Shortwave Ham Radio Communications with the Grid Down — Will Your Inverter Drown Out All Signals?

Today we present another article for this round in our non-fiction writing contest – by PrepperDoc

In a grid-down scenario, many will turn to radio for strategic information and advance warning of coming adversaries.  Hand-held VHF walkie-talkies will be quite range-limited if their usual repeaters go down also.   CB radio may allow 5-10 mile range, and marine radio slightly more, both depending on antenna height.

Short wave (high frequency, “HF”) ham radio will uniquely allow direct two-way communications both locally and over statewide and nationwide distances.    Many are planning on this as their primary long distance communications. Unfortunately, if they are relying on DC inverters for AC power, they may be stunned to find overwhelming hash interference coming from the high frequency switching Field Effect Transistors (FET) in their own inverter!   In that situation, they may have to temporarily turn off their inverter power source, and turn to battery-powered low-power (“QRP”) ham radio transceivers, or simply monitor battery-powered AM/FM/shortwave broadcast receivers.

I learned this the hard way.  Unaware of this problem, I had a very elaborate solar power system installed, using widely available robust and powerful equipment  (Out Back Power,   The first time I tested my setup on “emergency battery power,” I was surprised to have significant, wideband hash noise that was coming from my own power system.   Adding hefty inline EMI (electromagnetic interference) power line filters right inside the inverter AC panel boxes calmed down the interference to just above background level, very tolerable.  Not all inverters produce the same level of interference.  A friend who has a MagnaSine 4kW inverter (Magnum Energy, doesn’t seem to have the problem.

Now aware of the problem, and concerned for allies in my area (whom I want to be able to hear my signal!), I did experiments on a couple of different small inverters and some possible filtering solutions, measuring the received signal or interference at 3.7 MHz, in the middle of the 80-meter ham band that can be used for statewide or national communications after sundown.

I used a venerable Heathkit SB-102 vacuum tube transceiver as the test receiver, and to somewhat quantify the amount of interference versus typical signal strength, I measured the interference using the S-unit meter display of the receiver.  S-units are a relative and uncalibrated indication of how strong a received signal is, created by automated receiver circuitry that tries to automatically adjust the speaker volume despite widely varying signal strength.

Different receivers may grade the same signal quite differently. My receiver seems to grade signals rather conservatively (giving fairly low S-values).   However, each increase of 1 S-unit reflects a significantly easier to hear signal.   Background atmospheric noise randomly moved between S1 and S2, while black clouds and lighting ten miles away produced S6 lightning crashes.   Such nearby lightning will generally wipe out almost all signals.  Strong and easily readable voice single sideband signals were reading S3 or S4 on my receiver.

The Table below presents my results of interference signal-strength measurements:


Power Source: Household AC Modified Sine Wave Inverter [1] Pure Sinewave inverter [2]
No powerline filter Background S1-S2

Nearby lightning S6

S3 hash S6 hash
Schaffner EMI filter [3], ungrounded S1-S2 (barely noticeable) S3 hash
Schaffner EMI filter [3], grounded to household power ground S1-1/2, not discernible S2 hash, somewhat above background noise
Homemade jerry-rigged EMI Filter [4] No improvement at all (S3) No improvement at all (S6)

Surprisingly, the cheaper modified-sine wave inverter creates significantly less wideband (hash) interference than the low-power but higher quality sine wave inverter (which may have faster-switching FETs).   Both of these inverters are relatively small, portable, relatively low-priced inverters that can easily be stored in a small Faraday cage at home and might well be chosen as a grid-down backup device.   Both produce adequate power for a small vacuum tube ham radio (relatively EMP-resistant) with roughly 75-100 watts output.  The 2500-watt modified sinewave inverter can start and run a refrigerator compressor.  The interference from either would drown out most signals without power filtering. Both inverters were on a different floor from the receiver (which had a coax transmission line to an outside wire antenna) and a long extension cord went from inverters to the room with the ham radio.  Interestingly, the interference seemed to be conducted via plugging the receiver into the output AC power from the inverters — simply having the inverter-powered extension cord in the same room as the receiver did by itself not cause problems.

Interference from solar power inverters has been widely recognized and comes in two flavors, usually simultaneously:   differential mode (signal on hot and cold AC wires is 180 degrees out of phase) and common mode (signal on hot and cold AC wires is the same, and significant versus ground).  [5]
A jerry-rigged homemade attempt at a power line filter [4] was completely ineffective.   Apparently one needs higher inductance and capacitance values, and likely a split capacitor with the center tap grounded to reduce common-mode interference.

