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

EQUIPMENT:

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/Dual-band-2m-70cm-Slim-Jim-Antenna-dual-slim.htm  .  This  antenna is entirely hand made and is of the highest quality craftsmanship.

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%20Jim%20Info.html

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.

Shopping list

  1. Radio:  Baofeng UV-5RA   Cost:  $33.27  (free shipping using Amazon “Prime”)
  2. Antenna: Slim Jim Cost:  $22.99 (shipping extra-amount depends on shipping location)
  3. Coax:  RG8x (50 ohm) 50 ft.   Cost:  $34.99 (price includes shipping)
  4. 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)
  5. Programming cable : Cost:  $ 7.35 (free shipping using Amazon “Prime”)
  6. Aux. microphone/speaker  Cost:  $8.80 (free shipping using Amazon “Prime”)
  7. CHIRP programming software Cost: FREE
  8. Exam training guide  Cost:   FREE
  9. 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…

Be sure to read the rules before entering… This contest will end on September 9 2013

Comments

  1. Very informative. The only question I can formulate is, when you said to leave the unit in its charger, wouldn’t that create a “memory” in its battery? I may be oversimplifying this by basing in on things like cell phones and cordless phones, but doesn’t leaving it in the charging cradle let that happen?

    • Rick,
      The radio employs a lithium-ion battery that has no memry effect issues; however, there is a recent study that shows that there may be a small memory effect, but one that is small enough as to be not generally thought of as a problem, like the Nickel Cadmium (NiCad) batteries.

      • That clears that up. I didn’t follow the links, otherwise I’d have been tempted to buy something. But I do like the idea of such a small unit that can replicate what a larger more expensive setup can do, to a certain extent.
        Kudos to Old Hillbilly for an excellent article!

  2. Thomas T. Tinker says:

    Old Hillbilly: This is just the kind of information and just the proper way of handing it out…. to the non-ham-wirehead. We are leaving ‘town’ this afternoon….. however we will hit MD’s Amazon link and fill this list. Again Sir… Thank U! This is just to do-able to pass up. We look forward to the same approach regarding hf equipment.

    • Old Hillbilly says:

      You are quite welcome! Just knowing that it may get one person some emergency communications ability makes it worth all the time and research it took to do the article.

  3. Great job! Been a Ham for a while and you covered the basics very well. I hope you get into HF and do the same thing there. Would be very interested if you have found any less expensive HF equipment, as that would let someone who has upgraded to General Class license really get long distance communication and participate in Prepper Nets all over the world to keep up with what’s going on. Thanks! : – )

    • Old Hillbilly says:

      I hope that Baefong will eventually come up with an HF rig that is affordable. I will keep looking and if it happens I will post it here! I will probably work on studying for my General this winter and test in the Spring. Glad you enjoyed the article.

  4. Old Hillbilly says:

    That’s a good question Rick, and one that I cannot give a definitive answer for. However, the UV-5RA has a lithium-ion battery which, since it’s introduction the the 1990’s has been thought to have no memory effect at all. However, recent studies conducted using data from lithium ion batteries used in electric cars have shown that some memory effect does arise in that area due to the constant charge/discharge cycle created by the use of regenerative braking. Since I use my UV-5RA stictly in a base station setup it should not cause a problem at least for me. I have left it sitting in the cradle charging for weeks at a time with no problems from over heating. What effect this might have in the long term usefulness of the battery I can’t say. Hopefully some folks here with more “battery knowledge” than me can jump in and better answer your question.

    • Old Hillbilly says:

      Follow-up: I just now checked the miklor website and found that a new updated manual has been created by some US enthusiasts. In that manual I read that it is NOT recommended that the radio be left in the charger after it is fully charged to avoid over-heating of the battery. No mention is made of any memory effect.
      As stated above, I have left mine in for weeks at a time and have never had it over-heat but that does not mean it can’t! Use your own judgement and be careful. If you charge it and remove it from the cradle when the green charging light comes on then you have no problems.
      Here is a link to the new manual.
      http://www.miklor.com/uv5r/pdf/uv-5r_v1.0-annotated_by_KC9HI.pdf
      Thanks to Rick for getting me to thinking about this! All comments are truly appreciated as they help ALL of us learn.

      • I responded to Ohio Prepper’s reply before yours. Even with that limitation, it still seems like a very workable unit, especially to a poor broke fella like me. Good job, sir.

    • There is a battery adapter for this radio that allows one to use 6 AA batteries to power it instead of using the rechargeable battery pack that comes with it. Not sure if this allows the use of rechargeable AA batteries though.

      • Old Hillbilly says:

        Thanks Dan. That would be a GREAT accessory to have! They also make a battery eliminator that allows you to plug directly into a car cigarette light socket. It is basically a plastic housing shaped like the battery with a cigarette lighter plug on the end.

        • charlie (NC) says:

          Old Hillbilly, I would think that battery eliminator would be a must have accessory. That way you could buy extra battery packs and keep them, charged and stored and recharged on a rotation while you use the radio with the eliminator. Then in a bug out situation you could grab the radio and battery packs and head out.

          • Old Hillbilly says:

            My thoughts exactly Charlie! I need to get one on order as well as at least one spare battery pack. My experience thus far is that the batteries hold a charge well.

