Radio – Let’s Get Started

Hello Everybody, Frank here.

I recently received this comment under a non-radio article. I’m going to share the comment with you, I’ll answer this man. He had some very good questions, valid points and is seeking information. The comment will be edited, by removing what part of the country he is from, otherwise it is mostly intact. 

Following the answer to his comment, I have included an older article that is a beginning step for understanding radio. Some of the information in here is dated, in other words, out dated. I’ll talk about that before you get to the article.
 
Hi Frank, Thanks for offering additional help! I’m interested, like you, in “survival communications”. Two primary areas of interest. First, I’m reading about two-way radios like the Midland you referenced; also looking at a Baofeng. Trying to decide if I want to get the license, etc. I’d like to be able to communicate with wife, children, and neighbors/church family around me. Neighbors are within a mile. Wife/kids could be 30 [miles] if I’m at work (or on way home) and they are home. Second, I’d like to get a good SW [shortwave] radio with SSB for listening. The new Baofeng I’m looking at has variable power, up to 8 watts. Not sure if one can charge batteries while in the unit like you can with the Midland.  Best Regards, Tim

Tim had some excellent points here. My very quick recommendation. A Baofeng. Why? It will do the same thing that the Midland radio will do, and significantly more. In many cases, for that matter, most cases, it costs less. The Baofeng can be charged in the cradle, it has a plethora of accessories, and you can attach an external antenna. 

One negative for the Baofeng is that it has to be programmed. There are multiple ways to do this. There are YouTube videos, you can attempt to decipher the instructions, there is a free program called Chirp, and the system that I use is called RT Systems. Chirp and RT Systems are via computer. I will include more information in future articles about the Baofeng.

While we’re here, in the article that follows, I recommended a Wouxun radio. It’s a good radio, but the Baofeng is newer and, in my opinion, just as good and costs significantly less. 

Tim’s second question. A good shortwave radio. Few shortwave radios have SSB, single side band. Why is this important? If you want to listen to the ham radio operators, you will need SSB. If you’ve got the jingle, here’s what I would do. Purchase an HF radio, which is a ham radio. You can listen to all the lower ham frequencies, plus all of the SW frequencies. It is a higher quality radio and has listening features that few SW radios have. You can also listen to CB on it, and if you ever get the desire to have your ham radio license, you can transmit on it. Remember, you can listen to any radio signal being transmitted. Transmitting is an entirely different ballgame. 

So, Tim, I would recommend a Baofeng UV-5R+, about $30.00 on Amazon. An RT System for programming, about $45.00. The money you will save on the Baofengs will pay for the programming system. 

For SW, an IC-718 made by ICOM. This radio runs new about $650, used $300 and up. Remember, it will do AM radio, CB, SW, all the lower ham bands which are 160-10M. For this radio you will need a power supply and an antenna which are both an extra expense. When you get your ham radio license, then you can use this radio to transmit on. The legal frequencies, anyway. Getting a ham radio license is very easy.

Ok, Tim, and everybody else. Next is an older, dated article that I think you will enjoy. It’s a start. Every few days I’m going to include an older article about radio in an order that will help folks get started. There have been some changes and I will point these out. Safety has not changed and will never change.

If you have a question, ask. Others have the same questions. Utilize YouTube. Check out ARRL. Check out QRZ.com

We’ll talk a whole lot more about this later. This is not difficult, it’s just new. And there are some new radios out there, too. There’s some new guns out there, too. Some are better, some are not. If you have a question, ask.

By the way, in this following article, there is a new weather radio I would recommend. I’ll get to it later. Enjoy.

We’ll talk more later.  Frank Feral 

Radio Communications Review

Originally published August 12, 2013

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

12 thoughts on “Radio – Let’s Get Started

  1. Hi, Tim. I would recommend the UV-5R+, it has become a standard radio. I buy mine from Amazon, they have a 5 pack at a pretty good price. Be cautious of buying a used radio. Some are good buys, some are trying to get rid of items that don't quite work right, and some are just junk.Check out ARRL. Play on their site and they will have a way to find local clubs in your area. Where I live there is one. Where you live there might be more. Go to their local sites and check out when and where the ham fests are. This might be a better place to get a used radio. Not always, but if you buy from a local, you have a better chance of getting a good radio.There's a guy that puts out a free Technician manual to study for the test. Dan Romanchik. He also charges a small fee to download the General test study guide. Get the Technician's study guide for free and see if you like it. It works exceptionally well. Just read the study guide. Then go to QRZ.com, to the resource tab, figure out how to sign in, and start taking free practice tests. It's really easy.Many folks can read the manual in one day, take a couple of practice tests and they are ready to take the Technician's test at a test site. It's really easy. The safety requirements are basic common sense. There are two simple formulas that you need to learn. The study guides on my site are outdated, but still very relevant. If you don't understand something, skip it. Ok. ARRL & QRZ. Find a local club. Find where the ham fests are and when. Study free tests on QRZ. Get the free Technician study guide. If you feel comfortable with the free study guide, pay for and download the General study guide. My next article will be the FCC rules and regulations. This should answer some of your questions.Take care. 73, Frank

  2. No rush. Take your time and recuperate! I'm enjoying reading through your other posts on becoming a HAM part 1,2,3,… There are some ICOM radio's for sale on Craigslist I'm watching; will definitely start out with a couple of Baofengs. Enjoy your weekend! Tim

  3. Hi, Scott. You're exactly right, that will get you up and listening. I know very little about the Alinco HF radios. Alinco seems to be stepping out with DMR radios, and I have admired their power supplies. I've been out for a couple of days and we will talk more about the technique that you recommend. By the way, my first antenna was Romex 12/2 house wire. It worked great.Thanks again, take care. Frank

