many of them are viable options, I have only used Unidens, some old Radio Shacks, and sometimes an odd off brand someone got a hold of and showed me. There are handheld models and mobile/base models. Incidentally, the 2 meter amateur radios can be set to scan programmed frequencies in the public safety band and can serve a dual purpose if one is authorized to use non-amateur frequencies or simply for listening. The act of scanning programmed frequencies is a feature on many radios, while a scanner radio is specifically a radio receiver designed solely to efficiently monitor and receive traffic.

Base Scanner

Some legalities to be aware of. Look up scanner use statutes for the country/state/province/ county/city/parish/reservation et al where you live as they vary widely. In the U.S. some states don’t allow a scanner to be used in a vehicle with no exceptions, or if you’re a convicted felon. In most places the use of a scanner in any conjunction with a crime is an automatic felony, and this includes relaying information from a scanner to another party who is committing a crime. If I’m remembering correctly, Canada does not allow use of scanners unless you’re a licensed (amateur) radio operator. Re-broadcasting scanner traffic in real time is often illegal, so scanner apps and websites that feature scanner traffic have a programmed delay in their transmission of scanner traffic. The popular site Broadcastify can be useful, especially if you want to monitor events on the ground somewhere far from your location. Again, not only are they not in real time (a 30 second delay in addition to the latency of a online audio feed) but I have found that during highly visible events like protests, riots, political conventions, etc. that the traffic you hear through Broadcastify can be a looped recording varying from 30 minutes to several hours. That is fine if you’re a casual spectator, but useless if you’re using the site for situational awareness for personal safety. Having your own scanner is far better for awareness and use in your community. In many places it is unlawful to ‘respond’ to a location where law enforcement or first responders are dispatched that you hear on the scanner, but in my view it is always highly unethical and irresponsible unless you have an objectively valid interest. If you don’t work/volunteer for the responding agency, don’t go to a call thinking you’re going to help. You’ll likely cause a problem at least for yourself, if not for the people who are actively involved. This is obviously different from using a scanner to monitor and respond to aid from other members in the community who are looking for you to respond, such as a call from a friend on their 2 meter ham radio, C.B. or GMRS/FRS radio.

Programming a scanner is the most common barrier to a new user. Primarily a scanner has to be programmed with frequencies for it to scan. Increasingly scanners can come pre-programmed for your area, and some have a ‘search and store’ feature which will scan a band (e.g. the public safety band) and store frequencies that it receives. Then once you’ve collected some frequencies, you can set the scanner to scan just them. The best option for scanner programming is to get the usb cable that is more and more often an option with purchasing a scanner, and using the proprietary software or other programming software that is available online. I use ProScan with my Uniden Bearcat BCD996P2 and RadioReference to program my scanner. (These are the sites and hardware I have used and can recommend, there are many other options available but don’t have familiarity with them). The ‘search and store’ feature can be used to scan a band for rare and unpublished frequencies too.

Most scanners come with a AC wall wart power supply. They usually can be wired for vehicle use too, much the same as a C.B. as they are 12 volt DC as well. The last component, and equally important one, is the antenna. For public safety frequencies, amateur radio frequencies, and most frequencies that common scanners can monitor, a good receiving antenna is a must. Line of sight is still the determining factor in getting good reception. That means getting it as high as one can for your circumstances. For a home/base scanner, a discone antenna is a great option. For a vehicle, there are myriad options which an internet search will surely overwhelm you with options.

Discone Antenna at 20ft for Base Scanner

There is much more to scanners and using radios to scan to come, but hopefully this is good primer to start the new-comer off. As always, the tool is only as effective as the user, and can only be beneficial with practice, ethical use, and what ultimately God has called you to do. In all things seek guidance through prayer and fellowship, with humility and a servants heart.

The Venerable and Infamous CB Radio

Some people think CB radio has gone the way of 8-track tapes. Nothing could be further from the truth! The Citizen’s Band Radio Service is as viable today as it was in its heyday during the ’70’s and 80’s. In technical terms, the 11 meter band (how radio operators may refer to it as the wavelength size is 11 meters) can work as skywave propagation as well as groundwave propagation. This means it has versatility in how it is used, as configured by the operator. While often seen as a rough and tumble domain of raucous truckers, hillbillies, and maybe some backwoods travelers, these characterizations really speak to its robust nature, ease of use, low cost, and accessibility.

Before this segment of radio frequencies were re-created by the FCC in 1945 as the Citizens Band Radio Service (C.B), they were in use by militaries around the world. One story I recall involves tank units under General Erwin Rommel’s command, the Desert Fox of the German and Italian North African Campaign during World War II. His tank units used the same frequencies that we now use in the C.B. (the radio then in German tanks was likely the FuG-5 which was considered a ground-wave only radio with a range of 2-3 km when using AM voice, the same modulation the C.B. service now uses; how wrong they were!). Unknown to him or his radio operators, these signals during the campaign were propagating by skywave, and were intercepted by Allied Forces. The transmissions were broadcast in the clear (meaning in plain language without any codes or effort to disguise their meaning) and the Allies used this phenomenon to their advantage.

