Survival Radio Q & A

Hello Everybody, Frank here.

Over the last week or so, more on the so side that is, I have received some interesting questions via email. Serious questions. I’m going to attempt to give some serious answers, with some embedded humor, of course. Others out there may have the same type ideas, and I hope these folks’ questions will help fence sitters decide which way to go. So, here goes.

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Question #1 

Hello Frank,

First, I want to thank both you and Fern for what you do to help us and others.  I know that just like the rest of us, you are busy doing your best to prepare for whatever is coming our way, yet you take precious  time to extend a helping hand to anyone who will take the time to read your blog.  Please know that you are very much appreciated!

Secondly, I want to apologize for the length of this email and thank you in advance for the time you spend reading and hopefully responding to it.  A man’s time is a precious commodity.

We are attempting to set up an emergency communication system between three family member locations.  I am a total novice at this but I have been reading and researching for 2-3 months and based most of our plan on the information gleaned from your “Frank’s Radio Communications” articles.  I fully realize that I am stretching things to the limit here both technically and legally, and that it may not even be doable, but I have to try.

I’ll describe our situation as best I can, then list my questions.  We want to link the three family member locations, without relying on repeaters.  Since this is for emergency use, we want the system to be free standing.  We are located in hilly Southeastern Ohio, but fortunately all three locations are at or near the hill tops.  No one is down in a valley or a low area.

Location A:  This is my location.  I am not licensed yet, but I am studying for my Technician license and will be taking the exam September 17 (that’s the next exam date here).  I am setting up a “basic” 2 meter base station at this location.  I have a Yaesu FT-1900 (modified) for the base radio and have mast materials to put my antenna up 30-40′ AGL.  My mast will probably be okay close to 40′ with a small antenna, but less with a large antenna.  I’m using the military camouflage net support poles (heaviest aluminum type) and it is at the end of my house, supported firmly at 14′, leaving 26′ unsupported if I go to 40′.  I don’t want to use guy lines unless absolutely necessary, but I can if you think it’s required.  There are no power lines and if it came down it could only hit a metal roof.  At this location I want to be able to use the 2 meter ham band and maintain contact with locations B & C.

Location B:  This is my daughter.  At home, she is about 8 miles from my location with no major obstructions between us.  At work she is also about 8 miles away, but with some small building obstructions. Her plans are to use the system only for emergency contact with me, and it needs to be mobile so that she is covered at her work place.  For convenience, and cost control, we hope to be able to meet her needs with a 5 watt HT and a good quality antenna.

Location C:  This location is about 12 miles from me, with no major obstructions between us.  This is a stay-at-home person, but would also like the ability to go mobile if necessary.  I would still like to use the 5 watt HT if possible, but with a small mast if necessary.  I was hoping that we could use an antenna that would work for both the mast and mobile if needed.  The one I had in mind was the CA-2x4SR with a ground plane for the mast and a mag mount for mobile.

What I hope to do is use my base to access the 2 meter ham band and use the low MURS channels (151) to communicate with B & C.  Certainly, we are testing the limits here, but this seems to me to be the most economical  way for us to set up an emergency communication system.  I realize that we are asking a lot for a 2 meter antenna to also be effective for the MURS channels at 151 MHz, but my hope is to use a wide band antenna that is tunable to be resonate at about 148-149 MHz.  If I am correct, this should give me a usable range including the upper portion of the 2 meter band and the low MURS channels. 

My plan is to finish setting up my base as soon as I make the antenna decisions, then use my 5 watt HT with a mobile mag mount antenna on my vehicle to test the “system” at locations B & C before we buy any more equipment.

First question, in your opinion, is it possible to do this with the HTs and mobile antennas as described above?  If not, what would you suggest as minimum equipment requirements to get the job done?

Second question is which antennas would you recommend?  I have read and researched until my eyes are crossed and I cannot come up with a definitive answer.  For the mobiles, the CA-2x4SR looks good to me but I’m wide open to the voice of experience.  For my base antenna, I’m really undecided.  I currently have three on my “possibles list,”  the Hustler GC 144 (with the MKR-2 ground plane kit), the Hustler G6-144B (pricey & big), and the Diamond X50A.  The X50A is described as “pre-tuned” so I haven’t been able to find out if it is field tunable or not.  But, from the reviews I’ve read it seems to generally be tuned toward the upper end of the 2 meter band, which is just what I need.  One fellows review that I read said his was resonate at 149.5 out of the box.  Again, I am wide open to the voice of experience.

