Understanding the fundamentals of radio communication: Is anybody out there?

by M.D. Creekmore on May 14, 2012 · 71 comments

This is a guest post and entry in our non-fiction writing contest  by Tom C

If you haven’t already, it’s past time you added to your survival toolbox an understanding of the fundamentals of radio communication.

We all have experienced a dropped call on our cell phones. Many of us have picked up a home phone and been surprised when that old, familiar dial tone was replaced with a “fast busy,” or static, or just plain silence. Annoying, when the need is routine, but chilling when the reason for the call is an emergency.

When you need the latest news — or at least when you need to know what people who control the news want you to know, while you keep that healthy skepticism handy — what happens when the power’s off, the batteries are dead, or the local stations are off the air?

Can you reach out on the airwaves and pick out the news from the propaganda? Can you get the weather alerts, the traffic reports, the disaster warnings, the government pronouncements, the assembly points for the local unorganized militia?

As the ads say, these days, “there’s an app for that.” It’s called ham radio, amateur radio, or just-plain, radio. Before you can use this “app” though, you need to have a basic understanding of how it works.

Yes, you can get an amateur radio license, and yes, you can buy or barter for the hardware required to make use of that license, but none of that will help you much if you don’t understand the way technology and nature work (or, don’t work, depending in conditions), to get radio waves from point A to point B,

Whether or not you intend to get an amateur radio license, you need to get one book and read and understand it thoroughly. This book will help you understand how radio works, and what is required to make it work. This book has gone by several titles over the years, but it is referred to in ham radio as “the Handbook.” These days, it is called The ARRL Handbook for Radio Communications, It has been known over the decades as The Handbook for Radio Amateurs, The Radio Amateurs’ Handbook, and variations on that theme, but all are the same book, if the publisher is “ARRL.”.

As far as the fundamentals, are concerned, what you need to know to begin working and playing with radio is there in any edition, even one that is decades old. Of course, if you need to know the latest technology in digital communications, for example, or the latest set of Federal Communications Commission regulations governing ham radio operations, you need a later version, if not the latest. To begin with, though, that slightly dog-eared edition on the shelf at the local used book shop, or on eBay, Amazon or elsewhere, will more than likely meet your needs.

The “ARRL” in the title refers to the premier organization of amateur radio operators, the Amateur Radio Relay League. If this name sounds a little old fashioned, it’s because the organization has been around for going on a century. Yes, amateur radio has been pushing the envelope of radio communication technology for over a century, and the ARRL in particular has been around since 1914.

While “radio” has gone from crystal sets and gigantic spark generators to cell phones and digital satellite TV, the fundamentals rules, as mentioned before, that govern the way radio waves work, have been refined and expanded, but remain… fundamental.

A good first hurdle to jump when you decide to learn more about radio than it takes to turn one on, is to realize that you don’t need to be a scientist or engineer to understand what is required to make radio work for you. Yes, plenty of engineers and scientists become radio amateurs, but so do lots of plumbers, housewives, librarians and retirees.

There is no minimum education required to learn the fundamentals, and amateur radio is blind to color, age, sex and all the other ways humans have invented to separate themselves from other humans. A radio is a tool. It doesn’t care who you are, any more than a bicycle does. Like a bicycle, radio takes some practice before you can get comfortable enough to be confident and competent.

The time you spend building that familiarity now, at your leisure, will be repaid with high interest when you need it WTSHTF, and you have far too much in the way of life-and-death going on to worry about Volts, Ohms and Megahertz.

Just like self-defense, growing and preserving food, first aid and a hundred other survival skills, radio as a means of emergency communications is something you need to learn about now, for the skills to be there later. Get a copy of the Handbook. Browse the Web and your own networks for resources, and get to know friends and family who are already radio amateurs, and mine their wealth of knowledge.

Is anybody out there? Forget the phone. Call me on the radio!

This is an entry in our non-fiction writing contest where you could win:

First Prize) Winner will receive a Wise Essentials Kit courtesy of LPC Survival and an EcoZoom’s Versa Stove courtesy of EcoZoom stoves.. A value of over $300.

Second Prize) Winner will receive a Stealth Body Armor Level II vest courtesy of SafeGuard ARMOR™ LLC and a $150 gift certificate for Wolf Ammo courtesy of LuckyGunner.com A total prize value of over $600.

Third Prize) Winner will receive copies of both of my books “31 Days to Survival: A Complete Plan for Emergency Preparedness” and “Dirt-Cheap Survival Retreat: One Man’s Solution” and a Katadyn Siphon Water Filter courtesy of Mayflower Trading Company. A total prize value of $107.