Placing an inexpensive 20-amp rated commercial EMI filter inline virtually eliminated the interference from the modified sine wave inverter, particularly when the ground tap on the filter was connected to my house wiring ground.   The same filter reduced the more potent interference from the sinewave inverter to an acceptable — but still noticeable — level when the ground connection was used.    Without the ground connection, such filters reduce only differential-mode interference; the ground connection increases the possibility of reducing common-mode interference.

This type of harmonic interference from the fast switching pulses of a DC-to-AC inverter will vary from brand to brand, and should become weaker at higher frequencies.  I did not test to see if it is troublesome at CB frequencies (27 MHz) but I would expect much less of a problem,  and I would doubt that it would be a great problem at 2-meter frequencies.   However, if you are depending on an inverter for your sound-signature-safe alternate power supply, and wish to have long-range ham radio communications, it would be wise to test your setup and/or purchase some form of EMI filtering and add it right at the output of your inverter before long power runs to portions of your house or your ham radio equipment.  It’s an easy, cheap and effective fix.


[1] Whistler PRO2500W  2500 watt power inverter, 12 volt car battery source. Inverter ungrounded.

[2] Morningstar SureSine300.   300watt (peak 600 watts 10 minutes).  12 volt car battery source. Inverter ungrounded.

[3] Schaffner FN2030A-20-06 Power Line Filter, rated 20A AC, purchased from Mouser Electronics,,   details at:

[4]  Homemade filter consisted of series open wire coils approximately 20 microhenries (40 turns, 1.5″ dia) and a homemade shunt capacitor on the load side made with 80 sq. inch aluminum foil plates separated by 20 pound copy paper, measured as approximately 2000 pF.


Prizes for this round (ends July 10 2015 ) in our non fiction writing contest include…

  1. First place winner will receive –  A case of Yoder’s Canned Bacon (12 cans, $169.95), a case of Future Essentials Canned Green Coffee Beans (12 cans, $143.30 value), and a case of our Future Essentials Canned Breakfast/Cold Cereal Variety with Milk (12 cans; a can each of Raisin Bran, Rice Krispies, Corn Flakes, Apple O’s, Whole Grain Frosted Wheat’s, Cocoa Rice Krispies, Honey & Nut O’s, Fruity O’s and Frosted Flakes, as well as three (3) Cans of Powdered Milk Substitute (18 oz. each) – (a value of $62.90) all courtesy MRE Depot and a  WonderMix Bread Mixer courtesy of a $300 value. Total first place prize value over$674.
  2. Second Place Winner will receive – A Royal Berkey water filter, courtesy of Directive 21 (a $283 value) and an autographed copy of 31 Days to Survival
  3. Third place winner will receive –  A gift certificate for $150 off of Hornady Ammo courtesy of LuckyGunner Ammo.

Introduction to EMP and Faraday Cages

Also see: Build Your Own Faraday Cage. Here’s How.

Understanding the RadioShack SWR & Power Meter

By PrepperDoc

Many new hams, CB operators, and even boaters with a marine radio get their first standing wave ratio (SWR) meter from a convenient RadioShack. An antenna with an SWR greater than 2:1 may be in need of work! If you use an antenna tuner to match a “long-wire” antenna, then this device is indispensable.

sw figure 2


Their catalog # 2100534 fills the bill, but unfortunately the panel layout & markings may easily lead to confusion. Exactly what does one do with the three switches and the knob? Friends whom I’ve tried to help were completely lost because the front panel intersperses switches for the two different capabilities of this meter.

Figure 1 shows improved panel artwork with thick borders that more clearly separate the functions and better explains the controls. Using a photocopier’s enlarge/shrink function, make the top border about 3-3/8″. Cut out the switch rectangles and knob circle. Then tape it over the commercial front panel…

sw figure 1

Now to explain the meter’s operation: The instrument has two completely separate functions: measuring output POWER and measuring Standing Wave Ratio (SWR). The middle switch chooses which function.

To read POWER, the user moves the middle switch to its highest position, then selects from three different power ranges with the left-most switch. Both “average” and “peak envelope power” (PEP) can be measured, depending on the setting of the right-most switch.

In voice single side band, the PEP can be quite a bit larger than the average, and thus this meter can help the user avoid turning the mic gain up so high that he splatters his signal, taking up much more bandwidth than proper. (If turning up the mike gain no longer increases the PEP output, for sure you are beyond the limit! Back off a bit!) The rotary knob isn’t used at all.

To read the SWR, the user first positions the middle switch into the “FORW CAL” (forward relative power) position, sends out a steady signal (careful not to do this longer than safe for your transmitter’s amplifier!) and quickly adjusts the rotary knob on the right until the needle is at “full scale”.

