Radio Communications Review, Part 1 – A Re-Post

Hello, Frank here.

If you are a regular reader, then you know a week or so back we introduced a re-post of an article that was a year or so old. This effort was very well accepted and we genuinely thank you. 

As most of you are aware, when, not if, our society shuts down, or collapses, then it will be too late to start making general preparations. I believe communication is one of the areas grossly overlooked by those that are trying to prepare. Whether you want to transmit on a radio, listen to local events or world events, then there are certain types of equipment that you will need. Most of these items can be dual or triple purpose, and will not break the bank unless you choose to do so. 

The following article is a re-post about basic radio communications. You can find many other articles listed under Frank’s Radio Communications. If this is of interest to you, then please read some of these articles. They are written in easy to understand language with the beginner in mind. Thank you for your considerations, and I hope you enjoy the following re-post. If you have a comment, please share it, because this is one way for all of us to learn. That little radio in your hand may some day save your life. Thank you again.

Originally published August 12, 2013

Hello, Frank here.

I’m going to try to summarize what we have talked about in the last ten posts. The reason being, my next radio post is going to start into ham or amateur radio. So, let’s go back and talk about all of the stuff I have covered so far. We have talked about the rules and regulations, and I will give you my recommendations on certain radios. Okay, let’s go.

CB radio is probably the most popular radio around and more people have them than any other type. There are basically two types of CB radios – non-single side band radios and single side band (SSB) radios.

Remember, CB radio is line-of-site communications, most of the time. CB radio operates at about 27 MHz. It will also bounce off of the ionosphere similar to HF ham radios. In some circles the CB radio is called an 11 meter radio. Any CB radio will skip off of the atmosphere if the conditions are right, but an SSB (single side band) will do a better job of it and give you greater distance. So if you want to talk to your cousin Leroy two blocks down the road, and there is not a hill in the way, any CB radio will do the job. If you want to play and listen to other folks much farther away, then SSB is the preferred method. I recommend the Galaxy line of CB radios with SSB. There are other manufacturers that make a quality radio, I just think the Galaxy is more dependable and is prettier. No one likes looking at an ugly radio.

We’ll talk about antennas, power supplies and coax cable later in this post. Next, let’s talk about GMRS/FRS radios. These radios are also very

popular. The vast, vast majority of them are handheld radios. People use them a great deal for hunting, keeping track of the kids and just play-type radios. These are also line-of-site communication. These will not bounce off of the ionosphere so you are not going to be hearing frequencies from around the world. These radios function at about 465 MHz. Because of the higher frequency they will work better from inside a building than your lower frequency radios. The big difference between these radios, in my opinion, are the batteries or power systems inside the radios. 

While we are writing this, there is a major electrical storm in our area. All of my antennas have been disconnected and our computers are unplugged. If I were a little bit smarter, I would also unplug my power supply.

In a previous post, we talked about the difference between GMRS and FRS, they are basically the same radio. These are excellent, high quality radios with a good clear signal for line-of-site communications. Do not believe the advertisements for 10, 20, 30 miles – this is a sales gimmick. Not all of us live on a flat planet, if we did, then the advertisements

would be correct. Remember, line-of-site. All GMRS radios will communicate with other GMRS radios regardless of the manufacturer. All the channels are the same frequencies. I recommend the Midland GXT1000VP4 or GXT1050VP4. They are the same radio – one is camo and one is black. The reason for this recommendation is that you can put four AA rechargeable batteries in the radio and the batteries will recharge while in the charging cradle. Some other Midland radios look identical, but they charge slightly different and will not recharge rechargeable batteries while in the charging cradle. I have used this radio for a number of years on our little farm.

Okay. We have reviewed CB and GMRS. There is one other type of radio frequency and it is the MURS frequencies. MURS comes with five frequencies operating at about 151 MHz. It is also line-of-site communications and will work fine inside of most buildings. There is not a major manufacturer that produces a MURS handheld radio, but you can buy a commercial radio, which we will talk about in just a minute, to use on the MURS frequencies. OK, CB, GMRS and MURS are the basic frequencies for non-ham communications. All three have about the same power output. CB and MURS do not require a license, GMRS does. 

