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

Scanner Inquiries

Hello Everybody, Frank here.
 
Recently, I received a couple of emails and comments requesting information about scanners. The type of scanner we’re talking about here is commonly referred to as your police scanner. Many radios now days will scan, some of them are notoriously slow, reason being their primary function is to transmit and receive. The scanning feature is just an added bonus. So, if you want to scan, then buy a scanner. Don’t buy a $35 VHF radio that has a scan feature and expect it to do the same thing that a $100 – $500 scanner will do. Don’t play head games with yourself.

Back to the issue at hand here. The most common question I get is, “What is the best scanner for me to buy?” This is what we’re going to attempt to address here. Included below is an article I did a while back. It is filled with information about scanners in general. At the end of it I will include updated information about three specific scanners. But now to answer that question, “What scanner is best for me to buy?”

I am not going to address handheld scanners, most of them have the same features as their big brother scanners. What’s left is the base/mobile scanner, in most cases they are the same radio. Prices run from about $100 to $500. Here’s the difference. An analog scanner only receives analog type signals. It is less expensive and older technology. Where I live, this is the only type scanner I need, since there are no other signals other than analog. 

The second type of scanner is called digital. It will receive the newer technology digital type signals, and the older technology of analog signals. The digital scanners cost considerably more. Here is where the problem comes. If you live in an area or city that only uses analog type transmissions, then any decent analog scanner will work fine. If you live in an area that has digital type transmissions, then you will need a digital type scanner, which costs sharply more. 

The next question should be, “How do I know if my area is digital, analog, or a combination of both?” First, contact your county emergency management coordinator. They should be able to give you an answer. Should is the key word here, no guarantees. Next, try your local fire department, police department, or sheriff’s office. Hopefully, somebody will be able to help you. No guarantees here either. Next, contact your local ARRL affiliate. These folks should be able to help you, but again, no guarantees. 

Now, back to the question, “What scanner is best for me?” I can’t answer that question. Now, please read the article below, and at the end of that article I will review three scanners that I have attempted to use and why.

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Originally published August 1, 2013

Hello, Frank here.

Let’s talk about scanners. Back a few years ago, there was only one type of scanner – the type you set on your desk at home. Then with the mobility of man, and wanting to spend time in his car, mobile scanners came along. As technology improved, and electronic parts kept getting smaller and smaller, they developed a scanner you can carry around in your hand – a handheld scanner. 

Scanners are for listening only. So it is okay to listen to aircraft

landing, because you don’t have to worry about sitting on a microphone. These are sometimes called police scanners, but actually that refers to any scanner. You can use these radios to listen to aircraft, police, fire, rescue, VHF/UHF ham frequencies, heaven forbid, I almost forgot NASCAR. You can listen to GMRS, FRS, MURS and of course, the weather frequencies. Some scanners are S.A.M.E. capable. Some scanners will receive local AM/FM commercial radio. Some will cover the CB frequencies, 26-27 MHz. Some will tell you your GPS location.

So, what do you want a scanner for? Most people use a scanner to listen to police and fire calls, monitor a few local VHF ham radio repeaters, that kind of thing. But mostly police, fire and ambulance.

A legal issue here. I have read in some states it is illegal to have a scanner in your vehicle. This is something you need to check out. Here where I live, we don’t have those kind of laws. So if you want to put a scanner in your vehicle, know what you are doing. Ignorance of the law is no excuse.

If you want to put a scanner in your house, most come with a little plug-in antenna that sticks in the back. Most base stations come with a power connection for AC. That’s all you need. If you live a distance away from a city, you might want to put an external antenna up. A basic discone antenna works fine.

Remember, this is receive only. This will also work pretty good for FM radio reception and your weather alert radio. Some discone antennas you can even transmit on, but that is a different story.

Some base station radios are conveniently powered by 12 volts DC. If you have a 12 volt power system, or if you are already operating off of a 30 amp 12 volt power supply, or if you are lucky enough to have a 12 volt solar system, then you have power for your base station scanner and hopefully every radio that you power. Discone, power supply, radio – you can listen to just about anything you want to listen to that is above about 27 MHz. So this antenna does not service shortwave or HF ham frequencies.