Contest ends on June 5 2012.

70 comments

JP in MT May 14, 2012 at 10:08 am

Ton C:

Great Primer!

JP in MT May 14, 2012 at 10:08 am

Tom C:

Great Primer!

Prudent May 14, 2012 at 10:12 am

Ya know… Is it that I’m to lazy to do the research or I simply don’t have the gray matter to make sense of it if I did?

MD! I’d like to make a challange, request, plee.

A contest or disscusion on a “Standard Set” of CB and/or Ham radio equipment. A Set that is off the shelf, plug and play, schmuck proof comm. equipment. A set of equipment that is so middle of the road as to not offend the purests or we…. non-wireheadtyps. A Set of equipment that can run on a DC, batt, solar system, back up, ups, etc. Simple and rock solid.

Me…. hell, I’m surfing sites every week. I simply can’t sort the chaff from the grain Sir! And yes….. I did read the above listed posts as well!

conmaze May 14, 2012 at 11:20 pm

Prudent,
Ditto – Communication for Dummies.

alikaat May 14, 2012 at 10:48 am

Ummmm…. thanks, but I grew up in a household where CB’s were used between our household and that of my cousins’ homes to talk when our fathers weren’t on the road. Does that count?
There is little actual information in this post, mostly just a description of what a ham radio is. The sum total of what I can see here can be digested in two parts: 1) you have to buy a book first and 2) anyone can do it. Really? Come on, we need more information than that!
First, why is ham radio use regulated by the FCC? Sounds more than a little sinister. How are ham radios different from CBs which were used historically (and perhaps still are?) by truckers to communicate road hazards to each other or to fill the silence generated late at night and between the miles. What steps are required before becoming a radio operator… that is, after you buy the book? Is there a test you have to take, a background check that needs to be performed, some official that needs to interview you to make sure you are not going to spew dangerous nonsense over the airwaves? What technical issues are involved in operating a ham radio? What is a ‘call sign’? Is it like your CB handle, or more official? Why are CB’s not regulated in the same way, or are they and I am just unaware of it because the work was done by my father and all of his brothers when I was a small child? Why all the secrecy? Is the above article thin on information because you are not allowed to convey information outside of the parameters of the official certification process (like the Masons?), or are there other reasons?
OK… I think I am sounding a bit paranoid. Maybe more than a little. Please forgive my tone if I sound accusatory… just really interested in knowing more, and hope the folk here at the Wolf Pack can enlighten me a bit!
Thanks Tom!
Cat

TZ May 14, 2012 at 1:00 pm

Dear Alikaat,
Your criticism of the above poster was not very kind! It’s not paranoid that you sound like, it’s (with all respect) laziness. You want someone to do all the research for you so you can get all the answers without your effort? Although I’m also “ham radio ignorant” I can at least tell you that CBs are for short-range ambulatory communication whereas, ham radios can reach the other side of the world! and your call sign is identification of the caller or station (I’m not sure). As with the telephones, the FCC has to have their greedy hands on regulating it, although the radio uses airwaves and not satellites (I guess is paying rent of space). However, as the personal info you put into facebook, etc., anyone can listen to your conversation!

And the book…like when you buy a new technology toy…and you can’t figure out how to work it…read the directions!

alikaat May 14, 2012 at 4:17 pm

Sorry Tom and TZ (and other Wolf Pack folk)- Didn’t mean to sound mean! Radio communications are a subject that has been on my list of ‘need to research’ for quite a while now. When I saw this post this morning, I jumped right in and read it, rather than waiting until my lunch break like I usually do. While reading, I just kept waiting for answers to more specific questions that have been hovering in the back of my mind to be addressed… but technical detail was not the intent of this post, rather it is a general overview of the use of ham radio as a prepper tool. It was well-written and served the function the writer intended to serve very well. I am just impatient, and if I’d simply waited until this evening and read all of the responses from experienced Wolf Pack members to chime in, I’d have my detailed answers, and quite probably some good links to go to for more sources (thank you Archangel Mike and Ridge Runner).
Again… please forgive my impatience and unintended rudeness. Thank you for the deserved slapdown!
:)
Cat

Luke May 14, 2012 at 5:27 pm

Hey Cat,

I’m a radio operator in the Army and am well on my way to getting my amateur license. I dont claim to have all the answers but i probably have a good chunk. If you would like get my email from M.D and send me any questions that you might have. I should probably know them or get the answer for you or point you in the right direction.

alikaat May 14, 2012 at 10:38 pm

Hi Luke-
Thank you for the offer! I think I am going to begin researching classes offered in my area, or look into any offered online. As for equipment, it looks like I may try to build my own system. I like building things, and if I can find a relatively recent schematic (more than a few years old, and it gets hard to find the components referred to), I will begin purchasing components. We’ll see… but I suspect I may need someone in the know to pester.
Thank you, Luke, for the offer to answer radio questions, and OP for the very detailed and helpful post on getting started. I suspect one or most probably both of you may be hearing from me in the next few months.
I love starting new projects! Now, if I could only find a good hour to make my green tea soap from last weekend…
Cat

Encourager May 22, 2012 at 3:40 pm

Luke, can’t you share with all of us????

