The Road Home

The Road Home
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Saturday, December 21, 2013

Alternative Radio Operations

Hello, Frank here.

Hope everybody is having a good week. Those of you that are pursuing your license, whether it be a Technician or a General, if you have found something that works for you, please keep it up. Your local ARRL club will be your best source of data. You've heard this here before, but if you email or call them, you will find someone to help you. If, by chance, the match is not made in heaven, then ask for another match. Most of these guys have been doing this for a long time and they understand that people have different personalities. Safety cannot be stressed enough. 

Safety is going to take a different avenue on this post, because we are going to take the avenue of the portable radio. Sometimes used in an automobile, a backpack or at a QSO Party (which is a bunch of hams that gather together, normally on a weekend, at a hilltop setting). These guys don't normally have a 110 VAC power supply. Let's talk about the equipment that some of these guys use. Now some guys will drag their kitchen table up to these events. Others bring very light weight gear, which is what we are going to talk about. 

Most people will agree that the antenna is the most important part of any radio system. It's just that in a light weight portable situation you normally can't bring a 30 foot tower with a rotating beam. It's just not practical.
So, I've included a few antennas here that are light weight, easy enough to throw up into a tree, and if you don't get the signal that you want, then throw it into a different tree. You can use these antennas for home use, but you'll not get the performance that you would from a stationary base antenna. Some folks use these in apartments,
homes with very limited space and for the guy that travels and just can't leave his radio at home. Now what I'm talking about above is for HF, which as you know has a much longer antenna requirement than VHF/UHF. For VHF/UHF operation, I would recommend this mag mount antenna. Now let me preface something here. If everybody liked the same candy bar, then the whole world would be eating a Snickers. But, everybody doesn't, that's why there are hundreds of different candy bars. It's the same with antennas or radios, these are just a few recommendations that I hope will get you on the road. 

Now you've got to have a radio, don't you? You can take just about any 12 volt DC powered radio out into the field. Some radios are just more durable than others, smaller, lighter in weight, and just overall easier to transport. I'm going to recommend two radios here, which I have never owned or
operated, but they are very popular radios, and they're full functioning radios too. You can bring these home, plug them into your shack and that's what I mean by fully functional. The FT897D has a tuner made by LDG that attaches to the side of
the radio and becomes one unit. This radio is HF, VHF and UHF. Both of these radios have two antenna connectors on the rear. One is for HF reception and transmission, the other antenna connector is for the VHF/UHF radio
For your convenience, I have included the LDG flowchart if you want to consider other options. But remember, any radio that you are comfortable with and don't mind taking out into the field will work in a survival type situation. It's your choice. A folding chair, a plastic table, a light weight canopy, your car or truck and you're good to go.

Next, I'm going to include some information about power pole connectors. We have talked about these before. It's a real hassle disconnecting your radios from your power supplies and this is a system that you might want to look into using. These power pole connectors come in real handy
if you take your radio in and out of your car every night. About two weeks ago, I stayed up way too late into the morning and connected all of my 12 volt pieces of equipment with power pole connectors. And I'm very happy I did so. Things are much more organized and it's just prettier.

Okay, where am I going to get power to do all of this? Well, if you're one of those kitchen table kind of fellows you can always bring along a nice quiet generator, or you can operate off of your car or truck battery. Make sure you bring some jumper cables with you, because when you kill your car battery, you'll need to find a jump somewhere. So, therefore, some of us would recommend you bring a second battery. Okay, here are some slightly different resources for power. I'm going to direct you to the Northern Tool website. This will also work fine for your home if you want to operate from alternative power

A word of warning here. And this is a standard warning. Do not charge or use a lead acid car battery in your house. It can produce a gas that is toxic and explosive. There are other options for batteries. AGM type batteries and gel batteries. About lead acid. You hear folks talk about batteries
exploding, and this is true. But if you put a slow charge on a lead acid battery it will not produce the gas that comes from overheating the battery. You get the same effect when you discharge a lead acid battery at a high rate of speed. If you're trying to operate a 5000 watt radio from a lead acid battery then you're going to have a very high discharge rate. If you try to charge a dead battery at a very high rate, you will get the same effect. But if you charge one at a reasonable rate, or discharge one at a reasonable rate, then the lead acid battery is not considered dangerous. But again, do not use a lead acid battery in your house. It is your choice. There are sealed gel batteries that you can turn upside down and they will never leak or produce a gas. The AGM battery also does not produce a gas. Just for clarification, the AGM type battery is lead acid, but it is completely sealed and does not produce dangerous gas. By the way, you can find these batteries at Wal-Mart.