  5. Great write up! My brother and I, who lives 100+ plus miles away, have been looking for a good Ham set up to start out with. I have been looking at a set up like this for awhile but you have REALLY helped confirm and get me started in the right direction quicker! Thanks for all the hard work and willingness to share!

    • Old Hillbilly says:

      You are quite welcome Sir. I hope it works out for you. I would love to hear your and your brother’s experiences in communicating if you go this route! If you have a repeater in between the two of you then I would think you would have no problems…depending on the terrain around where you live naturally. Even without a repeater you may well be able to commuicate usig this setup, but there again it depends on the terrain and elevation of your antennas.

  6. Very timely article.

    In June I bought a UV5RA, a spare battery, and the computer cable. It’s still in the box as it is one of several projects for the winter.

    Now I have 2 articles and a new user guide to go in the can with it.

    Thanks.

  7. Wow! Great post!! Thanks! This is some VERY useful information. How do I vote for this in the writing contest?

    • Old Hillbilly says:

      Thanks for the compliment Dan. I have no clue how the contest works. MD just asked me to write about my HAM experience so that is what I did and then I emailed it to him. I hope it is of use to folks. It has worked for me!

  8. Old HillBilly:

    Thanks for a great article! I’ve been interested in HAM for a while but never knew what to buy or even get started. The information you provided is not only helpful but it pushes that button that makes you want to go out right now and buy your equipment (to only listen until you pass the test of course). The one thing you didn’t put in the article, at least I didn’t see it, was your call-sign.

    • Old Hillbilly says:

      Glad the article was of use to you! As we discussed in Part I comments, if one posts their call sign online then anyone can quickly look up their location. So for OPSEC reasons I omitted it.

  9. Ron Howard ( Not that one!) says:

    Quick question, I am completely new to the HAM radio world and recently bought the BaoFeng UV-5R, can you tell me what is the difference between the BaoFeng UV-5R 136-174/400-480 MHz Dual-Band DTMF CTCSS DCS FM Ham Two Way Radio
    and the one you mentioned:
    Baofeng UV-5RA Two-Way Radio, Dual band UHF/VHF Ham 136-174/400-520MHz Transceiver
    Thanks

    • Old Hillbilly says:

      Taken from the miklor site:

      The UV-5R is a generic transceiver. There are various models available, such as UV5R, RA, RB, RC, RE, RUU, R+, Mk II, etc.

      Other than Case and Color, they are the same radio. (rebranded)
      If you have the newest firmware, you have the newest radio.

      The question remains: How can I determine the firmware release of my UV5R ?

      Display Firmware

      1) Power the radio OFF.
      2) Press and Hold the 3 key.
      3) Power the radio ON.

      The display will show BFB – – – This is the Firmware release.

      To see a list of the firmware releases go to this site:
      http://www.miklor.com/uv5r/UV5R-Firmware.html

      Hope this helps. Glad you are NOT that Ron Howard! 8-)

      • Ron Howard (Not that One!) says:

        Old Hillbilly,

        Thanks for pointing me in the right direction, I went to the website and learned plenty which is great and also thanks for Part 2 which has been very timely.
        I just like others had been waiting on this to get posted. Great job.

    • Ron,
      Based on the description of the two radios, it appears that one of them covers about 40MHz of spectrum that the other one does not. In any case, that spectrum from 480-520 is not in a ham band, and other than listening to determine if something is using those frequencies, both radios would be essentially the same.

      • Old Hillbilly says:

        If you look at the miklor link I listed above I think it shows that one of the firmware upgrades expanded the MHz spectrum.

      • Ron Howard (Not that One!) says:

        Thanks OhioPrepper.
        I was beginning to wonder if I would have to send the UV-U5R back and get the UV-5RA. At this point I’m just excited to begin this journey after so many years of putting it off. I hope to get my Liscense/Permit this winter, I also begin training as a CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) member this weekend which will give me new areas of training as well as updated training in areas that need refreshing. I wouldn’t have known about this type of training if it wasn’t for a comment on this site recommending to get involved with community emergency training. Kudos to everyone here!!!

  10. Excellent posts (parts 1 &2). Very informative and surely this info will be printed out many times to be used as a future reference. I have had a tendency to be negative regarding Ham communications (for a multitude of reasons) but, after reading your posts, will give my position some further review. Thanks for sharing the info.

  11. Once again you have done a great job. I have sent a link to a friend I have been trying to get into harm radio in hopes you will succeed where I have failed. I might add that Yaesu makes a great portable all mode rig called the FT-817ND. Here is a link http://www.yaesu.com/indexVS.cfm?cmd=DisplayProducts&ProdCatID=102&encProdID=06014CD0AFA0702B25B12AB4DC9C0D27&DivisionID=65&isArchived=0
    It isn’t cheap but in a SHTF situation it could come in very handy. Once again, a superb article.

    • MSgt,
      The only downside of the 817 is that it is low power (5 watts); however, that can easily be corrected with an amplifier. The excellent coverage of that radio has it on my wish list, and I someday hope to add one to the shack.

      • Old Hillbilly says:

        Any suggestions on another similar radio with higher wattage output already built in? Yaesu makes good stuff!

        • Old Hillbilly,
          I don’t know of any other radio with the frequency coverage and higher power, but since I haven’t been looking exhaustively for a new radio, there could be something out there. When a new radio rises on my list and meets the available funding, then I will look again before buying the Yaesu FT-817.