SurvivorDan May 15, 2012 at 9:31 am

alikaat: I too was a bit put off by the tone of your earlier comment. But your explanation and gracious apology reaffirms my opinion of most of the pack members as positive helpful folk.

My local prepper friend and I have discussed the topic of ham radio use many times. We live 15 miles apart and the CBs are limited. May be time to do something about it. Thanks Tom C

axelsteve May 15, 2012 at 10:50 am

I have always liked idea of ham radio. I do though kinda have a learning disabilty ,when it comes to math and science and things that I do not care about,the metric system as an example.Or some things that I am offended about ,the metric system as an example.I know that electricity can harm me more than I can it so I am pretty careful around it.I always worry about opsec and a big a$$ antenna on your property .

SurvivorDan May 15, 2012 at 4:14 pm

I seem to recall that my grandfather had wires inside his attic for his ham radio. There were 2 wires running to an outbuilding as well. No big antenna. I could be wrong.

Ridge Runner May 14, 2012 at 1:39 pm

Hi Cat,
Amateur Radio isn’t a secret, it’s a science and a service. Much of what you will learn when you study for your amateur license is the science of radio as well as the many ways Hams provide a service to their communities. Just like CB provides a service to long distance truckers, amateur radio provides emergency and health and welfare communications to towns and nations when all other forms of communication have failed. Actually the Citizens Band was once the Ham 11 meter band, before it was given over to general public use years ago. Most of the ham operators I’ve known over the years are very caring and service minded individuals. When I got my first license years ago, I was proud and happy to become a part of such a world wide service. You should consider it. Seriously. Oh yeah, and did I mention that it’s kinda fun too..

73 (means “so long and take care”)… Ridge

Archangel Mike May 14, 2012 at 2:35 pm

I’m working towards my amateur radio license (i.e. I have a 2-meter transceiver but too lazy to actually schedule the test) and recently purchased my first CB for my truck.

Essentially CB is unlicensed radio frequency with a limit on output wattage (4 watts, anything more is illegal). You adopt a “handle” which isn’t an official call sign.

Also in this unlicensed category is FRS (those .5 watt bubble pack handhelds at Walmart) and MURS (higher end equipment with less radio traffic and greater distance than FRS/GRMS).

GRMS does require a family license (no test, $85, valid 5 years) for use of that spectrum (maximum 5 watts?). These radios are also available at your local store. They share spectrum with FRS channels 1-14.

To really transmit across distances (no license needed to just listen) you need a ham license. There are several classes of Ham radio licenses. These do require a multiple choice test and is valid for 10 years. No government interview. Most people study the test bank of questions to learn to pass the test, though that is just the beginning of what you need to know.

Topics include general radio frequency knowledge, limits of what you can do in your class, and antenna safety. Yes, you can electrocute yourself if you don’t understand what you’re doing OR piss off your violent neighbor who can’t watch football on their TV because you didn’t ground some of your radio equipment.

In a true emergency, you can transmit on amateur radio without a license. There is always someone listening as most Hams are part of some emergency response team. These are the people that deploy in and around disaster areas where normal communication is out. Joining and participating with these groups goes a long way with skill sets needed for post-SHTF.

Recommendation is to start your group communication preps is with a cheap CB and a removable magnetic mount antenna that won’t scratch your car roof. If you want better distance, then you need to invest in better antennas before you spend money on your radio. Also, you need to tune your antenna to your CB radio with a SWR meter. Some CBs have it built in, or you can buy a separate one.

Great prepper overview of communications – https://practicalprepping.wordpress.com/2010/04/04/communications-during-emergency-situations-like-wtshtf/

Best place to start with CB is – http://www.thesurvivalpodcast.com/cb-practical-prep-with-clay-vitis

Best place to start with Ham is an experienced friend (AKA Elmer). Look for a local radio club and the ARRL website – http://www.arrl.org/licensing-education-training

OhioPrepper May 14, 2012 at 8:00 pm

Cat & all,

I’ve been an amateur operator for more than 30 years, and the hobby/service and the license have gotten easier over the years. There were once 6 classes of license with each one requiring more technical knowledge and a knowledge of Morse code as higher speeds for the higher license classes. There are now only three classes of no cost licenses, none of which require a Morse code component, although Morse is still the most efficient and reliable way to communicate.