  4. Hi, Tim. Hang in there, I just had my eye whacked on, very soon I will attempt to explain what Part 90 & Part 95 mean. You can listen to anything on anything. I will explain very soon. Good question, though. Remember it is illegal to drive 36MPH in a 35MPH zone. That's it. It's illegal. We'll talk more about that later. Frank

  5. CW, thank you for sharing. As age overtakes all of us, we seem to have a litany of maladys just around the corner. My most recent was having cataract removal, so I apologize for my delay in responding.In a couple of days we'll all work together and start building this communication process.Hope you're drying out. Keep your powder dry.Frank

  6. Frank, Another option for a shortwave receiver is the Alinco DX-SR8 ham radio, which can be had for ~$500 USD new. It can also be powered by an inexpensive 5 amp CB power supply for RECEIVE only. A decent length of wire will make a usable receive antenna for little added expense. Should one care to get licensed later, it makes a capable entry level rig when paired with the appropriate power supply & antenna.

  7. Frank – one more question about the Baofeng. I was reading a bit more about some versions of the UV-5R not having an FCC stamp. Some folks think this is a big deal as the radio does not conform to p90 (or something like that) regulations while others claim that for non-business, civilian use a different type approval or type testing governs whether or not the radio is illegal to operate. My plan is to use the radio to listen on all available frequencies but transmit only on FRS or maybe GMRS; would purchase the license for the latter. Thoughts? Thanks, Tim

  8. I should have explained myself better regarding the government and changes. I was referring to the fact that we as owner/operator of the FM radios must be licensed every so many years. When we first started using them the license fee was around $50. Approximately 20 years later, we paid $260 to renew the license. Also, changes were made to the frequencies and we now are unable to transmit much over 5 miles. So, after sharing your information with other family members we will make some big changes when our license is due to be renewed. Your article and future articles will assist us in making the changes. I'm very thankful and sorry for the confusion…Nice of you to ask about the flooding. Yes, it has affected our state and neighboring state of Nebraska significantly. We have had many fields and roads in our county under water, but things are improving slowly but surely. The planting of crops will be delayed for the next few weeks in our area. Some parts of our state have had much more damage and may have difficulty putting a crop in this year. We sure won't need any more rain in the near future. God bless the two of you, CW

  9. Hi, CW, thank you for the response.My father-in-law was with the Signal Corp in World War II. If I am not mistaken, most ships have a person on board that is still capable of communicating ship to ship with signal flags. Oftentimes radio communication is compromised. I don't understand what you mean by 'changes forced upon us'. You're correct, people have developed an unhealthy dependence upon smart phones and their capabilities. AM & FM radio will be used if there is any type of break down, AM being CB, that is. I'm a big proponent of CB, but, FM is a much clearer signal.Is your area flooding? I hope the best for those folks up there. No pun intended, but, stay in touch. Frank

  10. Frank, I like the Army Corp Signal flags on your header. You are doing a great job of teaching another method of communicating other than cell phones. Many now think of cell phones as an absolute necessity, however they have become extremely expensive, invasive, and sometimes unreliable. Our family has used FM radios for many years, but I am very aware of changes forced upon us by the government. I hope more people take your helpful information and look into purchasing some very important communication tools. Otherwise, they may have to rely on waving a white flag. CW

  11. Hi, Tim. I use the UV-5R+ which I buy on Amazon five at a time, for $134.00. All of my handhelds/HTs have 2 inch rubber duck antennas. I only use one watt of power. I have two repeaters close to my house, each one is approximately 20 miles as the crow flies. I can reach both of them comfortably with one watt of power.The only time you need extra power is during a heavy or driving rain. In that case, I would certainly use an external antenna, maybe a mag mount on a car, or a larger antenna on a small tower outside your house. A 20' piece of top rail fence pipe works great for this purpose. Either external antenna will increase your transmitting capabilities significantly.Always hold your radio straight up and down so your sending and receiving antennas have the same polarity, which means either both vertical or both horizontal. Hold your radio directly in front of your face, straight up and down, approximately six to ten inches from the radio microphone, and look or face the direction you want to transmit. That way the signal is not trying to go through your cranium. As far as standing out in a driving rain…..that's your call.The Voyager space craft that is currently leaving our solar system has a five watt transmitter. Eight watts would work better in a driving rain. I would start out with a standard UV-5R+, the RT programming system and go from there.I'll give you more information in the upcoming articles. Or go back and read the stuff under Frank's Radio Communications. And if you're smart enough to write in complete sentences and do the four basic math functions, you can easily get your Technician and General ham radio license. Both are on the same intellectual level, just more information. Go slow, don't be in a hurry and read the previous articles. And ALWAYS BE SAFE, especially in a driving rain. If you have questions, ask.Remember Tim the Tool Man? More power? More power is a sales technique. Think about the Voyager space craft.ARRL is a very useful site. It is also filled with a lot of information that you don't need to get your entry level license. I'm not saying the information is useless, I'm just saying that a beginner doesn't need it. Just look around in the site. Don't buy anything from them, they're ultra expensive, and overall they're a little bit uppity and a tad bit better than. Like I mentioned earlier, a 20' top rail fence pole, an antenna, some coax, an adapter from the coax to your radio antenna, a $7.00 microphone, and you have a radio station. That's it.If you've got questions, ask.Ok? Ok. Frank

  12. Wow Frank! Thanks so much for the additional information. Regarding the Baofeng, there is an updated UV-5R that has 3 power settings up to 8 watts max. It is, however, about 2x the cost of the original UV-5R (still only around $60). Do you think its worth the extra cost for up to 8 watts? Best Regards,Tim

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