          The 817 can receive from: 100 kHz-30 MHz , 50 MHz-54 MHz , 76 MHz-108 MHz (WFM only), 108-154, 144 MHz-148 MHz, 430 -450 MHz

          And can transmit from: 160-6 Meters, 2 Meters, 70 Centimeters, 5.1675 MHz Alaska Emergency Frequency (USA only).

          Most modern transceivers have transmit power in the 100 watt range and generally cover the 500 KHz to 30 MHz frequency range with AM, FM, CW, LSB, and USB. Since the Baofeng already covers the VHF and UHF ranges, you could get similar coverage to the FT-817 using it along with nearly any brand name HF transceiver, minus the 6 meter band (50-54 MHz).

          The transceiver I currently use is a Kenwood TS-430S which I purchased new, nearly 30 years ago, and so far, it’s still ticking. I have friends who have the later version of this radio (TS-440S and TS-450S) which have computer control, more memory channels, and a built in antenna tuner. Yaesu also makes a line of good HF transceivers. When you’re ready to buy, look at the major amateur radio online sellers, like Amateur Electronic Supply (http://aesham.com) to see what is available and the price range. Then look for reviews online and at places like eHam (http://www.eham.net/) and QRZ (http://qrz.com), and finally look for the best price on your new radio, including deals on older radios on places like eBay and The Ham Radio Classified Ads site (http://swap.qth.com/). This will most likely be a larger search, with more options available, and may end up being limited only by your budget.

          One very nice thing about HF operations is that the bulk of the antennas can be homebrew, generally using nothing more than wire, insulators, and string.

          For your amateur radio bookshelf, I highly recommend the ARRL Handbook and the ARRL Antenna book.

          Finally, the upside of miniaturization is the low cost of excellent equipment like the Baofeng; however, the downside IMO is that the homebrew, build your own radio from scratch or from a kit from places like Heathkit are nearly gone. Although there are a few small kit manufacturers still around, the knowledge, skill, and sense of accomplishment one gets from constructing and operating your own equipment, is something that I think has been a real loss to the hobby.

          Good luck and 73’s

          • Old Hillbilly says:

            Thanks OP ! The 817 sounds like one to definitely keep my eye on. I read online about it and it has good reviews. I did some looking at the http://www.409.com site and apparently Baefong only makes the 2 meter and 70 cm handhelds right now….no low priced HF rigs that I could find. I have a Yaesu FT-2900 2 meter with a max output of 75 watts that is doing a fine job. Got it for $134 bottom line after rebate! I have heard lots of good things about Kenwood. I agree totally about the loss of “build it yourself” as not being a good thing for the hobby. I bought a little 25 watt Heathkit amplifier for my Baefong from the online swap site you mentioned but haven’t tried it yet. Didn’t know Heathkit was out of business until I did a little research on it. Thanks again for all your great imput….it is much appreciated.
            73’s back to you.

  12. Been waiting for part 2 with gusto. FANTASTIC write up all around. I received the Baofeng the day part 1 was published. Now part 2 fills in a lot of pieces for me, THANKS Old Hillbilly !
    As a newb to prepping and on a tight budget this info will really pay off for me.

  13. Old Hillbilly,

    Great write up for a more simple description of how to get started, and how repeaters work. I thought of a couple of points from this article and the comments.

    1. Like Dan said, for a grid-down situation, I feel it is important to choose a handheld that has an accessory AA pack option. With handheld batteries, more than with anything else, “Two is one, and one is none.”

    Using rechargeable battery packs, I ideally would prefer to follow a 3-pack rule, but currently I only have one or at most two. With 3 packs, one is in use on the radio, one is fully charged in your pocket or pack, and the third sits in a slow charger getting topped up.

    Even with that many battery packs, being able to go into a gas station or drugstore and get back on the air with AA cells may one day be very important. Standardizing all your preps to AA and having a stash is a very good idea. Watching finances with disaster in mind, I would buy the AA “clamshell” before buying a spare rechargeable pack.

    p.s. To answer Dan’s question, I would only use rechargeable flashlight cells in a “clamshell” in an real emergency, not as standard practice. Rechargeable cells are nominally 1.0 to 1.2 volts/cell, while new alkalines are 1.5+ volts/cell. Some radios may shut down on low voltage with a clamshell of fully-charged rechargeable cells, thinking they are protecting their regular battery packs from damage. You might only get a few minutes’ use on a full charge, depending on the radio.

    On the other hand, the clamshell input may go to a separate un-protected pin in the radio, designed to run disposable flashlight batteries down to destruction. The radio might destroy your expensive rechargeable cells. You would have to test and see how your particular handheld reacts.

    2. Don’t depend that even the best designed and maintained repeater will always be there WTSHTF. We have done drills to see who can hear each other on direct, and made a mental list of who can hear most everybody and can be used as a relay, and who cannot hear each other and need to use a relay between them. This is similar to your passing messages from handheld to shortwave, but it can also be handheld-to-handheld or base-to-base.

    3. Don’t fall in love with the speaker-mike/radio in pocket arrangement when transmitting. You can keep your radio in your pocket or chest rig for receiving, for as you pointed out, the repeater transmitters run more power than you do, usually 25 to 110 watts. But if you try and make or answer a call with the radio and antenna still on your chest or belt, you are usually putting roughly one watt towards the repeater, and 3 watts into your body. That’s OK for close-in comms where you have un-needed power, but not for reaching any distance.