Other communications services like Citizens Band, FRS and GMRS, are considered “Appliance Services”, meaning, that someone with little or no technical expertise can purchase the equipment, connect it, and be on the air; however, there are rather severe limitations on frequencies (generally channelized) and power. These services all have their place, and their limitations.

The Amateur service is a much more wide open arena. The testing is done to ensure that people in the service have a basic understanding of radio communications, frequencies, power, and the potential dangers that some of the equipment can expose you to. We have a plethora of frequency bands the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of channels, and are allowed power in many cases up to 1000 watts or more, compared to the 4 watts of the CB service. Additionally we have operating modes far beyond those of the other civilian services, such as CW (Morse Code), to AM and Sideband (also available on CB), FM (used by FRS and GMRS) plus a host of digital modes. We also have a constellation of satellites (The OSCARS, Orbiting Satellite Carrying Amateur Radio) in orbit which can allow specific long range communications, and have specific long range techniques like meteor scatter and moon bounce. Most communities have one or more repeaters, which receive a local signal on one frequency and repeat it on another frequency at higher power, and generally with an antenna having a higher profile; which lets that little hand held 0.5 to 5 watt handy talkie (aka walkie talkie) communicate over distance. And more recently, we have amateur radio linked over the internet, allowing operators in one place to run radios from way across the country, or to link a repeater in one region to one in another region.

Amateur radio is a hobby, an emergency communications tool, a national asset, and a lot of fun. Unlike the other services, you can build your own equipment from scratch (as I did with my first equipment) or buy equipment starting at $100 and well over $5000. There is truly something for everyone in this service.

As for Prudents comments of a suggested set of radio equipment, that would be as hard and controversial as defining the proper survival firearms battery. It depends on your interests, your technical ability, and your finances, just like firearms.

Here is a link to a list of the frequencies available to amateurs; and although this chart still lists some of the old Amateur classes, does give a good representation of the frequencies available. http://www.arrl.org/files/file/Regulatory/Band%20Chart/Hambands_color.pdf

Each of the license classes has a test made up of selections of predefined questions from a question pool. Here are the pool questions: http://www.arrl.org/question-pools

Hope this helps, and BTW the ARRL handbook of nearly any edition is a great reference to get started.
73’s (Best Regards), OP

farmmomwannabe May 14, 2012 at 10:02 pm

Ohio Prepper,
Super job of explaining Amateur Radio! You gave me an excellent review of material long forgotten. I’ve been a ham for so long I have a KA call, have been inactive for over 20 years, but maintain the license. It may be time to renew interest!

OhioPrepper May 14, 2012 at 10:58 pm

farmmomwannabe,
A KA call here also.

alikaat May 14, 2012 at 10:27 pm

Wow. Thank you, OP. Think you’ve about covered all the bases.
As of about mid-March of 2013, I will have time/ability to start a new project. I have some experience building electronics from components (specialized amplifiers for low amplitude analogue signal), but they were completed as part of a collaboration, and I was definitely not the expert on that project. I’d like to build up on my electronics experience with something a little more mainstream, and had been thinking about a weather radio or other simple project. Maybe a Ham radio from a set of schematics would be a slightly more advanced next step.
I have printed out all of this post, and will be filing it away with my 2013 project plans.
Thank you, OP. Between all of you, I think I have a good start on communications. With a prepper group the size of mine, communications will be an important component in coordination of efforts and support.
I wonder if it might even be possible to work something out for the Wolf Pack to be able to exchange information via ham. We are spread out around the world, at least a few members on every continent. That’s a lot of distance. Ham operations would enable a contingency plan in the event that some of our members are cut off by natural disasters like last month’s tornado outbreaks, when we were all hoping to hear back from members we knew to be located in the affected areas. Hurricanes, fire, tsunamis, civil unrest… these are all events that have the potential to affect Wolf Pack members somewhere around the globe. We have become close over this blog, and worry about each other when we haven’t heard from someone in a while. Why not find another mode of communication to keep in touch?
This may not be something people are interested in… OPSEC, you know… but if it were a voluntary setup, I would definitely be interested in participating.
God Bless,
Cat