There are multiple ways to create the steady carrier needed to allow the adjustment, depending on your transmitter: there may be a “TUNE” position; or you may be able to hold your Morse Code key down, or with an AM CB rig, simply push the mike button. Then flick the middle switch into REV (“reverse relative power”) and read the SWR from the top scales marked SWR on the meter. Try to keep your SWR 2:1 or lower!

Figure 1: Artwork for new panel markings.
Figure 2 — New artwork on SWR / Power meter

Reliable Ham Radio Post-Disaster Security Communications

Today’s non-fiction writing contest entry  written by PrepperDoc

antennaMany preppers’ post-disaster communications plans are built upon low power (“QRP,”  typically 1-5 watts output power) ham radio equipment, able to easily obtain power from small battery or low-power solar sources.    They may believe that after a disaster, interference from higher-powered stations, noisy power lines, electric motors, and a host of computers will be squashed, and their 5-watt level signals will easily make all the necessary communications.  Depending on their communications requirements, they may be badly disappointed in the real event!

Survivors may have widely varying communications needs which might be broken down roughly into three categories:  1) ability to listen to (and possibly contribute to) news reports to/from undamaged states or nations;  2) ability to obtain same-city, intra-state and next-state-over reports of situation-on-the-ground (5-300 miles);  3) short-range communications within a neighborhood.   #1 is easily handled by low-power ham gear (or even shortwave radio receivers) because there may be multiple possible transmitting stations from which to choose; simply find one you can hear.   #3 can be handled by direct (simplex) communications using low-power walkie-talkie FRS/GMRS or ham transceivers.  (Store several in a Faraday cage!)   It is middle-distance #2 — reliable communication/information gathering from 5-300 miles — that is problematic.   You may find a network of several reliable early-warning sites in nearby cities and just across the state border, and have a need to maintain RELIABLE  (not hit-or-miss) communications with them daily for updates on security issues.   It is nice to know of oncoming trouble farther than “smoke-distance.”

VHF/UHF walkie-talkies simply can’t fill this need with their line-of-sight propagation.   And ground-wave (limited at any frequency above 3.5 MHz) transmissions will not cover the distance.   One report found 7MHz ground wave unreliable even at 15 km.   This 5-300 mile range is the realm where Near Vertical Incidence Skywave communications (NVIS), bouncing near-straight-up radio waves off the ionosphere miles above us (usually the F layer but sometimes the E layer) is the only suitable propagation system.  [1]

The properties of the F layer are important to your success.   First, it is at least 150 km above the earth, so your signal is going to travel 300 km just to get to the other side of your town.   Modeling your antenna as a point-source, your signal is going to be significantly dispersed and therefore much weaker after traversing that 300 km round-trip distance!

Secondly, the F layer has variable ionization (more during the day, and during maxima of the 11-year sunspot cycle) and is only able to reflect signals at any given moment up to a certain “cutoff frequency” that depends on the both the ionization and the angle of incidence.   Vertical signals (needed to get to the other side of your city) are the hardest to refract/reflect.   The maximum frequency that successfully reflects vertically is called the Critical Frequency.    Somewhat higher frequencies may refract at lesser angles — but constrained by geometry, they will come back down much farther away, leaving you with a “skip zone” of impossible communications.

And unfortunately, you probably can’t use the exact OPTIMAL frequency at any given circumstance. Your prospective counterparties are mostly other amateur radio operators.   Ham radio equipment typically is designed to work only in certain designated frequency bands — the 3.5-4  MHz (“80 meter”) and 7-7.3 MHz (“40 meter”) are usually the key ones for reliable NVIS communications.   During nighttime around sunspot minima, only the 3.5-4 MHz band may be functioning for NVIS.   During the day, both 80 and 40 meters may reflect in more years of the sunspot cycle — but now add in the problem that the lower level D layer, activated by sunlight-accompanying xrays,  will all but wipe out 80 meter communications.   The D layer’s power-absorption declines by the square of the frequency.  As a result, you prefer to use the very highest frequency that works, optimally just below the critical frequency.  During daytime, the critical frequency may be 7MHz or even much higher, but many ham transceivers off only 7MHz,  14MHz, 21MHz & 28MHz choices.   Thus you may have additional D-layer absorption due to sub-optimal communications frequency.  During the night, the sun’s xrays disappear, and the D layer dissipates, so 3.5-4 MHz signals, which are usually safely below the critical frequency even during sunspot minima, become much more useful & important. For reliable nighttime NVIS, you probably need 80 meter capability, which requires large antennas for good efficiency (or else higher power).  [2]

The ultimate goal is simply to provide a signal to the desired receiving station that significantly overpowers the NOISE that the recipient encounters.   Inexperienced operators may require signal-to-noise ratios of 10 dB or more for successful communications.