 A mobile scanner is made to operate in your vehicle. Again, you will need a power supply. If you install it in your car, you have a 12 volt supply. If you put it in your house then you will need to have a power supply. A magnet mount antenna is what most folks use for a mobile scanner in their vehicle. If you choose to use this radio in your home, then the above mentioned discone antenna will work fine.

Handheld scanners are fairly popular now days. Most of them will scan frequencies from 30 MHz upward, which leaves out the CB frequencies.

A lot of people use these scanners in their automobiles in place of a mobile and they use a device that holds a cell phone so they can see it readily. Some people use these at home also instead of a base radio. A difference here, though, is that few handheld scanners use 12 volt power. Some are 9 volt, some are 6 volt, but most will come with the appropriate adapter that plugs into an AC power supply or regular wall outlet. So, for mobile, home use or handheld use, the handheld radio will do the job for any situation. You can still hook it up to an outside antenna, whether mobile or base. But the power supply for mobile becomes a little more tricky. 

Some but not all handhelds, operate off of AA or AAA batteries. If it does operate off of batteries, then great, you can just change out the batteries when you need fresh power. Some you can recharge rechargeable batteries in from the power supply, so when you disconnect from your AC source, you will always have charged batteries. Newer handhelds are also powered by a USB connection from your computer or a cigar type plug-in that will attach to your automobile power port. Then you can power your radio with the USB connection from your automobile power port. Many newer vehicles have a USB port as part of the power supply. This power coming from your USB is either 5 VDC or 5.5 VDC, either one will work to power these scanners. In some of these scanners you can insert AA or AAA rechargeable batteries and they will recharge via the USB power connection.

A side note here. I have recently added USB connections to my 12 volt power supply. This way I can charge my cell phone, or a cell phone headset and a couple of my new battery operated lanterns. It’s always good to upgrade.

Now, something we have not talked about before. Adapters and connectors. My weather radio and my old scanner both use a RCA type connector for the external antenna. My newer old scanner uses
a BNC connector for the external antenna. Sometimes you are going

to need to connect a PL259 plug to an RCA connector, so the antenna signal will be compatible with your radio connector. I have included a link that has all kinds of adapters and connectors. Don’t be intimidated by it. It’s just adapts a square peg so it will fit into a round hole. This page is a great page. I would bookmark it.

But a little bit of teaching here. An RCA plug is the type of plug that you use to connect your stereo together. Your F adapter is what your cable TV comes in with. Don’t let this get to you. It’s just one more step in the educational process. When you are looking at these scanners and you go to the sites and you’re trying to figure out what you want, read the reviews. If you want a scanner that will monitor CB frequencies then your average scanner will not meet your need. If you want one to carry in your shirt pocket, or in your backpack, then a base station or mobile will not work. There is no perfect scanner. 

Now. One more issue. A few years ago, police and fire departments started changing to a digital frequency. Some departments have changed, some departments have not. You are going to have to

check with your local emergency office to see whether they broadcast on a digital or analog frequency. Where I live, all signals are analog. So, about any scanner would work just fine. Some towns have gone to all digital. An analog scanner will NOT receive digital signals. This is not the same as when TV signals went digital a few years ago. They are not related. Where I live nobody uses digital, but some places do. Also look for this when you are considering a scanner. I’ve included two articles on analog and digital. In most cases an analog scanner will do you fine. But in some cases it won’t.

Some of the digital scanners, and for that matter, analog scanners, are very difficult to program. I have a base station scanner that I thought was difficult to program until I bought a Uniden handheld scanner that I now never use. It’s one of those cases, that if you don’t use it on a regular, regular basis, you will not know how to operate it. And I bought two of those cute little handhelds that I never use, because they are too difficult for me to operate. But for the right person, they would be excellent scanners.

Play around. Look around. You will see that many of the things you have learned before are coming into shape. Antennas, power supplies, connectors, adapters – some are just for fun, some are life saving. This is all part of communication. 

We’ll talk more later. 73, Frank 

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Hi Everybody, Frank here again.

