Radio Communication for Preppers
This post is for preppers and “other ” people who have the desire to learn the gear and theory behind a multi layer communications system as it applies to an independent group both before an event and after.
First, this is my opinion not gospel
You will have to work out what works best for you, but consider the layers I present are learned over long term use and by operators with extensive knowledge in the field of radio communications. I also believe of you are not willing to learn before buying you will dump a pile of money into gear without having a clue what you are doing.
At that point, you are stockpiling gear for someone else to find.
The first layer in an adequate communications plan is your long range communication. I know, this is exactly opposite to what most tell you is needed for a communications plan.
My reasoning is as follows.
You need to gather intelligence strategically. After the event you wont have social media or satellite TV to get your world view from. I know a world view seems like overkill but knowing you are not alone outside of your community is actually a psychological need for humans.
You don’t need much, but you can spend money so learn before you buy everything at once. Again, this is my opinion and your milage may vary but I like these radios.
Short wave multi band radios
This radio is one of my favorites for general use long range listening. Its best feature is its ability to receive Single Side Band (SSB)
This is not a common feature and not one most new to radio are aware of.
You need to scan the side bands( upper and lower) because side band is the most common High Frequency ( HF) communications method used by amateur radio operators world wide, as well as military radios.
If you take anything from this post its the idea of listening to amateur radio frequencies. Long after Emergency Service radios are dead from lack of power or maintenance, there will be HAM radio operators using their own gear with scavenged solar panels and batteries working to talk to others passing information.
A long wire antenna rigged properly , as high as you can get it will work well for short wave/ general use frequencies for this radio.
This radio is considerable smaller, and has different features than the Eton I posted above.
To be honest its marketed at preppers as an emergency radio with its solar and crank chargers, and flashlight. Everything runs off the batteries which can charge with the AC, solar or crank.
And its ok, if you don’t know radio. For the average user, not receiving SSB is not a big deal but it is to me.
This is why. I will cover HF Transceiver’s farther down but with a receiver able to receive and monitor SSB HF frequencies, you can have 2 radios listening at once on HF, and the Eton is FAR less expensive than a second HF Transceiver.
Still, for a small radio for a bag or home use, hoping you will never use it, radios like this will be better than nothing. Consider with radio, you get exactly the capabilities you pay for. This will come up again.
The bargain in short wave radios for preppers
For some reason I have a hard time posting this as a link, so I highly recommend visiting CountyComm and look around. I own a few of their radios and I like them with reservations.
They run on batteries only, no cranks, no solar so no gimmicks, just a good receiver. Buy the extra antenna and keep it in the kit with the radio. You can also rig a long wire antenna off the base so your reception is better. The speaker is ok, and you can scan as well.
All in all this is the ganga deal for a short wave receiver.
This will lead to the next big question.
How can I talk to the people Im listening too?
Here’s the heart breaker for most people. In the US there’s only one way to communicate long to medium range and that’s with a HAM license.
The most common excuses range from not wanting to be on a list, believing its your right to do what you like without govt being in your business, morse code being a requirement etc. The list goes on, and I’ve heard it all.
Morse code is no longer a requirement to get any class of HAM radio license in the US
The first 2 license classes , Technician and General are both easy to test for and cheap to learn with zero specialized knowledge in electronics or math. Just buy the books and study.
Before you buy anything that will transmit you need to stop immediately and buy this book.
This book WILL save you thousands of dollars in wasted purchases and equipment tangents. This is the book every ham should have to give to a new guy so they can define what exactly they want to accomplish besides ” I just want to talk to someone”.
You can find whatever study material you like the best but get your license and get on with learning radio.
HF Radios I like
I like Yeasu radios. They resist dust and crud in my opinion as well as the high end and better than most at any price. The 857 is a good starter transceiver for the new ham operator. It can be carried as a mobile radio in a back pack, mounted in a vehicle or used a base unit.
This radio transmits at 100 watts at high power. 100 watts is enough to talk around the world. You don’t need amplifiers or gimmicks.
The 817 is exactly the same radio as the 857 except it has an internal battery tray and it transmits at 5 watts. In Hamspeak its a QRP radio. Simply that’s low power and its an art form but with practice you can reach around the world.
The thing to remember about radio is just because you can hear someone you may not necessarily be able to talk to them. This is largely because of antenna design and conditions you will learn about when you get your license.