Soooo, there you have our situation.  Don’t worry about hurting my feelings with your comments and suggestions.  I’ve already been told by two Hams that I can’t do this with less than 200 Watts at each location.  I prefer efficiency to brute power, but if I am way off track here don’t hesitate to say so, just please give me some direction as to how to get to where we want to go.

Thank you

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This is the first of two emails. The second email will contain product recommendations and significantly more detail, but I want to assure you that this is doable. This is what I do.

 
Your CA2x4SR is an excellent choice. I use it for mobile and base with a ground plane. I’ll send more detail later, but you don’t need 200 watts. On a clear day 5 watts will get you where you want to go. During a torrential rain storm, more power may be needed, but not 200 watts.

 
I will send you a second email. I talk to friends 30 miles away on MURS 1, 2, & 3 simplex, or line of sight, on a handheld with a 2 inch stubby antenna. Does your tower really need to be 40 feet?

 
We’ll talk more later,

 

Frank
 
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Thank you so very much.  After the response I got from two different Hams (one was at Universal Radio) I was beginning to doubt myself on this project.  As far as the antenna height goes I was just trying to make it as effective as possible.  I would be thrilled if it didn’t have to go that high.

 

Thank you again and Please have a Blessed Day.
 

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Thank you for taking the time to read Frank‘s Radio Communications. To answer your most important question, Yes, it is doable, and your ham buddies are wrong. If you‘ve read Frank‘s Radio Communications then you know that Fern and I did this exact same thing on the MURS frequencies, and later on the ham bands. We would commonly talk on MURS at a distance of 25 miles using standard mag mount antennas, the Comet M24 to be precise, Wouxun HTs, an adapter for the antenna, and a quality microphone, using a battery eliminator. It works, and that’s what you want, you want it to work. This was about four or five years back. But remember, it worked.

Now, today, I use the CA-2×4 SR on all of my vehicles and my base station. The base station uses a ground plane adapter, and all use the UHF type connector. I have done nothing special to these antennas. They are tuneable, but I haven’t needed to do anything.

Your tower height may be a tad bit excessive. I take it 14 feet is close to your ridge. Unless you plan on putting up other antennas, if you don’t need the extra height, then don’t use it.

Your Yaesu is a nice radio and it’s been modified. Consider an Anytone AT-5888 for a base radio. It is UHF and VHF. The HTs are great when there is no weather around. The extra power of the base station will help drive through heavy rain. The reason I recommend the VHF/UHF Anytone is for UHF. Check out the GMRS frequencies, find one that no one uses. It can be your back up or your primary. Food for thought.

If you do use the battery eliminator and the external antenna, always keep the original antenna and battery handy in case you have to leave on foot quickly.

Yes, your idea is doable. The little Baofeng UV5R, is inexpensive and it works. For accessories check out Radioddity.com, because some use an SMA female and others use an SMA male type antenna connector. Buy two of the little handhelds, get your cell phone out and have somebody at

the other locations with their radio in hand and cell phone out. Call each other on the cell phone, pick a frequency or channel that no one is using. Remember you’ll have to program these radios yourself. Call each other on the cell phone, face the direction to which you are talking and see if you can make contact. You’ll have the cell phone as a back up to know. Set your power on your HT to maximum power. If you get a weak or bad signal, remember, be facing each other. Hold the handheld straight up and down. Try VHF which is MURS. Try UHF which is GMRS. If you have the ability, get up on a tall ladder, or up on top of your house. This should tell you what you want to know.

If it will work with two handy talkies, make sure you’re both outside, not inside a structure. If somebody has to be inside a building, have them stand in a window facing the direction they want to talk. Give it a try, see if it will work. What you‘ve invested at this stage is the cost of two handy talkies. On Amazon the UV5R sells for about $25.00 with free shipping. It is critical that you are facing each other just like you are having a conversation. If you get a poor signal, move two or three feet to the right or left and try again. If it works, then put up the outside antennas and you should be good to go. If you want to get a bit more sophisticated, then use a base station with a power supply. Always get a bigger power supply than you think you’ll need.