Even after an EMP-type disaster, there may be more radio noise than optimistic low-power proponents expected.  Why?  Because much of the radio noise in the high frequency bands is the result of tens of lightning strikes every second, all over globe, whose radio-signature is carried around the world by the ionosphere just like any other radio signal. [3]   Even after an EMP, this noise source will still exist.   Further, ham radio stations in undamaged nations will still be on the air — and likely far busier than ever before!  There will be plenty of strong signals with which to contend.   Finally, while power lines may be silent and most computers dark, a new source of man-made radio interference may burst forth–dozens to thousands of power inverters of all types providing power to persons all over your city.   Even the sine-wave inverters have powerful switching signals as part of their makeup, and I was surprised to find a very troublesome amount of interference coming from my very own backup power system,  wiping out weak-signal reception!   The addition of a heavy-duty filtering device in my inverter’s power lines to my home knocked this down considerably, but few survivors are going to have prepared this well, so houses all around you may be radiating radio hash.  (Consider a device similar to: )

For NVIS communications, your antenna can also squelch your effort to overcome the noise at your intended recipient’s site:  vertical or whip antennas put relatively little power straight up, further damaging your low-powered transmitter’s chances.   A very comprehensive investigation in the Netherlands demonstrated that a horizontal resonant dipole at 0.15 – 0.2 wavelengths height was optimal [4]  (corroborating work done in the rainforests of Thailand).   For an 80-meter antenna, that means a height in the range of 40 feet; for 40 meters, 20 feet.   Survivors with antennas at first-story roof-level may face a significant power loss of as much as 90% of their effective signal (10 dB).   Likewise, too-high an antenna (from a skyscraper) may also lower vertically incident power.

You can reduce the effective noise (and thus improve your chances) by eschewing voice communications and moving to narrow-band techniques such as Morse code or digital communications — IF your receiver has the ability to filter more narrowly, your operator has the required experience, and in the case of digital, your conversion equipment survived the disaster.   In our group, we have some new operators who simply cannot use these more-powerful techniques, so we are limited to voice (single side band, about 2 kHz bandwidth).

Beginning to see why QRP low-power ham radio may not meet your security communication needs post-disaster?  Basically, there were very good reasons why the most popular ham radio gear of the 1960’s and 1970’s offered a full 100 watts of output!   Furthermore, what if there is a second EMP strike? Or third?   Will your transistorized low-power ham radio is connected to an antenna during one of those strikes because you depend on it for communications?   It may well be destroyed.    The most impervious gear to simulated EMP attack in testing was vacuum tube gear:  the type of transceivers that had the 100-watt output.

So what is documented about successful and reliable short-to-mid-range NVIS communications in the real world?   Working in the rainforests of Thailand, with relatively optimized antennas, 15-watt output transmitters were reliable for NVIS communications 80% of the time.   My own group found that with newbie operators and horizontal dipoles at various heights, cross-city (30 mile) communications were sometimes possible on voice, and even more likely on Morse code, but that experience made a very big difference.    A Netherlands group did extensive research at a near-optimum frequency of 5.39 MHz for their conditions, using a high-power 850-watt output transmitter and had excellent signal to noise ratios of 50 dB in NVIS communications.[4]   Their powerful transmitter even showed evidence of a readable signal that may have been carried the other way–traversing almost the entire globe to reach their recipient; but this signal was some 40 dB weaker.   Their advantages over many low-power stations were significant:   Their 850 watt station was 22 dB stronger than a 5-watt QRP station,  had an optimized antenna (possibly 10-20 dB better than a poorer antenna) and optimized frequency (excessive D-layer absorption due to lower frequency might have added another 10-20 dB of loss).   Hence their 50 dB signal to noise ratio could easily have been obliterated by a ham operating a 5-watt station (-22 dB), with a suboptimal antenna (-15 dB) and suboptimal frequency (-15 dB)  (total degradation:   52 dB) even before considering the difficulties of inexperienced operators.  An excellent advisory on NVIS emergency communicates notes success with 25 watt (output) signals. [5]

My conclusion is that your communications preparations should definitely include a simple wire dipole antenna at 30-40 feet, either resonant or long-wire horizontal dipoles (with antenna tuner) for both 80- and 40- meter ham radio bands, and possibly additional higher frequency bands for daytime use.    You should also develop a healthy dose of experience (Morse code ability and a narrow receiver filter would be great!).   But it is obviously easier to “turn down” the transmitter power on a 100-watt (or higher) tube type rugged EMP-resistant vacuum tube transmitter to save energy, than it is to try and make a low power 5-watt QRP transistorized transmitter communicate amidst stronger signals and broadband inverter-generated hash interference, while worrying that your equipment might at any time be destroyed by a follow-up EMP strike.    So it might be worth it to plan ahead to provide both ham radio equipment and electrical power for a higher power transmitter, even if you do succeed at times with a QRP transceiver.