    The city guys you see using shoulder mikes on “COPS” all the time usually have a base receiver every 10 blocks or so. In other cases the rubber duck may be on a special speaker-mike, not on the radio. They are not succeeding in talking 35 miles from an antenna on the hip.

    Where the speaker-mikes shine can for transmitting is two places. The first is when hiking, by pre-setting the frequency and volume, putting the radio in the top of your backpack, and hanging the speaker-mike over your shoulder strap. Especially on short-wave, Hams often have built military-style whips coming out of the top of their pack frames.

    The absolute most efficient way to get distance using a portable with it’s antenna on top is to hold the radio up and away from your body at arm’s length with one hand, and hold the speaker mike near your lips with the other. This way, 100% of the signal will be going to the air, even more than holding the radio up to your lips.

    4. You mentioned using your roll-up antenna for more signal gain. Another addition to your set-up should be a mobile whip with a magnetic base that would connect to the radio with the same adapter.

    5. You have advised people to “stay away” from a 3-watt version of the radio. As you have learned with your antenna swaps, it is not just transmitter power that gets out, but your overall system’s power into the air, or Effective Radiated Power. This is the power out of the radio’s antenna jack, minus the loss in the antenna cable, plus the “gain” of the antenna in use.

    There is nothing wrong in general with a 3-watt radio, unless you know the model you mentioned is a poor design. Three watts is only 1 db below four watts, yet it will give 33% longer transmit time on the same battery pack. In a grid-down situation, instead of 4-watt radio with a rubber duck, I would choose a 1-watt radio (6 db less power) with a good gain antenna, and enjoy 300% more talk time. Most high-power handhelds also have a low-power setting that will do this and conserve battery power.

    A full-sized whip is only about 6 inches on 440 MHz, and 19 inches on 2 meters. Longer and less convenient high-performance whips are available for use when walking, but the unroll-and-hoist style that you own beats them for temporary stops. Adding a magnet mount whip to put on a vehicle, refrigerator, window air conditioner, or filing cabinet finishes out the kit. I have talked clearly over 65 miles to a 3000-foot repeater with one watt using a 19-inch magnetic whip on a car roof.

    For reference, measuring a tone 12 db above the noise level is a standard test for weak signal reception performance. On voice that would be is 100% readable by anyone, with a little bit of popping noise behind it. Voice that is 6 db above the noise on FM can be understood by most hams and many “civilians,” even though there will be steady background noise. Some serious operators, especially wearing headphones, may be able to understand voice that is only 3 db above the noise by asking for multiple repeats.

    A 1 db drop from 4 watts to 3 watts would make no perceptible difference to almost all listeners. And increasing your signal 1 db from 3 watts to 4, or 4 watts to 5, isn’t going to make an unreadable signal pop up out of the noise.

    An old rule of thumb is that it takes 10 times the power to the same antenna (4 watts to 40 watts) to talk twice as far in any direction. That is because the extra power needs to talk twice as far in all 360 directions at once.

    Instead of using a more powerful radio, longer distances can also be accomplished by switching the low-power radio over to another antenna designed to focus the available power in the desired direction.

    • Salem,

      That’s a lot of comment… you could have made that one into a great article for the blog…

      • Old Hillbilly says:

        I agree with you M.D. ! That would make a great article, especially for those that have already taken the “plunge” into amateur radio! I for one learned quite a few things from it and it is most appreciated! This is the kind of response I had hoped my article would generate. THANKS SALEM!

    • The national organization for amateur radio is the American Radio Relay League (http://www.arrl.org/). You will note that the word Amateur>/b> is nowhere in the name of the organization, since as Salem mentioned, we often have to relay messages from one station to another, even with HF and higher power. This is one of the best reasons to get a license now, so you can practice and learn what your equipment and skills can do. As in any of the prepping areas, we have stuff, information, knowledge, and skills. Skills only come from practice, and there is no better time to get that practice than right now, while there’s help from the community to learn, and there is no dire need, due to having to rely on the radio you don’t fully know how to use.

    • charlie (NC) says:

      Salem, If I’m understanding you correctly it would be possible to have one or more directional antennas permanently aimed at the repeaters in your general area? If that works it would greatly improve the use of repeaters wouldn’t it?

      • There are several ways to use directional antennas. In an area where all the repeaters are on the same hill or skyscraper, one fixed directional antenna aimed in that general direction would do. You could also, as you suggest, have more than one antenna with a coax switch to pick which direction(s) you wish to communicate in.

        But a more common solution for fringe area operating is using an antenna rotator. Light-duty TV-class rotators are sufficient for most 2 meter and 440 MHz directional antennas. Now that many people in the boonies have DirecTV or Dish, a neighbor may give you an old rotator to get it off of his/her roof, or sell it cheap at a garage sale.

  14. Old Hillbilly,
    This is an excellent follow-up to your part 1; however, I will make some additions and corrections, since I’m an opinionated old fart.

    The article stated that the unit worked line of sight due to using FM; but, the reason is not FM (the modulation mode) but the frequencies (2 meters and 70 cm) being used, and their short wavelengths.

    You mentioned that it is a Weather Alert radio, and although it can receive the NOAA weather stations, it does not have the ability to decode the alert messages and warn the owner. You can however, listen to the station in your area for weather information.

    You can also program the frequencies for FRS, GMRS, and MURS but may not legally transmit on them.

