The Road Home

The Road Home
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Saturday, December 14, 2013

Radio - Entry Level Equipment, Part 2

Hello, Frank here.

Hi Everybody. I know some parts of the country are getting the bad weather we got a week ago, and I hope there haven't been too many slip and falls. The snow from our storms is just about gone. Something I didn't mention last time is going outside everyday and checking my antennas. Everything was okay.

A little trivia here. Did you know that once you plant your first antenna pole, through a miracle unknown and understood by man, more antenna poles will grow? Some houses actually look like an antenna farm. So, be ready. The tooth fairy brings them too. They just show up in the morning.

Okay. Let's talk about VHF radios. But first I'm going to group a whole bunch of frequencies and meters together. Last time I talked about HF radios primarily. There are some HF radios that have VHF and UHF. I
know there are designated frequencies for VHF and UHF, but in the general conversation of radio, everything above 10 meter is either UHF or VHF. It starts with 6 meters, 2 meters and keeps going up. Everything today that I am going to talk about, I'm going to call VHF. The reason for that is that most of the equipment you are going to use are going to be similar and the characteristics of the frequencies are similar.

The last post, we talked some about power supplies, coax cable, power strips, power pole connectors and antenna tuners. Most of that equipment you will also use with the VHF radios. Power supplies for example, if you
want a simple operating system, then one power supply is all you need. Remember back when we first started talking about buying a bigger power supply than you needed to get started? Well, this is the reason why. More equipment needs more power. To operate a 50 watt VHF radio you can theoretically get by with 5 amps. To operate your 100 watt HF, you can theoretically get by with 7 or 8 amps. You can see where this is going. You can also recharge all of your rechargeable batteries, normally, from a 12 volt system. You can also charge your cell phones and operate your internet hot spot. There are all kinds of things you can do with a 12 volt system. Now remember when I say a 12 volt system that also means 13.8 VDC. So, 25 to 35 amps is a nice size power supply. Don't forget your CB radio and your scanners and your weather radio, not to mention you can recharge your rechargeable lanterns if they have a 12 volt recharging system. I even have a 12 volt boot dryer and a 12 volt chicken incubator. Okay. I'll get back to radios here now.

Again, most of your connectors, coax, safety equipment and grounding all use the same equipment. Something that will be different is your antenna. Most VHF is done with a vertically polarized antenna, which means up 
and down. Most HF uses a horizontally polarized antenna. Not all, but most. Because with HF you are normally bouncing off of the ionosphere so it doesn't make that big of a difference whether it is horizontal or vertical. But with VHF it does make a difference. Remember, VHF is primarily line of sight and the sending and receiving stations need to have matching polarity. Most VHF that goes long distance is through a repeater. The vast majority of repeaters are vertical. Does this mean that you can't communicate with a station with opposite polarity? You can, but your sound will be distorted.

Okay. So. Another big difference between VHF and HF. Let's take 40 meters HF for example. 40 meters is about 120 feet. That's a pretty long antenna even if you use half wave it's still about 60 feet. It's a whole lot easier to run 60 feet horizontal than it is vertical.
Think about it. Let's go back to VHF. You have a 2 meter signal, which is 144-148 MHz in the ham band. That's about 6 feet. A half wave signal is about 3 feet. A quarter wave signal is about 18 inches. Vertical is a whole lot easier, because you can't put a 60 foot vertical antenna on your car. Okay, people will say, "But I know guys that run HF in their cars and they don't have a 60 foot antenna." That is correct. Without going into detail, they use electronic gizmos to trick mother nature. But as a general rule, mobile HF operates poorly, especially on the lower bands.

I'm going to throw in safety right here. Never mess with safety. Don't try to over power a radio unless you know what you are doing. I'm not saying don't do it. But don't do it if you don't know what you're doing. 

Okay. Let's go to the Universal Radio website. I will say it again. I have no commercial affiliation with Universal Radio. They are not the cheapest or the most expensive, but their website is filled with easy to access information. I do use these folks and I do buy from these folks and I am relatively sure I will buy from them in the future.