[1] NVIS Army FM 24-18.  Appendix M with Graphics.   (An excellent tutorial.)

[2]   HF Near Vertical Incidence Skywave (NVIS) Frequency Band Selection.    Accessed at:

[3]   Bianchi C, Meloni A:  Terrestrial Natural and Man-Made Electromagnetic Noise.  Accessed at:

[4] Witvliet BA et al, Near Vertical Incidence Skywave Propagation:  Elevation Angles and Optimum Antenna Height for Horizontal Dipole Antennas.   Accessed at:

[5] Idaho Amateur Radio Emergency Service, HF Near Vertical Incidence Skywave (NVIS) Frequency Band Selection.  Accessed at:

Prizes for this round (ends April 23 2015 ) in our non fiction writing contest include… Please send your articles now!

  1. First place winner will receive –  A  case of six (6) #10 cans of Freeze Dried Military Pork Chops a $300 value courtesy of MRE Depot, and a  WonderMix Bread Mixer courtesy of a $300 value and five bottles of the new Berkey BioFilm Drops a $150 value courtesy of LPC Survival – total prize value of over $750.
  2. Second place winner will receive –  A gift a gift certificate for $150 off of  Federal Ammunition courtesy of LuckyGunner Ammo.
  3. Third Place winner will receive –  A copy of my book ”31 Days to Survival: A Complete Plan for Emergency Preparedness“ and “Dirt Cheap Survival Retreat” courtesy of and copy of “The Survival Medicine Handbook” courtesy of

Two-WAY Radio Communications Basics for Preppers

Today’s non-fiction writing contest entry was written by Hunter Prepper

There are no hand held radios that will ever cover any kind of range (beyond LOS (Line of Sight)) without some kind of special circumstances or a repeater. The laws of physics, solid matter and the curvature of the Earth simply get in the way. So, here are your realistic options for achieving long (er) range.

Amateur Radio (Ham) can offer coverage from a few miles to thousands of miles, depending on the band and equipment used. Portable VHF/UHF (Very High Frequency/Ultra High Frequency) radios will have a range by themselves of a few miles, usually less than 10, but can increase that range dramatically through the use of a repeater. HF (High Frequency) radios with good antennas can offer ranges of hundreds or thousands of miles depending on the band, time of day and atmospheric conditions. Repeater sites can fail and atmospheric conditions can be severely disrupted by solar activity, so depending on this is still a gamble, but it is by far the best option for reliable communications range.

General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) High-end GMRS radios operate similar to UHF Ham radio equipment. GMRS users can use up to 50 watts, high-gain antennas and they can even use and own repeater sites. This is not going to happen using the common bubble pack available as a 22 channel pair of radios. You need real radios, such as the Motorola or Vertex variety. Hand held radios are not going to get more than a few miles range without some unusual circumstances or a repeater.

All other radio services are simplex or point-to-point and don’t offer repeaters, therefore limiting the radios range to no further than the horizon. Radio waves do not follow the contour of the terrain, they operate in strait lines, and any object of sufficient size will block them. What this means is, that they will not go through mountains, nor will they go over the mountain and back down the other side. They will not penetrate buildings very well, travel through dense vegetation such as a forest very well or follow the curvature of the Earth. Radio waves of sufficient power and that are below a certain frequency can be reflected off the upper layers of the atmosphere, but this is dependent on things such as time of day and solar activity.

The only reliable way to get communications range more than a few miles is to install antennas on tall masts or towers (you can hang them in trees) and with sufficient power and provided the terrain isn’t too mountainous and in the way, then you can begin to get some reliable and consistent range out of your radio system, but expecting a hand held radio to offer coverage of more than a few miles is asking too much. Hand-held Ham, GMRS and MURS (Multi Use Radio Service) radios on VHF and UHF frequencies will offer a standalone range of a few miles over average terrain. The FRS (Family Radio Service) bubble pack radios, that you can buy at a Wal-Mart or Academy Sports for example, can only be expected to be reliable at distances measured in yards rather than miles.

Here a few major things that limits your ability to talk to your buddy. This may be oversimplified, but I hope it will help you start to understand the big picture.

Propagation: This is the pathway of the radio waves you send to your buddy. If they are in LOS (line of sight)–which means you could actually see him if you could see 30miles–then you simply need the right antenna and power level to talk to him.

Most of us don’t have line-of-sight to the people we want to talk to. Usually trees, buildings, mountains or other barriers block the signal. They turn the “36 mile” radios into the 1 mile radios you have! There are a few ways to combat these problems, and this brings us to the next point.