    There is one issue with the radio, in that you can program frequencies to listen to as described above; however, you can also transmit on these frequencies, since there is no transmitter lockout. This however, is not legal

    A note on the programming cable and driver. When you plug in the cable which contains a USB to Serial converter, Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Windows 7 will auto detect the cable, so don’t install the driver unless you can’t access the Com port.

    Although the Slim Jim antenna that is mentioned is a good antenna, those among you who are a little adventurous may want to try building your own. A search for J-Pole will get you plenty of information on a simple to build antenna.

    An antenna for using the unit as a handheld model that works a lot better than the original can be found at: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008Y2SPE4/ref=pe_385040_30332190_pe_175190_21431760_M3T1_ST1_dp_1 and is a bit longer than the original @ 14.4 inches.

    And a less expensive connector from SMA Female to SO-239 can be found at: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0026322V4/ref=pe_175190_21431760_3p_M3T1_SC_dp_1

    The coax cable listed is RG8x which has a loss @ 2 meters of 4.7 dB and @ 70 cm of 8.6 dB per 100 feet of cable. At HF frequencies which you might use as a general class operator, this cable has less than 2 dB; so, operating at the higher frequencies will benefit greatly by spending a little more money on the coax. My recommendation, especially if you can find it locally, is 9913 which has a loss @ 2 meters of 1.6 dB and @ 70 cm a loss of 2.8 dB (again, per 100 feet). The difference between the two cables is:
    2 meters: 4.7 – 1.6 = 3.1 dB; 70 cm: 8.6 – 2.8 = 5.8 dB
    Since 3 dB is a factor of 2, the better cable will deliver twice as much power to the antenna as the poorer cable on two meters, and nearly 4 times the power on 70 cm. Since the overall system is a sum of the gains (power from the radio and gain of the antenna) and the difference of the losses (loss of signal strength in the cable), anyplace you can make the losses lower, makes the overall system performance better.

    It was mentioned of a $14.00 testing fee, and that is the standard for Volunteer Examiners working through the ARRL to cover testing materials costs.

    Some additions of note:

    • Although the article talks about the radio being 4 watts, it can also run in a 1 watt low power mode (as set by the programming software) so if you’re solid at 1 watt, you can significantly expand your battery operating time.
    • There is a spare 1800 mA battery for the units for around $10.00.
    • There is also a spare 3600 mA battery for the units for around $20.00. Be careful to read the fine print on the extended battery, since some of them only fit the UV-5R and not the UV-5RA; however, the battery for the “R” model can be made to fit the “RA” model, and you can ask how I know, since I had to do some whittling.

    • One final thing about the spare batteries that I don’t often see with other radios, is that you may plug a battery into the charging cradle without being attached to the radio. When I go out & about with one of my two radios, I always plug one of the spare batteries into the empty charging stand until I get back, to make sure my batteries are always topped off and ready to go.

    • Old Hillbilly says:

      That’s some more great info OP, even if you are an opinionated old fart. 8-) Thanks for the input. Much appreciated! I especailly like the cheaper connector….on my list to order. THANKS!

    • Belden 9913 is a highly regarded low-loss cable. But it is an air core, can fill with water, and it is very, very hard to mount the connectors correctly (ask me how I know). A poorly mounted connector on a great cable is worse than a correctly mounted connector on a good cable.

      I recommend an RG-213/U coax cable such as Belden 8267 for general purpose use. It looks and feels like good old RG-8/U, but is higher quality, lower loss, and true 50 ohms. It is not quite as good as properly assembled 9913, but has half the loss of the RG-8/X mini cable that is mentioned above.

      If you want really, really low loss, then you are no longer talking low budget. Nothing but pressurized line beats Commscope/Andrew Low Density Foam “Heliax,” such as half-inch LDF4-50A or seven-eighths-inch LDF5-50A. But a pair of new connectors could set you back $70 or more, even before you start buying the copper-shielded cable by the foot.

      Even commercially, I would use RG-213/U on 2 meter cables of about 65 feet or less, and 440 MHz cables of about 25 feet or less, before Heliax starts to pay for itself. And even on Heliax runs, you usually have short coax jumpers at each end because the cable is so stiff.

      On very short runs, even the RG-8/X makes sense. On a 100-foot run, it is true that it would only present the antenna or receiver with half the power on two meters and one quarter the power on 440 MHz compared to a better cable. But on a ten-foot run to get to a window antenna, the difference would be worst case about half a db. The lower cost and greater flexibility of the smaller coax may outweigh the small signal increase when you are not going to a high roof or up a tower.

      • And I forgot to add that the RG-8/X will roll up into a grab-and-go kit better than the heavier cables!

        • Old Hillbilly says:

          Great info about cables, Salem! I am going to cut and paste all off the great informative responses to this article and save them in my survival communications folder! THANKS!

      • Salem,
        Some good points on cable. I would also amend my post from 9913 to 9913 Flex which has a stranded inner conductor instead of a solid one, which does help the stiffness a little bit. I was perhaps incorrectly assuming that the external antenna was in a fixed location, so once installed, it would not be moved.
        As for the air core on the 9913, as well as any other cable being used out of doors, I would highly recommend a product called Coax-Seal® which is a waterproof, non-conductive, non-contaminating substance that remains flexible at any temperature from -30° to 180°F, and remains both waterproof and resilient for years. I generally seal all of my onside connections with it. Here is an example (although I do not know or recommend the vendor) http://www.amazon.com/protects-types-cable-moisture-corrosion/dp/B0002ZPINC

        • Multiple times I’ve found moisture inside when opening up coax seal that’s been in place for a while. Instead, I use a 3-part weatherproofing similar to what one of the old antenna manufacturers recommended, I forget which one.