Radio is very easy to make a mistake, and have it cost you $1000 in radio gear you have fried because its not plug and play. You have to know what you are doing, and getting a license, and talking to people who know what they are doing is paramount.
The Icom 7200 is roughly the same capabilities as the 857. Its marketed as an entry level HF radio and if you choose not to go the Yeasu route the Icom is a good choice. It transmits at 100 watts and with a proper antenna it will serve you well.
If you are a regular reader on my blog you know I am a proponent of antennas over large outlays of cash for the high end radio gear. Learn before you burn up your credit card. Buy this book or one like it, learn how to make your own and you will be able to fix it when it breaks. Very satisfying to talk around the world on an antenna you built from scrap wire and wood.
Before you get to far ahead of yourself , there is much more to HAM radio than getting a radio so learn, talk, hell email me and Ill send you my phone number because the most discouraging thing is getting into a new project and needing to buy something else.
These radios are roughly good from 30 miles out to 300-5000 miles. With the RIGHT antenna.
Short range 1-20 miles…..ish.
Heres where the fight begins. So these are my opinions.
I always push BUY ONCE, CRY ONCE. You do not save any money buying junk. It’s Rule #1 on my first page for a reason. If you buy a box of junk, store it away and HOPE it works or think you can make it work you are mistaken. You are playing at prepping and not serious about taking care of your family or yourself.
Enough of my preaching about junk vs quality
In other posts Ive talked about scanners and their specs so Ill just touch on them here.
You can find bargains for learning but you need a scanner to intercept communications around you in the area you operate in. A scanner acts like a tripwire for you.
I will recommend Uniden gear, Its also marketed as the Bearcat brand
Ok cool, what does all that crap mean?
It means, with this scanner and the lists of freqs I post the links and pics of, you program your scanner to listen too. You need to be ahead of the game especially short range.
Like I posted previously scanners and other communications gear are useful today, and need to be used to learn how they work. Radio is more than carrying around a hand held, wearing an orange vest and acting like you suddenly are in charge.
Radio is very much like everything else involved with prepping. If no one knows your actual capabilities you are ahead of the game. Any abilities you have should be a surprise to adversaries instead of them looking at you and knowing exactly what you are able to do.
I found this article and its a good overview of what I’m talking about.
It is VERY important you read and pay attention to how people operate who could likely turn on you. And how they view use of radios and frequencies they will be operating on. They are also mostly amateurs as far as their knowledge of the use of radio. They think everything is the same, from the bubble pack to high end HT (hand held) radios.
Everyone online spouting about how bad ass they are at “stand offs” with their guns and their gear but no comms are just play acting soldier. I point this article out specifically because these “militia” members arrived planning for 1-2 days with no comm gear, no food, no basic items just their gear on their backs. Look at the wish lists they sent with the convoy to Wal Mart. Very telling to see what they showed up without. They were most definitely NOT prepared for anything but a photo opportunity.
In this case as well in other stand offs the telling things are whats missing. Many are ex military and are not self supporting. They don’t plan needing to supply themselves with food, water and basic need items. They are accustomed to having the support they had in the military. They didn’t plan for the logistics which is second nature for prepper oriented people like us.
Learn from them, and make yourself better.
These people are your friends today, but they can very easily turn against you so you need to be able to program your scanner to listen to them.
Its about YOU and your close group, not about them.
Hand Held Radios or HT
This is where most suggest you start buying radios, because with your Tech license these are the frequencies you are authorized to use. Makes sense right?
NO, not if you learn first.
The General class license allows you to use HF and that’s where you need to concentrate on for your initial education.
When you learn about HF first the use of VHF and UHF is easy. Again my opinion. But after many years of using radio it makes more sense in the long term.
The vast majority of mobile and hand held radios are VHF/UHF
Short version means these are line of sight (LOS) radios.
If you can see it you can talk to it. Kind of. There is no such thing as a 50-100 mile majic hand held radio.
These are also the radios most often used with a repeater to extend the range of them.
So what HT is for you?
The first are the cheaper radios. You get exactly what you pay for so take this into consideration. You might get some to work fine, and never have a problem. You might.
I find buying quality is common sense when I plan on relying on it for real.
I hate to recommend these radios but if you are on a budget, and need to buy for your own peace of mind here are a few popular models.
