Well, folks, the silly season is here with us once again, and if you live with a resident ghost hunter you more than likely have heard throughout the year that they are hoping Santa Claus will be good to them this year and get them that bright new shiny EMF meter that they’ve been drooling over. As a matter of fact you may be on eBay or one of the many online ghost-hunting supply outlets on the net as you are reading this and looking for the best deal with free shipping. But before you add that KII meter to your online cart there are more than a few things you should be aware of besides how many batteries to get for it and if you can get it pre-wrapped.
My own venture into the sometimes not-so-exciting but always interesting field of paranormal research began back in 2006. Like so many folks out there I had been living with an arm-chair interest in the paranormal for years. I read books, got hooked on all the ghostly websites, but had absolutely no idea how to go about actually getting out into the real world to look for the things that went bump in the night. All that changed with my first taste of the television show Ghost Hunters. Here we got to see everyday people using some pretty flashy pieces of technical equipment in supposedly haunted places and getting amazing results. For me it was the breeze that blew me over the edge. I went online, looked up local teams, and began filling out applications. Before I even knew what I was doing I was getting my tee shirt and signing all sorts of waivers and forms and was officially a ghost-hunter-in-training.
But that wasn’t good enough for me. Oh, no. I wanted all that flashy stuff I saw on TV so I could get the same results. For years I wanted to be able to figure out what exactly a ghost was. Now all I had to do was go over the available funds, figure out if it would hamper sending the second oldest to Harvard University later on, and make myself a shopping list. About $1200 dollars later and a trunk full of stuff that weighed about the same per pound I was all set. What I wound up with three years later was a bunch of stuff that is still sitting in that trunk in a dark corner of my basement. It’s possibly detecting and recording ghosts to this day, though I can’t say for sure as I really haven’t the need for it anymore.
It’s a common mistake by many first time ghost hunters to want to be the best they can be right out of the gate, and just like other activities it would seem that if getting the best equipment to start with will get you the best results (or at the least make you look like you can). For many it’s seeing the guys on TV using their equipment and thinking that they need the same equipment. Unfortunately most of us find out the hard way that the stuff we thought we had to have was really the stuff we didn’t need at all.
So in the spirit of Christmas and goodwill towards man and all that stuff I thought it a good idea to share with you my thoughts on the things that you shouldn’t get your favorite ghost hunter this Christmas. But don’t just take my word for it; let’s ask a pro.
Jim Brown has been researching the paranormal for over thirty five years now. He is a member of the Independent Research Associates, which unlike many of the paranormal groups out there is made up of -you guessed it- independent researchers who specialize in certain areas. Where Jim’s primary interest is in the study of UFO phenomena, he is also a researcher and consultant on EVP studies. His background in electronics offers him an insight into how things work and what they do far beyond that of the garden variety ghost hunter. He has done consulting work for the Sci-Fi network and is a contributing member for the International Paranormal Investigators site and forums.
I recently had the privilege of speaking with Jim and got to ask him a few questions about what he thinks of all the new tools and trinkets that are aimed at the ghost hunting enthusiast to hit the shelves as the public interest in the subject has grown. I’d had my reservations about many of these items for some time, but I just didn’t have the technical background to say why. Jim not only knows how these things work; if he doesn’t he builds one, tests it, and then tells us how it works. He’s built his own Frank’s Box from the same specifications that Frank Sumption used, and barring having to make a few of his own adjustments created a working model that he was able to test for himself. We’ve seen these things used by many of the popular celebrity ghost hunting teams out there, and during my own early ventures worked with a team that was starting out and looking for their own box. At the time I had no idea how the thing worked, and I very well may have just sat there listening to it scanning radio frequencies, believing that spirits could indeed figure out what several disc jockeys were about to say and then spitting those snippets out as intelligent answers to our questions.
Through building his own, Jim was able to not only able to determine that the box basically just scanned radio frequencies, but that he could go back figure out what time each response was given and exactly what frequency the machine was receiving at. One thing he found odd was that Rush Limbaugh was giving out insight from the dead pretty regularly during one session. By going back and seeing what station the box picked up he was able to contact them and found out they were broadcasting Rush Limbaugh at that time. If it took Jim oscilloscopes and mathematics to come up with the frequency that was coming through the box how could anyone reasonably think that the ghost of a person could figure out how to manipulate it to give just the right answer?
This is just one example of how sometimes a fringe idea can be twisted and resold by the many charlatans out there making decent money being “professional paranormal researchers”. Heck, Chris Moon still advertises phone readings with his “telephone to the dead” on his website and getting paid very well to have Rush Limbaugh tell you if great granddad is happy in heaven or not.