          1. Get electricians rubber tape, used for insulating AC connections. It has no glue but is stretchy. Start on one of the cable jackets, do overlapping wraps continuing over both connectors, the opposite cable jacket, and back again up over your starting point. As you wind it, stretch it slightly like wrapping an ace bandage, so it takes the shape of the connectors and there is no air space underneath. When the stretch is relaxed as you wind it, the rubber kind of grips to itself.

          2. To keep the rubber tape from eventually unwinding, wrap it with plastic electrical tape. Get the cheap imported stuff from the hardware store or big box bin, don’t get expensive 3M which is thicker so it does not stretch as well, and especially not their “Highland” off-brand that has bad adhesive. The plastic tape can stretch a little to take the shape of the connection, but will not be as form-fitting as the rubber tape underneath.

          3. Put a layer of adhesive over the plastic tape to keep the tape from unwinding in bad weather. I had always used a product called “GC Bond” from electronics stores because I shopped there, but it is pretty much just rubber cement. Nowadays, I would try the new “liquid electrical tape” as a coating.

          This can be expected to last 30 years or more, even under severe icing. It is not sticky once the adhesive dries. If you have to take it apart, just make a slit over a metal connector with the point of a utility knife, and the rubber will peel off of everything with no residue. It is easy to re-use the connectors inside, as all thrifty hams do. There is no tedious work attempting to get all the bits of old “taffy” off of the opened connectors or cables.

  15. Kin_of_Sgt. Alvin C. York says:

    Great article, Old H-B and great comments (especially Salem’s!)

    as my Pappy would say: “They knows their onions! (and HAM also!)

    …mmm making me hungry for HAM and some good pan fried vittles…

    God Bless!

    • Old Hillbilly says:

      Thanks “Kin”! Salem and Ohio sure do know their radios! I was hoping someone like them would chime in that knew a lot more than I do….although it doesn’t take much to know more than I do! 8-)

      P.S. The movie “Sgt. York” is my favorite movie of all time! He was a great man. A lady that worked for me here in North Carolina was distantly related to him also! Great American!

  16. Not to be repetitive but… AWESOME article. Very easy to understand and packed with info, just like I like em…Great job

  17. For listings of repeaters all over the US, simplex frequencies and a listing of portions of the bands where the use of FM is either frowned upon or prohibited by law, I suggest obtaining the ARRL Repeater Guide. A reminder, amateur radio is heavily used by many agencies of federal, state, and local government as well as emergency response non-profits such as the Red Cross and the Salvation Army. During emergencies, you can expect that the vast majority of resources will be heavily utilized and will be unavailable for prepper use. Also be aware that amateur radio is self policed, meaning that you will get caught for operating beyond what is permitted by your license class.

    • Old Hillbilly says:

      The fact that amateur radio will be “heavily utilized” during emergency services is correct but it can also mean that a great deal of information can be gained by just listening if that should happen. Regarding “self policing”, yes, as I covered in Part I that is why one needs a license if you want to practice and become part of the HAM radio community. Thanks for your input.

  18. Old H.B.,
    Great article and very thorough for the uninitiated. The pricing you outline is most likely affordable for many prepper’s and a great entry point into HAM communications. The practice test sites are a great addition for anyone who plans to study for the “tech” class license exam.
    Great job! You got my vote for the next round of prizes.

    • Old Hillbilly says:

      Thank you Col. D for those kind words. I am glad my efforts may be of use to some folks. I truly appreciate your kindness.

  19. I concur the good article opinion. I’ve been running mine for over 6 months & really like it. The battery charge holds extremely well. I mostly just listen so it lasts many days. To drain the charge, I had to turn the flashlight on top on for hours!
    I can say you understate the distance by far. We hit 30-35 easily, anytime, often further. I use an after market antenna. Also in the truck we have a glass mount antenna I can connect to. It gets ever farther, but gets noisy.

    • Old Hillbilly says:

      That’s great pj. Glad to know yours is working well! One more “testimonial” for the UV-5RA!

      As far as the distances I stated, to be honest, my actual distances are much greater also but since I have no way of knowing the terrain folks will use them in or the height of the repeater, I opted to give examples on the conservative side. I guess that is only fitting since I am one of those right wing, Bible toting, gun loving conservatives the current resident of the White House warned you about. 8-). Again, thanks for the compliment. May God continue to bless you in all you do.

  20. Oldhilbilly: Any suggestions on another similar radio with higher wattage output already built in? Yaesu makes good stuff!

    You want the Yaesu 857D, it is the next one up the line and not a lot more expensive but it has 100Watts on HF. The 817 is a great little radio and designed for portable operation where weight is critical but since a few pounds is neither here or there to the average operator in the field the 857D is a far better choice. It is not that much larger and has identical features but more power and a bigger display.

    Power is the key and why would you carry an amplifer if you could have 100W built in. You don’t have to use the full 100W either, I never do when portable. You dial it back down to whatever you want and I usually use 20 or 25W. The drawback to using higher power is higher current and hence you need a bigger battery. A 5 watt radio draws about 1/2 Amp but at 50 Watts you are pulling 4 or 5 Amps at 12 volts.