Now the procedures described above are for emergency communications. You’ve read this before. Doing 36 MPH in a 35 MPH zone is illegal. Doing 96 MPH in a 35 MPH is also illegal. Nobody cares if you do 36 MPH, but they do care if you’re doing 96 MPH. Always run the lowest power you can.

By the way, in reference to the 200 watt VHF radio? Some old time hams do not support any type of radio communication except ham radio. Many of the older hams see it as the ultimate hobby, and that’s great. You probably are going to use radio for a different purpose, and that’s great, too. It’s a big playing field and there is lots of room for everybody. I would like to see a 200 watt VHF that anybody sells.

A different topic. Copper Electronics has an SSB-CB on sale right now for an excellent price. It is a first class CB radio that cannot be modified in any form. If this is what you’re looking for, you won’t find this kind of deal very often. I have one, and it works. I have two more on the way. 

For you and everybody else out there, you might want to consider a scanner. Many ham radios will scan, but as a general rule, they are notoriously slow. Why a scanner? If you know an event is occurring, you can warn your loved ones ahead of time. It’s much better to avoid a problem, than deal with one. A scanner can save your life. You want to know what is out there.

Try to buy products that operate off of 12 volts. That simplifies your charging. If you’re using your car battery or you’re using a home power supply, it just makes life easier. Think about it. 

What we talked about up above with MURS and GMRS, I really hope this helps, but I know it works. I have used this technique, I still use it, and I use it everyday. Take care. Best of luck.      


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Question #2

Hello,

I am acquainted with you both from The Deliberate Agrarian, Herrick Kimball’s blog.

 
I am very intrigued with your communications post. I too believe in the profound importance of readiness and an impending radical change to our civilization.
 

I must confess though, in conjunction with an overwhelming amount of ideas/projects/responsibilities and the thought of adding something that I know is crucial but for which I lack interest/affinity or skill, stops me cold. I haven’t the resources (money, time and interest) to become a ham radio hobbyist but KNOW it is a necessity that should not be ignored because I am in over my head with other projects.

So my query is, how can I set up communications for a minimum investment in time and money? I am not talking about shortcuts but levels. It sounded as if there were some in your class that are at or were at, my level. 
I know you are busy folk so I will be grateful for any information you are able to impart. I will, in the meantime, search your blog and glean what I can. Thank you for sharing with us.

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Start with a Baofeng UV5R+, about $35.oo. Programming cable, about $10.00. Use the Chirp programming system, it is free. Any frequencies you need can be obtained at Radio Reference.com. An inexpensive supplier is Radioddity.com or Amazon. For ham radio assistance or advice contact your local ARRL club. You can find this information at ARRL.com.

Read the section called Frank’s Radio Communications in the right hand column, and this will answer most of your questions. Pam, I do not use ham radio for a hobby, I use ham radio and other forms of radio for survival. An inexpensive analog scanner comes in very handy, if you live in an area that supports analog.

When you get in touch with ARRL, tell them what you just told me, see if there are any classes being offered that are normally free, and ask for an Elmer, which is a teacher. If you don’t click with this one, ask for another one. The shoe doesn’t always fit the first time.

Best of luck.

 
Frank
 
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Thank you Frank, very much, for your time and knowledge.  I am deeply grateful and humble. Please know that I did not mean to be insulting when I used the word “hobbyist”.

I have read some of your articles and most of it goes over my head.  I have a innate ability with mechanics but electrical blows my mind (pun intended!). For instance, I truly cannot comprehend the difference between an ohm, a watt and an amp despite multiple attempts and patient friends and family.  Indeed, I will follow up on your information or try to persuade my husband to become interested.

Today, I wish the collapse would just hurry up and be done.  The waiting is interminable.
 
But I would be forever saddened at losing contact with folks like you and Mr. Kimball.  (I would call you by your surname, but you’ve never shared or I’ve never seen it. I am a firm believer in the use of Mr., Mrs., and Ms.. And “Mr. Frank” sounds like something a toddler uses with a neighbor.)

Again, many thanks for your response.

 

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Thank you for your question. You are correct, there were people in the ham radio class that had no interest at all in getting an amateur radio license. They were interested in survival communications, which was actually part of the title of the class.

