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.
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
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.
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?
- AFDX DXAX FFFX FDGF AXDD GDAX GFVG VVVX VFAA AF
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:
- Short messages so that unauthorized people cannot detect a pattern.
- 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.
- 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:
SEND RESSERVE FORCE NOW.
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.
- 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.
Now take your text and substitute the column and row coordinates for each letter as follows:
To make easier to read, ciphers are frequently written in four letter groups:
The resulting message reads: AFDX DXAX FFFX FDGF AXDD GDAX GFVG VVVX VFAA AF
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.
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
by Arthur Bradley
Introduction to Faraday Cages
There is a great deal of confusion about Faraday cages. Not only about how to build them, but also what they actually protect against. In this article, Dr. Arthur Bradley, author of Disaster Preparedness for EMP Attacks and Solar Storms, answers a few basic questions and perhaps debunks a few myths.
What is a Faraday Cage?
A Faraday cage (a.k.a. Faraday shield) is a sealed enclosure that has an electrically conductive outer layer. It can be in the shape of a box, cylinder, sphere, or any other closed shape. The enclosure itself can be conductive, or it can be made of a non-conductive material (such as cardboard or wood) and then wrapped in a conductive material (such as aluminum foil).
What does it do?
A Faraday cage works by three mechanisms: (1) the conductive layer reflects incoming fields, (2) the conductor absorbs incoming energy, and (3) the cage acts to create opposing fields. All of these work to safeguard the contents from excessive field levels. A Faraday cage is particularly useful for protecting against an electromagnetic pulse that may be the result of a high-altitude nuclear detonation in the atmosphere (a.k.a. EMP attacks).
Despite rumors to the contrary, a Faraday cage is not necessary to protect against solar coronal mass ejections because the frequency content of such disturbances is at much lower frequencies—they don’t couple energy efficiently into small-scale electronics, except through conducted paths (e.g., wires coming into the system). A better precaution against solar events is to unplug electronics and use quality surge suppressors.
How does field cancelation work?
Field cancelation occurs when the free carriers in the conductive material rapidly realign to oppose the incident electric field. If the cage is made from something non-conductive, the free carriers are not mobile enough to realign and cancel the incident field.
How thick should the conducting layer be?
The conductive layer can be very thin because of something known as the skin effect. That term describes the tendency of current to flow primarily on the skin of a conductor. As long as the conducting layer is greater than the skin depth, it will provide excellent shielding because the absorption loss will be large. The skin depth is a function of the frequency of the wave and the conductor material. As an example, consider that for a frequency of 200 MHz, the skin depth of aluminum is only about 21 microns. EMP pulses can have frequency content that ranges up to 1,000 MHz. Therefore, wrapping a box in a couple of layers of heavy duty aluminum foil (typically about 24 microns thick) provides the necessary conductor thickness to protect against high-frequency radiated fields.
Does it matter what type of conductor is used?
Not much. The conductivity of nearly any metal is good enough to allow the carriers to easily realign to cancel external fields. For example, if silver (the best conductor) is used in place of aluminum, the skin depth at 200 MHz is reduced to about 4.5 microns. Of course, the high cost of silver would prevent using it for such a purpose.
Can a Faraday cage have holes?
Yes, as long as the holes are small with respect to the wavelength of the incident electromagnetic wave. For example, a 1 GHz wave has a wavelength of 0.3 meters in free space. As long as the holes are significantly smaller than that dimension (i.e., a few millimeters), they won’t let in much of the incident wave. This is why fine conductive mesh can be used when constructing a Faraday cage. In practice, the cage’s lid or door usually causes the most leakage. Taping the seam with conductive tape helps to reduce this leakage.
Can you use existing conductive enclosures?
Yes, there are many conductive enclosures that can be used, including ammo cans, metal garbage cans, anti-static bags, and even old microwave ovens. Each has its own level of effectiveness as covered in my book, Disaster Preparedness for EMP Attacks and Solar Storms. The key criterion is that the gaps and seams remain very small.
Must the cage be grounded?
There is a great deal of confusion regarding grounding of a Faraday cage. Grounding of the cage (i.e., connecting it to some Earth-referenced source of charge) has little effect on the field levels seen inside the box. Grounding primarily helps to keep the cage from becoming charged and perhaps re-radiating. The bottom line is that an ungrounded cage protects the contents from harmful electromagnetic fields as well as a grounded one.
Anti-static bags are readily available to protect electronic components against electrostatic discharge. They can be purchased in many different sizes, including some large enough to hold radio equipment. While they do offer shielding from EMP, not all products are created equal. Testing confirmed that products certified to MIL-PRF-8170 and/or MIL-PRF-131 offer the greatest protection from an EMP. The results from testing three different types of bags are provided in Disaster Preparedness for EMP Attacks and Solar Storms. When selecting an ESD bag, consider not only the shielding effectiveness but also the physical ruggedness of the bag. A tear or large hole can compromise the bag by allowing EMP energy to enter.
Larger Faraday Cages
Storing a larger set of electronics might require an entire room. Engineers who work in electromagnetics often use “shield rooms” to conduct experiments because they do an excellent job of filtering out interfering signals, providing in excess of 100 dB of shielding. A poor-man’s shield room can be made by lining a small closet with heavy-duty aluminum foil, covering all four walls, the floor, the ceiling, and the inside of the door.
Overlap and tape the seams using either conductive or regular cellophane tape. There can be no conductive penetrations into the room, or it will seriously degrade the shielding. Cover all electrical outlets, light switches, etc. with aluminum foil. Do not plug anything into the electrical outlets. Also, lay a piece of plywood or cardboard on the floor so that it can be walked on without damaging the aluminum foil. Rooms built in this way have been shown to offer more than 50 dB of shielding up to several hundred MHz.
For More Information
To buy Dr. Bradley’s EMP book please go to Amazon.com. To sign up for his free Practical Prepper Newsletter, Email: email@example.com .
MD- Please list again the SW radio you recommend? I saw you post awhile back but forgot the name brand. Thanks Jeff B…
I have several shortwave radios but the one I like the most is the Grundig Globe Traveler G3 Portable AM/FM/Shortwave Radio. Please share your thoughts and recommendations in the comments below.
My cart itself consists of 4 Goal Zero solar generators on top, and 3 Duracell 12V golf cart batteries linked in parallel on the bottom. The solar generators stay plugged into a circuit that comes on when I flip the light switch. They pretty much stay charged up as I’m in there daily. The 3 batteries stay connected to a battery minder which is powered up all the time. It maintains them on a float charge. All connectors, fuses, etc. are loaded on the cart. I have connectors (on the right leg) for a cigarette lighter type plug-in, and a 2 prong inline connector to provide 12 volt power. The cart itself is a 500 lb. capacity service cart I picked up at Northern Tools.
The cart works in conjuction with a power inverter; I have 400 watt, 800 watt, and 3,000 watt inverters. I keep them all in EMP protection. I designed it from research I’d done on the internet, including YouTube videos. The main purpose for it is to power a sump pump, freezer, refrigerator, dehumidifier, and other essentials in case of a power outage when I’ve run out of gas and propane for my 2 generators.
I have 4 Goal Zero 30 watt solar panels and have built a PVC rack I can lock them into which will rotate with the sun on a pedestal from an old floor fan. It will be placed on the porch and the base weighted down with sandbags. All 4 panels can be linked together and power sent to the solar generators with an extension cord. I can connect three of them together and send the power to a charge controller with a clamp output to charge the batteries. The charge controller is limited to 90 watts.
I took the cart for a test spin the other day. I rolled it out into the wash room where I had access to a water pipe ground and connected my 3,000 watt inverter to my three GC12 batteries. I ran a dehumidifier and water pump off it at the same time and it didn’t even strain it enough to turn the inverter’s cooling fans on. Batteries seemed to hold up well, clocking in at 12.9 volts at the end. I haven’t run the freezer with it yet but don’t anticipate a problem. It’s rated at 5 amps, so the start up draw shouldn’t be that great. I also have 4 portable lamps (heat lamp type clamp-on with shade) fitted with low draw 2.5 watt LED bulbs to take care of lighting.
Antenna efficiency is also a factor in figuring range. Chuck mentions in the article all CB antennas need to be tuned, and then in the comments expounds that ALL antennas need to be tuned.
Natural tuning on any band is two quarter wavelength “elements,” with one being positive and the other negative at various points in time. In a mobile, the vehicle is usually one half of the antenna. In handhelds, the second half is usually the frame of the radio. For base stations, it could be another quarter wave element to make up a dipole antenna, or it could be a “ground plane” of whips or buried wires working with a vertical element. A J-pole is taller, and has both halves of the antenna, as do some end-fed half-wave whip antennas for fiberglass cars and boats.
Each natural quarter wave element is roughly the operating frequency divided into 234 feet. A natural UHF element is about 6 inches tall. The length on MURS and VHF High Band is about a foot and a half. CB is about 9 feet. A popular ham band between 3.5 and 4.0 MHz requires a whip about 60 feet tall, and a dipole would be twice that length. An AM station at 1000 kHz needs a 234-foot whip and buried ground plane radials, preferably in a swamp. A six-foot diameter vehicle roof is a natural ground plane only above about 80 MHz.
It is possible to “fool” a transmitter into delivering power into an antenna that is the wrong length by having transformers, coils and/or capacitors that “match” the wrong length to the radio. A “rubber duck” for a MURS or FRS antenna is wound into a coil shape to make the stubby whip look 18 or 6 inches tall. And mobile ham radios for short wave have all kinds of tuning designs to make them look much taller than they really are. But much of the power is distributed into this “fooling” business and lost as heat, and the percentage of power going into the air (“radiation efficiency”) will be less.
A common CB mobile rooftop antenna design has a coil in the base that makes a 3-foot whip look 9 feet tall. But this makes tuning the whip length that is being multiplied 3 times more critical. And the bandwidth, or the amount of frequencies above and below the center tuning point where the antenna works best becomes 3 times narrower.
Another common CB antenna design is the “Firestick,” which has a wire wound around an insulator inside a plastic coating, much like the “rubber duck” handheld antennas.