Antenna design: There are antennas out there designed to “focus” your transmitting or receiving into one direction. Kind of like a flashlight you can point in any direction you choose. They are called “directional” antennas and have design names like “yagi”, “quad” or “log periodic”. Old analog TV antennas are commonly a yagi or log periodic design–that’s why you rotate them to get the best signal.

Anyway, if you and your buddy point these directional antennas at each other you will stand a better chance of hearing each other. Because they are physically large they almost always used at fixed locations like a home.

Other antennas are designed to broadcast in all directions. They are called “omni-directional”. Much like a light bulb, they send their energy out in all directions. It’s the type of antenna used by police cars and walkie talkies. However they aren’t good for talking over long distance unless you feed them some serious power. But sometimes you can use a radio with a directional antenna pointing at someone with an omni… and still have a good result.

Antennas do best when they are used at the highest geographical point. It gets you closer to the LOS mentioned earlier; you can better your position by transmitting from the top of a hill, from the highest floor of a building, or from an antenna on top of roof, mast or tower.

One more note. Your antenna needs to be tuned to the frequency you are using. This makes your antenna as efficient as possible. This efficiency is a huge concern–and it brings us to the next topic. (Tuning your antenna is too much info to put into this article, do your research and learn)

Power: You have to use enough power to create a signal that reaches your buddy. The best antenna in the world won’t work if you don’t feed it enough juice. And the most juice in the world won’t make your antenna work of its not tuned.

The general rule of communication is to use only as much power as you need. This is courtesy to others who use the same or nearby frequencies. You don’t want to overpower them. Also, it helps save money on your electric bill!

Summary: To achieve constant and reliable 30 mile range, You need to use enough power WITH a tuned antenna AT the best height you can manage.

The inexpensive FRS or GMRS radios (like the Motorola Talkabout radios) won’t do it. They put out a maximum 0.5 watts of power (half a watt!) Their antennas are very inefficient. However, they would be good for communications on your property.

Other public radio frequencies such as MURS band have very limited power output–2 watts.

CB radio can legally put out 4 watts. There’s also a mode feature that allows 12 watts in “single sideband” mode. It’s also referred to as “SSB”. Your voices will sound funny due to the mode, but it is a much more efficient use of your radio’s power. CB antennas tend to be long or very big. It will take some experimenting to find the best antenna position to use. You will also need to “tune” the antenna for optimal performance.

The only way you’re going to legally talk to your buddy with a relatively compact antenna and good audio quality is to get into Amateur Radio. It will enable you to use higher power (some mobile radios can put out 75 watts), and there are many antenna options for home and mobile use. I know not everyone wants to register with the Government, but sometimes it has its advantages. Besides just because you have a license does not mean you have a radio, if you understand. There is also no law against buying the radio “just” to listen.

If you choose amateur radio, you will likely need a mobile car radio that puts out 50 watts or more into a tuned mobile antenna that is not too short. You can use the same radio in your house… with a better performing antenna on the roof, inside the attic, or on an antenna mast. By having a radio of this type you will be able to have a mobile station and a base station using one radio and two antennas.

There are many, many other more involved options and details such as grounding, repeaters, etc. It is hard to cover everything in a single post, it is best to get a good book; I started with “HAM radio for Dummies” and one from the ARRL (Amateur Radio Relay League). But hopefully this will help you ask more questions.

Abbreviations and Explanations: VHF – Very High Frequency; is the ITU-designated range of radio frequency electromagnetic waves from 30 MHz to 300 MHz. Frequencies immediately below VHF are denoted high frequency (HF), and the next higher frequencies are known as ultra high frequency (UHF).

VHF propagation characteristics are ideal for short-distance terrestrial communication, with a range generally somewhat farther than line-of-sight from the transmitter (see formula below). Unlike high frequencies (HF), the ionosphere does not usually reflect VHF waves (called skywave propagation) so transmissions are restricted to the local radio horizon less than 100 miles. VHF is also less affected by atmospheric noise and interference from electrical equipment than lower frequencies.

Whilst it is blocked by land features such as hills and mountains, it is less affected by buildings and other less substantial objects than UHF frequencies. UHF – Ultra High Frequency; designates the ITU radio frequency range of electromagnetic waves between 300 MHz and 3 GHz (3,000 MHz), also known as the decimeter band or decimeter wave as the wavelengths range from one to ten decimetres; that is 10 centimeters to 1 meter. Radio waves with frequencies above the UHF band fall into the SHF (super-high frequency) or microwave frequency range.