According to Jim (not the TV show) there are two major types of researchers out there, and the differences between the two make a big difference in the type of equipment each would need. First is the hobbyist – they like ghost stories and may have experienced stuff in their past and usually like the thrill they get when visiting old cemeteries and other supposedly haunted places. The second is the serious researcher who does what they do not for the thrill but to really try and figure out what is happening behind the claims of the witnesses. Where the hobbyist may like to have an EMF meter with flashing lights and audible alarms to tell them when a ghost is near, the serious researcher would need to know the exact strength of that field and the limitations of that meter before they even use it for conducting real research. Knowing the limitations of the equipment is key before using it for any type of research, normal or paranormal, and is something that those who are selling their ghost hunting stuff really count on having their customers not knowing.
So exactly what pieces of equipment should you NOT get your favorite ghost hunter this Christmas? Well, there are a lot more items on the “do not get” list than there are on the “do” get list. Here are a few of the most commonly misused pieces of equipment and just why they shouldn’t be under your tree this year.
The K-2 Meter: Jim said it best – this thing is junk. It has no analog display to give you an accurate field strength reading, is notorious for picking up stray RF (radio frequency) signals, and has a poor power switch which causes the meter to reset itself giving false readings. It is the meter of choice by many of the celebrities you see on TV because it has pretty flashing lights, no loud alarm to drown out their ramblings about the spirits answering them, and can easily be manipulated to give those answers. Originally listing for around $29, it is now sold for $59 (a 200% mark up) on the KII Enterprises site where it is not listed as a paranormal research tool but rather as a way to determine if dangerous EM fields are present (they also sell a selection of ultrasonic dog training and animal repellants as well in case you feel like training that pesky, ghostly golden retriever that’s been bugging you). Whether it’s the KII or any one of the several low priced meters available they are all limited to proving one thing – that there is some sort of disturbance, whether from an electromagnetic field or stray radio or microwave radiation source. They cannot tell you where the change is occurring or what type of radiation is causing the disturbance. If it can’t tell you that, how can it possibly tell us when a spirit is near or let us converse with Sharon Tate?
Digital Voice Recorders: Yes, I myself am guilty of using these still, mainly because of their convenience. The average digital voice recorder is great for doing client interviews and taking notes but cannot offer the information needed by the serious researcher to validate any possible EVP it records. These recorders usually do not record in stereo and do not offer a sample rate (the number of samples the recorder takes per second to make up the recording) or frequency response adequate enough for accurate analysis later on. The low sample rates and poor frequency response can also lead to many digital artifacts in the recordings that can be misconstrued as EVPs later on. They are also not well shielded against outside radio frequencies which can also be misinterpreted as ghostly voices.
Ghost boxes and “hacks” – as discussed earlier, these machines allow radio frequencies to be scanned continuously through certain ranges. The voices you hear are NOT from dead people (unless it’s an old Wolf Man Jack show) but from living talk show hosts, commercials, and whatever else the machine can pick up. While many claim the responses to be too uncanny and accurate to be anything but proof the dead can speak through them it is simply a case of hearing what you want to hear and the coincidence of that word or phrase being said at that time. You can also lump those new toys like the Ovilus into this group (the Ovilus uses preprogrammed digitally produced words to be randomly generated by variations in magnetic fields).
DVR Systems: Now we’re getting into the pricy end of the not-needed-equipment spectrum. Some of these multi-camera units range in the thousands of dollars and do allow a person to view several areas at once. But what happens if the hard drive on that system fails? You lose EVERYTHING. Jim suggests when recording in a location using individual recorders to avoid this. Personally I’ve found combing yard sales can be rewarding in this arena. I’ve gotten several higher-end VCRs for a dollar or two. The tapes are still very economical if you can get them in bulk through places like Sam’s Club or other wholesale distributors, and you always have a back up in the event something goes wrong. And remember – IR (infrared) capabilities do not mean that you will more readily record ghosts. IR just allows the camera to pick up light waves at a lower frequency which in turn makes it easier to see in the dark when normal light emissions aren’t present. There is no proof at all to suggest spirits are more easy to film using infrared capable cameras (but it is worth mentioning that they can see through white tee shirts – good to know for all you well endowed female investigators out there!).