We can get “gain” by making antennas certain multiples of natural quarter waves, so that the plus and minus pulses from parts of the elements leave and arrive at the antenna at the same time (in phase), and don’t cancel each other out (out of phase). While this does not actually put more power into the air, what this does is focus more energy toward the horizon where it is being measured, and less energy is sent up and off into space.
A common gain antenna for VHF High Band and UHF mobile communications is using a 5/8 wave element instead of a quarter wave one. This would be about 4 feet for high band, and 14 inches for UHF. That AM station I mentioned probably would prefer a 585-foot tall 5/8 wave “whip,” if the FAA allowed it in that area.
5/8 wave antennas require a coil to match them to the transmitter. They are good for direct mobile-to-mobile or fixed station range toward the horizon, and would be highly recommended in the plains. But the upward center of maximum signal from the shorter quarter wave vertical whip is usually better for reaching mountaintop repeaters when driving through deep valleys. And if that tall whip bends back in a vehicle at speed, the “horizon” it aims at is now off into space. Mobile VHF/UHF gain antennas must remain vertical to get the benefit of that focusing.
By the way, don’t be fooled by dishonest advertising I’ve seen saying a short CB whip is a 5/8 wave, just because it has more wire wound on a loading coil. A 5/8 wave for CB must be about 22 feet tall above the ground plane to get the benefit of the gain.
In UHF, it is possible to have natural antennas stacked above each other on the same mobile whip. That coil or squiggle in the middle of a UHF or cellular gain antenna is not to make it appear longer, it is a actually a time delay so the whip above and the whip below transmit together in phase.
Antennas on the higher frequencies are more efficient for mobile and hand-held operation, since the vehicle and radio frames are closer to a natural length than at lower frequencies. So are the “acceptable” whip lengths for each, as in many cases we have to trade off convenience for performance. I have never seen a vehicle in motion on land with a 60-foot whip! But the lower frequencies “bend” more readily, giving better over-the-horizon performance. With more communications experience, it is possible to select the best trade-offs for your communications goals.
By the way, remember that 60-foot whip for 3.5 to 4 MHz? Chuck mentioned mobile operation with hundreds of watts talking halfway around the planet on short wave. A column in the March 2014 issue of the ARRL magazine (page 53) does several design calculations on various mobile antenna configurations for that band using a loading coil 2 feet below the tip. A straight 8-foot whip with the elevated loading coil calculates to -16.5 dbi efficiency. In layman’s terms, that antenna radiates about 1/50 of the energy that a base station dipole would with the same power. A 100-watt mobile would put the same energy into the air as a 2-watt radio on a base station antenna. A 4-watt CB with a nine-foot whip radiates twice the mobile power on its higher frequency.
Various “capacity hat” designs are described in the column to improve the signal from that short wave whip, the best being about 4.5 db better than the straight whip above the coil. The best designs would radiate between 2.5 and 3.2 times more energy, or about 6 watts to the air from a 100-watt radio. Don’t write off the “QRP” (telegraph code for “reduce power”) folks who use 5 watts or less on purpose!
But what really got me to comment is writing off GMRS as useless. GMRS does require a station license and callsign, as OhioPrepper pointed out. But the 1.5 watt limit that Chuck mentions is the design limit of blister-pack handheld radios that are targeted toward pirate FRS operators. Yes, they do include a note that you need to get a station license; nudge, nudge, wink, wink.
Licensed GMRS radios can transmit with up to 50 watts on the 8 main channel pairs (47 CFR 95.135). GMRS licensees can install repeaters on GMRS, just like business, public safety, or ham. There are certain power limits for different types of stations, and other limits and restricted frequencies near the Canadian border.
FRS was created on the split GMRS channels between the main channels. These were always 5-watt “low power” channels. Seven of these channels are now FRS only, and the other seven still allow GMRS users with call signs to use a full 5 watts.
The downside to GMRS is for OPSEC. The rules only allow unencrypted FM voice. MURS allows digital signals, and has no such restriction. You could conceivably obtain encrypted radios for MURS, but they would be “spendy.”
If considering GMRS, now is a good time to get equipment. As of January 1, 2013, only narrowband equipment is allowed on UHF for business and public safety, but no such restriction was placed on GMRS. Perfectly good radios came out of service because they were older and were not tested by the FCC for narrowband operation compliance. Many of these will go to the landfill or the crusher. There might be some public safety auctions selling these radios by the pallet for pennies on the dollar. Some 2-way shops may still have some that they can’t re-sell to their regular customers that can be had for a song.
It requires software and adapter cables to re-program some of the 1990′s versions, and the availability of technical skills to set up repeaters or re-tune older models of radio, but the initial buy-in can be down into the Baofeng range. It pays to have friends here.
To sum up, licensed GMRS can be a viable tool in the communications toolbox. And the 6-inch natural antenna length means that a handheld radio whip and case send more of the measured power into the air than an MURS radio with a rubber duck. A 6-inch mobile whip is also more covert than a big CB or shortwave antenna.
Note: The UHF band used by hams and GMRS will be absorbed by foliage, and is not as good a choice as MURS for operation on foot in the woods. On the other hand, the UHF band will ricochet off of concrete buildings and find smaller openings with which to penetrate into buildings, so it will out-perform MURS in an urban environment.
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Prepper Communications Primer – What You Need to Know too Communicate and Receive Needed Information Now and After the SHTF
By Chuck Findlay
Choosing a communications gear depends on what a person wants and how they qualify communications. Is it 2-way info, is it just getting info to be updated as to what is going on around your area, the world, how much money, how much time, how much knowledge are you willing to invest? Are you the kind of person that just buys things and plugs them in or putts batteries in? Or are you a builder / tinkerer that loves to know how and why something does what it does?
AMATEUR RADIO (Ham Radio)
Most will say ham radio and it is very good. But it takes knowledge that many people will never really try to learn good enough to be able to take advantage of all it offers. There are numerous bands, layers of the atmosphere, types of radios (AM/ FM, Sideband, HF, VHF, UHF, SHF, and a lot more) and each one does things in a different way and at different times of the day, different times of the year, and at different ranges) And it takes a lot of time and knowledge to make the best use of ham radio. And no you don’t have to use all of them, but then if not another type of radio may be a better choice if you don’t feel or want to invest time in ham radio.
If you need to talk to others, how far away do you think they will be. What will the available power source to keep the radios up and running. Other than QRP (very low power ham radios that is a hobby in itself) the farther you want to talk the more power you need to put into the radio. You can make up for this with antennas and height of said antenna (and a few other antenna options that hams use) Are you a person that is willing to build antennas and then climb a roof or tower to put them up to get extended range, and then take it down and start over if it didn’t give you what you wanted? Most hams are willing to do this all the time to squeak-out every bit of range they can. It’s called a hobby and some of us have it BAD!
Amateur radio is limited to 1,500 watts of power, and on HF (Shortwave) people run up to that much. Hand held radios are usually 1.5 to 7-watts, most being 5-watts. Auto VHF & UHF radios run normally 25 to 50-watts, but are allowed the 1,500-watts. I know no ham that runs much over 50-watts or so on the VHF & UHF bands. HF auto radios run hundreds of watts and can talk hundreds of miles to ½ way around the planet.
It’s kinda neat to be in Ohio and talk to someone on the other side of the country on your drive to work. Ham radios can be expensive if you buy new radios, but there are a lot of used ones at a hamfest st good prices. I see older Icom’s, Kenwood’s and Radio Shack radios that work fine for $20.00 and up. Radio Shack radios being the lower priced ones and Icom being the more expensive ones. But they all work well.
FRS radios are advertised to have a 2-mile range. This is pure BS, I have several sets (garage sales and the Good Will Store buys that I can use for barter) that I have played with and ¼ mile is about the best for any of them. These radios would be useful around a home or a small homestead. FRS radios by law have fixed antennas (Rubber-ducks) that are like 3-inches long and are not allowed an external antenna jack. This makes them next to useless. FRS radios are limited to ½ watt of power.
GMRS radios have more power then FRS radios but again they have very limited range in my experience. ½ mile range. And they cost more then FRS radios by a good margin. GMRS radios are allowed to have jacks that allow external antennas, but I’ve seen many without this option. Again these are almost useless for any kind of realistic range. GMRS radios are limited to 1.5 watts of power.
MURS radio is in the VHF High band (150 MHz range) and use to be called the business band as many businesses use it for around town talking. With an outside antenna and a roof top auto antenna it has a range of 10-miles, or a bit more depending on your location, antenna type and how high in the air it is. These radios are usually hand held and come with a rubber 6-inch antenna on it. But most of them are able to use external antennas. These radios are probably the most private radios you can get outside of ham radios. They have been marketed to the prepper movement for several years.
They are $150.00 and more per radio and you need at least 2 of them to talk, plus outside antennas if you want range. I think http://www.MURSradio is a place to find them. They also make alarm / motion security transmitters that use this band. But if you are handy with electronics you can get a set of them for a lot less. Amateur radio guys have flea markets called hamfest, they are full of anything radio, electronic, and old electronic item that have seen a long and many times rough life. But you can get things for LOW prices.
I bought a set of business band radios with drop-in chargers for $20.00, yes they needed the battery packs rebuilt ($15.00 each radio) but now I have a set of what today is called MURS radios and it cost me $50.00 and a few hours work (I’m weird but I call it fun working on stuff like this) There are hamfest almost every weekend all over the USA. Do a search and you will find one close to you. http://Www.ARRL>org will have a list of them. A great hamfest, and the biggest one in the world is in Dayton Ohio every May. 80,000 people go to it, It’s said that if mankind ever made it, it’s been sold at the Dayton Hamfest. I have seen a German WWII Enigma machine there, this has to be one of the rarest things on this planet, but they had one there.
Be aware hamfest are cash sales and things are as-is. So buyer beware.