OhioPrepper May 14, 2012 at 11:08 pm

Well Cat, The link to your lab webpage with real name and bio already blew your OPSEC, LOL.
The biggest issue with Amateur radio and OPSEC is that once you have someone’s call sign, you can easily look up name, address, and even the Long & Lat coordinates.
Truth is, that all of us who post here regularly have probably given out enough information that could be pieced together to locate us. My kid sister is a retired Army Intel Analyst, and that’s basically what she and her team did. Take lots of sometimes seemingly insignificant information, and piece it together like the little pieces of a puzzle. The truth is from my end, I’m not as worried about someone in NY or FL knowing about me as much as perhaps some local folks who might take advantage (or have a real surprise while trying to).

alikaat May 15, 2012 at 8:58 am

Kinda what I figured, too. I have family members with similar military backgrounds. There are no secrets from people with security clearances. And that link… will be buried in a week or so. Didn’t think it would hurt much, as I don’t have anything to hide.
I went onto the ARRL website last night and found pretty much anything I’ve ever wanted to know about radio and some schematics for building one… so this morning, I’m heading out to my lab and will take a look at some of the random components I have laying around. Think there are some that can be used because in the past, we’ve often had a minimum order requirement, so ordered more than we really needed at the time. We have a lot hanging around that might not otherwise be used! I’ll start my checklist today. With the projects I have now in the queue, it will take me a while to get it all together.
Thank you for your patience and sense of humor.
It is much appreciated!
Cat

OhioPrepper May 15, 2012 at 11:16 am

Cat,
If you start your project and have questions that you can’t get answered locally, you can contact me via my link also.
Good Luck.

SurvivorDan May 15, 2012 at 9:41 am

Oh crap! So my reference to to being in range of an M2A1 howitzer from the Superstition Mountains has helped zero in my 20? Moving……..

Seriously OP. What don’t you know? Thanks for the info about amateur radio.

And alikaat: Not a bad suggestion about the ham radio link up. If I can afford to get set up, I would be interested in such a network.

OhioPrepper May 15, 2012 at 11:11 am

SD,
The Superstition Mountains eh? Yep, narrows it right down, and lets me know you’re most likely not here in Ohio, LOL.
As I get older I find out that there are more and more things that I don’t know. Generally, if you want to know what I don’t know, look at the topics that I don’t comment on, especially when other sometimes elegantly provide answers. There generally isn’t a week that goes by that I don’t learn something from this group.

village idiot May 15, 2012 at 9:53 am

Cat, I have 4 Midland LXT114 handheld radios that operate on FRS and GMRS frequencies to go along with a Midland Base Camp Radio(XT511). You are supposed to have a license to operate on GMRS frequencies, so I don’t use them except by accident. This is the “idiot” setup I have. I plan to add at least 2 more handheld radios in the near future. This setup works fine for me, and I’ve used it hunting and found it to be very satisfactory.

alikaat May 15, 2012 at 11:32 am

Thank you for the setup info, VI. It looks like the ARRL site has some good information about setting up networks and there are some required fema mini courses I will have to take before taking the first ARRL course. I’ve signed up for the first one, and so have started the process. Not sure what kind of info they will have on networks, but I will make sure to take extra notes on that section.
It will take a few months, I think to get through the process. Thank you all for your support and advice.
Cat

village idiot May 15, 2012 at 2:04 pm

Forgot to tell you a couple of things, Cat. This system is very affordable as I paid less than $50 for the 4 handheld radios and $85 for the base camp radio. The FRS freq. has an effective range of a mile or two, and the GMRS has about a 10 mile range, although both advertise more under perfect conditions. Either way, the range is sufficient for all my tactical needs. Whoops, I accidently checked the range of the GMRS freq.

alikaat May 15, 2012 at 11:16 pm

Oooops… don’t get caught, VI! That price tag is very reasonable. And definitely more time-effective. OK. Time to re-evaluate. Spend quality time at my workbench in the damp basement away from my family, or buy a guaranteed-to-work, relatively inexpensive system recommended by another WolfPack member…
Hmmm…. I’m definitely going to be building something electronic to improve my EE skills, but it doesn’t have to be a complex system like this. I am just hankering for a project. A pre-assembled ham set will be fine! Maybe that weather radio I was originally looking at will do. Or maybe something with solar… hmmm… been meaning to put some time there, too.
I am going to price out the XT511, and maybe a couple of the handhelds, too. Think I can probably swing that price tag in the next couple of months.
Thank you so much. This is going to be fun.
Cat

village idiot May 16, 2012 at 1:08 am

Cat, I got my radios at C Crane Co. I also got a solar/dynamo weather radio, a solar battery charger, and rechargable batteries from them. This is a great company. I have absolutely nothing to do with them, just like the great customer service and products.