I have two older scanners that I use daily, but they will not accept some of the frequencies that I have tried to enter. So, here is what I did. I decided that I needed a digital scanner. I did a little research and bought a Whistler WS1065. It seemed to be the one made just for me. Why did I need a digital scanner? A little tongue in cheek here, so when FEMA is coming down my road with their buses and trucks using their advanced digital radios, I would know ahead of time and could avoid their intrusion into my harmonious daily life. Remember, don’t get on the bus. One small problem here. Neither Fern nor I could figure out how to program this radio. This is the first piece of electronic equipment that we have ever failed to program. Here is the solution. We bought the after market program that will make one’s life so much easier. Guess what? We still could not figure out how to program this radio. We didn’t quit here, I asked for assistance from my local ham radio group. Silence. Then I asked for assistance from my regional radio group via radio and email. You guessed it, more silence. So if there is anyone out there that knows how to program this scanner, please break the silence. Serious inquiries only.

Moving forward. I bought a Uniden Bearcat BC345CRS. It is an analog only scanner. If analog is all you need, this scanner is easy to program, has an AM/FM radio, alarm clock with a built in battery back up. It is easy to manually program. If this meets your need, do a Google search for various prices. I have one and use it daily.

Next on the list is the Uniden Bearcat BC355N. This is a slightly different style scanner. It can be used as a mobile or base scanner. It will need to be manually programmed. It is a little bit more difficult to program than the radio mentioned above, but once you get the hang of it, it goes very quickly. It is analog only. Also do a search for this radio, and check out Amazon. This is a small radio, but it works quite well.

Now, which scanner is best for you? That is entirely up to you. The closest digital signal to me is about 60 miles away. For me to use an analog only scanner will work just fine. Unless, of course, FEMA is barreling down the highway. Find out from the folks mentioned above what type signals you have in your area, analog or digital. I really wish that I could give you a more direct answer, but I can’t. Good luck.

We’ll talk more later, Frank

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

Radio – Basic Equipment & Start Up

Hello, Frank here.

I’ve had a couple of requests lately about entry level basic equipment and getting started. For those of you working on your General, I hope you’re well into whatever program you are using. I believe next in our studies is antennas, which is where we will continue. But tonight, will be a different topic.

Okay. Entry level equipment. First, you will need your Technician’s license. That will give you transmitting privileges from 30 MHz up, which includes VHF and UHF. Now, remember, this is just my opinion and recommendation, and this is the very minimum. I’m not going to cover HT’s (walkie talkies) here.

You will need a radio, an antenna, coax cable and a power supply. Radio. Alinco DR-635T. This radio covers your VHF/UHF ham bands, and if you have the desire to open up or modify this radio, it is very easy to do. This will allow you to transmit on MURS, GMRS/FRS frequencies, and if you’re really stupid, it will allow you to transmit on police and fire frequencies, too. This radio is not approved for broadcast on the modified frequencies. There are commercial radios made that will accommodate this need. This radio will work both in your car and as a base station.

For your automobile you now have your radio, your battery is your power supply. You will need an antenna. My recommendation is the Comet M-24M. That for your automobile is your complete kit. You will need to attach the radio to the battery for power, or you can use the cigarette lighter plug. The battery is first choice.

For your base station. Same radio. You will need a base

antenna. I am going to recommend a Comet CA-2x4SR. Yes, this is a mobile antenna. If you choose to modify your radio, this antenna will work for all of the frequencies mentioned above. With this you will also need a ground plane kit. Make sure both the antenna and the ground plane kit have UHF connections. Now, you will need some kind of pole to put this up on. Top rail fencing from your local lumber yard works great. Two 10′ pieces, with one bracket attached to the highest part of your house, normally the ridge. Put this antenna and ground plane kit at the very top. Now you will need some coax. For VHF/UHF short length and low power, use RG8X. If you’re going to run more than 50′ then a higher quality cable is needed. For your base station, you will need a power supply. Here is my recommendation for a small power supply, MFJ-4125. This will power your radio needs for years to come. That’s all you need for your base station. You have a radio, an antenna and ground plane, coax cable and a power supply. You need to have a way to get your antenna into your house. I drilled a hole