Lower frequency signals fall into the VHF (very high frequency) or lower bands. UHF radio waves propagate mainly by line of sight; they are blocked by hills and large buildings although the transmission through building walls is high enough for indoor reception. They are used for television broadcasting, cordless phones, walkie-talkies, satellite communication, and numerous other applications.

I hope this has helped you or at least guided you in making an informed decision on what to purchase and what you can expect for your purchase.

Prizes for this round (ends April 23 2015 ) in our non fiction writing contest include… Please send your articles now!

  1. First place winner will receive –  A  case of six (6) #10 cans of Freeze Dried Military Pork Chops a $300 value courtesy of MRE Depot, and a  WonderMix Bread Mixer courtesy of a $300 value and five bottles of the new Berkey BioFilm Drops a $150 value courtesy of LPC Survival – total prize value of over $750.
  2. Second place winner will receive –  A gift a gift certificate for $150 off of  Federal Ammunition courtesy of LuckyGunner Ammo.
  3. Third Place winner will receive –  A copy of my book ”31 Days to Survival: A Complete Plan for Emergency Preparedness“ and “Dirt Cheap Survival Retreat” courtesy of and copy of “The Survival Medicine Handbook” courtesy of

EMP Trash Can Faraday Cage Testing in Lab

Tests are conducted to measure how effective metal garbage cans are at blocking high-frequency energy, such as that released by an high-altitude nuclear electromagnetic pulse (EMP). Tips are provided on how to greatly improve the shielding effectiveness.

Question About Survival Radios for Monitoring and Two-Way Comunications

From Terry:

Hi , I’m looking for a good two-way radio to use as “walkie-talkie” but that can also be used to pick up esp, ham communications. I have lots of the two way radios that everyone has but am looking for something with a little more distance and other options . I have no ham license. Theses would be used for when the shit hits the fan…

Terry, the one that I use and recommend is the “Wouxun KG-UV6D Two Way Radio“, it’s programmable (there is a slight learning curve) for VHF: 136-174 MHz; UHF: 400-480 MHz; FM: 76-108 MHz, which covers everything you’ll need. For example, I can program my radios to Ham, Murs, Local Police, Fire and Rescue etc.   And while it might not be legal to talk on all of these with this radio it is legal to listen in most states… M.D. Creekmore

Questions & Answers With The Wolf Pack : Communications…

Question from Terry,

Hi , looking for a good two way radio to use as walkie talkie but that can also be used to pick up esp. ham com. but other communications also. I have lots of the two way radios that everyone has but am looking for something with a little more distance and other options . I have no ham license. Theses would be used for when the poop hits the fan.

You Know What I’m Saying – Message Ciphers

Image By: Ludovic Bertron

By Wind Talker

In a survival situation, secure communications between two friendly communities can be essential for both security and commerce.

It would be ideal if external messages could always be carried by the most dependable people within the group, but those people are usually tied up with security planning, training, assignment of watch personnel, etc.  Therefore, people tasked as ‘messengers’ are usually young and relatively inexperienced.  Their capture by an enemy and the resulting loss of the critical message entrusted to them could be significant.  So how do we minimize the risk of an enemy intercepting our messages?

For centuries, simple ciphers have been used to address this need for more secure communications.  As an example, would you gain much knowledge if you intercepted one of the following enemy messages?


While simple ciphers can be useful against an adversary who is inexperienced in encryption, they provide almost no protection against a trained decryption analyst with automated tools.  In other words, while the National Security Agency (NSA) would probably laugh at their simplicity, an attacking force of roaming thieves would find it time consuming or even impossible to decipher.

If given a couple of hours, you could probable break the fist code without reading further.  The second would probably take months of dedicated effort for a non-expert to break.

We will review some of the strengths and weaknesses of ciphers, and then explain how ciphers were used to create the two examples given above.

Ciphers allow a message to be coded in manner that makes the text unintelligible or hidden to a non-authorized reader.  This frees us from having to entrust the knowledge contained within the message to the carrier.  For example, a ciphered message could be handed to a traveling tradesman with a request to deliver to a designated person at a certain town.  Neither the messenger or a thief could easily decipher the message  if opened.

Simple Ciphers are appropriate for:

  1. Short messages so that unauthorized people cannot detect a pattern.
  2. Information that is only useful to an enemy for a short period of time.  In order to be prepared for a worst case scenario, one should always assume that the enemy has available a person with the necessary decryption skills.  Therefore, given time and dedicated effort, almost all manual ciphers can be broken. Therefore an appropriate usage  of a manual cipher is where the information contained within the message is of no value by the time the cipher could possibly be broken.  An example of such a message is one that delays by two hours an offsite meeting scheduled for the next day.  By the time the cipher is broken, the meeting would be over with.  An inappropriate usage would be to communicate group strengths or weaknesses which could still be true after enough time for an enemy to break the code.