Okay, so you're out there in the field. You have your canopy, folding chair and table, your antenna is in a tree somewhere, your battery is sitting underneath the table and you're drinking iced tea and having a great time. How do you keep your battery charged? You can start your car every now
and then and run jumper cables to it. You can bring your little generator and charge it up that way. Or you can use solar panels. There are little solar panels and big solar panels. Remember, P = E x I. So let's say you're using 100 watts of power. You're not going to be talking constantly, so that means your 100 watts is going to drop down sharply. Let's say you have a 20 watt solar panel which is not a real big one. It's a nice sunny day. This solar panel should
keep your battery charged. Okay, let's say your battery is charged. That 20 watts continues to go into the battery. Here is where you need a small charge controller. When your battery is full, your charge controller will cease the battery from charging. The bigger your solar panels, the bigger your charge controller needs to be. The more power you use from your radio, the bigger your solar panels need to be.

Okay. P = E x I. When you are charging a battery from your car you are using 40 or 50 amps to charge that battery. 40 to 50 amps times 12 is about 500 watts. If you have a, let's say, two 20 watt solar panels, that is 40 watts, divided by 12, gives you a little over 3 amps. You will need a charge controller that is appropriate for that size. I know people say, "My radio puts out 100 watts of power." But that is only when you are keying your microphone. Remember, you don't have to use full power. You can always run low power. So let's say you're running HF at 5 watts. Your fully
charged battery will operate for a couple of days. Because if you're using 5 watts to transmit, when you're just listening, you might be using 2 watts. This is the same operation if you want to set up a solar system at your home. You need solar panels, a charge controller, this is a good place for lead acid batteries, appropriate size cables and you can have communications, both transmit and receive, both local and around the world. Food for thought here, folks. It takes very, very little power to receive radio transmissions. I listened at my house on my CB radio yesterday to a guy in Portland, Oregon on AM, not SSB, and he sounded better than my buddy down the road. It takes me less than one watt to receive on CB, which is 11 meters, by the way. Shortwave radio, it's about the same, 1 maybe 2 watts. Scanners, weather radios all take about the same power to receive. LED lights use very little power. You can charge all of your rechargeable batteries in this type of system. I even have an incubator for chicken eggs from 12 volts. With rechargeable batteries, all my flashlights, handhelds, my Dremel just opens up an entirely new world.

So, hope this helps. If you want to go out and play. Grab your radio gear, throw in the antenna and go camping. While your kids are catching fish you can be playing on the radio. Or when the power goes off you can have survival communications with the fellow down the road. Remember, that any transmitted signal can be traced. And any radio signal that you transmit can be heard by someone else. So avoid using names, ages, locations and personal data because not everybody listening on the radio is a good guy. Bad guys have scanners too. 

Speaking of, a commercial handheld radio can be programmed for not only ham frequencies, but also GMRS, FRS, MURS, marine band and that's for 
transmit and receive. You can listen to weather radio, railroad (now that's got to be exciting), police, fire, EMS. So your little handheld radio can serve a tremendous function. These little handhelds with the proper adapter can be plugged into the VHF/UHF antenna on your car, or the antenna at your house. Now, yes, it does not have the driving force of 50 watts of power. But, it will reach almost any repeater and in an emergency situation, it can reach your buddy down the road with his GMRS radio. Just other things to think about, because we all know what's coming. And if you don't know what's coming, you need to seriously start paying attention.

Now if you're not a ham operator or haven't been working to get your license then some of the terminology here may seem a little fuzzy. But that's okay. You can also buy solar panel kits. All you add is a battery or batteries. With enough solar panels and batteries you can add an inverter and produce 110 VAC. Then you can watch the football game. Gotta go, take care. If it ain't safe, don't do it. If you don't know what you're doing, get help. Pay attention. The wolf is at the door. Time is wasting. Get it done. Now.

We'll talk more later. 73, Frank


  1. I'm really liking the new posts on radios! I especially like this new one! People don't realize the importance of communication in a grid down life. And most don't have a clue about powering anything much less radios when the shtf. You're giving them some excellent information, maybe some will listen.

    1. Thank you for your comment. As sad as it is, I believe you are right. Most people don't know how to power anything. But even if a car or truck or van is out of gas, a small solar panel sitting on top of the vehicle, plugged into a power port will keep the automobile battery charged, providing a conservative user with enough power for radio communications, not to mention an excellent ground plane. If that car is pulled or pushed next to your existing antennas you have your own radio shack.

      Thanks again.