through my wall, used a PVC pipe, a 45 degree angle and ran it through that way. To keep out bugs, I use stainless steel scrubbing pads on both sides and spray heavily twice a year with bug spray. You will also need a grounding rod connected to the base of your antenna pole and connections between the pole and the grounding rod. Speaking of this antenna pole, this is the horizontal pipe that goes along the top of a chain link fence, it’s called top rail. One end is slightly crimped to allow the next piece to slide over it. Cut off one of these crimped pieces, about 3′, drive the non-crimped end into the ground, with the crimped part sticking above ground surface. Now slide the rest of your pole over the piece in the ground, align it with your bracket attached to the side of your ridge, of course, make sure it’s straight up and down. Now you have a good, solid pole. Some lumber yards carry 21′ lengths of this top rail and some don’t. Lowe’s carries it, but you will have to special order it. And if you do that, get the thicker gauge metal.

Okay, that’s your VHF and UHF mobile and base station. This is as basic as you can get. No switches, no power strips, that’s it. For lightening protection, unplug your power supply and disconnect your coax cable from the back of your radio. Put that piece of coax that you just disconnected into a glass jar

laying sideways. If you want to know what your SWR is for your radio, you will need an SWR meter. A very basic one is the MFJ-842. You’ll also need a coax jumper, RG8X will do fine. Footnote: all jumpers and coax should be PL-259 to PL-259. Okay that will do you for VHF/UHF.

I’m not going to discuss HF for mobile use. For most people it’s just not practical. There is a small portion of 10 meter that a Technician can use. For the other parts, you will need your General license. So, here goes. For your base station radio, let me reiterate, this is just one man’s opinion. My recommendation is the ICOM IC-718. You will need an antenna tuner. You do not have to

have an antenna tuner, but I highly recommend it, and my recommendation is the LDG IT-100. For this you will also need a jumper, RG8X will work just fine. Next you will need an antenna, for this my recommendation is a dipole antenna. If you only choose to operate one band, then a simple dipole will work great. If you choose to operate

multiple bands, here is a pretty good selection. These are made by Alpha Delta and they are all good dipole antennas. This dipole antenna, like most antennas, the higher the better it operates. Metal roofs and power lines will take away greatly from it’s performance. But you can mount it on the same pole as your VHF antenna. Come down about one foot from your VHF antenna, drill a hole through the pole, attach an eye hook and a light weight pulley. This is how you will attach your dipole at the center. Each end of the dipole is up to you. Again, the higher the better. For your coax use RG8X. You will also need an SWR meter and for this radio an MFJ-860 will work fine. You will also need one more jumper. This

radio operates off of the same power supply as the Alinco base station. Lightening applies the same with this radio. During a lightening storm unplug your outside antennas coming in and your power supply. 

Again, this is your very basic operating equipment. By the way, these are the radios that I use and the antennas that I use and the meters that I use. What I didn’t mention here is that it is not required that you have the following pieces of equipment. Power pole connectors make life very handy. Power strips come in real handy if you’re operating multiple 12 volt DC devices. A more professional tower comes in handy. All you need is a radio, an antenna, a power supply, coax cable, a meter, a couple of jumpers, a way to hold your antenna in the air and you need to ground the antennas attached to the pole by grounding the pole. Remember, always follow basic safety rules, it will pay off in the long run.

The reason for this post is because of the following email. All the equipment I mentioned here is new, and don’t forget, the HF radio is also an excellent shortwave receiver. The writer addresses time on the radio. There is no requirement for any time at all, just what you choose. Also remember I do radio from a survival perspective. I do not contest, but if you choose to, you certainly can. 98% of my radio time is listening.