CB radio is full of vulgar talk so you have to be prepared for that and keep it away from kids you don’t want to learn to swear like a sailor. You have a choice of 40 channels so you can always find a quiet one. But CB is the poor-mans talking radio. With roof-top antennas and auto mag-mount antennas you can easily get 25-miles (an honest 25-miles) out of a legal power radio. And if you are not so honest you can buy an amplifier (called a linear) that can take your legal limit of 4-watts to as high as you pocket will allow. The FCC long ago gave up on monitoring the CB band so there is almost no chance of getting caught. I would not use an amp and it’s not needed, i’m just making you aware of how it is.
CB radios are available for almost give-away prices at garage sales and flea markets as are the auto mag-mount antennas. I see auto CB radios for $5.00 many times with the antenna. And I also see CB hand held (walkie talkies) for $5.00. I don’t use CB myself as I have a lot of ham radios to use, but they again are worth stocking up on as they are inexpensive. Make sure you try them out before put them away for future use, and the antennas need to be tuned to each radio. The one drawback to hand held CB radios is that most of them require 10-AA batteries so you need a good supply of rechargeable batteries and a battery charger, preferably a solar charger. But almost all hand held CBs can be plugged into an external power source, be it your auto, a free standing 12-volt battery or through a power supply in your home. Auto CBs radios can also be used in a home with a power supply
You can also buy new CB radios at almost every truck stop in the USA, It use to be that Radio Shack had them as did most department stores, but not any more. The 1970s CB craze is long gone.
If you only want to receive and not talk an AM/FM battery powered radio is hard to beat. FM will allow you to listen to stations within 70-miles or so. AM will allow you to listen to stations within 500-miles or so. There are exceptions, but these ranges are realistic for normal people that don’t build long/ big antennas or buy $1,500.00 radios. An inexpensive AM radio will allow you to listen to stations hundreds of miles away. And of all news outlets, AM radio will be the one used the most after TV.
Shortwave radios are always said to be a good source of news. Well yes and no. Shortwave is full of government propaganda from numerous countries and a lot of religious broadcasters. Neither of these give you very useful info these days. Also shortwave is full of a lot of things that are coded (military) are utility based information that while you can hear it, it will make no sense and be of no value. I have several shortwave radios up to and including top-end ones that allow me to listen to things all my other radios can’t even hear. When JFK Jr died I listened to the Coast Guard searching for his plane, I listen to military refueling, Hurricane hunters and the like. But it’s a hobby, not for useful news.
POLICE SCANNERS (Called Scanners)
I have several of these but I have not kept up with them as most police departments have went digital and it’s been years since I have bought a scanner so I have no updated info on scanners. (Maybe someone else could weigh in on the current state of scanning..) But while there was a lot of good info on scanners it takes a lot of time to listen to to get it and being raw data it has to be analyzed and interpreted to get the most use out of it. Scanners are probably not a good investment today. There are lots of used scanners at all kinds of price ranges from $2.00 to hundreds
For news a AM/FM radio will give you more and cost a LOT less.
And CB is the best value for talking as you can buy used radios for little money.
FRS & GMRS are of limited use as the range is very short. I would call them kids toys
Amateur radio is the best if you are willing to put the time, knowledge and like to build things.
FRS< GMRS & MURS all have an overinflated statement of their range printed on the package. It’s always a lie.
Amateur Radio makers NEVER state the range as they are marketed to an aware buyer that already knows what the radio will do and also Amateur Radios have talking range well beyond all other radios made bar none.
PRIVACY and the TALK BUTTON
Also be aware that every ham has a call sign that must be used, other hams will not talk to you without a real one, and you can not fake a call-sign, hams will know it’s not real. And anyone with net access and or an easy to get data CD can look up your address. It’s super easy to do. You will not likely want to talk about private things on ham radio. Or any radio as anyone could be listening.
The Moral Imperative of Spending Your Time Wisely, and the First Small Step: Getting Rid of Cable TV
This is a guest post by SN in Florida and entry for our non-fiction writing contest.
For each of us, the revelation is different. For many, September 11 woke us up to the threats to our civilization. For others, it was the economic crash that we are still in where many of us woke up to found that the major investment of our lives – our home – was worth half of what we paid for it. When that day comes, you realize that the time you are given on this earth should be spent wisely. You realize that your precious time is being filled with frivolity and trivia and that our country is daydreaming into its decline and bankruptcy.
I. The advent of a trivia society.
What are the great trends in our world today? Well, Christians are being systematically eliminated in muslim dominated societies, yet hardly any attention is being paid in the West to this world shaping event. This is detailed in Raymond Ibrahim’s book Crucified Again: Exposing Islam’s New War on Christians. In science, how many of us have heard of the 2005 Huygens probe? We have actual pictures from the surface of Titan, a moon of Saturn. Yet a YouTube page lists only a few thousand views of this incredible scientific achievement. Justin Beiber’s latest video, meanwhile, has millions of views. Our citizens, the guardians of the American tree of liberty, are today wallowing in the bread and circus’s of the mass media.
Our country was founded at the height of the enlightenment by men versed in the traditions of the West. The United States Constitution, the pinnacle of achievement of the governance of man, was earnestly debated at the founding by a society versed in the language of history. Yet today, history is being sidelined and politicized in favor of “gender and ethnic studies” departments and similar political indoctrination. Our most richly endowed colleges are being systematically targeted for takeover by the radical left, shouting down competing ideas in places where the marketplace of ideas is supposed to be the most free. The material wealth of Western society has created this luxury of delusion.
Many of us, whom I could refer to as the “Non-Consenters,” might suggest that we confront the modern sins that have exposed problems in the founding document by amending that great instrument. Perhaps patriots would propose a constitutional amendment that states that in order to vote, you cannot be a beneficiary of government largess. Maybe there is a way to amend the commerce clause that has been expanded by the federal government to such an extent that they can regulate everything. I would love to see a spirited debate on improvements such as this that would move us towards a society of greater liberty, building on the founding father’s great work.
But today, could we even have an educated debate on amending or replacing the Constitution given the ignorance towards history and the nature of man? I am afraid that our current society is not capable of engaging in such a discourse. If, for example, our States called a Constitutional convention to amend or replace our current document, most likely what would follow would be a step backwards towards greater tyranny. Given the state of education at our elite schools, mass media and in our political leadership, the populace would hardly be aware of the defeat of liberty.
II. One small step for man.
Ultimately, we have an individual choice into what we fill our minds with. You can choose your own path. While individually we are powerless to effect these larger events, we still do have the freedom of our individual choices. One small step is that your money does not need to be used to support this decline. A simple step my family has taken, and which I would encourage yours to do, is to cut the cable television from your budget.
All of those radical left cable channels are supported by their bundling in a cable package. When these organizations turn against me, my family and everything we believe, I can no longer in good conscience consent. By participating in this scheme, we are funding the machinery of delusion. One thing that brought me to this revelation is my new role as a parent.
It is one thing to watch gooey, marsh mellow TV for yourself, but when I saw my eight year old son beginning to obsess on the latest trivial television shows, I realized that I was setting a bad example. Therefore, I set out on my quest to rid our family of cable TV.
Our family set a policy of not paying for television entertainment. For better or worse, we accepted that internet access is a necessity in today’s business environment. That being said, the addition of cable TV can cost well over $100 a month in access fees. We decided to leverage our internet access into saving on these cable fees. If a movie comes with a price tag, we do not consent.
There are many other benefits to pulling the plug on television. Television news is incredibly inefficient form of communication. One can read many times faster than listen to the spoken word. Does the addition of Tom Brokaw or Matt Lauer add anything to news content? I would suggest that the media’s cult of personality actually detracts from real content. Further, TV is sensationalist and focuses only on news items that have a flashy picture or newsreel associated with it. It may be that this aspect of television news actually encourages spectacular al-qaeda terrorist attacks. The more spectacular the attack, the more likely a terrorist will get free publicity.
As a side note, I am a news junkie. After the 9-11 attacks I noticed that I was getting high amounts of anxiety, even to the point of effecting my sleep. I went to my family doctor who put it to me this way: he could give me a sedative, or I could stop watching television news! The constant replaying of the planes hitting the towers in the news was creating a constant state of danger in my psyche, resulting in high stress.
Taking his advice, I turned off the television and magically, my stress levels were reduced. The fact is that less television equals lower stress levels. I now limit my news intake to free internet only, and only for a designated hour in the morning. Some of my favorite news sources are the great Glenn Reynolds’ blog www.instapundit.com, www.powerlineblog.com and http://pjmedia.com/
As a Catholic and devoted Christian, my morning news reading also includes a visit to http://www.usccb.org/bible/. If you read each daily reading every day for three years, you will read the entire Bible. Of course, you can choose your own sources of information – just make sure you examine the source for authority and accuracy. I generally avoid institutional news web sites since the mainstream media institutions are dominated by political correct spin and other unknown motivations.
So what do you do with this big 52″ electronic investment that now dominates your living room? If you must keep it, you can provide content with a one time purchase of a Roku box – a cheap device that connects your television set to your internet connection providing tons of free content.
You can take a look at the content available here: http://www.roku.com/channels/#
M.D. Adds : Don’t bother with Amazon Prime if your goal is free moves and TV, most listed there have a fee of $1.99 for each viewing. Netflix is better and cheaper with a fee of $7.99 per month and unlimited viewing. You can also watch YouTube videos with the Roku 3 player and add channels such as CBN, RT Russia and Glenn Beck. And if you like listening to a babbling talking head then you’ll be happy to know that Alex Jones can also be viewed through your Roku box.
Sometimes, the broader culture intrudes. For example, my son wanted to watch the new Marvel movie Avengers. Unfortunately, it came with a $14 pay per view price tag. We reminded our son of our family policy of not paying for television entertainment. We discussed whether he wished to have his allowance pay for this movie or whether he wanted to watch Captain America for free on Amazon. This approach had the added benefit of bringing our young child into process of controlling his viewing habits. Thankfully, he choose the free movie. Interestingly, he has become very responsible with his purchasing choices since being empowered with his own money. In fact, I thought he would miss the television much more than he actually has. It is Daddy that suffered the withdrawals!