A slightly different type of radio is a commercial radio. These radios are not set for any particular frequency and they will not operate on the CB

frequencies. But they will operate on the GMRS, MURS and the VHF/UHF ham radio frequencies. You have to program these radios yourself. Most of them come with a programming cable and computer disc that you download. My recommendation is the Wouxun handheld commercial radio. Many dealers sell them. I would recommend Universal Radio. It is 100% legal to use these radios on the ham radio frequencies. It is not legal to use these radios on MURS or GMRS. We will discuss legalities and license requirements in just a minute.

Non-transmitting radios. This is a group of radios that you listen to only. We’re going to talk about shortwave receivers, scanners, weather radios and there are a few others, but for the most part this covers them. Let’s start with weather radios. Weather radios connect to a radio frequency

provided by the National Weather Service. Most parts of the country receive good, clear weather radio signals. Very few places don’t. I would highly recommend a weather radio with S.A.M.E.  This feature will narrow down severe weather signals to the county level. If you live in an area that has the potential for tornadoes, I would highly recommend one of these for your home. My recommendation is a Midland WR300. It can be powered from a wall outlet, any 12 volt source and has a built in battery back up for when the power goes off, you can still receive signals. As I mentioned in a previous post, it is a little difficult to program. You can connect an external antenna and a flashing red beacon for those that are hearing impaired.

Scanners are another type of listen only radio. There are handheld, mobile and base scanners. The big question right now is whether it is digital or analog. Some communities are going to a digital signal similar to what

TV did nationwide a few years back. This is not a national movement. This is a local decision as to whether to go digital or stay analog. Many communities are not going digital. You will need to check with your local emergency management office. Some scanners are S.A.M.E. capable for weather alerts. New scanners will not receive telephone communications. Some will not receive the CB frequencies, but all will receive police, weather, fire, GMRS, MURS and the VHF/UHF ham frequencies. Some have external antenna capabilities. In some states it is illegal to have a scanner in your vehicle. This is your responsibility to find out the laws in your state.

I’m not going to talk much about marine band radios. Marine band is a two way radio. If you have a boat, or you live near the coast of the ocean or any large lake, or any navigable river then you can listen to marine band signals which includes the Coast Guard.

There are commercial frequencies on the marine bands. There are about 88 channels on each marine band radio. They operate at approximately 157 MHz. The commercial radio I mentioned earlier will also broadcast on these frequencies. Your scanner will also receive marine band frequencies. A little side note – your scanner will also receive railroad frequencies. If you choose to purchase a marine band radio and you choose to transmit on a marine band radio, then know which frequencies the government is using and do not use those frequencies.

Shortwave receivers receive the lower frequencies. 30 MHz down to about 1.8 MHz. These are receive radios only. Shortwave and ham band frequencies are intertwined everywhere between 30 and 1.8 MHz. Most shortwave broadcast signals are AM (amplitude modulation) radio, as is your CB radio, which falls in these frequencies. All ham radio frequencies are AM/SSB. So if you want to listen to the ham frequencies, you will need a radio that receives SSB. Most shortwave radios (SW) do not receive SSB. Some SW radios are capable of external antennas. If you are considering going into ham radio this would be the place to go ahead and buy an HF ham radio transceiver, which will transmit and receive on the SSB ham frequencies and also receive all of the AM shortwave transmissions. Shortwave radios can be as

inexpensive as $50 – $80 up to $10,000 and up. A beginner’s HF ham radio that will transmit and receive starts at around $700 and goes up. You do not have to have a license to listen to any frequency on any radio. But to transmit on the ham frequencies, you will need a ham radio license. We are going to discuss ham radio in much greater detail starting with the next radio post.

Ok. So much for radios. Power supplies. If you have a handheld radio, it will probably be powered by batteries. Some come with a built-in rechargeable battery. Some operate off of AA or AAA batteries that you

can replace with rechargeable batteries. If they will operate off of rechargeable batteries, I would recommend you go this route. All mobile radios, because of the nature of being mobile, will operate off of 12 VDC, which is actually 13.8 VDC. If you choose to use a mobile radio as a base radio, then you will need a separate power supply. Most receive radios use very, very little power. Just about any power supply will work. If you use a mobile CB as a base station then you will need a power supply that puts out 3 or 4 amps. If you’re going to operate a ham radio or more equipment off of your power supply then I would recommend that you go ahead and pick up a 30 amp power supply. This will provide you with enough power to operate your radios, receivers, battery chargers, charge your cell phones and other similar items. 