alikaat May 16, 2012 at 4:13 pm

VI… what a nice, little compact set! The little 2-ways are out of stock, but I’ve bookmarked it and will pick it up when I’ve saved up enough for it. It’s not a big base that will be useable for long/overland frequencies (I think), but it should be strong enough to communicate with the different families in my group. We range over about 10 miles as the crow flies.
I’ll put out the word on it. Nice that it has a hand-crank dynamo, too.. though I wouldn’t want to rely on that for the long term.
Cat want.
:)

OhioPrepper May 17, 2012 at 2:14 pm

Cat & vi,
The only thing to keep in mind with these radios is that they offer zero OPSEC. Anyone with a handheld FRS Radio or a VHF/UHF scanner can listen to every conversation you and your group make. This is not to say or imply that these are a bad choice for one of your communication systems, just that they do have some issues of which you need to be aware. I have three pair of the handhelds myself with rechargeable batteries, and all of my MAG members also have several sets. As an initial entry into communications they offer a relatively reliable and inexpensive way to get started.

SurvivorDan May 15, 2012 at 4:16 pm

OP: Question – axelsteve was concerned about having some big antenna on his property.
I seem to recall that my grandfather had wires inside his attic for his ham radio. There were 2 wires running to an outbuilding as well. No big antenna. I could be wrong.

OhioPrepper May 17, 2012 at 1:14 am

SurvivorDan,
No really big antenna here either. I run a Hy-Gain 14AVQ 4-Band Trap Vertical. It’s 18 feet tall, but is mounted to a mast approximately 1 foot off the ground and is positioned to be nearly invisible from the road. Additionally I run numerous homemade wire dipoles that cannot even be seen from the road 150 feet away. When I first got my license more than 30 years ago, I lived in a rather large house on a small corner lot in the city. I was able to string enough wire in the attic and along the roofline and gutters, to cover the then available 5 HF bands. I did not have any restrictions from an HOA, but it’s still possible to get on the air with little or no hassle or cost from the antenna perspective.

axelsteve May 17, 2012 at 10:53 am

That is good to know.I remember house tv antennas when I was a kid and every so often someone would have a radio antenna and they kinda stuck out as targets as far as I was concerned.

riverrider May 14, 2012 at 1:00 pm

i am having trouble seeing why i need it at all, outside of local tactical radios.

Luke May 14, 2012 at 5:35 pm

You really dont NEED it. but then again you dont NEED guns for self defense either. but most of us still like having them around. :) In all seriousness though its actually pretty fun to have them. and they would come in handy if a grid down situation were to happen.

Red May 14, 2012 at 8:12 pm

I’m with you RR, just have no use for anything outside local comms. I can understand where others might, long distance family or friends for example. Just doesn’t apply here, and have better things to do than sit in the shack in a real emergency. Licensing makes no sense in this situation either, unless you’ve already chosen sides (for better or worse).

Give me two handheld VHF radios and a couple Dakota Alerts motion sensors over a 200W HF ham set any day of the week.

SurvivorDan May 15, 2012 at 10:06 am

As to the licensing, I believe someone mentioned that you don’t need a license to have the equipment and simply listen. May go that route. In the event of TEOTWAWKI, I won’t give a rat’s ass about having a license.

SurvivorDan May 15, 2012 at 9:45 am

riverrider: Well…’need’…is the operative term. My local prepper friend and I have CBs and portables that don’t make the range between our homes. So ham keeps the communication lines open. Couldn’t be a bad thing….

riverrider May 15, 2012 at 2:23 pm

sd, roger that. in your case its applicable. the way it sometimes gets put out its as if “OMG, I MUST HAVE A HAM SYSTEM!” . unless it plays directly into your defense plan like yours does, ham is way down on my list of must-haves, right after blackhawk helicopter.

SurvivorDan May 15, 2012 at 10:07 pm

What! No helicopter? OMG!

Ridge Runner May 14, 2012 at 1:03 pm

Great article Tom. I’m in the process of setting up an HF station in the house as we speak. Spent the morning stringing up a G5RV Jr. (best I can do with available space and trees for support). New rig should be here by the end of the week. Should be up and running shortly thereafter. I used to spend a lot of time on 20 and 40 meters when I was living on my boat, but haven’t done much on HF for the past several years. Are there any prepper nets out there? In which bands to you generally lurk? Lemme know. I’ll try to get in touch.

73.. Ridge N3JUY

OhioPrepper May 14, 2012 at 8:13 pm

Ridge,
There is a prepper network “”The American Preparedness Radio Net” (http://theoriginalpreppernetworks.com/APRN/APRN_blog).
I’ve been to their site, but my HF antenna (5-band trap vertical) is in need of some maintenance, which should happen this summer.

