The Hows & Whys of Stealth Radio

By Jose B Rivera - N2LRB

Why Go Stealth?
April 12, 2014 - There are many reasons to go stealth:
-You Have No Choice due to restrictions where you live
-You Choose To Work Under Cover To Avoid Others Knowing you are a ham and its associated possible problems
-Its Fun Yo Get Away Without Them Knowing

Photo of Browning BR-28 12-10 Meter AntennaEven though restrictions are a pain it can be fun! It’s fun and rewarding to operating without ‘them’ knowing. A real ham never gives up and preservers. Besides why allow a non-technical person keep you from enjoying the rewards of your hard earned Federally Licensed radio privileges? Seem unfair doesn’t it. Yet there is a national interest in having an Amateur Radio community that can provided communications during an emergency. 

Restriction Types
Common situations where you face operating restrictions are:
-Apartment Leases
-Home/Condo/Cooperative restrictions (one building type)
-Home Associations (covers a whole development)
-Landlord Preferences
Sucks, Right! But don’t give up. Read On.

Your Great Advantages
Belief it or not you are at a great advantage when it comes to concealing your radio and antennas because:
-You Know More Than They Know about Radios and Antennas.
-Stealth equipment is hard to spot especially if you are creative.
-People don’t expect you to try to get on the air anyway. (they expect obedience and for you to give up)
-You are smarter than they are (your best asset in all this).

I myself now choose to operate out in public, in the parks system or from inside my home (with limited results). That is not exactly going Stealth, but at least I am not breaking any apartment rules.

Note: Remember, their minds are not attuned to our equipment. But please know your limits. Some hams have made it worst for all hams by insisting on their ‘rights’ to operate without some accommodation to their neighbors or home owner associations. Building a huge tower in a small lot can cause unnecessary animosity. Whenever possible work with your neighbors. And if you have to scale down your antenna project, do so. It is better to operate out in the open then have to go stealth. And it is better to be a good amateur radio ambassador than to give our service a bad name. If you are going to adamant buy acres of property instead.

If you have to go stealth, it automatically becomes an ‘US’ vs ‘them’ situation. But no need to get angry or emotional since you are going to prevail! But before trying anything it is good to form an honest assessment of your situation, in terms of the people you are dealing with and your immediate environment.

Know Thy Opponent
It will serve you well to know the comings and goings of those you are dealing with in order to work around them. Yes, it sucks to have other have any say in what you do, especially since you more likely to be of service to them and the community. Here is what you need to learn.
When they are away, including for any type of work, meetings, church, shopping, etc…
Nocturnal habits, do they turn in and stay home for the night? Or do they go out at night.
Knowing their habits so as to work while they are gone either getting equipment in place or to operate your radio.   

Assessing Your Environment
Look at what you physically have to work with in terms of building structure and places to hide an antenna.
-Outside The Home/Structure - gutters, fences, trees, car ports, etc…
-Inside The Home/Structure - attic or crawl space, basement, fire escapes, ceilings
-Time of Year - Snow can be a good cover for radials
-Time of Day or Night - Night darkness makes it difficult to spot wire as might tree shadows
-Assess Your Goals (Bands and Mode)

Given what you have to work with in terms of the people you are dealing with and your operating environment you need to set some Realistic Goals. In most situations your are not going to be able to hide a tower outside. So you need to see what is the lowest band you can operate in your environment. Actually you should be able to operate all bands, but some more efficiently then others. Modes of operation will also be determined by your operating environment.

Hidden Equipment
For those hams where even the radios have to be hidden there are things you can do. Fun, creative things! There is nothing better than hiding something in plain sight from those who would deny you the operating privileges (from the government not them). Hidden from view, out of sight either in an assembled state or unassembled until needed. Inside a small room or closet - unless they have ‘inspection’ rights, this is a good choice. With other electronics on shelf - most people can not tell a transceiver apart from a regular radio receiver Behind other things like fake books

Hidden Antennas
Antennas come in all shapes and sizes. Wire antennas are the easiest to hide along structures. And if possible radials are can be hidden in grass. Here are some ways to hide or disguise your antenna(s).
Hide in plain sight - inside tall bushes or trees, along the gutter, the gutter, along the fence, thin magnet wire
Disguised Antennas -plants, color camouflage, flag pole or lamp pole antennas, bird feeders
Indoor Antennas
Photo of window sill mount with buddistick antenna.
If it is not possible to put out an outdoor antenna, hidden or disguised, then you might have to install indoor antennas. In some ways indoor antennas offer more control. You have 24/7 access to them and can work with them at any time without concern for who might be watching.
-Wires - long, short, dipole, G5RV, all if space allow
-Loops - Loops are small, compact which makes them easy to hide or put away
-Beams - Beams can be used especially for VHF and UHF

Going Portable
If you can not work from your home in any manner then your next choice is to operate your equipment from outside the home. This may mean going portable or going mobile, as in working from your car. Just because you live in a restricted place does not mean those who restrict run the planet. Their sphere of influence is minuscule compared to the world at large. Even if you can somewhat operate from home, it’s good to become familiar with portable work as it might come in handy during an emergency.

Places to go portable
-Your own backyard - if possible
-Public City Parks - Central Park in NYC for instance
-Public State Parks
-Wilderness Areas
-Aviation or Balloons - If you fly planes or those beautiful large hot air balloons
-You Vehicle

Remember that some cities and parks may have restrictions against hanging or attaching things to their trees. They view nature as a museum that must be seen and not interfaced with. Central Park in New York City is such a place. Anything you put up has to be self-supported, so hanging a wire dipole from a tree or two will quickly bring the park rangers to ask you to remove the wire and hand you a summons.

Common Sense
Whenever putting up temporary antennas be careful that the antenna is well supported. When putting up temporary beams or verticals be careful to ensure that they can not fall on anyone. Even radials can be a danger. I once had a gentleman trip on my radials when the said gentleman decided to walk on the grass and not the Central Park walk. He did not fall, but it taught to remember that stupid people do exist.

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