I must admit that our one guilty pleasure are the television shows Survivor and Deadliest Catch. Luckily, these shows can be watched online on a home computer without cost. While my favorite television shows used to be live sports like NFL football and NASCAR, I decided that for $100 a month, I could live without these indulgences.
If you really must see an event, there are “pirate” web sites that you can watch these live events for free (in a greatly reduced quality, mind you). When giving up these indulgences, I found that I could let the sports events play on my computer while I worked on my new leather working hobby. Soon, I discovered that I really wasn’t that interested in the first place, and that these things too fell into the category of trivia. Remember that when the goal is entertainment, and to avoid spending money — especially on monthly fees.
III. Choosing Your Inputs.
Once the haze of the television fades, what do you do with your time? This may sound like a ridiculous question, but as a master of your own destiny, you can either make your own conscious choices, or you can let other people and powers determine how that time is filled. You should examine your expenditures of time and make the choices that you determine are worthwhile. Personally, I wished to become more well-read in certain areas of constitutional law and history. I therefore devoted myself to making a list of the great books that had somehow been overlooked in my public education.
My wife has devoted herself to the study of math, first in order to better her career prospects and second to help my young son as he wrestles with increasingly complex math subjects. We have found the free and web based http://www.khanacademy.org/ a great helper and teacher for math and science subjects (not so much for history). You may choose the study of other practical topics, such as black smithing, welding, home and auto repair, electrical wiring and generation, leather working, carpentry, gun smithing, gardening, water purification … the list is endless. Wouldn’t it be so much better to devote your precious time to knowledge that will protect you and your family in the event of TSHTF?
The internet is an endless supply of books, available for free with a modest amount of effort. Amazon prime again provides an easy access to downloadable books, many of which are free. With the video revolution, used hardback books are ubiquitous and cheap. Note that I maintain all of my survival library in hardback.
In the event of TEOTWAWKI, you will appreciate the easy to access nature of a hardback book. These items do not count as entertainment but as informational survival tools. One of my favorite web sites to acquiring used books is www.abebooks.com. It is a great network of used book stores, often mom and pop operations. I have found that they often undercut Amazon used book prices by factors of ten.
IV. A Personal Epilogue. It has now been about one year since our cable free journey, and I can report that I hardly miss cable. Our family is spending more quality time together, rather than staring at the box in a antisocial stupor. We have more reading time, which we also do together as a family. And as you can see by my contribution here, I now have more time to pursue productive projects such as writing. I would encourage you to break the cable television addition. You have a choice.
Prizes for this round in our non fiction writing contest include…
- First place winner will receive – A $150 gift certificate for Hornady Ammo courtesy of LuckyGunner, a Wonder Junior Deluxe grain mill courtesy of Kitchen Neads, a one year subscription to the Personal VPN service courtesy of unspyable and 1 Case of Survival Cave Food Chicken with 12 14.5 oz. Cans courtesy of LPC Survival.
- Second place winner will receive – $100 off of your next order of Fish Antibiotics courtesy of Campingsurvival.com, a Survival Puck courtesy of SurvivalPuck.com and a SurvivalistBlog.net Coffee Mug courtesy of Horton Design.
- 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 TheSurvivalistBlog.net and a copy of “The Survival Medicine Handbook” courtesy ofwww.doomandbloom.net.
Be sure to read the rules before entering… This contest will end on March 17 2014
This is a guest post by Rod Z W0RVZ and entry for our non-fiction writing contest.
Electromagnetic Pulse, or EMP as it is more commonly called, is a natural or manmade event causing over voltage conditions due to high power microwave electromagnetic radiation exposure in electrical and electronic equipment. This over voltage most commonly burns open semiconductor junctions and coils of wire. It happens in the smallest electronic watch all the way up to the power grid. Severity can be mild, such as a close lightning strike, or severe enough to destroy every motor, transformer, computer, and for all practical purposes anything else electrical or electronic in a wide area. If you are at ground zero for an EMP pulse the following may, or may not, save what you have stored in it. High level microwave energy, directly radiated over a small area (ground zero), means you cannot predict effects with any degree of certainty. What survives, survives, and what doesn’t, doesn’t. Only extreme measures with sophisticated engineering will protect devices at ground zero to any degree of certainty. The farther you are away from ground zero, the less these effects will be. This article is for the home DIY’er who wants to protect communications and other necessary post event electronic items from the effects of EMP in an economically repeatable way.
This is a common microwave oven “liberated” from my place of employment. It started burning holes in the cavity and replacement was cheaper than repair. It is perfect for our project. As it sits it is useless, but with a bit of work and aluminum duct tape it will make a good, inexpensive, EMP resistant enclosure.
First UNPLUG the power cord. Now cut the cord off and save it for another project. You will next take the cover off of the oven by removing the necessary screws. I found two Torx security screws on mine. You can purchase an inexpensive set of ¼” security screwdriver bits from places like Harbor Freight. I feel they are well worth the price. One thing I have to caution you about is the sheet metal used in ovens. I found that the edges on this one were VERY sharp. Be extremely careful as most ovens have old food debris in them and getting that in a cut is not a good thing.
This shows the bulk of the internal workings of the oven. It also shows most of the tools I used in the process. Leatherman tool, Phillips screwdriver, ¼” drive screwdriver, and ¼” bit set. The only other tool I used was a pair of scissors for the aluminum duct tape. Now the hard work starts. First, look in the bottom right hand corner. There is a silver component that looks like a can with two red and one white wire coming out of it. With the POWER REMOVED AND POWER CORD CUT OFF short all of the terminals on top together using an insulated wire, screwdriver, or alligator clip lead. This is a capacitor and can hold a substantial electrical charge. It may pop and spark when you do this, but that is good! This means that IF there was a charge, it is now discharged. Do it a few times to be sure. IF, and I mean IF, something in the circuit was broken, it MAY have a charge. In a normally working circuit, it should discharge itself in a minute or so, but always make sure by shorting first.
Now, remove everything you see here with the exception of anything connected with the door latching mechanism. Each oven is different, but each use basically the same items in different configurations. Take your time, be patient, and don’t pry things out to where you damage the internal enclosure of the oven itself. Many parts might have a couple of screws, but are held in place by tabs on the other side. Just look and unplug wires whenever possible instead of cutting them. This lets you study what you are working on, and is actually easier in the long run. Not everyone has a lot of experience with electronic items and they can seem daunting at first. Remember, someone had to put it together, so there has to be a way for it to come apart!
This is approximately what your oven should look like when it has had its “guts” removed. Notice the single large hole and the multiple holes in the grouping to the left of it. Those will be covered in the next step. Please note the wires running under the enclosure. Those go to the motor that rotates the plate in the oven, if your oven has that feature. Take the bottom of the oven off to remove that motor. BEFORE you put the bottom back on (and have already removed the motor) remember to cover all the holes that are in and around the motor mounting area on the bottom of the enclosure with aluminum duct tape.
I am not worrying about covering the holes in the outside case because it would be useless to cover them. The latching mechanism is all plastic and unless extreme measures are taken, cannot be shielded. I only concerned myself with the internal cavity, or enclosure.
Here you cover the holes mentioned in the previous step. I used a double layer on the large hole as it had a lip that sticks out. I felt it might eventually wear through the aluminum duct tape. With two layers that should not happen. The group of holes (where the lamp had shown through) took two strips to cover them. The aluminum duct tape is relatively thick aluminum, compared to foil. It also has a backing you peel off for the adhesive, which is also heavy duty. You CAN peel it back off if you really need to, but it is not easy. I lined up one side, made sure it was straight then pressed down the rest, just like a bumper sticker.
You should look everywhere on the outside of your enclosure to make sure there are no holes into the enclosure that do not have tape over them. This oven had another area of holes on the upper, opposite, side from the one shown in the previous picture.
I also taped the inside of the cavity where there were openings, including the hole where the motor shaft came up from the bottom. Belt and suspenders? Maybe, but aluminum duct tape is relatively cheap, and the only way you are going to see if it worked is if there is an EMP event. That is not the time to wish you had used a bit more tape.
Here is what it looks like loaded with some items that would generally be included in my personal stash. As a broadcast engineer, I will need a meter to check various things, and multi-meters like the Simpson 260 have coils and diodes that will be burned open in an EMP. Likewise with digital meters. I also included the necessary cables for the items. This is not because the cables would be harmed by EMP, as they would not be. It is due to the fact that I do not want to have to hunt for them post event, but want them stored with the equipment.
This is everything I stuffed in the oven in the previous picture. Yeasu HF amateur radio and 120VAC power supply, Simpson 260 meter with probes, GE VHF portable two-way radio with speaker-mic, Yeasu VHF & UHF handheld amateur dual band radio, FM broadcast receiver, and a VSWR meter with cable. I will also put the chargers for the portable radios in before I am through. I did find that with a bit of judicious repacking I had more room in the enclosure than the first photo showed. You might try different packing methods to see what you come up with. Just make sure you are not tearing the aluminum duct tape while you are doing it. If you do, just slap on a “bandage” of the same tape.
One thing I have not mentioned until now is grounding. After study of the subject, and reading both pro and anti grounding theories, I am now leaning towards not grounding items like this. The reason is that EMP has such short wavelengths that a ground wire of much length could easily turn into an antenna. Keeping the oven in the lowest part of your house with as much metal between it and the outside world should give you very adequate protection, as long as you keep in mind the “Ground Zero” warning given at the start of this article.
Considering the cost involved in this project, having multiple converted ovens should not be a problem. When getting ovens for this conversion you must make sure that the seals around the doors are tight and make contact all the way around the opening. The latches should be mechanical only and not rely on solenoids. The latches should also be working well, of course. Broken front glass means the oven needs to go to the trash. What I like most about this particular unit is that I can store items in it, but still get them out without much hassle and fuss if needed. There are many other methods of EMP protection. They run the gamut from metal garbage cans to fully enclosed rooms shielded with copper screen.
