Frequently asked Questions for Communications:
1) What is the purpose of the radio?
We know the purpose each of you are most interested in will be long term, future use emergency, long range communications. At the very least you will want to receive radio signals, not just locally, but long distances away.
This gives you the ability to evaluate what the news you can receive is saying about the situation you’re in. So, your radio must ALSO be a General Coverage receiver.
A general coverage receiver will be able to pick up frequencies from (generally) below the AM band, in what we call the Very Low Frequency (VLF) band, the AM band (about 530-1800 Khz. The radio should also pick up all frequencies between 1.8 Mhz (1800 khz) to about 30.00 Mhz.
There are several types of modern transceivers you can purchase that will do this easily, and also transmit on certain bands. There are a few older radios (using tubes) that can cover some bands, usually in the Amateur Radio bands.
It is more difficult to locate and purchase transceivers that cover all frequencies, and more importantly, the price starts going up drastically, into the thousands of dollars.
Emergency communications… keep that in mind though.
2) How much money do I have to spend?
I can’t answer this question for you. Only you can when you have completely evaluated your needs.
However, I can tell you that a good working, relatively modern ham rig will run you anywhere from around 100 bucks to as much as 13000 dollars. So you have a WIDE range of possibilities.
This is important. There are mobile radios that will work on a car battery and work just as well as a “base unit” (as many will call it) that is powered from an AC socket.
You are thinking (I’m sure) emergency situation, no commercial power. A portable rig is better for this situation. You can pick it up, pack it up and head out with no more than a backpack with some survival food, and equipment and carry the rig with you. Most are light weight.
Again, most are also solid state.
On the other hand, you’re at the family farm, with a barn, a house, and a fallout shelter and the ability to raise a tower or pole upon which to string some wires for antennas. You have a generator and several vehicles from which to power up a generator.
So.. you have a vast array of possible setups now you can examine.
Again, this is a decision you must make.
This is the meat of the problem. How much power will you have? You can run a receiver only on D batteries for a short time, unless it is a vacuum tube rig. Then you need a lot of power.
Nearly every modern radio uses much less power than a vacuum tube radio will, and you can pull power from solar panels (for reception only!), car batteries, car power systems (when the engine is running and the alternator is good), from a generator set, or a combination of the above stuff.
Remember that batteries (wet cells are most common) are readily available from vehicles (even abandoned vehicles) and most likely batteries won’t be destroyed by EMP – whereas your solid state radios that are unprotected might be.
My personal, well-studied opinion, is that radios NOT externally connected to an antenna or power source will NOT be affected by EMP. So, I am suggesting that if you have a solid state radio, it will be fine when not hooked up (and you can take further precautions to protect the internal components).
So… what will you have in the end scenario to power your radios? Solar panels (that were protected from emp), batteries and car power, or perhaps generator power.
A typical HF radio in receive mode only will draw around 1 AMP or less when in receive mode. In transmit perhaps as much as 3-10 amps.
A TUBE radio will draw 1 Amp to 5 amps in receive only mode. In transmit mode anywhere from 5-25 amps. Much more power.
So you will have to carefully examine your needs and what power requirements you will have available when the situation arises requiring you to use the radio.
7) Are you able to set up antennas, or more basically build one? HF reception requires an antenna. Any antenna, and usually the longer the better.
HF Transmission requires a bit more thinking, work and scientific understanding of radio waves.
If you want to receive, really well, connecting an HF antenna connector to a wire that is about 100 feet long is usually sufficient to pick up most signals for most frequencies. While not the most efficient way to do this, it does work. Personal experience and experimentation that I’ve done over my many, many years says “Use anything, as long as you get the wire up off the ground, away from the ground and as high as possible, and by the way, make it as long as you can!”
In a situation where you must transmit, the same wire WILL WORK, just not efficiently!
This is where the science comes in. Knowing important things like what frequency you’re listening to (and trying to answer on) is important so you can figure out the best sort of antenna and how to make it.
There are some articles on antennas out there, but I’ll give you a very down and dirty example.
http://www.csgnetwork.com/antennaedcalc.html is a simple calculator to give you the proper lengths. Assuming you have a station you would like to communicate with on 14.450 Mhz…. the calculator gives us the following answer:
32ft. 4 – 21/32in. or 9.872 M
The TOTAL length of the wire is 32 feet, 4 inches (close enough for government work) and you would cut that wire into two equal length pieces of about 16′.
You will have a piece of coax cable or some other kind of two-wire cable. A piece of heavy zip cord (like used in speakers) will WORK, not great, but remember this is an emergency and you want this thing up and running pretty fast.
Connect the zip cord to the two pieces of wire. Put some kind of sturdy insulator between the two wires so you can string the thing from two trees, the roof of the house to a tree, or between a tower and a tree or some other structure.