I would like to start with Ham radio, but what has stopped me is the expense. Maybe you can write some posts for the lowest common denominator. Ham radio for the lowest of budgets. That would be helpful. Usually when people write about Ham radio operations it is just too much information, just like people who write about solar power. I got started with solar by watching a 2 minute or less video. The person broke it down and made it super easy. I was able to get started with less then $300 and it is enough power to run a laptop, light and modem and router for hours. By putting the few pieces together I learned what it took to do solar. That simple tutorial that showed a small setup hooked up and running was more valuable to me then all those complicated books and articles that I read about solar power!
I think if you write for the ‘haven’t started but would like to start’ crowd that would be a great service and it would get more people involved in Ham radio. In most people’s mind it seems too complicated and too much of a commitment – people have a lot on their plate. Economy is on everyone’s minds. Show how to start simple with just the basics so we can get the idea. People can always upgrade as their budget allows. It would be nice to have excellent equipment but that is not always possible for everyone. Having a small setup to communicate with is better then not having anything at all.  And then there is the subject of how much time does a person need to spend on the air?  That could be a show stopper for many.  I have a busy schedule with all my homemaking and homesteading duties and do not want to spend a gillion hours on the radio but want to have the abilities and skills should the occasion arise.

The person below has requested vendors which I have included with each item discussed. There are vendors that are cheaper and some that are more expensive. The items that I have listed can be found for less from some other vendors. I like Universal Radio, but I also buy from many other good folks out there. Hope this information helps.
 
I would like to buy a ham radio and antenna, but do not know what I should buy.  I am a  beginner, so I am not interested in a radio with lots of bells and whistles.  Just a basic get the job done type of radio.  Also looking for a good vendor to purchase said radio and antenna.  Also need to know how to properly install and set up antenna for best reception.

Also, where to get the study guides to get licensed.  In the future a license probably won’t be too important, but the knowledge on how to properly operate a radio using approved standards will be critical.

Any information you can give me will be great. 

Please remember, these are just my recommendations and opinions. Many people will disagree and say you have to have this and you have to have this. If you want to get started, this will get you there. Both of these radios are good, solid pieces of equipment. Many veteran ham operators use this same equipment everyday. Again, this is just my opinion. I will remind you that I am of the persuasion that someday we are going to face some type of collapse. Radio may be one of your only means of communication. I also use solar power. Please take the above statements with a grain of salt, because it is also, my opinion.

We’ll talk more later. 73, Frank

 

Radio Communications Review, Part 1

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
 

Radio Scanners

Hello, Frank here.

Let’s talk about scanners. Back a few years ago, there was only one type of scanner – the type you set on your desk at home. Then with the mobility of man, and wanting to spend time in his car, mobile scanners came along. As technology improved, and electronic parts kept getting smaller and smaller, they developed a scanner you can carry around in your hand – a handheld scanner. 

Scanners are for listening only. So it is okay to listen to aircraft

landing, because you don’t have to worry about sitting on a microphone. These are sometimes called police scanners, but actually that refers to any scanner. You can use these radios to listen to aircraft, police, fire, rescue, VHF/UHF ham frequencies, heaven forbid, I almost forgot NASCAR. You can listen to GMRS, FRS, MURS and of course, the weather frequencies. Some scanners are S.A.M.E. capable. Some scanners will receive local AM/FM commercial radio. Some will cover the CB frequencies, 26-27 MHz. Some will tell you your GPS location.

So, what do you want a scanner for? Most people use a scanner to listen to police and fire calls, monitor a few local VHF ham radio repeaters, that kind of thing. But mostly police, fire and ambulance.

A legal issue here. I have read in some states it is illegal to have a scanner in your vehicle. This is something you need to check out. Here where I live, we don’t have those kind of laws. So if you want to put a scanner in your vehicle, know what you are doing. Ignorance of the law is no excuse.

If you want to put a scanner in your house, most come with a little plug-in antenna that sticks in the back. Most base stations come with a power connection for AC. That’s all you need. If you live a distance away from a city, you might want to put an external antenna up. A basic discone antenna works fine.

Remember, this is receive only. This will also work pretty good for FM radio reception and your weather alert radio. Some discone antennas you can even transmit on, but that is a different story.

Some base station radios are conveniently powered by 12 volts DC. If you have a 12 volt power system, or if you are already operating off of a 30 amp 12 volt power supply, or if you are lucky enough to have a 12 volt solar system, then you have power for your base station scanner and hopefully every radio that you power. Discone, power supply, radio – you can listen to just about anything you want to listen to that is above about 27 MHz. So this antenna does not service shortwave or HF ham frequencies.

