Understanding Radio

This book was first published in 1940, just before our entry into World War II, and before most of you were born. A second edition was released in 1951, and that is the edition you should get.
There was a PDF version online, and a Google search should find it.  You should however go buy the actual book off Amazon.  Don’t spend more than $20 or so on a copy in decent shape.

Read it, study it, build the schematics.  Start with a crystal radio, and go from there.  The principles and science have not changed since this book was written, and learning the old school way will help you remain among the chosen when the balloon goes up and the appliance operators find themselves out in the cold.

In future posts, I will talk about other books you should have in your library, and will get into more technical detail in future issues of Signal-3.  (Email me – sparks31@unseen.is – for subscription details.  They have changed and are no longer public information.)


"It's an epistemological choice, of course, but I think these guys, like
Marcus and Levy, were on the right track by starting with a radio
receiver and progressing from that known ground."

He handed back my copy of Watson, H. et al. "Understanding Radio, A Guide
to Practical Operation and Theory, 2d Ed., McGraw-Hill.  Frank reads like
Superman types.

"I had seen this book back at the start of the second war," he continued,
"but this second edition added several things including phase inversion,
AC/DC power supplies, vibrators and a lot of material on public address
amplifiers I found welcome in a textbook.

"At 1951, it was contemporary with the Johnson Viking I," I noted, and
Frank made a face.

"That's like remembering your children's births in terms of Bill
Clinton's floozies," he ejaculated, "But you do allude to the extensive,
detailed home brew project collection  -- I like it better than Marcus
and Levy for that."

"The 6J7, 6J5 regenerative receiver?" I asked, hoping he'd get my drift.

"That one was so vanilla it had little spots," Frank said as he sat up
from adjusting a spat, "But at least they showed how to make those, and
all the other coils, instead of sending youths out for proprietary parts
that weren't common even when the book was written.  You could make one
of those today, but I'd add the optional 6K7 RF amp and think a long time
before I'd agree that putting a power supply on a chassis with a regen is
an improvement."

"Most of the projects are portrayed on pine," I pronounced.  Frank's
speech patterns are catching.

"Would that it always be so," he said stiffly, "When a newcomer compares
one of these parts placed drawings with the circuit diagram, he gets a
feel for schematics that's hard to acquire these days."

"He can also get a big shock fooling with a pair of 807s on a
breadboard," I said directly.

"And swiftly," he agreed, "But that push-pull project and the Gnostic
hint about combining it with another 807 doubler and a 6C5 Hartley would
lead to a serviceable set up in any age. Those were welcome alternatives
to the typical single ended QRPs usually offered for beginners."

Frank says deliberate QRP simply puts the burden of the contact on the
other guy.  He runs a pair of 100THs in push-pull, and the book's
including a T-20 tube project didn't even rate a comment.  He was fond of
the 2M TX using a pair of 7A4s and he thought the Lecher wire section the
best he'd seen.

"So, any other especially remarkable sections sighted?" I asked.

"Yes," he said.  "I like the tuned dummy load and the home brew
absorption wavemeter. Both were breadboarded -- too often we show
neophytes how to build something but don't give them a clue on how to
test it."

"So you think I ought to keep the book?"

"Of course," Frank said.  "Don't even think of transferring it to someone
who might build something.  Put it in your Garage Gulag or your Attic
Alcatraz!  Or seal it in silver solder like Lucy's coffin in Dracula --
put a bunch of Garlic in the pages first and make sure to enclose it in
the embrace of an Eldico or the clutch of a Collins!  But for Armstrong's
sake don't let it get out!"

He turned back to his brace and bit and I slipped quietly up the stairs.
I decided to let him cool off.  He's mounting 6J6s without sockets for
some scheme in our basement workshop.

I left him the book.

Self-Reliance, Preparedness, and Down-Grid Communications

After thirty years of working and playing with electronic communications, and three years doing certain specific research and putting together classes under the Sparks31 brand, I’m beginning to understand a few things that I’m going to share with you.

  • First off, listening will always remain more important than transmitting, but only as long as you’re regularly and frequently doing it with an aim of actively finding out what’s going on in your region, and have some idea of how to analyze what you’re hearing.  That means having the right monitoring equipment, and using it enough to get an accurate electronic order of battle in your region and hear enough traffic to be able to do an accurate analysis.
  • After reading several disturbing accounts of how easy it would be for an entity with some $$$ to acquire the raw material, replicate 70-year old tech to make a simple Hiroshima or Nagasaki-level device, and smuggle it into the country along with a trailer load of illegal immigrants, I have come to the conclusion that such an attack against a US city is a matter of when, not if. I also have little faith in the ability of any government agency to prevent it, assuming they’re not trying to pull off a Pearl Harbor-type move to steal more civil liberties and get us involved in some place.  Like Africa where the raw materials for the first A-Bombs was mined.  There is also the incredible ease in which an entity with even a modest budget can build non-nuclear EMP and HERF devices.
  • What that means is that most, preferably all, at least your primary gear needs to be hardened.  Both your Baofeng, FT-857, and Uniden P25 Trunktracker will be zorched if you’re close enough to ground zero.  That also means the subscriber units and possibly fixed infrastructure on that new DMR or P25 system are gonna get it too, and the user is gonna either go without, or dig out all those old Low-Band Motracs that have been sitting in the town garage basement for the past 30 years.  Hopefully you’ve kept a notebook with all the “depreciated” frequencies written down, and have something like a Lafayette HE-51 to listen in with.
  • Appliance operators will not find themselves among the chosen who are still on the air when the balloon goes up. Learn electronics and the art of radio construction. Buy older gear you can fix, or preferably build your own. I’ve given you links to several good books that will help you with this. Download/buy them. Read them. Learn the art of radio.
  • Take the time to become proficient in CW. 
  • Build something that does CW on 80 and/or 40 meters. 
  • Start hanging around the old HF Novice bands, call CQ, and find someone to practice CW with.
  • As far as local-coverage, shorter-wavelength bands go, the 2m and 70cm bands you get with that HT are not the most optimal for simplex operation when that mountain-top repeater goes down permanently.   Be glad you only spent $30 for that Baofeng, and now go buy something that has tubes, runs on 12v, and goes on 10 or 6 meters. Those two are better local simplex bands.
  • If you don’t have an old tube-type shortwave receiver, and aren’t tuning the bands for a little while  every night in lieu of surfing social media sites, you are wrong.  Correct your deficiency.

That’s all I have to say right now.  More technical stuff will appear in Signal-3. Email sparks31@unseen.is for subscription information. It has been updated, is not publicly available, and all previous information is out-of-date.

It’s only a start.

CB, MURS, FRS, and Ham Radio is only a start.  It’s the beginning step.

Some of you, probably most of you, will only (need to) go that far.

However when the balloon goes up,  depending on the balloon, it all might become obsolete in short order.

You have two choices:

  1. Go so high-tech that the opposition won’t be able to figure out what you’re doing.
  2. Go so low-tech that the opposition overlooks your technique.

I’m leaving you with a few book suggestions to help you out:



1960 US Army Vietnam War Field Wire & Field Cable Techniques 289p



Those are the more commonly available books that have had the most influence on my work over the years.  The rest are very obscure and out of print.  After 30 years you too will have such a collection if you keep up with it.


All future technical work will be released in the newsletter. If you subscribe sooner than later, you’ll be able to start with the next issue, #3. There will be no digital edition and no back issues available. Just straight-up samizdat distilled from 30 years of collecting information from very esoteric sources, from low-tech:


To high-tech: