If Sherlock Holmes Stared at a Ham Radio Scanner, What Could He See?

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By the author of The Prepper’s Guide to Post-Disaster Communications.

Let’s say the poopy has hit the fan, and you’re now living in a post-collapse society. Every man is for himself, and there is no resupply. You already know that information is key to survival, and a large part of that information is gathering as much news on your region as possible. That’s why you’ve been using your scanner.

Thankfully, Sherlock Holmes is living with you.

The only problem is that something has happened to Sherlock’s ears, making it so that he can’t hear a thing. He still wants to help you out at your house, though. He sits in front of a scanner watching for when a radio frequency pops up on the display, telling you what he thinks he can deduce from nothing more than the frequency alone.

Here is some of what he may find…

What can you deduce if you pick up an FRS/GMRS frequency? 

There are a number of frequencies that fall within the FRS part of the radio spectrum. Those frequencies are listed below:

Image from Wikimedia Commons.

If you are listening to your scanner (and you should have one) and you hear one of these frequencies, there are a few things that you can deduce with a relatively high degree of certainty.

For starters, whoever is transmitting is close. We’re talking about maybe within half a mile or so. The reason for this is that most FRS radios are the walkie-talkies that people pick up at Big Box Store. They say they transmit for 30+ miles. They lie. If you pick up one of these frequencies, somebody is almost right on top of you.

Those little walkie-talkies don’t transmit very far at all, and they’re virtually all programmed for FRS/GMRS.

If you’re bugging out, you may want to move camp or stay extra vigilant. If you’re at home, you may potentially have visitors in the next 30 minutes. If you’re traveling, you may want to head in a different direction.

There are GMRS repeaters out there, but in my experience, they are few and far between. Most likely, you’re dealing with a bunch of bubbas – rednecks out there with their radios and rifles. That doesn’t make them any less dangerous, but it does help you to have something of a deduction as to who you are dealing with.

Whether the people you are close to are organized will depend on a few factors. They’re most certainly more organized than the gang of people you can see with your binoculars off in the distance without ANY radios, but are they ORGANIZED organized?

You’re going to have to listen to how they use the radio and what they say here to get a better picture.

What can you deduce if you pick up an amateur radio frequency? 

In particular, let’s examine the 2m, 70cm, and 1.25-meter bands. If you pick up people talking on one of those frequencies, then you’re likely listening to somebody with a good deal of radio experience. If this is the case, I would make the case that you can at least assume that the person has better radio gear than the majority of people out there.

And if they have better comms gear than a lot of the other people out there, what else may they have that others do not? Are they headed your way armed for bear? You don’t really know, but you do know that these people are likely more serious of a problem.

When it comes to the distance, you mainly just know that these people are within your geographical region. Maybe they’re within 5 miles; maybe 30. It’s really kind of hard to tell with nothing other than the “Hey, look. Somebody is on 146.500” data point.

What can you deduce if you pick up a marine band frequency? 

For starters, you may be near a body of water. If you’re on The Long Walk Home after an EMP strike forces you to trek back to your house, this may be information of interest.

Of course, there are guys out there who use marine band frequencies in the woods away from any body of water. It’s something that people get in trouble for in a functioning society, but there are guys that do this.

So picking up one of these frequencies isn’t an automatic indicator of water, but you generally will find a lot more radios using marine band frequencies when you’re close to a lake, ocean, or river.

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What can you deduce if you pick up a CB frequency? 

Most likely, the person you are listening to is in a vehicle. There’s a chance that they’ve set up a rig in a house, and there’s a chance that they have a handheld, but the majority of CB rigs that I both see and hear are coming from those who are on the road – specifically from truckers.

There are CB handheld rigs out there like the President Randy, but I don’t personally know of a lot of people out there with them.

While it is possible to get sporadic long-range contacts with a CB radio, the general rule of thumb is that you can reach out a mile for every foot-long your antenna is. So, a truck may have a 4’ long antenna, meaning they would generally have a four-mile range.

What can you deduce if you’re picking up weird buzzing noises and on a frequency outside of the ham radio spectrum? 

Sherlock would need working ears here, but there’s still something to be learned.

We’ll assume that you’re picking up something on the 2-meter band that is outside of where ham radio operators normally would talk. If this is the case, you’re hearing a digital mode.

Let’s say that you keep hearing this type of noise on 154.3475 MHz. You’re hearing P25 – a digital mode. (You can find other great audio examples of various digital modes HERE.) Considering that it’s outside of the typical ham radio spectrum, you’re likely listening to a police officer or other emergency responder.

If you’re in a grid-down environment – let’s say a hurricane just hit – that could be welcome news. You now will know that there is somebody within your region.

What if you’re picking up buzzy noises within the ham radio spectrum? 

These people are still using a digital mode radio. If this is the case, there are two things you’ll know off the bat: these people are serious about their comms gear, and they likely have very good training with their comms gear as well. For what it’s worth, you also know that they were likely hams.

Digital radios are both expensive and difficult to operate. Analog radios are cheap and relatively easy to operate. For as apples-to-apples of a comparison as is likely possible, you’re likely to see a $200 price difference between a high-end analog handy-talky and a solid, digital handy-talky.

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Alright, Sherlock Holmes. What do you deduce?

There’s got to be more possible deductions here that I’m missing. Are there others that you know about that I don’t? Do you agree with the above deductions more or less? Are you potentially giving away more information than you realized? Let’s investigate together. Tell us your thoughts in the comments section below.

About Aden

Aden Tate is a regular contributor to TheOrganicPrepper.com and TheFrugalite.com. Aden runs a micro-farm where he raises dairy goats, a pig, honeybees, meat chickens, laying chickens, tomatoes, mushrooms, and greens. Aden has four published books, What School Should Have Taught You, The Faithful Prepper An Arm and a Leg, The Prepper’s Guide to Post-Disaster Communications, and Zombie Choices. You can find his podcast The Last American on Preppers’ Broadcasting Network.



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