One other thing to remember, you cannot protect anything connected to the outside world by antenna, phone line, or electrical power. All of these things are antennas for EMP. If you are actively using equipment, consider it sacrificed if there is an EMP event. One bit of information I can pass along is that there WILL be some commercial AM & FM broadcast radio available post event. Make sure you have a crank operated AM/FM radio protected somewhere. The programming won’t be what you are used to hearing now, but it will be information that you cannot get anywhere else. The internet, computers, I-devices, cell phones and any other device that relies on some type of commercial connectivity cannot be counted on post event. Only the non-infrastructure communications equipment you protected will be available. Another idea for items to protect would be starter motor, coil, points, condenser, and alternator for that old truck or car. Vulnerable parts for motorcycles, ATV’s, and gasoline powered tools could be protected as well which would give you a real advantage in an SHTF event. The theories regarding EMP and vehicles are interesting and well worth research.
I truly wish you and yours the best in the uncertain future we all face.
Prizes for this round in our non fiction writing contest include…
- First place winner will receive – A $150 gift certificate for Hornady Ammo courtesy of LuckyGunner, a Wonder Junior Deluxe grain mill courtesy of Kitchen Neads, a one year subscription to the Personal VPN service courtesy of unspyable and 1 Case of Survival Cave Food Chicken with 12 14.5 oz. Cans courtesy of LPC Survival.
- Second place winner will receive – $100 off of your next order of Fish Antibiotics courtesy of Campingsurvival.com, a Survival Puck courtesy of SurvivalPuck.com and a SurvivalistBlog.net Coffee Mug courtesy of Horton Design.
- 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 TheSurvivalistBlog.net and a copy of “The Survival Medicine Handbook” courtesy of www.doomandbloom.net.
Be sure to read the rules before entering… This contest will end on March 17 2014
This is a guest post by Dan W and entry for our non-fiction writing contest.
General: One of the more important things we’ve wanted to include with our other prepping supplies is a communication system. Something beyond two cans and a string! Should a catastrophic event occur we don’t expect help in the form of government assistance will be readily available. Besides, we are leery and don’t think we’d want that kind of help ……….. even if it was offered. At least not until things have shaken out a bit and we have a better feel for what is going on. However, it will be important especially during the early phase of an event to be able to receive broadcasts (if there are any) to stay apprised of situations both near and far. Forewarned is forearmed!
We discussed just who it might be that we wanted to communicate with, why, and the type of equipment we’d need. There’s a big difference between active and passive communicating. Getting active on the airwaves right away using a radio transmitter did not seem to be a wise thing to do. Better to stay quiet and attentive while things shake out. The time will come when communicating with those outside your immediate vicinity will not be as risky. Until you know what is going on, why broadcast your presence?
Maintaining communications with those in your tribe is important. If we had to leave our compound for any reason it would be beneficial to stay in close contact with those afield. Small handheld transceivers satisfy this need but eventually we’d need to be able to actively communicate over greater distances. A more powerful transceiver of some sort would be needed. We were torn between choosing a Shortwave or a CB Transceiver. These two devices each fill a different function in communications equipment: The Shortwave Transceiver is a long range device while a CB Transceiver is more suited to relatively short range communications. Setting up and using a shortwave system is more complex than using CB devices. There is a definite need for both types of devices in a complete communications system, but did we want to purchase and set up both types? Would only one type suit our needs? After much discussion regarding the pros and cons of each, we decided to go with a CB Transceiver as our main unit. Our choice was based on our feelings that we really don’t need to actively communicate with anyone at long ranges (other than listening). To cover all bases we may still purchase a hand-held SW Transceiver at a later date.
We analyzed our needs to determine what devices we’d want to assemble for our communication station. Our “want” list quickly evolved into a “need” list. These are the generic items we settled on:
- A professional quality CB Base Station combined with an excellent antenna system would allow us to reach out across our valley.
- Hand held CB Units (x4) would amplify the flexibility of our base station and give us roving communications capability. We wanted units with rechargeable batteries and an adapter for an external antenna.
- FRS (Family Radio Service) Band Transceivers (x4) for use around our property (short range).
- A multi-band radio (AM/FM/Aircraft/SW + SSB) would be our ears to the outside. This would have to be high quality, high gain radio.
- An emergency frequency scanner that could monitor police, fire & EMS, plus the Aircraft bands; further adding to our ability to monitor what is going on locally.
- A small inexpensive multi-function AM/FM, CD, Cassette player for entertainment. A life without music is unthinkable, so I consider being able to listen to recorded music a crucial aspect of surviving.
These devices would compose our communication and entertainment system. We knew what equipment we wanted to use, but needed to address the issue of how they would be powered? What would it take to ensure we had enough self-generated electricity to meet the need? What other items did we have, or plan to get, that would also need power? It’s always a good plan to plan for more capacity than what you think you will need.
The only other key items in our cache needing power (either directly or by charging its batteries) were: our Voice Alert Intruder Warning Station and sensors, several Night Vision scopes, the Marine Band transceiver on our boat, and a bunch of flashlights. Only the Voice Alert was added to our “needs power” list for the purpose of calculating total electrical load requirements.
I mentioned a Marine Band Transceiver in the previous paragraph. Let me digress for a moment to discuss where it might fit into the scheme of things. Since Marine Band frequencies are different from FRS, CB, and standard SW Band and since folks in a survival mode would likely be using those more common devices to communicate; using a marine band radio to connect with your friends provides a small measure of “secure communications”. At least it would be somewhat more secure than other methods of communicating over the airwaves. People living in landlocked areas don’t tend to think about Marine Radios and would probably not be monitoring those frequencies. Back to the main topic.
Primary Considerations: Starting with the assumption that there would be no grid electricity or phone system operative, our communication devices would need to be powered by whatever electricity we could generate. We’ve got a large gasoline generator that will provide a lot of juice, enough to run our home if needed. But even with rationing our supply of gasoline it will only last so long. Scrounging for more fuel during the first few months of chaos might prove to be unproductive, as well as a very risky chore.
Wind or water power is not an option where we live so that’s out of the equation. Solar power is an obvious choice. A bank of solar cells, charging a bank of batteries, powering an inverter to produce AC power, is feasible; but I have some reservations regarding this type of arrangement. First is the number of solar cells required to produce adequate charging current and second is the number of batteries that would be needed. Those two issues, plus our northern locale and the reduced daylight hours during the 6 months of our winter cycle (at Winter Solstice we have about 8 hours of daylight) made me reluctant to bite the bullet and put our funds into a large, complex solar power supply.
The ratio of expense versus return just didn’t seem to make a large solar powered system worthwhile. I wanted a system with as few components as possible. The more components there are within any system, the greater the likelihood one will fail; thus rendering the system inoperative. Considering all of my negative concerns, solar power still seemed to be the answer. I decided to compromise; I’d use solar power on a smaller scale to power our communications system. With a working solar power supply we could then hold back on using our generator. This has a positive impact since the generator is noisy and would attract attention. A solar charger is silent.
System Design Criteria: I searched through commercial products to see what was available but couldn’t find any one device that had the features I was looking for. Nowhere was there a solar powered, battery based, multi- voltage power supply that would suit my wants and needs. So, I decided to design my own. I wanted to follow the time proven “KISS” philosophy of design ………….. Keep It Simple Stupid! The result is a system that is based on two main components: A Portable Solar Battery Charger and a Power Panel.
- The Solar Charger needed to be portable so I could easily move it around the property to wherever the sunlight was strongest.
- The Solar Charger would need to be able to recharge a slightly discharged Deep Cycle 12 vdc RV battery within 8 – 10 hours.
- The portable Solar Charger should have an on-board 120vac-12vdc charger to provide one more way to charge a battery.
- The battery used would need to have enough capacity to power the equipment for at least 12 hours out of a 24 hour cycle.
- Two batteries would be used initially, although more can be added if desired.
- Each day (of the use cycle) the batteries would be swapped. The freshly charged battery would come into the house to be connected to the power panel. It would replace the battery that had been used the previous day & night. The slightly discharged battery would then be rolled outside (on the Solar Charger) for recharging.
- The Power Panel would be designed so as to provide easy access to facilitate battery and device connections.
- The Power Panel would supply 12, 9, 6, 3, and 1.5 vdc as well as 120vac at amperage levels required by the devices (Radio, CB Station, etc.).
- 120VAC would be supplied to the Power Panel by three sources: Normal Grid connection, Generator, and an onboard 12vdc to 120vac Inverter.
- All of these DC voltages, plus the 120 VAC, would be readily accessible on the face of the Panel. Connection would be by the use of common connectors, alligator clips, terminal strips and the like.
The Portable Solar Charger and the Power Panel would comprise a very flexible electrical supply system. As long as we had grid power or were using our generator the Solar Charger and the Power Panel would remain in standby mode.
Electrical Sizing: Once I had decided on the general details for the charging station and power panel, I set about figuring which specific communication devices I wanted to purchase. This was necessary so that I would know what the estimated total power requirements were for each device. That way I could ensure my system would be adequate for the load. As I said earlier, I wanted to be able to have a way to communicate via CB, be able to listen to what was being broadcast locally on emergency channels, receive world- wide broadcasts, and play CD’s or cassettes (yes I still have boxes of them). After shopping around, I selected a CB base station by Galaxy, a world/all band receiver from Grundig, a Uniden300 Channel Broad Band Base Station Emergency Frequency Scanner, and a nice little Sony AM/FM/Cassette/CD Radio & Player. Another electrical device that would be connected to the Power Panel is our Voice Alert System base station.
I obtained the amperage requirement specifications for all of these devices. Both idle and operational mode values were figured into the equation. The total wattage needed would be my guide in choosing an appropriately sized battery as well as other assembly components. The Voice Alert Perimeter Defense system (which would be on most all of the time especially at night) draws less than a ½ amp/hour. If the CB Base Station is turned on it will draw less than ½ amp/hour in the Receive-Only mode, and less than 1 amp when transmitting. The World Band Receiver uses less than ¾ amps/hour. The scanner uses less than ¾ amps and the Cassette/Cd player uses ½ amp/hour at a normal sound level. If the CB Transmitter or the Inverter was in use the current draw would be greater: meaning that the battery would need longer to recharge. And of course the louder the audio setting the more current these units will draw. If all of them were turned on at the same time the total current draw is still well within the arbitrary 5 amp limit.