When you’re done, it looks like this: (Approximately)
in the picture I drew a house and a broken, destroyed “structure” (or it could be a dead tree) on the right. Your dipole antenna is stretched between the house (where the radio is located) and the other structure.
The “zip cord” forms your transmission line and the little round thing in the middle of the antenna is a strong, non-conductive insulator of some sort (use a plastic bottle, pill bottles, ceramic materials, anything that doesn’t conduct electricity).
Place something similar at each end and then secure your ends with heavy string or rope over something to haul the antenna up, like a makeshift pulley or whatever.
Make the connections at the radio. You will haev two ends of a zip cord. One will connect to the antenna connector on your radio and the other will go to the ground side of the antenna connection, or to a grounding screw on the rig (depends on the rig, the connections and so forth).
NOW when you turn on the radio you will tune to your given frequency and when you transmit you will push most of your signal out more efficiently.
This is not the perfect situation, but… it’s an emergency.
You can probably, if you have the parts laying around, build something like this in less than an hour and get it up and running.
We call it “Field Expediency”….
You can save time by building some stuff ahead of time to use for later.
Do you HAVE to cut your wires precisely?
No. Close is good. Closer is better. A crappy guessimate is better than no antenna at all.
A long wire is better than nothing.
Oh… mathematics… you can do this on paper.
Antenna length(Feet) = 468/Freq (Mhz)
So in the above example: Antenna length (wavelength) = 468/14.250 = 32.84′
Most of you aren’t ham radio operators and probably aren’t going to be.
Before I go on I will advocate that you all, regardless of the situation in the world, work on getting a ham license. It is NOT difficult, you do NOT have to learn morse code (though I think it is a good idea to know it).
There are three classes of licenses, Technician, General and Amateur Extra. I hold an Extra class license, the highest of the three. General is the one you want to legally operate HF radios on the ham bands (gives you the most privileges for the work) and Technician class being the lower one, gives you access to mostly VHF and UHF and other upper (above 30Mhz) frequencies (and experimental things like microwaves, satellite comm etc). As you go up in license class, you go up in privileges and have access to everything the lower class license has as well.
All of that said, there is nothing stopping you from obtaining amateur radio equipment and having it “at the ready”.
Now, let me bring up one more path…..
There is another type of radio… really exactly the same kind of radio as the ham stuff, but with a twist.
One of the things I will be adding to my boat eventually is a “marine HF” radio. It is nothing more than a general coverage radio that can broadcast on nearly all bands available on the radio!
In other words, it is “FCC Type accepted” for use as a Marine Radio.
I can take one of those and make it into a ham radio. You can’t legally take a ham rig and turn it into a marine radio though.
SO…. if you want one that isn’t LIMITED to the ham bands alone, then look for a modern “Marine SSB” (the sailors will call them “SSB radios” even though they are generally capable of upper, lower single sideband as well in some cases as Amplitude modulation)
But, you’re going to want a rig capable of using very little power, getting your signal out, morse code (also called CW) and being able to travel quickly, and lightly.
I can’t recommend SPECIFIC equipment because I only have personal experience with Heathkit, Icom, Kenwood and Yaesu – ALL of which are excellent radios and communications systems.
Most are expensive.
On the other hand, I’ll tell you if you’re digging through a ham radio swapfest ask other hams while there, what THEY think of various rigs and do some interviews. They will all talk your ear off and give you all sorts of advice. Like anything else, take it all in, nod a lot, ask a lot of questions and then make a decision based on all the input at the end of the day.
I’ll post some more modern stuff shortly when I have more time.
10) Where can I buy equipment?
(I don’t endorse any of the stores, just posting some so you can price NEW stuff).
The above store sells “Marine” SSB radios, the tuners and other stuff that go along with a rig. You need a RADIO and a field expedient antenna, and a power source to make it work.
You don’t need to spend thousands on automatic antenna tuners and packtor modems (unless you are setting up a permanent fixed or mobile station and want to receive email via HF… I’ll be doing all this for my ship, but you don’t have to DO that stuff).
Above is a nation-wide store chain that specializes in new (and sometimes used) amateur radio equipment. Click on the various search functions and look at the types of HF equipment available. They have a place on the site to obtain a catalog. Good idea, get one.
Yaesu source site. They can direct you to local distributors.
Icom America. Source site. They also can direct you to local distributors. Check their prices.
Kenwood (Do a search they have several sites). I love the TS-2000, wish I had one, or could afford it.
This site is my blog site for our expedition to Jamaica. It was a complete failure, thanks to the TSA who broke my radio. There are pictures of the radio that I took, a compact HF rig that runs off batteries, or AC power (with the right power supply).