  1.  Rail Fence Cipher  (also called the Zigzag Cipher)At first, the procedure seems complicated, but after a little practice it becomes quite easy.Suppose you want to send the message, “Send reserve force now”.

    Count the number of letters (excluding spaces); in this case 19.  If the number is a multiple of 4 then fine.  If not, add dummy letters at the end until it is divisible by 4 … in our case there are 19 letters which is not a multiple of 4, so we need to add 1 dummy letter to the end of the text to make a new total of 20 letters which is a multiple of 4 (i.e. 5×4=20).

    Remove the spaces between the words, and place the dummy letter at the end.  The new text becomes “SENDRESERVEFORCENOWX”.

    Now split the text into two lines where every second letter is lowered to the second line.  Like this:


Now, copy the first row letters followed by the second row letters.

Above is the finished ciphered text.  If one does not know the procedure used for encryption, this simple cipher will take time for a non-expert to break.
The receiving person can decode the message easily.  First, divide the encrypted line in half:


Now he can read the original message by reordering the letters:  Take the first letter from the left group, then first letter from the right group, second letter from the left group, second letter from the third group, third letter from the left group, and so on.

Decrypted message is:


And spaces and remove the filler letter at the end (in this case the X), and you have:


Strength:     One of the simplest ciphers to learn and use.

Weakness:  This is one of the more easily broken ciphers.  All of the original letters
remain, only their sequence has been changed.

The next example requires slightly more coordination between the sender and receiver, but provides additional security.

  1.  Substitution Cipher

Draw a 7×7 matrix.  As in the example below, label both the rows and columns with letters that appear to be random (for this example, ADFGVX).  This column / row labeling needs to be agreed upon in advance by the sender and receivers so that both can set up identical tables.  This labeling can be used multiple times.


Security is based upon a ‘keyword’ which should ideally be more than five letters.  The sender selects a ‘keyword’ that does not have a single letter used more than once in the spelling.  For example, as the word ‘Washington’ uses the letter ‘n’ twice; it is not acceptable.  In our example, let’s use the keyword ‘Plymouth’ and the message “Meeting starts 1230 pm.”)

In the matrix created above, start filling the letters row by row by using the keyword we selected: ‘Plymouth’.  Then continue to fill with remaining letters of the alphabet in order, but skip the letters already used by the keyword.  Then fill out the last blocks with the digits 1 through 9.

V Y Z 0 1 2 3
X 4 5 6 7 8 9

Now take your text and substitute the column and row coordinates for each letter as follows:


TEXT m e e t i n g s t a r t s 1 2 3 0 p m

To make easier to read, ciphers are frequently written in four letter groups:


The same matrix box that is used to cipher the message is also used to decipher the message once received.  As the receiver would already be trained on how to setup the matrix box (including the row and column headings), he would only need the ‘keyword’ in order to decipher the message.  A listing of unique keywords are usually provided to authorized communicators on a monthly basis with a different keyword for each day.

It is important to remember that a person trained in decryption and having access to computerized tools can break these codes very quickly.  But, the ciphers would likely confuse the average person for an extended period of time.  Certainly they are better than sending messages in the ‘clear’.

These are only two of the many ciphers available on the internet.  Be imaginative and make some subtle changes to make a cipher uniquely your own.

Questions & Answers With The Wolf Pack : Question About Ham Radio?

I have enjoyed reading your blog and thank you for the information you have shared with our community. As much as I have learned while reading the posts of you and your contributors, one of the most important lessons has been that we should know our limitations and never expect to master each and every aspect of preparation.

So, having written that, I would like to respectfully ask a question about ham radio. Please remember that I am entirely ignorant of the ham community and that my question comes from this ignorance.

Please also know that I am asking this question because, while I find ham radio operation necessary, I do not want to clutter and fumble through the airwaves in an attempt to find the limited operation I am in search of. I would rather have the resources available to me in times of need, and focus on things I find more applicable to my current situation.

I recently purchased two BaoFeng UV-5Rs, which I understand are very popular in the community. Is there someone that could assist me with a shortcut list of instructions designed to find four things: a line of communication in a time of emergency, the AM/FM band, the weather band, and the emergency scanner band?

I am hoping to provide my aging parents with a ‘quick start’ index card and the unit so that we can communicate in an emergency situation. Something so clear and easy it can be followed by an elderly person who has limited technical capability (ie bullet pointed instruction). They are many states from me and I have experienced times in which they were uncommunicable due to weather and other outages and this would give me great peace of mind to know an option is available in an emergency. Clearly, this would never be used in a manner disallowed by the rules and regulations of the FCC.

Thanks again for being such a resource. I really appreciate it. James M