Okay, we're at the Universal Radio website. Please click the online catalog button. We are now at catalog contents. I hope this page looks familiar. There is lots of information here. Please look around, play around. Let's go to the right hand column, Amateur VHF/UHF Mobile. By the way, you will not need an antenna tuner for VHF. Okay, we're there. You'll see some of the major names. Everybody here makes a capable, competent radio. Most of these are made exclusively for ham radio, a few of them are not. You need to do some research in the area in which you live. There is no reason to get a UHF radio if no one in your area uses UHF. Example: In my area there is not a 10 meter repeater. It does not exist. So, therefore, I do not need a piece of equipment that will reach a 10 meter repeater. So what I'm going to focus on is the most common combination which is UHF/VHF. When you're reading the data on some of these radios it will just use the letters 'U' and 'V', which means the radio might be capable of operating on two channels at one time. The combination could be U/U, V/V, U/V or V/U. But remember, if no one in your area uses UHF, then why waste the money? But, if your radio does have two channels and it's V/V capable, then you can listen to two VHF frequencies at the same time. Food for thought.

Alrighty. Let's go down and pick the Kenwood TM-V71A. This is a very popular radio. It has most features that most folks look for in a dual receive radio. I would certainly take a look at this one. It is a radio that is easy to modify. I'll talk more about that shortly. My first VHF/UHF was this radio. Being my first, there was a lot I needed to learn, and I found this radio to be too complicated for my needs. That does not mean it is not a first class radio. 

So, I traded it for a new Alinco DR-635T. Go back to the VHF radio page and Alinco is at the top, the 635 is at the bottom. Please open it. The first thing you could notice is that it costs less. About $60.00 less with this company. It will not do a few things that the Kenwood will do, but it will do everything that I need it to do. It is a perfectly capable VHF/UHF ham radio. It's easier for me to operate. If you've been reading my posts for a while, then you know that my wife and I both have our General licenses. To operate this radio, you need to be a Technician. My wife got her ham radio license mostly just to make me happy. Radio is important to her because it is important to me. She needs a radio that she can turn on, change the channel, push the microphone button and talk. She does not care about beaming a signal
off of a comet. This is what is in her car. It works. This is what is in my vehicle. It works. And this is what is in my house, because it's easier for me to learn one radio than two or three other radios. With this 635T I use the RT programming system, which is computer based. Some people would say that you need to know how to field program it. Okay, that means that they need to know how to field program it. I need to be able to turn it on, change the channel, push the microphone button and talk. I could care less about bouncing a signal off of a comet. 

I'm going to take a slight detour here, I'll get back to these radios in a minute. What does it mean to modify a radio? To some people it means more power, to others they want to add a system, one is called EchoLink, and there are multiple other things that you can do with these radios. But the word modification to most people means to expand the transmit range out of the ham frequencies. This radio right there, the Alinco, second
line under the picture says, "Receive coverage 108-173 MHz". It says, "transmit frequency 144-148 MHz" which are the ham bands within the VHF spectrum. Okay. Follow me here. You can modify this radio to transmit on the same frequencies that it is currently set to receive on. The same for UHF also. If you modify it, if you could receive those frequencies before, you can now transmit on those frequencies. Well, why would anybody want to do that? Well, there are the MURS frequencies around 151 MHz. There are the GMRS frequencies around 465 MHz. If you're into public service, there are police, fire and EMS which also uses these frequencies. Be advised, to modify this radio to operate out of the ham frequencies violates FCC regulations. But there are some police and fire departments that do just that because these radios are much cheaper than commercial radios from name brand manufacturers. If you have the chance, go back and read under Frank's Radio Communications the GMRS and MURS post

Now also understand that one antenna normally will not work well on all of these frequencies. It will either be too short or too long and your SWR will
increase. But there is an antenna that is made by Comet. It is CA-2x4SR. If you'll go back to the catalog contents page on the right hand side down about nine spaces is Amateur Mobile Antennas. Please click. Under Comet, about four down, is the CA-2x4SR. Please click. This antenna comes in two base types. Pay attention here. This antenna can also be used for a base station antenna for frequencies out of the ham band, also frequencies in the ham band. While we're here, go down two more places under Comet and check out the M24. This is a real good little 2 meter antenna. It will also work out of band, but not great. And it comes with three different connectors. Again, pay attention here.