    Don’t be sucked into the value supposedly inherent in onboard battery packs either. You won’t get much talk time out of them and then will be faced with having to recharge all the time. They have their place but not for the average user. Most buy an external 12 volt Battery like a 9Ah or 20Ah gellCell for portable use or you use a mains power supply at 12V in your home. The little 817 will not run at 5 watts unless connected to an external supply. The onboard batteries only allow 2.5W operation.

    eham has reviews on all radios, google “eham yaesu 857D” and read the score and the personal reviews. Again, the 817 is a great radio but 90% of hams that buy them just put them in the cupboard and rarely use them because they are so low powered. Good for CW (morse code) though.

    Above this is the 897 but it is not all that loved IMO as it is a lot bigger than the 857D but has nothing extra inside. It’s major feature is it can carry a large onboard battery pack, but again you are then limited to power output and have to recharge all the time.

    • Old Hillbilly says:

      No luck thus far on a cheaper HF radio. Baefong does not make one apparently but I will keep looking!

      73’s

  21. The best way to weather-seal coaxial connectors to coax cable is to use a
    1/ non-reactive silicone smeared across the join
    2/ encpsulate this in Heat Shrink tube before it sets
    3/ Then wrap the joint in self-amalgimating tape.

    Make sure you have the heatshrink on the coax before you solder the plug on and make sure it is of a diameter large enough to easily clear the flange on the coax connector plug.

    Make sure you don’t foul the plugs operation by having the heat shrink so far up the flange it fouls with the fitting.

    • Old Hillbilly says:

      Thanks Franko! It is clear that you know your radios and the information is much appreciated and will definitely go in my “next radio to buy file”! Also, thanks for the info about protecting the connection points. I only have one connection exposed to the weather and I wrapped it solidly in electrical tape but over time I know that will deteriorate so next time I have to do antenna mast work I will try to replace it. I will have to agree that Yaesu makes good stuff and right now they have rebates on most everything. I ordered 4 of the FT2900’s a while back and within less than a month they sent me the rebate checks. The FT2900 is a good performer for a 2 meter radio. I got mine from Gigaparts.com which has the best prices I have seen.

      Sometime if you have a chance it would be great if you could work up an article talking about HF and what to buy, how it works, antenna’s, your experiences, etc…along the same lines as this article but concerning HF and submit it to M.D. to post here. I know I for one would LOVE to read it and I figure others would also.
      Thanks again!
      73’s

  22. Excellent Article! I liked it so much I went out and purchased everything on the list. Now, my only technical problem is that the “SMA” to “PL-259″ Adapter Cable I have doesn’t fit on the Baofeng. Am I missing a part?

    The Slim Jim’s connected to the coax, the coax is connected to the adapter, but that part doesn’t connect to the Antenna jack on the UV-5RA that I have

    • Old Hillbilly says:

      John, it appears Amazon has once again shifted items in their listing! The link I put in the article is the exact link that I cut and pasted from my order history at Amazon but looking at what shows up now (and what you apparently got) is NOT what I got when I ordered. Looking through their listing of items I see several more that are listed as one thing but now show another. I truly apologize for this and feel bad about it but it is beyond my control. Now…with all the excuses made, here is what you need. If you will note you need an adapter with threads on the OUTSIDE of the small end that connects to the radio so that you can screw it down into the radio. If you look at the fitting on your radio you will see that it has threads on both the outside AND the inside. I have no clue what will fit the outside but I did find this which appears to be an adapter that will allow you to use the adapter your ordered and connect it to the radio. It has the same fitting on each end which should work. See it here…. http://www.amazon.com/SMA-Female-Coupler-Joiner/dp/B0025W3Q84/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1378556408&sr=8-2-fkmr0&keywords=Reverse+SMA+to+PL-259+adapter

      Now, looking back here is the exact adapter I ordered…
      http://www.amazon.com/Reverse-SMA-PL-259-Adapter-Cable/dp/B005F5FL5O/ref=sr_1_cc_2?s=aps&ie=UTF8&qid=1378556970&sr=1-2-catcorr&keywords=sma+to+pl-259+adapter+cable
      Note on this one the way the small end is made and you will see it matches the screw in fitting on the radio.

      Once again I am truly sorry for this but as I said, it appears Amazon threw me a curve. Please let me know when you get it fixed.

      • Thanks Old Hillbilly!

        I thought it was something simple like that so I ordered this part a few days back. Should be here tomorrow.

        The documents you linked too jump into the technical pretty quickly. Apparently I learn better in a classroom setting. I have already ordered “Ham Radio” for dummies just in case it is true that I am dumb. I also found a great source on YouTube in the form of a guy named Dave Casler who goes through the ARRL book chapter by chapter. He also has a website that has all of the videos broken out in one place. This is more of a high-level discussion but suits my learning style better I think. I know I still have to dive into the book.

        Plan to take my technical next month but I will be hooking up my radio and antenna as soon as the right connector gets here.