BTW , I’m not sure your call is good OPSEC – JG.

Hey it's Dave May 14, 2012 at 8:20 pm
Prudent May 14, 2012 at 3:28 pm

???
As a student pilot, it seemed odd to me that I had to go to the FCC to get a lic. in order to use the radio on the plane I was renting. I could fly a couple of tons of iron and aluminum all over town and all I needed was the ‘rent’. Now if I wanted to land…. I had to have a lic. in order to ask someone if I ‘can come down now’!!

??? the logic free zone of Government….

Still like to have a disscussion on a ‘standard set’ of equip. the pack could be comfortable with!!!!!!!!!!!

OhioPrepper May 14, 2012 at 8:15 pm

We can have that discussion, but it’s likely to go the way of a standard firearms battery, LOL.

Prudent May 14, 2012 at 10:44 pm

That is my greatest fear OP. Please forgive my foolish thought. I believe I’ll just find something that heats up and just listen as the above comments only prove you’re right on the mark.

OhioPrepper May 14, 2012 at 11:12 pm

Prudent,
We could have the discussion, and like the firearms discussions would probably not come to a real conclusion, but there could still be some useful information that could be helpful in helping folks make a selection.

SW May 14, 2012 at 3:51 pm

I am going to have to agree with Cat. I was hoping to learn the steps to becoming a ham operator and instead I am left with more questions than answers. Not saying I’m going to jump into it any time soon… other preps take precidence but it would have been nice to know the basics.

tommy2rs May 14, 2012 at 4:21 pm

Might also look at winlink.org and/or dataoverradio.com for a thing called radio email. Getting email out over radio frequencies. You’ll still need the license though.

Radio communications are one of my weak links I still need to address.

AR15.com has a Ham Radio 101 post in their outdoors section that might answer a lot of questions folks have.
http://www.ar15.com/forums/t_10_22/604477_Ham_Radio_101.html

concrete termite May 14, 2012 at 4:32 pm

I know someone who has a large radio setup. the only thing I really understood about it is that if you don’t have it hooked up right or grounded right you are going to have problems. And if you have ever seen me try to do electrical work, you will understand why I don’t do it. The only thing I really understand about electricity is that when I get shocked it hurts. I think I should stick to something hand held that doesn’t require large amounts of electricity to run.

farmmomwannabe May 14, 2012 at 10:26 pm

Concrete, I understand completely. I have always been an appliance user, not a builder. Therefore, my only personal radio was handheld, but used higher powered units belonging to associated agencies as needed. If you are interested, you can learn enough to get by so that you can pursue your area of interest. My involvement was in Disaster Services. When an area is hit, communications are usually very limited. We were able to relay information regarding personnel, emergency services, supplies needed, number of homes affected, notify families that loved ones were safe, and so on. You can be as involved as little or as much as you want. 73, fmwb

Terry May 14, 2012 at 5:01 pm

Download the Canadian HAM radio manual for FREE as a .PDF at http://www.rac.ca/downloads/racecm7.pdf.
Volunteers of any age can learn emergency communications free through EMO’s Basic Amateur Radio Course. Complete 8 modules (386 PowerPoint slides) that cover the phonetic alphabet, pro-words, radiograms, message handling, log sheets, record keeping, safety, and the roles of Ham Radio workers, to earn your certificate. See
http://www.emoares.org/community.shtml or for more information, e-mail Jim Taylor in Toronto at jim.taylor@emoares.org.

Greygrandpa May 14, 2012 at 9:37 pm

As a 54 year ham I suggest you find a local radio club or find and attend a “Hamfest” ( an indoor/outdoor flea market). Look around town for a big tower and antenna or contact your local City/County Emergency Manager. He will be able to help you get in touch with a local club.

SurvivorDan May 15, 2012 at 9:49 am

Being a bit thick….it took me until this article/comments to realize that I need to make notes in my survival notebook regarding Wolfpack members expertise on different subjects rather than rely on my faulty memory banks. So much expertise. Who are you people?!

riverrider May 15, 2012 at 2:27 pm

we’d tell you, but then we’d have to kill you ;)

SurvivorDan May 15, 2012 at 10:06 pm

Indeed…….

SurvivorDan May 15, 2012 at 9:59 am

Thanks for the suggestion Greygrandpa. There is a local club that does voluntary work for the county during emergencies and I have an appointment to meet one of them on Monday. Thanks again.