 A mobile scanner is made to operate in your vehicle. Again, you will need a power supply. If you install it in your car, you have a 12 volt supply. If you put it in your house then you will need to have a power supply. A magnet mount antenna is what most folks use for a mobile scanner in their vehicle. If you choose to use this radio in your home, then the above mentioned discone antenna will work fine.

Handheld scanners are fairly popular now days. Most of them will scan frequencies from 30 MHz upward, which leaves out the CB frequencies.

A lot of people use these scanners in their automobiles in place of a mobile and they use a device that holds a cell phone so they can see it readily. Some people use these at home also instead of a base radio. A difference here, though, is that few handheld scanners use 12 volt power. Some are 9 volt, some are 6 volt, but most will come with the appropriate adapter that plugs into an AC power supply or regular wall outlet. So, for mobile, home use or handheld use, the handheld radio will do the job for any situation. You can still hook it up to an outside antenna, whether mobile or base. But the power supply for mobile becomes a little more tricky. 

Some but not all handhelds, operate off of AA or AAA batteries. If it does operate off of batteries, then great, you can just change out the batteries when you need fresh power. Some you can recharge rechargeable batteries in from the power supply, so when you disconnect from your AC source, you will always have charged batteries. Newer handhelds are also powered by a USB connection from your computer or a cigar type plug-in that will attach to your automobile power port. Then you can power your radio with the USB connection from your automobile power port. Many newer vehicles have a USB port as part of the power supply. This power coming from your USB is either 5 VDC or 5.5 VDC, either one will work to power these scanners. In some of these scanners you can insert AA or AAA rechargeable batteries and they will recharge via the USB power connection.

A side note here. I have recently added USB connections to my 12 volt power supply. This way I can charge my cell phone, or a cell phone headset and a couple of my new battery operated lanterns. It’s always good to upgrade.

Now, something we have not talked about before. Adapters and connectors. My weather radio and my old scanner both use a RCA type connector for the external antenna. My newer old scanner uses

a BNC connector for the external antenna. Sometimes you are going

to need to connect a PL259 plug to an RCA connector, so the antenna signal will be compatible with your radio connector. I have included a link that has all kinds of adapters and connectors. Don’t be intimidated by it. It’s just adapts a square peg so it will fit into a round hole. This page is a great page. I would bookmark it.

But a little bit of teaching here. An RCA plug is the type of plug that you use to connect your stereo together. Your F adapter is what your cable TV comes in with. Don’t let this get to you. It’s just one more step in the educational process. When you are looking at these scanners and you go to the sites and you’re trying to figure out what you want, read the reviews. If you want a scanner that will monitor CB frequencies then your average scanner will not meet your need. If you want one to carry in your shirt pocket, or in your backpack, then a base station or mobile will not work. There is no perfect scanner. 

Now. One more issue. A few years ago, police and fire departments started changing to a digital frequency. Some departments have changed, some departments have not. You are going to have to

check with your local emergency office to see whether they broadcast on a digital or analog frequency. Where I live, all signals are analog. So, about any scanner would work just fine. Some towns have gone to all digital. An analog scanner will NOT receive digital signals. This is not the same as when TV signals went digital a few years ago. They are not related. Where I live nobody uses digital, but some places do. Also look for this when you are considering a scanner. I’ve included two articles on analog and digital. In most cases an analog scanner will do you fine. But in some cases it won’t.

Some of the digital scanners, and for that matter, analog scanners, are very difficult to program. I have a base station scanner that I thought was difficult to program until I bought a Uniden handheld scanner that I now never use. It’s one of those cases, that if you don’t use it on a regular, regular basis, you will not know how to operate it. And I bought two of those cute little handhelds that I never use, because they are too difficult for me to operate. But for the right person, they would be excellent scanners.

Play around. Look around. You will see that many of the things you have learned before are coming into shape. Antennas, power supplies, connectors, adapters – some are just for fun, some are life saving. This is all part of communication. 

We’ll talk more later. 73, Frank