The Road Home

The Road Home
There is no place like home.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Radio - Stay In Touch

Hi Everybody, Frank here.

Hope all are well, and I hope everybody had a pleasant Thanksgiving. It's always nice to stay in touch with friends and relatives, and Christmas is just around the corner. 

There are some of us out there that see we're in perilous times. Let me explain. Have you paid attention to the Dow Jones lately? Record highs, right? And I know you're paying attention to crude oil, copper, silver and
Baltic Dry. One market's going one way, while other markets are going the other direction. And I know you've been paying attention to Ferguson, Missouri. A tragic event happened there. But the way the community responded, should have you seriously concerned. And I know you're paying attention to the amnesty issue. On the other hand, there are multiple issues, and if I take off my shoes and socks, I can count many, many more issues, seriously pushing the envelope. If you can't see what I'm talking about, then quit reading, turn on the football channel, and watch the cheerleaders jump up and down. Good. There went the vast majority of people to the football channel. Now we can talk without interruption. And, that's what you want to do. To be able to talk without interruption. 

As mentioned above, you want to stay in touch with your friends and relatives. Here are some ways that you can stay in touch without grid power. Because if you agree with some of the dark topics I mentioned
earlier, then you know that one day we're going to have some form of economic shutdown. We are in the process of it as we speak. Now. How are we going to stay in touch when the cellphones and hard line phones don't work? When the internet is not working? We're going to stay in touch the same ways hunters do when they're out walking in the woods, and the same way the military and FEMA does for longer distance communications. Okay. Let's go.

First, short distance communications. This is considered to be line of sight. If you're on water, it'll go a long ways. Hilltop to hilltop, a long ways, but it's still line of sight. Now I'm going to talk about UHF and VHF frequencies. The first little radio is a GMRS/FRS. You can buy these at any sporting goods store, big box store, or online. They have 22 channels, up in the 460
MHz range. This is the type of radio hunters use, kids play with, and for the most part they are good solid radios. But, what you have in your hand, is what you've got. Some advertise 50 channels, not true. It is 22 channels with slight variations. Some advertise 36 miles, not true, unless you live in a perfect world, and that's not true. I'm going to direct you to a previous post. But here is the GMRS that I recommend. These radios are not expandable and you cannot modify them. But if your buddy down the road, one mile, two miles or farther, depending on your terrain, has one, you can stay in touch. These are good radios, they'll last for years if you take care of them.

Next, I would like to introduce what is called a commercial radio. It is made by BaoFeng, it operates in the VHF/UHF frequencies. It can be modified and expanded. Let me explain what a commercial radio is. If you buy this radio, there are no pre-programmed frequencies in it, like the above mentioned GMRS. It's what is called open. The GMRS is UHF around 460 MHz. You can program in these same channels or frequencies into the 
BaoFeng radio. They are made for police department, fire department and ambulance type use. Some businesses also use them for commercial purposes, hence the name, commercial radio. Some big stores use these frequencies, Wal-Mart, Sam's, and drive through type restaurants may use these commercial frequencies. But, remember, you need to program these radios, and there are various ways to do this. At this site, if you scroll down you will see a programming cable. It comes with a little disc, you put this in your computer, use the programming cable, and you can program this radio via your computer. This is where you can put in your GMRS frequencies. This is where you can put in the police department, fire department, and VHF/UHF ham radio frequencies. This little radio will work perfectly fine on these ham radio frequencies. Here is a link to a broader explanation about these handheld radios. The good part is, this handheld radio costs about $35.00 to $40.00. It is not a sophisticated radio. It is two channel operation, but you can only listen to one channel at a time. Read the previous posts, and you will get a lot more information. But these little radios work. They cost about the same as the GMRS mentioned above, will do the same job the GMRS does, and a whole lot more.

Word of caution. To operate the GMRS radio mentioned, you are supposed to have a license to do so. I guess some people do, but I've never met one that did. To transmit on any ham radio frequency, you will need the appropriate level ham radio license. These ham radio folks are very serious about other folks using radios inappropriately. Police, fire and EMS are also very serious about unauthorized people using the police and fire frequencies. Do not under any circumstances broadcast on any police or fire frequencies. They will find you and they will shut you down. But for the other frequencies, like GMRS, that is your call. These handheld commercial radios can be connected to an exterior antenna, something like a magnet mount on top of your car, that will sharply extend your range. You can find this information mentioned in the previous posts.