What do I think? They are a band aid on a severe bleeder, in medical speak. They only make you think you have a radio. The best things about them is they are basically disposable. That doesn’t give me a warm fuzzy but……
My crew/group has decided we will have realistic standards and 1 set of spare parts, antennas and batteries without a conglomeration of radios and parts which don’t work together at all.
We like the Yeasu VX series radios, with the VX 7 being the favorite. The 7 is a commercial version of a military hand held in Japan and I love it. Its easily modded with software and is well supported by warranty and equipment accessory manufacturers. It is waterproof to 1 meter and basically dust proof.
However its been discontinued so we are progressing to the other sets in the VX series as we buy new radios.
I cannot emphasize how important having a standard piece of equipment in a team is. I cannot understand why people will buy multiple low cost radios because they want many of them instead of 1 in case ( when they stop working).
I’m not saying I have not used the lower end radios. I have, others I talk to regularly have. We all have come to the same opinion. If you want to run at the bottom of the barrel with questionable reliability and construction, go cheap.
You can find the Yeasu or other quality manufacturers at not much more than the low end price point.
If you need something to work out of the box and keep working…….well that’s why we decided on the radios we did.
You get what you pay for with radios.
No matter which radios you buy you want to upgrade to high gain antennas. Be careful when you buy as connectors on radios vary, which is another reason to have a standard radio for team use. 1 set of spare antennas, battery packs and accessories are better than a pile of miss matched gear in the dark.
Mobile radios-Vehicle and base
I put these after HT radios because they fit in the middle but you can do many of the things with an HT with a better antenna.
Mobile radios transmit at a much higher wattage than most HT radios. My HT transmits at 5 watts, my Dual band mobile transmits at 50 watts and my single band mobile 2m(vhf) transmits at 75 watts.
Wattage is not the end all of radios, more is not necessarily better at all.
I like mobile radios for my trucks and my house because I can fix mount them and use a high grade antenna permanently mounted. Not great for stealth but most people don’t have a clue what they are looking at when they see antennas anyway.
The 2900 is one of my favorites for heavy dust environments, and it transmits at 75 watts. Its only 2m( vhf) but if you are willing to learn about how the different frequencies are used and the specific abilities its an awesome radio.
This radio was built for Jeeps, open top off road ATV vehicles because it is a sealed unit. It can over heat from extended transmission times but if it does you are lacking good operating practice anyway.
The 8800 is a very popular radio over the 8900 because though the 8900 has the 6 and 10 meter bands as well, they are not capable of SSB use so most people who use the 6/10m bands will not be able to communicate with you.
The 8800 is the radio in my daily driver and my home as a base unit. It is simplex ( radio to radio) as well as repeater capable.
If I was buying 1 radio for UHF/VHF use this is it
Other bands/types in the layers.
Cb radios- stay away from the cheap FM type radios. You should be buying ONLY SSB capable CB radios. Every bubba has a CB, but most are not SSB radios. I covered the radio I have in another post
I wont rehash the same thing, its the best CB radio on the market today. My opinion of course.
FRS/GMRS radios- these are the common bubble pack radios as well as the higher end Garmin radio/GPS units. You can spend next to nothing or a bunch depending on what use you have. I like the GMRS freqs and I am developing a GMRS repeater in a box which I hope to have working soon.
You need a license for GMRS to stay legal, FRS you do not
Take a look here for more information on these and other “freeband frequencies and radios”
I do not have the same opinions about radios he does BUT his information on programming and freq lists are very thorough. Just understand most freq lists have channels in them which are illegal for use now and substantial fines and penalties come with them if you are caught transmitting on them. They are great scanner lists though.
More links to my posts and other important sites
https://brushbeater.wordpress.com/ Read and learn about communications and signal intercept.
http://www.preparedham.com/ More than I can post about Prepper and HAM radio
http://www.lulu.com/shop/sparks31/down-grid-communications/paperback/product-22669858.html – Buy this book, we lost a fantastic resource when Sparks31 went offline. Its cheap, and has an unbelievable amount of information on clandestine communication techniques for preppers, survivalists etc
Like most books I find irreplaceable I bought 2 copies so when some SOB steals one Ive got the second stashed.
OK 3100 words and I hope you’ve read this far with me. I have to emphasize this is as important as weapons, ammo and food. As Tevin has said on multiple forums, “Radio is the third leg on the prepping stool.” Without a way to learn about what is happening around you, you are blind.
I hope this has opened your eyes to the realities of real communications preparedness
Radio Communications for Preppers