Digital Non-Contact Thermometers: While these can be relatively cheap and easy to carry these thermometers only do one thing; they measure surface temperatures only! They cannot detect a cold spot floating in a room, a draft from a window or anything else you may encounter while in the field. Jim told me that a good way to test this for yourself is to boil a pot of water and shoot the beam through the steam at the wall behind the pot. The thermometer will not detect the steam from the pot and will only give the temperature of the wall behind it. The same goes for thermal imaging systems or any other infrared temperature reading device. They read surface temperatures and cannot pick up on temperature changes in the air. To get a reading from the air you would need a thermocouple probe and a reader to interpret the signals from the probe.
Now that we’ve touched on some of the things you should stay away from, it’s only fair to list the things you may want to get your ghost hunters this year to improve their experience and help them gather the best information they can while out in the field. Many of these are no brainers, but they are still things I’ve not seen in many people’s kits on an investigation.
Pen, Pencil, and Paper: For taking notes! Nothing is going give you a better idea of what is happening around you than your own senses, and being able to write all this information down for later review is important for accurate research. You may even have to write down the phone number of that cute, new girl who came out that night or take an order for Chinesefood. You never know.
First Aid Kit: Enough said.
A Good Flashlight: Not your cheap dollar store model. I personally like the small headlamp LED models for their ease of use and long battery life, but any model with easy carrying capabilities, a good lumens (the measure of the perceived power of light) rating and overall durability will be a great addition to any kit.
Digital Cameras: These cameras have come a long way in their resolution capabilities and storage capacities, and the prices are much more consumer friendly. Yes, they are notorious for photographing dust orbs and don’t offer a negative to gauge the photos against, but they are good enough for documenting the location and investigation. Jim recommends a 5 to 6 megapixel model for general research use.
The H2: This is a stereo capable digital recorder that offers an excellent sample rate for later analysis, and can accept two microphones for true stereo recording (Jim stated it’s important to place these microphones 30 inches apart for accurate spatial analysis later). Yes it costs A LOT more than a simple voice recorder, but what it will do is eliminate the possibility of recording false voices and other artifacts that could be confused as EVPs and make it possible to get a good analysis of what may be later on. It can also pull double duty during client interviews. Using a decent analog cassette recorder is perfectly acceptable as well. If you look around places like eBay or Craigslist you can find either style of recorder, cassette tapes, and microphones at bargain prices.
Inductive pickups or a Trifield Natural meter – instead of getting a cheap, unreliable magnetic field detector these two items offer the researcher a different way to see the possible creation of field generation and also gathering accurate information on the field’s strength. Jim uses an inductive pick up run through head phones to listen to the different types of fields that are present in a location before conducting the actual investigation. He told me that he listens for the hums, whistles, and buzzing these units emit and bases them against the known culprits that emit them, like microwave ovens, wiring, overhead lights and computer equipment and can then determine what areas to stay away from. The Trifield Natural meter must be placed stationary and allowed to sample the natural magnetic fields around it so that if an anomalous disturbance occurs it will pick up on it and give you a reading on its visual display. This meter can also pick up on static field fluctuations and is sensitive enough to detect metal objects moving within its proximity range, so it’s important to learn how it works and use it right before taking it in the field. You can’t walk around with it as any movement is interpreted as a change in the magnetic field, and it will scream at you for doing so. It also offers a squelch knob to set the sensitivity level of the meter. It is relatively pricey, but well worth the money for the results it offers.
And remember – your results will only be as good as the equipment you use and your knowledge of that equipment. Go cheap and buy what you see on TV and you WILL find ghosts. Everywhere. Every time.
Jim told me that over all the years he has been doing EVP research he has only recorded SIX items he would list as definitive EVPs. Six. Now consider all the EVPs that TAPS gets on a regular basis on their show and compare their simple digital recorders and the flaws they have to Jim’s professional grade equipment and do the math. The cheap recorders give cheap results, period. And this goes for all the other items that you see on TV that are being misused. Figure in all the stuff that has no proven basis in paranormal research into the equation like the Talking Boxes, Ovilus, Puck, and other junk out there and you can see where the new guy and his money can get parted in quite a hurry (it is good to note Santa won’t be bringing any Pucks this year as they are discontinued on the Digital Dowsing website).
So think twice before getting your favorite ghost hunter that new KII this Christmas. If you want to make them happy get them a nice flashlight or a new digital camera. Later on when there is still money in the bank and you don’t have a trunk full of junk in the basement you’ll be grateful you did.
*Many thanks to Jim Brown for injecting reason and science into my clouded perception of the paranormal over the years and for taking the time to give me a call for this article. You can read about Jim and his exploits at his website Jim’s Destinations