Okay, back to VHF/UHF mobile. Look at the Anytone AT-5888UV. This is what is called a commercial radio. When it comes to you it will be open and have almost all VHF/UHF frequencies. These type radios can be used in
the commercial service industries which includes police, fire, EMS, schools, railroads, power companies and they can also be used legally for the ham bands. So why not buy one of these? There is no need to modify. It can be used on MURS and GMRS. I guess the primary reason is a quality issue. Some folks say these radios just don't hold up. I know people that have them and they like them. If they had been out for a few more years, and some of their early quality issues had been resolved, then I would look seriously at using these radios. As far as handhelds go, I do use a commercial radio. They have been out for a good while and they have worked the bugs out.

Let's go back to the VHF radio page and go all the way to the bottom to Wouxun. Please click on their radio, there is only one. This is another commercial radio and it gets mixed reviews. Notice the bottom line, the warranty is from the factory in China. There are no state side service facilities. If it quits working on you, you have to send it back to China. That's one of the reasons people would rather buy a ham radio and make a modification.

The Alinco DR-635T. To modify it, you remove four screws, take off the cover, locate the blue wire, which you can't miss, cut the wire, and you now
have a modified radio. Is it illegal to own a to operate out of band? Yes. Are there thousands and thousands of modified VHF radios in this country? Yes. An example here. Your little handheld GMRS radio, which in most cases are excellent radios, operate around 465 MHz. You program these frequencies into your modified radio, you turn your power down on the radio and no one on the planet will know that you are talking on anything but a handheld GMRS radio. By the way, you need a license to operate on GMRS frequencies. I have never met a person on this planet that has one. You can buy the handheld GMRS radios at any sporting good stores, Wal-Mart, online and it's up to you to apply for the license. When you get the license, anyone in your family or anyone at your house or vicinity can operate under that license. That means you do not have to have it on you to operate these radios. Go back and read the post about GMRS radios. What I'm saying here is you can have a nice ham radio that will also operate on other frequencies. It's your choice.

There are many, many other mobile VHF radios on this page. Check them out. Some companies will not sell ham radios to someone without a call sign. So be aware of that. Some companies will, some companies won't.
You need an Elmer. That's ham language for a teacher. You can find one through the ARRL website. If your Elmer is not open to ideas of modifying radios, asks for a different Elmer. Some of these ham guys are hard core ham radio people, others are just folks that love ham radio, but they don't mind cutting a wire here and there. I'd guess the numbers are about 50/50. But, generally speaking, a standard antenna, be it mobile or base station with standard coax and a standard power supply and about any VHF radio will get you on the air. Don't forget safety. I'm finished.

Another topic. I am of a firm belief that our world is going to experience some type of event that is going to shut down normal life as we know it.
The entire purpose for this blog site is to help people get prepared. If these radio posts help you learn to communicate just a little bit better, then it has been worth my time and effort. To me, communication is critical. Whether you're a listener or you want to communicate what you have heard to your little area of the country. Who knows, maybe even talking to your neighbors on the GMRS frequencies. Communications is important. A small radio, with a small antenna, with an automotive battery, a power supply, a small solar panel and a gizmo
called a charge controller, you can operate a shortwave radio on 12 volts. This will bring you your local news and news from around the world. A scanner can tell you what local police and fire are doing. That same scanner will also pick up weather and Coast Guard. That same solar panel battery will also power a CB radio, a VHF/UHF radio for ham communications, and MURS and GMRS. It will also power your HF radio where you can talk and listen
around the world. Imagine that. Something like a 20 watt solar panel, a small charge controller, an automotive type battery, a scanner, an HF radio which you can also use for shortwave listening, and a modified VHF/UHF radio and you can listen to the world, talk to the world and also communicate with your local buddies. Don't forget the humble CB radio. And you can recharge your rechargeable batteries. Give it some thought. Hard times are coming. And if you want to be able to communicate, it is relatively simple. 
Time is running out.

We'll talk more later. 73, Frank


  1. Frank, can you discuss UPS systems especially benefits of a double-conversion unit? I'd like to protect my equipment as best I can.

    1. Interesting question. Unless you have very sophisticated AC operated units, then a double conversion may not be necessary. But if you do, here is website to check out.

      West Mountain produces a 12 volt back up system. It is also interesting.

      Thank you for the question. It's out of the range of most entry level hams.

      Take care,