After a search I selected a Deep Cycle RV battery made by Interstate (SRM-27) that was rated to provide 12vdc @ 5 amps 19 hours. It would be a rare occurrence when all of these devices were in use at the same time so in all likelihood the battery would actually be put to use for less than 12 hours a day. This battery was perfect and would work well to satisfy my initial target value of 5 amps. The Interstate battery would work just fine!
Portable Solar Charger Design: Having settled on the major components, and the overall design of the portable solar charger and power panel, I began the actual layout design work. I settled on using a common hand truck purchased at a local retailer as the base on which to design the portable charger. The hand truck was large enough to accommodate all of the components. It would work well as the batteries are heavy and unwieldy to carry around. An additional plus is that the entire charging station can be rolled in to the house for security and to facilitate the battery exchange.
The Solar Power Charging Station is essentially a 20 watt solar panel connected to a SP Charge Controller. The solar panel is mounted on the hand truck so it can be pivoted at the top on a vertical plane. This allows it to be angled so as to best capture the rays of the sun, yet present a slim profile when not in use. I added a special locking hinge that allows the angle to be easily set. The Solar Panel Battery Charge Controller moderates the output of the panel and keeps the battery from sulfating over time. A very small meter was added so I could monitor the voltage of the battery as an indicator of its charge level. To give added flexibility to the unit I added a small 120vac charging unit. A heavy plastic battery box is mounted on the foot of the dolly. Each of the electronic devices was mounted to the hand truck so as to be able to easily remove them. This was done so the individual components could be stored in my grounded Faraday Shield cabinet ………… just in case!
Power Panel Design: The Power Panel is simply a fixed panel that has a variety of quick connect terminals and cables that can be selected and connected with ease. It has two inputs: 12vdc (using battery clips) from the batteries currently in use) and 120vac (using a standard extension cord type connector plugged into a wall outlet). The 120vac is used when our generator is running and supplies 12vdc by powering a standard charger. The 12vdc to 120 vac inverter is also mounted to the panel. I added a switch so I can choose between Generator/Grid 120vac or Inverter 120vac). The inverter I chose is a Power Bright PW1100. It will provide 1100 watts and draw roughly 9+ amps when used at its max capacity. It is not a true sine wave inverter but then again I don’t need one. I do not foresee having to use the inverter all that much, but it’s nice to have it wired in and available if needed. There are no indicator lamps as they just add to the load on the supply. The output connections are all switched and labeled to reduce confusion. I did add a 12vdc switched light (low current LED) to illuminate the panel and immediate surrounding area.
The best radios in the world are worthless unless connected to a good antenna. To complete my communications system I bought a Solarcon I-MAX 2000 24’ CB/HAM Base Station vertical antenna. I constructed a 40’ long-wire receive only antenna. Both are mounted on the roof peak of my home and feed into my office. The roof peak is approximately 40’ high so the antennas are nicely elevated. These antennas extend the operating range of the CB and significantly improve the reception of any receiver. To be on the safe side I also added a lightning arrestor. There are other antennas available but I believe that the ones I have chosen are a good compromise.
Details: Major components of my Solar Charger, Power Panel, and the Communication Devices:
•CB Radio, Galaxy DX-2547 AM/SSB CB Base Station
•Eaton (Grundig) 750 Satellite AM/FM Stereo/Shortwave/Aircraft band Radio
•Sony CFDS05 CD/Cassette/AM/FM Radio
•Uniden 800 MHZ 300 Channel Base or Mobile Scanner (BC355N)
•Cobra HHRoadTrip Hand Held CB Radio (x4)
•Maybe: Baofeng UV5RA Ham Two Way Radio 136-174/400-480 MHz Dual-Band Transceiver
•Instapark 20W High Efficiency Mono-crystalline Solar Panel
•HQRP Solar Panel Controller 10 AMP @ 150 Watt
•Power Bright P-1100 12vdc-120vac Inverter
•Solarcon I-MAX 2000 24’ CB/HAM Base Station Antenna
•Battery Tender 021-0156 Battery Tender Plus 12V Battery Charger True Gel Cell Model (x2)
•Mini Blue Digital Panel Voltmeter 4.5 – 30v for 9, 12, and 24 vdc (x2)
•Adjustable Drafting Table Hardware, lift up ratchet support, sold By Rockler
•Wineguard DS-3000 “J” Pipe support for antennas (x2)
•Coaxial Lightning Antenna Surge Protector LP350
•Hand Truck with air filled tires, $60 @ Home Depot
•Misc. screws, bolts, wire, coaxial cables, etc.
•Custom mounting plate for Charge Controller, etc.
As of this writing the Portable Solar Charger has been completed and works as designed. A “maintenance level” charger is kept on both batteries to ensure they are always fully charged. Assembly of the Power Panel is in progress and I expect it to be completed in the near future. I’ll post information on it once it’s completed.
Below you’ll find several photos on the Portable Solar Charger and a very basic schematic for the electrical connections. They should give you an idea of how I put it together. It’s not necessary to be an electrical engineer to assemble a system like this. All of it is basically a “plug and go” type arrangement with common components readily available off the shelf. You too can put one together and tailor it to your own needs. Define what you want to do, what type of devices it’ll take to do it, then make a parts & components list. Be sure all of the components you’re going to put together are compatible and will give you the power you need. Almost everything I used is available online or at your local hardware store. I did have a local metal shop fabricate an aluminum square “C” shaped plate for mounting the SP Controller and small battery charger. The purpose of the “C” shape, beyond providing a mounting plate, is to shield those two components from the weather.
Prizes for this round in our non fiction writing contest include…
- First place winner will receive – A Volcano Grill courtesy of LPC Survival a $134.99 value, a $150 gift certificate for Remington ammunition courtesy of LuckyGunner, a 60 serving bucket of Wise Freeze Dried Food courtesy of EmergencyFoodWarehouse.com and a Wonder Junior Deluxe grain meal a $219.95 value courtesy of Kitchen Neads and a USB Portable VPN courtesy of unspyable a $275 value. Total prize value of $899.99.
- Second place winner will receive – A Sopakco Sure – Pak MRE – 12 Meals courtesy of Campingsurvival.com, a $98.95 value, a Tatsu360 Tenkara Rod a $72.00 value courtesy of Dragontail Tenkara and a one year subscription to Personal VPN service, a $100 value, courtesy of unspyable. Total prize value of $270.95.
- Third place winner will receive – a copy of my book ”31 Days to Survival: A Complete Plan for Emergency Preparedness“ courtesy of TheSurvivalistBlog.net and a copy of “The Survival Medicine Handbook” courtesy of www.doomandbloom.net.
Be sure to read the rules before entering… This contest will end on November 10 2013
Part II: Survival Communications on the Cheap…or…How I put together a HAM radio setup for less than $120.00 that allows me to talk with other HAMS hundreds of miles away.
This is a guest post by Old Hillbilly and entry for our non-fiction writing contest.
Part II: The equipment-what it cost and where to get it. Frequencies and how to program your radio. How far can you transmit and receive? Read part one here…
If you have survived my rambling this far then you must be interested so now let’s talk about what equipment you will need. If you have ever looked at a HAM radio equipment supplier catalog then you are no doubt familiar with the dizzying array of radio types, brands and configurations, not to mention all the other meters, antennas, cabling, and connectors. I spent a long time researching what I needed to get started and then reading product reviews and blogs to come up with the best “bang for the buck” to get started in HAM radio. I’ll cover the needed items one at a time and at the end of this section post a direct link for each item to the site where I bought it. (Note that most all of the equipment can be purchased from Amazon.com so PLEASE make sure you use the direct link provided by M.D. so that he will at least get a little benefit from your purchases should you decide to make them.)
The Radio: First let me say that with your technician license you are most likely going to want a 2 meter radio or a 70cm radio, or a dual band unit that is both. I am not going to get into the technicalities of bands at this point as you will cover this in your license study…only to say that the 2 meter band is where you will find the most activity….or at least it is in my neck of the woods. Radios range from “base stations” that you set up in your home, to “mobile units” you can mount in a vehicle or connect to a power supply and use as a base unit, to “portable units” that some refer to as handi-talkies, or simply put, small portable handheld radios.
For the purpose of this article I will talk about the small handheld unit as that is what I started with. Prices on these units are all over the board and usually the higher the price the better the equipment. Two well know brands are Icom and Yaesu, both of which offer handhelds that can cost several hundred dollars. Once again since this is an article about doing it “on the cheap” I will sidestep these makes and move directly to the Chinese made handhelds that are sweeping the HAM radio market. There are several brands of these radios but the one I settled on is Baofeng.
I found it is probably the cheapest handheld you will find and surprisingly enough it has a very good reputation! The unit I went with is the UV-5RA. This little radio is not much larger than a king sized pack of cigarettes but don’t let the size fool you! While it only has 4 watts of output power, it has allowed me to access repeaters 50+ miles away which have then enabled me to extend out close to 200 miles away in all directions! As offered by Amazon, the radio comes complete with a rechargeable lithium ion battery pack, an a/c plug in charger and a vox operated earphone/microphone combination. Imagine the uses of a vox (voice operated switch) microphone that will allow you to transmit hands free as well as listen through your earpiece…especially patrolling where your hands are busy pushing through cover or holding/using a firearm.
The radio offers both 2 meter and 70cm band receive/transmit functions along with marine receive functions once programmed. It comes complete with a “rubber duck” antenna that attaches to the top but with the addition of a small adapter (listed in the “what you will need” section below) you can also attach it to any antenna of the proper wavelength!
Now…I know you are wondering…what does this little electronic marvel cost? $100…$200…$300? NO, as of this writing you can get this amazing little radio for $32.98! That’s right, less than $34.00! Don’t let the price scare you folks. I am a firm believer in “you get what you pay for”, however, in the case of the UV-5RA, you get a whole lot more than you pay for when compared to similar radios costing many times more! Before moving onto what else you will need, I need to point out that you may find similar radio’s from Baofeng that do not have the “A” on the end of the model number.