The range of the C.B. radio like any radio, is determined by how it is transmitted and then how those transmitted radio waves interact with the environment. Even in the bottom of the valley where I live, my C.B. radio installed in my truck can reach farther than C.B.’s typically do. This isn’t by magic but by applying good antenna and radio theory to the configuration.

First of all is the antenna. It is probably the most important component of a C.B. radio as the actual radio technology is pretty standard, notwithstanding buying some suped-up rig or customized radio (this is a very simplified statement that will have to suffice for now). They all run 4 watts off the shelf but how efficiently and effectively those same 4 watts are used is determined by the antenna configuration. A tuned antenna is one which its length is trimmed (the installer literally can cut or adjust the length of the antenna) to a harmonic length of the radio’s frequency. Remember the alternate term for a C.B. is the 11 meter band? Well that’s the key bit of information that informs the size (length) of the antenna. The other determining factor is how big of an antenna one is willing to put on their vehicle or home. You might have the space to put up an 11 meter (36 feet!) long wire in your yard, but most people can’t, and it’s pretty impossible to put one on your vehicle and stay mobile. This serves as an example though of a full wavelength antenna: one that is exactly the length of the frequency wavelength. A (even) harmonic length is one that is divisible by an even denominator, e.g. 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, etc. A radio wave can be transmitted by an antenna that is an even harmonic (and some odd-harmonics, but don’t worry about that now). My truck has an antenna that is 4.5 feet tall. 4 and 1/2 feet is 54 inches. 11 meters is 433 inches. You divide 433 by 8 and you get 54, roughly. This is still a tall but doable length antenna for a pick-up truck. Some have done much bigger 1/4 wave antennas, referred to as a ‘whip’ because it’s a long 9 feet tall stiff steel wire. Cool, but you quickly start hitting things with your antenna and something, usually the antenna, begins to take a beating. To put a fine point on it, the Wilson 1000 magnetic mount C.B. antenna is as fine example of an antenna as reasonably can be obtained and is what I use. It’s easily tuned to 1/8 wavelength, and can take a beating and stay usable with minimal maintenance for years. Mine has.

So that’s it then, the secret is a tuned antenna, right? Not yet. The other component for this C.B. antenna we’re building is the ground plane. The ground plane is an electro-magnetic counter-poise to the vertical antenna. Luckily a pickup truck has one built in: the top of the cab or even camper. This metal ‘sheet’ acts as a ground plane to the antenna, increasing its effectiveness and efficiency. [We’ll have to leave the theory there to limit my brain strain.] When you have used your available resources to create the best antenna you can, then the radio, whatever model/brand you get can work at its optimum. Most C.B. radios on the market, and even the used market which is substantial, have a built in fine-adjustment for the antenna labeled “SWR” . This adjustment is easily accomplished by following the manual’s instructions, and puts the finishing touch on a good C.B. installation.

The actual C.B. radio you put in your vehicle can be a perplexing venture as there are as many makes and models as there are of just about anything else these days. To save time and get to a few good recommendations, I recommend Cobra C.B. radios and Uniden as those are what I have used. There are other good ones out there for sure, I just don’t have as much experience with them as I do the Cobra 29 LX or LTD, or the Uniden Bearcat 980SSB which is what I use in my truck now. The significant advantage of a “SSB” versus a non-SSB CB radio is the single side band simply takes common A.M. signal that all C.B. radios use and cuts it in half. Interestingly, you cut the A.M. signal in half and the 4 watts you have turn into 12 watts as your putting all that energy into a narrower signal. More power combined with an efficient antenna, and now you’ve got a longer range of usability.

So here is the long awaited gist of this article: the C.B. is a cost effective means to communicate over distances that are farther then typical when a little theory is applied to their configuration. I conservatively can hear/talk to almost anyone in my county which correlates to a 30 mile radius centered on my truck, and I live in a complex of mountains and valleys where the valley floor is around 1500 feet elevation and the immediate hill tops are at 4000 feet. Granted I don’t receive equally well in all directions due to the terrain, but it is remarkably better than one would expect. In flat terrain I imagine far better range.

C.B.’s don’t require licensing like Ham radios, are relatively inexpensive, and with a little theory can be installed to have a increased effective range. They run off a 12 volt DC battery, and can go just about anywhere your vehicle can go, the best part being it’s a way to talk while traveling. While not a reliable atmospheric condition, when the D-layer is active (see the “Rebirth of HF” article on this site) I get Superbowl traffic (the free-for-all channel 6) from Louisiana, here in the Pacific North West. No wonder the deserts of North Africa were no match for the active D-layer and the proto-c.b. radio!

As with any radio band (a contiguous segment of radio frequencies such as the FM Broadcast we all know, which runs from 88Mhz to 108 Mhz, or AM broadcast which runs from 500Khz to 1700Khz depending on the country you live in) there are advantages and disadvantages both in the nature of the radio waves and in the hardware used to transmit and receive them. The C.B. provides a robust, relatively low cost, accessible technology that can create connectivity in a community that doesn’t depend on outside technology or agencies. This can facilitate the local church in serving its members both in regular pastoral care as well as in emergent and disaster scenarios. It’s a tool to unify the Body of Christ and to serve Him.

You can almost see the antennas, but I can be heard and I can hear and respond to my community.