Antennas. Some radios will need an external antenna. If you are

operating in a vehicle, the only radio we have discussed that will need an external antenna, is a CB radio. Most people use a magnet mount antenna. If you decide to go into ham radio, then your antennas will become more varied because different frequencies need different antennas. There is no one antenna fits-all frequencies. For your CB base station at home, you will also need an external antenna. Go to the post where we talked about CB base station antennas. Your handheld radios, like GMRS and MURS, will operate for the most part off of their attached antennas. If you choose to attach an external antenna to your scanner or weather radio, I would recommend a basic discone antenna. It is built to receive these VHF frequencies. If you choose to connect an external antenna to your shortwave receiver, then I would recommend a long wire type antenna for this purpose. In the previous post about shortwave receivers, there is information about antennas. There
may come a day when you need some coaxial cable. This is what  

connects your antenna to your radio. You will also need a plug on each end of this cable and in most cases, it will be a PL-259, or a BNC type connector. For overall general purpose use, I would recommend RG-8X cable. It is a good all purpose cable for low power, short distance runs of under 25 feet. It also works well for your receive only radios.

Licensing. There is no license required for any receive radio. If you choose to become a ham radio operator, you will need a license. More on that in the next radio post. CB and MURS do not require a license. GMRS does. As I stated in a previous post, I have never met a person with a GMRS license. Which brings us to legal regulations. If you operate any transmit radio that interferes with any other type of telecommunications signal, then you are required by law to either fix your problem or cease transmitting. This is seldom, seldom a problem with legal power transmitters. If you choose for example to increase your CB power from 4 watts to, let’s say, 400 watts of power, and you cause the lady next door’s TV signal to be distorted, then you are running illegal power. If your 400 watt CB radio does not bother anybody or anything, then your radio is still illegal, but for

the most part, no one will care. If you decide to buy a commercial radio, which you can, and you choose to operate it on a frequency, for example the one the local airport is using, then you will find out very quickly that being stupid does not pay. If you choose to use an unauthorized frequency that interferes with the local fire department, again you will find out that some people might not think this is cute. If you run 5000 watts of power, as an example, and you want to talk to your buddy down the road and you don’t bother grandma’s TV signal and you don’t interfere with the local airport or fire department, then probably no one will care. If you choose to operate or modify your radio, and it is now considered illegal, this is your choice. Something I said earlier, if you are driving 36 in a 35 MPH zone, probably no one will notice or care. But….if you choose to drive 96 in a 35 MPH zone, then someone will notice and care. Again, this is your choice.

Speaking of 5000 watts. 5000 watts may be a tad bit of an exaggeration. But if you choose to pump up whatever radio you are using and you do not know what you are doing, you can fry your brain. No joke. No kidding. If you don’t know what you are doing with radio frequency, then DON’T DO IT. Lot’s of ham radio guys and non-ham radio guys run what is called, extra power. It’s not a question of legal or illegal, it’s a question of, if you don’t know what you are doing, you can cause permanent damage to your cute little girl’s brain. So, one more time, if you don’t know what you are doing, DON’T DO IT. Safety comes first. Always.

Next time, we’re going to get into ham radio. You will find the frequencies very similar to GMRS, FRS, CB and MURS because ham radio is not some miracle, mysterious thing. It’s just a group of frequencies or bands or meters that we all share every day. I hope this has helped somebody, somewhere along the way to understand radio communications just a little bit better. Look through the previous radio posts. They are filled with links, dealers, manufacturers, and regulations. 

We’ll talk more later. 73, Frank

3 thoughts on “Radio Communications Review, Part 1 – A Re-Post

  1. Hi Frank, Would you be available to offer an opinion on which model scanner might be the best/easiest for total scanner newbie/novices? I'd like to surprise my hubby with one for our anniversary, but have no clue what to look for, although your article on scanners (hopefully) will get me started in the right direction…Thanks for all of your expertise and Happy New Year.Melissa in MI (Yooper at heart)

  2. Just Me, thank you for the comment. As a general rule, people that read the radio posts seldom comment. But I know by the stats page that the articles are being read. Everybody starts off a novice. There is some good information in the other radio posts also under Frank's Radio Communications. Some of this information could be very valuable in the long run. It can help direct folks in a direction that they may not have thought of before. It might also be a way to save a little money and to avoid making costly mistakes. I've already made those costly mistakes for everybody. You're the only comment I got from this re-post. Thank you.Frank

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