From what I read, these are pretty much all the same…only with small differences in the internal firmware. As long as you order from the link listed below, you can rest assured you will get the most modern up to date model with the most current firmware…as far as I can tell. If you see a UV-3A, stay away.
This is a fine little radio also but only has 3 watts output power so for a few more dollars, go with the UV-5A which has 4 watts output power. Before moving onto accessories, it should be noted that this little radio also gives you access to the National Weather Service frequencies as well as “scan” capability of all programmed frequencies, including many police and fire frequencies. So not only do you get a great HAM radio but you also get a weather alert radio as well as a scanner all wrapped up into one!
If you decide to buy the UV-5RA then PLEASE go to this website and read all the information listed. It will answer a lot of questions and make your use of the little radio much more enjoyable, plus it has good information about using CHIRP. http://www.miklor.com/uv5r/
Radio Accessories; OK, I can hear it now….”the radio is only $32.98 but now he tells us we have to buy accessories that will cost us hundreds of dollars”! Wrong. As shipped from Amazon, you can take the UV-5RA out of the box, attached the included antenna, place it in the charger for an hour or so and be ready to transmit or just listen (if you are not licensed). However, like most things we buy these days, accessories can add a lot more utility to our purchase in making it easier to use or increasing its capabilities. This little radio is no different.
If there is a drawback to the UV-5RA, it is that like most HAM radios, it can be confusing to program, at least for me. There is a manual in the box and there are several useful websites that will assist you in programming. After researching about the UV-5RA I learned that the easiest and fastest way to program it with the frequencies needed to access repeaters or to directly connect with friends or group members is to use a piece of freeware called “CHIRP” for which I will list the link below. CHIRP is in the form of an Excel spreadsheet that allows you to enter the frequencies(s), tone and offset (both required for repeater access) and then quickly upload this data to your radio.
One of the best features of “CHIRP” is that it gives you the option of naming a frequency with a name that will allow you to keep up with the repeater name you are talking to without having to remember the frequency. For instance, the highest elevation repeater east of the Mississippi is located on Mount Mitchell, North Carolina at approximately 6,600 feet above sea level.
Rather than having to remember that this repeater is on a frequency of 145.190 MHz, all I have to do is search the LED screen for the “Mt-Mit” name I typed into CHIRP for this frequency am I am quickly ready to transmit or listen whichever the case may be. The only catch to using “CHIRP” is that you will need to buy a “programming cable” which comes with its own driver disk to load on your hard drive. As of this writing you can get the programming cable and driver from Amazon.com for $7.35! I will list the direct link to the cable at the end of this article.
Another great (but optional) accessory is a plug in microphone/speaker. While the speaker and built in microphone on the UV-5RA work fine, having an external microphone will allow you to place the radio in a shirt or vest pocket or clipped on a chest rig and still communicate without removing the radio from your pocket (assuming you don’t want to use the vox headset).
All you have to do is plug the microphone into the socket in the side of the radio and you are all set. The great thing about this microphone is that it also doubles as a speaker for the radio! I have mine set up as a “base unit” currently with the radio staying in the charger all the time so all I have to do to broadcast is pick up the external accessory microphone and talk…works great. The external microphone/speaker can be purchased from Amazon.com for $8.80. (see direct link below)
The Antenna: I know, I said the radio comes with an antenna and it does, but if you want to get the best transmit/receive range possible from your radio and hit those far away repeaters, a longer antenna is definitely in order. The little “rubber duck” is fine for local use and may even, depending on your location, allow you to access a local repeater, but if you want to reach repeaters farther away, a better antenna would be a wise investment in my opinion.
There are as many antenna options out there as there are radios but I am only going to mention one…the one I have found is one of the most durable and functional antennas on the market for what I consider a very reasonable price, considering what it can do. I am speaking of a class of antenna called a “Slim Jim”. I am not going to attempt to get into all the wavelengths and building or “cutting” of antenna’s to tune them because to be honest, I don’t understand it all! What I do know is what works for me. I am speaking of an antenna offered by 2wayelectronix.com, found specifically at http://www.2wayelectronix.com/
As you will note, it comes rolled up which means you can easily carry it in a bug-out-bag should you wish to carry your radio in the field. The antenna is made from a piece of heavy flat ribbon wire similar to the old flat ribbon TV lead in wire (if you are old enough to remember such as I am), but much larger. It comes complete with a ferrite choke built in to prevent interference. The method of mounting is entirely up to you. I mounted mine between two PVC pipe standoffs on a PVC pole on the eve of my house.
Another consideration is to tie a piece of paracord to the end (push it through the hole made in the end just for this purpose) and then throw the line over a limb and hoist your antenna up! (the higher the better…more about this later) As you will note on the order form, you are given your choice of end connector. In order to hook to the adapter (discussed next) you will need to choose the UHF Connector so-239. This allows you to use a “standard” piece of coax in between the antenna and your radio. (more on coax later).
The price of this antenna is $22.99 plus shipping which will vary depending on where you live. I will include the direct link again at the bottom of this article. Finally, regarding this antenna, let me just say that I cannot believe the difference it makes. Using the UV-5RA “rubber duck” antenna I never was able to access the Mount Mitchell repeater from my home 35 miles away. However, as soon as I plugged in the “Slim Jim” antenna I could access the repeater with ease, being told on the other end that I was putting out a good signal on my little 4 watt $32.98 radio!
Adapter & Coax: Simply put, if you use the “Slim Jim” antenna then you MUST have an adapter to attach it (or a longer piece of coax) to the UV-5RA. It is called a “Reverse SMA to PL-259 Adapter” which will cost you $16.34 including shipping at Amazon.com (see direct link below). There may be cheaper adapters out there but I know this one works, and take my word for it, if you are as radio illiterate as I am, it is very easy to order the wrong adapter. Please don’t ask me how I know. Still, as long as you can find one that says “Reverse SMA to PL-259” it should work.
Coax (short for coaxial cable) is what you need to be able to place your Slim Jim antenna up in a tree or on a mast on top of your house. Consider it the same as you old TV lead-in wire or the cable that you now have run from your satellite dish to your TV. In fact, that cable will probably work if it has the correct adapters and is 50 ohm.
You can pick up this cable at any number of places including Radio Shack or any number of online sources including Amazon.com. I ordered 50 feet of the RG-8X cable with PL-259 cable end connections from Amazon for $28.61 including shipping. Shop around….you may be able to beat this price as the prices vary. If you don’t want to spend time shopping around, see the direct link below showing where I got mine
Now I have it…what do I do with it?
The first thing to do is get the radio out of the box, make sure everything is there, and then install the battery pack in the back of the radio. Then plug the charging base into your wall outlet and place the radio in the base to charge the internal battery pack. Next turn your attention to your antenna.
If you are going to stick with the small “rubber duck” antenna, simply screw it into the top of the radio and you are finished! However, if you are going with an external antenna like the Slim Jim you need to find a suitable place to mount it…the higher the better. Why higher? Since you are dealing with an FM signal you are transmitting and/or receiving “line of sight” so usually the higher the antenna the longer the line of sight distance is and therefore the longer the distance you can communicate.
The Slim Jim can be mounted any number of ways. As said earlier, I have mine on a PVC pipe mount on my house. Some folks put them in a tree on a mast and some simply hoist them up in a tree using a line thrown over a limb. Just remember that however you do it, you need to BE CAREFUL and not get yourself or the antenna or coax near any electrical lines.
Also, try not to mount the antenna close to any large metal objects as this can lessen the receive/transmit ability of the antenna. The manufacturer of the Slim Jim tells me that as long as the antenna is at least 18” from a metal roof it should be fine. Before I forget, make sure you attach your coax cable to the end of the antenna before hoisting it up in the air. You also need to consider a grounding method for your coax. You can go to the following website for some great information about the Slim Jim antenna including mounting ideas. http://www.n9tax.com/Slim%
Now that you have your antenna mounted and your radio battery charged, you need to attach the coax adapter to the top of the radio and then attach the coax cable to the end of the adapter with the screw on fittings. Your radio is now ready to transmit/receive as soon as you tell it which channel you want to use.
Frequencies (Channels): The UV-5RA has 128 channel memory slots available. As mentioned earlier, there are two ways to use your radio. One is called “simplex” which simply means one radio communicating directly to another radio. Suppose you and your friend(s) want to carry on a conversation. You simply decide on the frequency such as 144.320 MHz and then each of you manually inputs this into your radio using the keypad. That is all there is to it! Once each of you has the same frequency punched in, all you do is key the mic and start talking. As stated earlier, it is advisable to have your HAM radio license if you are going to transmit unless you are in an emergency situation or the rule of law no longer exits. If either of these are the case, then I doubt a license will matter much, if at all.
The second communication method and the one that will give you the most communication range is by using a “repeater”. Think of a repeater as being an “automatic radio” located at some high point in the area. It could be on top of a building, or on top of a mountain, or on top of a tall tower. Notice the pattern here…high in the air. Repeaters operate by receiving your transmission and instantaneously re-broadcasting it again at a higher wattage output. Since your UV-5RA is a low power unit with only 4 watts of output power, if you can hit a repeater with your signal, that repeater will boost your signal to a much higher wattage output and re-broadcast it simultaneously from its high location, greatly extending your communication range.
Each repeater uses two frequencies, receive and transmit. If it used only one frequency it would most likely destroy itself by overloading its circuitry. However, by using two different frequencies and what is known as a duplexer, the repeater allows you broadcast to it on its “receive” frequency and then it “offsets” that frequency to a higher or lower frequency and re-transmits it at a higher wattage output. Typically on 2 meter the “offset” is 600 kilohertz. You will also need to know if this is a plus or minus offset which indicates if the 600 kHz is added to the repeater’s receive frequency or subtracted from the frequency. Many repeaters also require a “sub-audible” tone from your radio before they will listen to you…just another safeguard to keep the repeater working for everyone.