        Thanks again,
        John

  23. Old Hillbilly says:

    CORRECTION: If you read my response to John, you will see that there is a problem with the adapter listed in my article. I truly apologize for this but it seems Amazon has changed the item offered now under this link from the same part I ordered. To get the right adapter cable, please see this one…

    http://www.amazon.com/Reverse-SMA-PL-259-Adapter-Cable/dp/B005F5FL5O/ref=sr_1_cc_2?s=aps&ie=UTF8&qid=1378556970&sr=1-2-catcorr&keywords=sma+to+pl-259+adapter+cable

    If you have already purchased the adapter I listed in the article and it doesn’t allow you to connect the Slim Jim antenna to the radio then it appears you can order this adapter to make it fit…

    http://www.amazon.com/SMA-Female-Coupler-Joiner/dp/B0025W3Q84/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1378556408&sr=8-2-fkmr0&keywords=Reverse+SMA+to+PL-259+adapter

    Again, I truly, truly apologize for this but as I said, it appears Amazon has thrown me a curve based on my order history listing for the exact adapter I ordered and what you get now. Hopefully the items listed in this correction post will not be changed again by Amazon.

  24. Old Hillbilly says:

    NOTE: Thanks to M.D. the Amazon link shown in the “Shopping List” in the article for the SMA to PL259 adapter is now correct. Unfortunately the price is about $10 higher than the original $5.70 listed. Still, you get a great little radio and antenna for less than $130.
    Sorry for the confusion.

  25. Love the article, Old Hillbilly. It’s just what a new license holder, that was wondering what to buy, needed to get started on equipment. I ran into one thing that looks like a conflict of some kind. On the adapter, you say it must be a, “Reverse SMA to PL-259 Adapter”. Then you mention the same except you leave off the “Reverse”. And in you links to purchasing I’m led to one that is in also not designated as “Reverse”. To top it off, that one is the price you list but the “Reverse” type is about twice as much. Anyway, what I’m looking for is certainty as to which to purchase. I hope you can help.

    • Old Hillbilly says:

      Mild Bill, As stated in my previous two repsonses, there was an error in the article. I think Amazon changed something on me but on the other hand, maybe I screwed up as i am known to do that quite often these days. Whatever the reason, I am sorry for the confusion.

      Now, to your main concern, it is indeed a REVERSE SMA TO PL259 adapter that you need. The one that now shows in the “Shopping List” link in the article is correct after M.D. was kind enough to change it for me yesterday when the error was first pointed out. As you will note in the body of my article where I talk about the adapter I said it cost $16.34. Well, now I see it is $16.39. It is not uncommon for Amazon to change prices….happens all the time. As to the price shown in the “Shopping list section of $5.70 for the connector, I have no idea why or how that got in there other than to say once again, I guess I screwed up.

      Simply put, click the link now listed and that adapter will work, even if it is overpriced in my opinion.

      Once again I apologize for any errors I made.

  26. Greygrandpa says:

    If you are really interested go to your local fire station and ask them who services their 2-way radio. The majority of the technicians are hams. Give the shop a call and ask if they have a ham or two that will talk to you. After you have made a friend, ask him if he didn’t work where he is working, who would he work for. This will tell you the name of one or two of the other radio shops in the area. then contact them. Most shops are also looking for help. Might turn out to b a job lead.

    Ask you friend (s) about the local clubs and hamfests. Many give classes and exams. Also check with your local community college, many also have classes at no or low cost. Our local CC charges $10 for the class and $25 for the ARRL book. Good luck.

  27. Hi- I love your post! I am just starting out with finding a 2 way ham radio. I went ahead & ordered a few. But my question is: Do they make a solar powered battery charger for this type of radio- or what do you do to recharge them when SHTF- besides having extra battery’s.. I read about a “clamshell” what is that & which one works for the radio? Id love to figure out solar powered charger for this radio. Please let me know. Much appreciated.

    • Old Hillbilly says:

      Thanks for your kind words Ash. I am not personally aware of a solar charger for this radio but that does not mean there isn’t one. Currently I am toying with the idea of buying one of the cigarette lighter plug in adapters that will hook into the bottom of the charging stand (or directly into the optional higher capacity battery pack) to charge the batteries and then hooking a 12v solar charging panel to that. It just might work…. or not.
      I have everything but the plug in and hope to get that next time I place an Amazon.com order. I know there are others that posted in this thread that know far more about UV-5R batteries than I do, including a “clamshell” so hopefully if they are still following this article they will chime in with some information that is more helpful than what I can furnish. You can also go to Yahoo.com and sign up for the UV-5R users group and find lots of good info there on most anything concerning this little radio. Thanks again.

  28. What an excellent article. Thank you for sharing your experiences. This article peaked my interest because the title contained my favorite word…cheap. Many years ago when I was in the employ of uncle sugar he sent me to a faraway land with little power and no communications except for what we had with us. Luckily we had a comms team that knew their business and I was introduced to MARS communication which readers of this article may find useful.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_Auxiliary_Radio_System

  29. I loved the two-part article you wrote on amateur radios. I am an Amateur Extra Class and I could not have put it better myself. You have researched and cataloged all the materials thoroughly and truthfully. Congratulations. One thing I would advise on your text is that the correct term is “transmitting” and not “broadcasting.” Broadcasting is reserved for commercial radio, such as the music stations we listen to in our cars and homes; in amateur radio we use transmitting, never broadcasting (as stated in the first licensing book). However, I enjoyed reading the posts. I teach a high school amateur radio class and I will definitely send my students here to read what I have already told them, but probably not as accurately as you have. Kudos and keep up the good work.

    Richard, KR4ZAN http://www.kr4zan.com