Rick May 15, 2012 at 11:14 am

What I’d like to know is which ‘bubble pack’ radios are the best. Currently, my finances and personal needs dictate that small, cheap, and highly portable override the need to be able to communicate cross-regionally. Specifically, if the balloon goes up, I’d need to be able to communicate with my SO, who lives around fifteen miles away from my house, as well as my neighbor, who is sort of a colleague in preparedness. Also, cell service in her area is poor to nonexistent (and we live in New York State!), so the units would be used on a regular basis when I’m inbound. Any thoughts or suggestions gratefully accepted. Thanks.

riverrider May 15, 2012 at 2:26 pm

you could go sat phone. or grms, the right guy can boost the signal strength for a couple bucks.

Red May 16, 2012 at 6:34 am

15 miles is a long way for handhelds. UHF/VHF communication distance is basically line of sight between the antennas. It’s the antenna(s) height above the ground that determines the effective range, assuming there’s no obstructions between them. Increasing the power doesn’t really help, 5 watts is plenty for 15 miles if you have LoS. There’s a calculator for it here: http://www.qsl.net/kd4sai/distance.html

CB might be an option (SSB even better), but still might not be 100% reliable without LoS. If there’s a ham repeater in your area, that might be the easiset and cheapest way to go, and many have backup power. A pair of UHF or VHF radios go for about $150 on ebay. Then get licensed, or google ‘kerchunk’.

Rick May 16, 2012 at 8:26 pm

I lose cell service only about 5 miles away, so that would still work. CB and SSB are nice, but I don’t want to install anything in my car, and the portables I’ve seen are still a little clunky. I need small and light, but still capable enough to go more than 3-4 miles, 5 tops. as for UHF/VHF, I have to keep this as simple as possible for my SO, who is, shall we say, “technologically challenged”. She doesn’t even own a cell phone, and anything more complex than an average cordless she won’t bother with.

Red May 16, 2012 at 10:39 pm

Understood on the technically challenged SO. Joke here is that mine’s an 8-track girl in a mp3 world.

For up to about 3 miles, I get good results from the Puxing VHF HT’s here in the woods overly mostly flat terrain. Five miles might require someone to be on a hill, or a roof. They do have a couple nice features, including voice inversion for a little more privacy (the Plus model), and you can lock the settings so they don’t change if a button gets pressed accidently. One big drawback, can’t leave the radios sitting in the charger for days – fries the battery. Just something to consider. Good luck.

Old USAF Nurse May 15, 2012 at 8:06 pm

Yaesu FT-840 is my favorite. You have to learn about radio to be successful. About the same amount of learning it takes to grow a garden, or butcher a chicken, or maintain a centerfire semiauto rifle, or build a hardened room, or…

Hopefully you get it.

alikaat May 21, 2012 at 2:09 am

Hi Old USAF Nurse-
Went to check out the Yaesu FT-840. As with all good things… this one has been discontinued. It might be possible to locate one on the used equipment sites or Ebay, perhaps for less money than it initially cost. It seems to be a much more powerful system than the one VI recommended above, but with a need for greater space and would need to be stationary rather than portable. Looks like a good set for a base camp or homestead. Good system, if we can find one.
Cat

Scout May 15, 2012 at 10:13 pm

I’ve been educating myself by way of this blog for weeks now and all of you have a wondeful resource built in this tight community. This is an article that I was looking for…trustworthy info about ham radio. Thanks!

Thanks to OhioPrepper too for representing. And speaking of Ohio, I think Dayton hosts the largest ham convention in the states. May have to grab my go bag and make the trip.

OhioPrepper May 15, 2012 at 11:57 pm

Scout,
It does indeed. It’s coming up later this week from May 18-20. I didn’t missed the Hamvention for more than 15 years, but in the last decade or so, other interests have gotten in the way, so I now try to make it there for one day, every few years.
It is a large event, with lots of equipment, vendors, and training available.

Rivet May 22, 2012 at 12:04 pm

Good introductory text. Getting a ham ticket is quite simple these days, so every prepper should really consider getting one.

Adam May 29, 2012 at 1:36 pm

I highly recommend everyone getting their amatuer radio license. Most of my close friends and myself did last year to have a way to communicate in an emergency. We have also built backup power supplies with batteries and solar panels to run them when the power is out.

J. Blackbird July 20, 2012 at 1:42 pm

Hello everyone I found an FREE Ebook version on the one related to this article. If you have a little patience and don’t let the adds discourage you can download the book for free. But it takes a minimum of 2 hours before you can download the entire thing. Once you have both files together then you can unzip it.

here is the link to it: http://download-pdf-epub-mobi-ebooks-free.blogspot.com/2012/02/arrl-handbook-for-radio-communications.html

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