At this point I need to point out that just like your radio, repeaters operate on electric current and in the event that we are faced with some type of disaster or societal collapse that shuts down the power grid, it will most likely negatively impact repeater usage. If you are lucky you will find a repeater to use that is powered not only by grid power but also by an alternate source such as solar or wind power. Also, since HAM radio is such an integral part of most local governmental emergency response communications I would hope that efforts will be made by emergency services to keep the repeaters up and running…at least as long as emergency services exist! If we suffer an EMP then all bets are off for any type of electronic communications. Fortunately the UV-5AR is inexpensive enough that it may allow some to purchase two or more to keep in a Faraday cage if desired, at least giving a means of radio to radio communication locally.
NOW, before you start screaming “THIS IS TOO TECHNICAL” let me say this….now you see why I said you need to buy the programming cable and download the free CHIRP software. If you do this, you simply type in the repeaters receive frequency and whether it is a plus or minus offset and if there is a tone, the tone frequency…and that is it. Once you get all this entered into the spreadsheet your click “upload to radio” and you are done! Believe me…I am not very radio literate but after a few minutes of research and a little trial and error, I was quickly programming frequencies easily. Fortunately the software has a “help” menu as well as a website that will help if you have problems.
At this point you are probably wondering “how do I find a repeater I can access and once I find it how do I know how to program my radio (using CHIRP) to access it”? Simply put, go online and search on Google or Bing for “ham radio repeaters” and look for a link to one of the many online databases that allow you to enter your zip code to find local repeaters. OR, do a search by typing in “amateur radio club” and then the name of your (or a nearby) town or county.
Once you find a clubs website, look around the site and there is a very good chance you will find info relating to a local repeater. In that info you should find the repeaters receive frequency, the offset (most likely 600 kHz) and whether it is plus or minus. You should also find listed the tone frequency, if the repeater requires one…not all do. My advice would be to program in several repeaters at various distances from where you live and then start listening.
You can push the “scan” button on the UV-5RA and it will continuously search your programmed frequencies until it hears activity. LISTEN for a while. It is amazing what you can learn, especially when it comes to broadcast techniques and protocols used by other HAMS. It doesn’t take long to catch on! One last point regarding repeaters…virtually all of them are open to anyone that can access them, free of charge! (there’s that “free” thing again)
How far can I transmit/receive? The short answer is…”it depends”. As stated earlier, since you are using FM transmission, you are pretty much restricted to “line of sight” usage. If you live in an open, flat area, or are using your radio over open water, then you can probably transmit or receive 5 miles or more…maybe even a lot further if you are on a hill and depending on atmospheric conditions. I am hesitant to give a specific distance as there are a lot of variables. Let’s just say that your 2 meter radio will transmit a lot further than a CB, GMRS or FRS radio, at least in my experience. FM transmissions from a 2 meter radio do not normally bounce off the ionosphere so you don’t get the “skip” like we use to talk about in the hay day of CB but they can sometimes bounce off of buildings if you live in an urban setting. There are times however that you do get a measure of skip that will let you talk a few hundred miles, so I read.
NOW… where you get the real distance is when you can hit a repeater that is located at a high elevation. As a case in point, I don’t live within direct line of sight of the Clingman’s Peak repeater on Mount Mitchell, NC, and could not access it with the standard rubber duck antenna, although I could pick up its transmissions. Once I got my Slim Jim antenna hooked up I was able to access this repeater easily with my little 4 watt UV-5RA. Since this repeater is the highest repeater east of the Mississippi, it has a tremendous coverage area which enables me to talk with other HAMS located in East and Middle Tennessee, Southeast Kentucky, Southeast Virginia, Upstate South Carolina, Northern Georgia, and Central North Carolina….and all points in between.
As best I can measure it this means on a good day my coverage area can be up to 400 miles from one side to the other! In fact, I have read reports that on occasion HAMS in Maine and Florida have been able to hit the Mt. Mitchell repeater! I don’t know how often this happens but when it does happen that means anyone accessing this repeater can talk to others up to a thousand miles away!
I have no way of verifying this other than what I read but considering the elevation of the repeater tower I would not rule out the possibility. Another example for me is using a repeater located on Holston Mountain near Bristol, Tennessee. Sometimes I can hit this repeater and once I do, I am able to talk to other HAMS located near Middlesboro, Kentucky which is 85 miles west of Holston Mountain and much further from my home. At this juncture I do need to point out that my home is on top of a mountain at an elevation above 3,000 feet and this adds greatly to my transmit/receive capability. Your mileage may vary up or down depending on where you live and your surrounding terrain.
Now, if you wonder why I brought up Middlesboro, Kentucky, if I am not mistaken this is fairly close to where M.D. lives in the “Redoubt of the East” also known as the Cumberland Plateau! Hence…this brings me back to what I mentioned in the introduction to this article being the mechanism for folks in this group that live in or plan to live in the “Redoubt” being able to communicate with each other!
Even if you have no intent of ever living in or even visiting this area, still this radio setup will give you the capability to talk to others in your own area and far outside your area if you are so minded! To conclude discussing repeaters I need to mention what is called a linked repeater system.
I’m no expert on this by any stretch of the imagination but as best I can understand, a linked system simply means that one repeater links to another repeater which links to another repeater and on and on and on. If you are fortunate enough to live in an area that has a linked repeater system then by being able to access any repeater in the system you could be linked to all other repeaters which could increase you effective range tremendously!
NOTE: It needs to be noted here that just because you cannot transmit to a distant repeater or radio receiver does not mean you can’t receive from it. That repeater or radio may be running much higher output wattage (power) than your 4 watt radio which explains why you can hear transmissions from it but cannot transmit to it. Wattage on your end does not relate to how far a distance you can receive from, only to how far away you can transmit. They type and height of your antenna directly relates to both transmit and receive capabilities on your end.
One final point to consider regarding how far you can communicate involves other HAM operators. It is not uncommon for amateur radio operators (those holding a General or Extra license) to use more than one type of radio. While 2 meter and 70cm are most used for line of sight communications (referred to respectively as VHF and UHF radios) another type of radio communications referred to as HF can be used to communicate long distances, even to the other side of the planet!
While an operator holding a technician license is not authorized to use the HF bands, still he/she may be able to contact another operator via 2 meter that does have HF equipment. Imagine you are in a SHTF situation and you need to find out about the well being of a friend or relative located on the other side of the country, or that person needs to find out about you. If you are able to contact another HAM that has HF equipment, that operator may very well be able to contact someone close to where your friend or relative lives and get a message to them or receive a message from them directed to you.
During crisis situations amateur radio operators do this regularly, having specific organizations set up for such a purpose. This is just one more reason to get to know the HAMs in your area by communicating with them and listening. Many times I have heard operators on my 2 meter radio talking about a contact they just made on one of the HF bands, a contact half way across the nation!
Putting the numbers together along with where to buy:
Since the title of this article includes “on the cheap” it is time to put the numbers together. Below you will find the necessary items discussed above, what they cost me and the direct link where you can get them. At this point let me say that I have no financial stake in any of these companies and do not stand to profit in any manner from your purchasing any of the listed items.
However, as stated earlier, if you decide to buy any of the items sold by Amazon.com (which includes everything except the antenna) PLEASE click through M.D.’s Amazon.com portal so that when you purchase he can make a little money on the deal to compensate him for all he does for us through his site.
- Radio: Baofeng UV-5RA Cost: $33.27 (free shipping using Amazon “Prime”)
- Antenna: Slim Jim Cost: $22.99 (shipping extra-amount depends on shipping location)
- Coax: RG8x (50 ohm) 50 ft. Cost: $34.99 (price includes shipping)
- Coax adapter: SMA to PL259 Cost: $5.70 (plus shipping) (shop around on this cable and you may find a cheaper one…just make sure it is a SMA to PL259)
- Programming cable : Cost: $ 7.35 (free shipping using Amazon “Prime”)
- Aux. microphone/speaker Cost: $8.80 (free shipping using Amazon “Prime”)
- CHIRP programming software Cost: FREE
- Exam training guide Cost: FREE
- Sample tests Cost: FREE
It should be noted that shipping is factored in on some of the above but not others. Where Amazon listed a set shipping amount, I included it in the price. For other items they only listed it as free when using Amazon “Prime”. If you do not have Amazon Prime (which requires an annual fee) then by all means, shop around!
Amazon often lists the same item from several suppliers so if you look around you might find free shipping or their own free shipping on orders $25.00 and over. Shipping on the antenna will vary depending on where you live. I think mine was around $5.00 which still brought me in under $120.00 total!
Your cost could vary up or down a little depending on price changes for specific items or the length of coax you need and if you can find it on sale or not. I noticed that some of the prices are up and some down between the time I ordered mine about 3 months ago and now. Anyway you cut it, $120.00 for a HAM radio setup that allows you to communicate for hundreds of miles seems like a bargain to this Old Hillbilly but I guess it all boils down to one’s financial ability. (Note that I did not list the cost of taking the test either as this apparently varies based on where you take it so I won’t even hazard a guess what yours will cost although mine cost $14.00)
I hope this rambling article that you no doubt thought would never end is of some help to you. As I stated at the start, I am a novice to HAM radio and am in no way saying the way I did it is the best or only way to do it. All I can say is that it works for me and I am pleased. Should you have any questions about my experiences I will do my best to respond to them in the remarks section. I am sure there are lots of others here though that can answer your HAM radio questions much better than I can.
May God richly bless each of you in all you do for His glory.
Prizes for this round in our non fiction writing contest include…
- First Place winner will receive – A $150 gift certificate for $150 off Wolf ammo courtesy of LuckyGunner. A Humless 2.5 Watt Portable Solar Panel courtesy of LPC Survival, Sopakco Sure-Pak MRE – 12 Meals courtesy of Campingsurvival.com.
- Second Place winner will receive – One Emergency Seed Bank (stored in military ammo cans) with over 33 varieties of non-hybrid garden seed courtesy of TheSurvivalistBlog.net.
- Third Place winner will receive - a one year subscription to Personal VPN service courtesy of unspyable and a copy of my book 31 Days to Survival: A Complete Plan for Emergency Preparedness.
Be sure to read the rules before entering… This contest will end on September 9 2013