Watching The Watchers – Wideband Receivers

Posted: 12/24/2013 in Communications

This is, without,question, the single most important item of communications equipment you should have at your retreat. It should be the first piece of radio gear you acquire. I would rather hear what is being  over the all the airwaves around my site, than have the most up-to-date, high-speed, low-drag transceivers. The radio watch in your BDOC should always be monitoring the scanners, 24/7. And a big thanks should go out Sparks for finding this item for a great price. I’m a sucker for anything ICOM, their equipment is first-rate. I would attach an extended, matched antenna, hung as high as possible, to increase the range.

Another important use, as Sparks implies in his post and indicates on his frequency list, are known surveillance device transmitting frequencies. You can use the scanner as a poor man’s sweep. This ties with Sam Culper’s article on GPS beacons and other tracing devices.

  1. sparks31 says:


    Icom makes great gear.

    An article on applications and techniques is in the works.

  2. JT Rourke says:

    Do you find the larger base models to work better than the portable or handie talkie styles? I always wondered this…

  3. sparks31 says:

    From an ergonomic standpoint, the larger fixed-base type receivers are easier to work with. However, I have found the portable handheld units to have good ergonomics considering their form factor. I usually run portable units as 90% of the time I’m in the field. I also like the smaller portables such as the R5 versus the larger models, ie. R20. The seven buttons on the R5 are large enough for gloved fingers, when you start packing a lot of small buttons on a handheld receiver, the physical ease of use begins to drop off.

    The advantage with something like the R5 is that it’s the size of a cigarette pack and runs on two commonly available AA batteries. It takes up no space in a go-bag, so you can always have it with you.

  4. Kerodin says:

    Other than keying the microphone, does any of this radio gear radiate a signal such as a cell phone that can be tracked even when turned “off”, unless the battery is removed.


  5. danmorgan76 says:

    If the equipment is either of tube technology or discrete component technology, such as my circa 1985 ICOM 740 HF Transceiver, the answer would generally be no. It won’t turn on unless some one mashes (as we like to say in the South) the on switch Some older equipment was purpose built to turn on remotely and some has or can be physically modified to remotely enable power on and off functions. It will either be listed in the manufacturers documentation or pretty obvious that it has been modified. I would have hesitations making the same claims regarding the newer, software defined radios (SDR) that are on the market. It seems to me that they would have the same vulnerabilities as cell phones. One thing that they do have in their favor versus cell phone; very limited numbers. My Motorola DTRs (which are SDRS) have very low serial numbers. Chances are, no one is going to go to the trouble to modify the software for a few hundred or thousand radios. Not when you have millions of cell phones out there. As I like to say, take on the high value, large targets first. I might add that the DTR 410s and 650s do have the ability to be remotely activated, monitored and disabled. That information is in the user manual along with the steps to disable the functions. That is also why I have the 550 model. Those functions aren’t available in the 550.

    • Kerodin says:

      Wow – so the guerrilla hiking through the woods who left his cell at base but is carrying a modern Icom or Elecraft transceiver, in theory, have the Bad Guys wiggle into the digital controls of the radio and key the microphone for a DF ping, or use some other means because of the digital stuff inside the radio to reveal his location…

      Given what we know about NSA capabilities, and the disposition of current .gov (and the power they have to force companies to install backdoors), one should not feel especially “invisible” carrying a modern “radio”. This poses a series potential problem for guys who are trying to remain undetected by electronic warfare…

      • sparks31 says:

        I would not be concerned about my Icom or Yaesu receiver turning itself “on” by remote control due to some NSA backdoor. Hams usually dismantle and modify their equipment, and schematics are readily available, as well as some firmware. Such tinkering would have been detected by now. Especially with Elecraft radios since there are so many hobbyists tinkering with them.

        Now some commercial LMR gear can be set up for such things, but it has to be specifically activated via programming software. That’s used for radio fleet management.

        I think Kerodin heard about how in World War II, they used to DF enemy forces by detecting the local oscillator emissions of receiver equipment, and was asking about it. The best I’ve been able to hear a LO signal from a receiver was 70 feet. That was with an NM-20 RFI Meter that was designed for such things, and I knew the freq. I was looking for. With modern equipment, the LO emissions don’t go out that far, thank you FCC Part 15.

  6. danmorgan76 says:

    Sparks, I agree 100% and rather try to cover the info in a comment, I posted a more in-depth article. Your are more than welcome to expound on it.

  7. Kerodin says:

    Thanks to both, guys. It would be easy to get a piece of spyware by a guy like me who is buying off the shelf with no experience looking inside of radios (especially radios with electronic widgets like the Elecraft) even if I compared the schematics to the radio, I doubt I could get “familiar enough” to notice something amiss without several years of experience on the hardware side. On the software side I’m hosed. Good to know radio gear doesn’t actively reach out with a signal as a cell phone does, without intentionally keying the mike.


  8. MSG Morgan. Can’t find the IC R5 for sale anymore. I did find the IC R6-16 is this model a GO?

    • danmorgan76 says:

      Pana, Good to hear from you. The R-6 is the newest version of the ICOM R- line. It will accomplish the mission nicely. If you’ve got the extra bucks (about $4709.00 at universal-radio), the R-20 is the mack daddy of the ICOM hand held line and has lots more features. If you order either, buy the appropriate external antenna adapter for a few extra bucks. Then you can build a small, portable antenna to increase range. Also you will quickly notice the only downfall to handheld scanner…the speakers suck. So you might have to pick up a mono ear bud. One day I will investigate adding a small external speaker. There are two versions of the R-20, one comes with lithium battery packs and chargers, the newer “sport” version does not. If you can find one of the older versions (they are discontinued, but I saw one listed on ebay recently) and can get a good price, I would think about going after it. Hope this helps. Stay in the fight.

      My bad, the price for the R-20 is around $479.00 vice $4790.00.



      • D Close says:

        Went and got the R6. So far, really good hits on handhelds in the 800Mhz range. After I bought this I discovered that my local city PD had recently converted to digital APCO 25. Suggest an article on truncked systems as I have discovered that is a whole other ball of wax. Now I’m after the Uniden stuff. Thanks for a great site.

      • danmorgan76 says:

        D Close, I just posted an article where I touched lightly on the digital and trunked systems using the R-6. Your on the right track with the HomePatrol. I’ll see about an in-depth article in the future. I’ve got some things going on in other areas that have demanded most of my free time for the past and next few months. It’s all Mosby’s fault.



      • D Close says:

        Yes, Mosby…I’m starting to use him to justify quite a few purchase orders and requests for training. I’ve never met the guy and my wife will probably kick him in the jimmy if she ever meets him. You’d better watch out too now. The sounds of scanner freqs echoing in the house now has her wondering. Saw the article. Excellent. Thank you. For John and friends of John, all the patience in the world.

  9. I ordered the R6 along with the Tube mono earphone. You will have to school me on the type of antenna I should aquire. Universal Radio only offered a 4ft adapter cable to connect a PL259 type antenna to the SMA jack. Can you decipher that for me? I couldn’t find a PL259 antenna on the web. Maybe send me a link to where I can purchase what I need? I actually seen the R20 on EBAY for around $800. But I’m already lost on the novice model. LOL. I’m much better at runnin n gunnin-honest.

    • danmorgan76 says:

      Rakkasan, (Thought I’d forgotten, didn’t you) your answer is in the latest post.

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