There should be pictures of the antenna I built (I can’t see them AT WORK… imagine THAT)…. as well, as the power supply I used.
Other than the fact that the rig got dropped by the TSA folks, the rig works (again) and worked in the back yard in an emergency set up with a solar panel, and car battery. I was able to power it on the edge of the Caribbean sea with power pulled from a bar and the antenna set up out on a concrete pier.
Should be pictures. If not, I’ll upload some later. Had it NOT been for the fact that some circuit board were knocked lose in the drop, I would have easily been able to communicate with the US and Europe from that location on what would have essentially been emergency operations.
11) How can I protect my electronic equipment like a laptop, shortwave, or even an iPod (I want my music in the Aftermath!)?
A “Faraday Cage”. Look it up for now, I’ll put in an explanation when I have more time.
12) If you have a HAM license, could the government call you one day, and force you – under penalty of the law – to set up, operate, man, etc. a HAM radio? Does the government have the ability to do this?
Not precisely. They ask us to volunteer. Any ham worth his salt usually will.
But… depends on the circumstances. I would say that would never happen.
There is nothing in the regulations that require you to do anything because the government orders you to do so. The ham radio services is covered under FCC rule part 97.
They can require us NOT to transmit on certain frequencies during times of emergency, and lately that has become a routine thing with the earth quakes, tsunamis and other natural disasters that have occurred. Basically they blank out a set of two-three freqs for the use of rescue and health and welfare traffic, emergency traffic, etc.
Was a rumor (and I repeat, it was rumor only) that the gov was planning to come in and seize equipment during any kind of national insurrection. While that was a rumor – in real life, it could happen I suppose. Authority to do so? No. Ability? Perhaps depending on the amount of propaganda they put out.
13) If I’m traveling and quite a ways from home, can I use a HAM repeater nearby, or do I need an access code or something? Also, how do I find HAM repeaters while traveling?
You can use pretty much any repeater across the country. Almost all are open repeaters, some require an access code though for members of their local ham club or something similar.
There is a ARRL pub called a “Repeater Directory” comes out once per year with updated, national and international frequencies for repeaters on pretty much every band./. That takes care of using and finding them. There is also at least one android app for your tablet or computer (phone, etc, perhaps iPad) to let you look up local repeaters with wifi access (and GPS).
14) If I do hit repeater, is there a way to know it – like something on some HAM radios that will let me know? (Basically this question is asking how do I know the repeater is live?)
Most repeaters, not all, will transmit when you “wake them up”.
As you unkey your handheld you will usually hear the repeater still transmitting carrier.
Note that most repeaters these days use a tone coded signal (called CTCSS, Continuous Tone-Coded Squelch System).
Basically it’s a low frequency tone that rides in the background as modulation, somewhere from around 65-250 hertz. Your radio must be capable of transmitting those tones. That’s something to look at when you buy a handheld radio. The radio you mentioned, the MT-1000 I think is capable. Those are programmed with a computer and you can program them for all sorts of things if I remember right.
Some repeaters you can “ker-chunk” – a term we use for keying your mic without saying anything and listen to the squelch tail of the repeater coming back. This is not actually “legal” to do. You’re supposed to transmit identification and not “broadcast”.
Most people ignore that rule. haha
Finally, today is 9 September 2013, 12 years to the day, on tomorrow since the attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. We’re about to go to war with Syria and quite possibly the Russians and anyone else that wants to “pile on” because of piss poor Foreign Policy on the part of President Obama. 60+% of the US Public doesn’t want this. The majority of Congress doesn’t want this. About 20 minutes ago the Russians “pulled out” of a UN Security Meeting and the meeting was cancelled because the President of the US decided not to talk to anyone about this….. with that in mind I am making a strong suggestion that anyone that has a shortwave radio, AM or FM radio connected to external antennas and AC power, start disconnecting and keeping them disconnected unless you are using them.
Disconnect the power from the wall, disconnect your antenna from the radio. If you can, ground the antenna to a ground that will direct any static off the antenna to the ground.
This will protect your radio systems from EMP as well.
It’s the easiest thing to do by a foreign power to really, really foul us up, without killing us all. An electromagnetic pulse will take out our computers, cell phones, internet, televisions, cable, and even our power grid.
Your computers are the most susceptible, but if someone detonates a multi-megaton nuke above the atmosphere, it won’t matter a whole lot because the internet will simply cease-to-be and your computer won’t connect to anything anyway. It might still work locally if you have power, but unless you have survival manuals, address, or whatever you need to get off the PC, it’s really going to be a pile of junk after EMP.
Call it a gut feeling. Call it me “freaking out”…. call it what you will. Protect your communications equipment. You might need it sooner than you think in the near future.