Next, we're going to do a step up to another type of commercial radio. It will require an external antenna, an external power supply, and produces quite a bit more power. These are often used in automobiles, they can be used for home operations. For your home you will need a power supply and an external antenna. For your automobile you can use the same
antenna mentioned above and your car battery for a power supply. They have the same basic features as the handheld, except that you can listen on two channels at the same time, and you have much greater range due to the higher power. These radios also cost more, starting around $300.00, some a little more, some a little less. I would recommend the AnyTone AT-5888UV. The same laws and regulations apply to this radio that applies to the handhelds. For your ham radio operator, they're sharply cheaper than most dual band ham radios. If you do search and rescue with proper authorization you can use these radios on police, fire, EMS, and you can use them with the ham frequencies if you have a ham radio license. It is legal with proper authorization and with proper licensing.

All the above mentioned radios are either VHF/UHF or just UHF. These are considered line of sight communication devices. If you live in an area that has a ham radio repeater, and you have a ham radio license, you can use the commercial radios. You can use the repeater which is still line of sight, but you broadcast from your radio to the repeater, then it repeats the signal out to other radios. Now to use these radios, as mentioned above, you'll need an external antenna, and a power supply if you want to operate inside your house. I will provide links to some of these sites

This is a good time to mention safety. Handheld radios as a general rule do not produce enough power to do anyone harm. Your mobile radio, with more power, can. If you don't know what you're doing, don't do it. Take a little time and read some of my previous posts about safety and equipment, and most of your questions should be answered there.

Now let's talk about a little bit longer distance radio communications. The same safety rules apply. This type of radio communication is seldom used with a handheld or mobile radio. It can be, but not very successfully. You will be required to have a ham radio license to transmit on this type of system, but that doesn't mean you can't listen. ICOM makes an entry level HF radio, which is a solid, functional High Frequency transmitter and receiver. This radio will also receive all of the shortwave frequencies,
and it will transmit and receive all of the lower band ham frequencies with the proper antenna. You will also need a power supply. But the type of transmitting that I'm going to talk about now is NVIS. Do a Google and check this out. It has a radius of around 300 miles. The military and FEMA use this same type of system. It is a fairly reliable way to transmit and receive, covering a larger area. Again, about a 300 mile radius. You see, ham radio transmissions that bounce off of the atmosphere, some days are reliable and some days aren't. But this type of system, NVIS, for the most part is reliable. NVIS, check it out. You will need a ham radio license to transmit on any ham radio. I've mentioned this type of system in other posts. Please take the time to read them. Follow all safety requirements.

What I've tried to put together today is a group of relatively inexpensive radios that are solid performers, and do a more than adequate job. If you need a radio with more bells and whistles, they're available. If you want basic, reliable communications, what
I've given you here is a good start. There may come a day when you want to stay in touch with your friends and family, when normal forms of communication may not be available. I make no profit whatsoever from any radio post, it's just that God has given me the ability to see what is coming. And if I can share with you, just a little bit, and encourage you to make that step, then maybe you can stay in touch with your loved ones when there are no other means of communication available. Under a very worse case scenario, you might be able to let your Bubba down the road know that something bad is coming his way. And in return, he can do the same for you. This is all just food for thought. 

While you're at it, please check out the humble CB radio. At this link start at the bottom of the page and you will see four posts dealing with CB radio. There is a lot of very good information there. When things shut down, it will find it's place again. 

You ask, "Well, how do I power these radios when things have shut down?" Read some of the earlier posts. A solar panel is a real easy way to have radio communications. If you've got a little extra jingle in your pocket, read the post about scanners. That's all they do, and they're much faster than the scan on your handheld radio. 

Get ready. It gets closer everyday. Now, aren't you glad you didn't change to the football channel? This is not a joke boys and girls, and once it hits the fan, it will be too late to prepare.

We'll talk more later. Frank


  1. HI, wanted to introduce myself, Tony [call sign removed], that's my GMRS license. Just so you can now say you know one, I'm also a General level Ham and ARES RACES member.
    Great article, keep up the good work, Tony

    1. Hi Anthony. Well, I guess I can never say that again, can I? Thank you for reading, and thank you for the comment. As you can see, I don't get lots of radio comments. Actually, I get more personal emails than radio comments.

      Do you have any ham radio restrictions, being that close to Nellis? Just curious. As you can see I removed your GMRS license number, because it is traceable on the FCC database. Just for future security purposes. I've tried to encourage many of my neighbors and church family to get any kind of radio, be it ham or GMRS, but it seems to fall on deaf ears. I hope your family is prepared, because it's not far away, relatively speaking. I'm serious about the question of restrictions being that close to Nellis. Any restrictions on power or frequency use? I don't live close to anything that has any restrictions at all.

      Take care. 73s, Frank

    2. Hi Frank, Thanks for opsec'ing me, I appreciate it. No restrictions other than antenna height, 20 feet over my highest structure. Otherwise I may be totally blocked if a command and control plane is up. My garage door opens on it's own when they are running the cargo planes with huge rotating discs on them.

  2. Hi Frank, I too have my GMRS license (renewed again, so 6 yrs now.) There is a GMRS repeater not too far from me that is only open to license holders. I also believe you can run higher power radios than the little bubble packs, although I haven't tried. I have dozens of the little bubble packs (amazingly, I buy them for around $1 at yard sales all the time.)

    I have a BaoFang UV5R as my first ham radio, and have my General license. I picked up a yaesu FT 847 at a yard sale for my base, but haven't yet connected it to the big cushcraft R8 I got at a hamfest trading for a $20 guitar amp. I finally have the heavy coax to do so and it's near the top of my project list. I got a couple of wire dipoles at an estate sale for pocket change, but still haven't connected them either.

    I just upgraded to a yaesu FT60 HT and love the sound quality and sturdiness, but it seems to eat battery much faster than the Baofang.

    I picked up an ICOM dual bander mobile for $5 at another yard sale for my truck. It needed a mic, but otherwise is great. $25 total for a radio that is only a few years out of date.

    I got an alinco 2 meter mobile for $10 at an estate sale that I'll use in the garage to monitor one local repeater.

    I have the exact same bearcat scanner you use and it is on constantly in my garage, and in fact is my primary listening radio. I might have paid $5 at a sale. I have weather, and a few local repeaters in it, but primarily listen to our metro area repeater. It is often connected to the winsystem repeater network, or one of the allstar reflectors that host some of the nets I participate in.

    I have a handheld GRE scanner for those 'what the heck are all those sirens in the neighborhood doing???' moments.

    I've got a variety of CBs that I bought for less than $10 each at yard sales. People think they are useless now with smartphones, etc, and mostly filled with truckers looking for sex, but I believe they will make a HUGE comeback when SHTF. Tons of people will suddenly remember their old CB and will get on the air.

    My point with listing all my cheap gear is for anyone else reading-- it is possible to build out a really thorough shack without spending much money. My biggest single expenses were the GRE scanner (bought new) and the FT847 (yard sale but still $600). I jumped on the 847 so that I can start exploring NVIS and some longer range comms with HF. There are so many other useful radio things available at yard and estate sales, that I'm stunned that people don't consider them as a source. I've got a box full of weather radios, and small short wave radios too. Everyone thinks they are worthless cheap junk transistor radios and sells them CHEAP!

    I'll second your suggestion (in another radio post) that anyone testing for a Tech license should study for and try to get their General the same day. Once you pass the Tech, you can take the General for no additional cost. It could save you another trip to the tester, and the fee, and when you are ready to try HF, you'll already have the license!

    So thanks for your radio posts. I'm finding them interesting!

    [no call signs for OPSEC]


    1. Hi Nick. I couldn't agree with you more. Let me start down the list, though.

      The humble CB radio, as I generally call it. I believe you are right, it will make a HUGE comeback. I look for sales on RG59 with connectors. I find those on sale occasionally, 18 feet with two connectors for $3.00 to $4.00. Many of the old CB radios guys have in their trucks, that they haven't operated in years, will probably need a new coax connection. I've also picked up a number of inexpensive mag mounts with 18 feet of coax and a connector. And, I've also picked up a number of five to seven watt solar panels, with a cigar type plug in. Take a solar panel, a cigar plug in with a splitter, an inexpensive mag mount, and old CB radio, and if the battery in the automobile is not just shot, then you have a communication center. These are the thoughts that run through my head anyway.

      I listen to guys on Channel 38 AM and LSB all over the country. Even heard a few European stations. That same CB radio will provide communication with Bubba down the road. I just don't understand why people can't see it.

      The little GMRS radios you make reference to? These things will be life savers in the future. Get a handful of rechargeable batteries, a charger for those batteries and plug them into the same system that's operating with the solar panel and the automobile battery. Do the same thing with a handheld scanner. You can also charge your Baofeng UV-5R with your once mobile radio base.

      So, let's see here. You've got CB that you can listen around the United States with, plus talk to Bubba down the road. You've got a GMRS that you can talk to Bubba down the road with. You have a scanner that will pick up most of the police calls in the area. You have a power supply with an automobile battery and the means to keep it charged, which will in turn, charge all of your radio batteries.

      And if you get the urge, get a shortwave radio. Get one of those little 17 foot roll up type external antennas. You can charge it with the same system, and most of those shortwave radios have commercial AM & FM, and you can listen to the shortwave functions.

      Imagine that. You go out and sit in your car that's out of gasoline, and with that one small solar panel, you have information from around the world. Or, you can bring your automobile battery in your house, with proper ventilation, and do the same thing. Then you can use your car for a greenhouse and start your seedlings in there, because food is important, too.

      I really do appreciate your comment. Please comment any time you feel like it.