Okay, let’s start. The equipment you need will depend on your desires. If you have friends down the road that you want to talk to, then you will need two way communications. If you just want to know what is happening down the street or across the county, then you’ll need listening only equipment. As mentioned in the question above, a respectable scanner will meet most people’s needs. If you live in a large city, you might consider a digital scanner. They’re expensive and difficult to program. If you live in smaller town America, or rural America, then an analog scanner will probably meet your need. You don’t know? Call your local emergency management office. They will know. Tell them what you want to find out, it is public knowledge.

If you need two way communication, first on the list is CB radio. Some people don’t like the trash talk, but it is a good means of communication and lots of people have CB radios.

Next, the GMRS walkie talkies. Hunters use them, little kids use them for play radios, my wife and I have used them for years around our little farm. Don’t believe the ads about 36 miles, that’s under perfect conditions. They will go as far as a CB, and the signal is a whole lot better. The CB and the GMRS are both line-of-sight communications. Back to the GMRS, mountain top to mountain top? As far as you can see. Valley to valley with a hill in the middle? Ain’t gonna happen. 

If you want to talk around the world it gets sharply more complicated, but it can be done. If you want to just listen around the world, a decent shortwave radio with a good antenna will let you listen, plus you can also listen to all of the ham radio frequencies with a good shortwave radio. It’s all in the antenna. Look for SSB when you’re checking out radios. Single side band. Sometimes called upper side band and lower side band.

For more detailed information, read Frank’s Radio Communications. Don’t spend any time on getting a Technician or General license. Read the other articles first about CB, GMRS, scanners and that type of stuff. I hope this information helps. After you do a little bit more research, put some more questions together. It’s really not that difficult. Take care.    

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Question #3

Help, need com & antennas, handhelds, ect… Have read your site. Need to get com going as fast as we can.

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Start with a Baofeng UV5R+. Use the Chirp programming system. Any frequencies you need can be obtained at Radio Reference.com. An inexpensive supplier is Radioddity.com. For ham radio assistance or advice contact your local ARRL club. You can find this information at ARRL.com.

Read the section called Frank’s Radio Communications in the right hand column, and this will answer most of your questions.

Best of luck.

Frank

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Dear Frank, Thank you for your reply. I like yours & Fern’s site. I have been reading your Com page and decided to try the Hand held’s you recommended, Midland GXT 1050s. I would like to extend the range so I was looking @ the exterior antennas . I guess I must have missed the one in the article that you recommended for that set. Thanks again for all you both do.   Good luck & stay vigilant & safe.

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Hello, there. I’m sorry to tell you, but the Midland 1050 is not made to accept an external antenna. It is a good radio for what it is intended for. Fern and I used these radios around our homestead for a long time before we switched to a commercial radio, which is just the same type of radio, except it is programmable. The GXT 1000 is the same as the GXT 1050, except it comes in black instead of camo. Remember, both of these are excellent radios, tough, durable and do a good job. But like anything, they have limitations. I’m glad you enjoy our work. Thank you.

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Ladies and Gentlemen, above I’ve addressed three relevant and pertinent questions. All three of these folks have the same thing in common. They all believe that we’re going to need communication beyond what we currently have available today. For whatever reason, if you are reading this blog, then you know that we have serious difficulties just over the horizon,

and in many places, those serious difficulties are already here. Just look at the immigrant problem right now in Europe. Look at our own southern border. These people are leaving their homes and going to a new place, not only to better their lives, but to escape where they’re coming from. This is just one example of what is happening in our world. I’m sorry, but our financial markets world wide are is disarray, and in the mid stages of collapse. Not the beginning stage, but the middle stages of collapse. If you look around, our churches are under attack, our schools are cesspools, our society, it has denigrated to a pathetic, disgusting level. 

These three questions addressed above are folks that are worried, and you should be too. I know I am. Read the questions above again. Three different perspectives, but all three see an urgent need to be able to communicate beyond normal day to day communications. What are you going to do when things shut down and your kids are miles away? Or your wife is at the dentist? Or your husband is on a trip somewhere? What are you going to do? Dial 911? Those people are going to go home and take care of their families. You should be taking care of your family, too. Look around. I don’t know how else to say it, but it is very, very near.

I hope you enjoy this read. Take care. May God be with you all.

We’ll talk more later, Frank

Radio – Stay In Touch

Hi Everybody, Frank here.

Hope all are well, and I hope everybody had a pleasant Thanksgiving. It’s always nice to stay in touch with friends and relatives, and Christmas is just around the corner. 

There are some of us out there that see we’re in perilous times. Let me explain. Have you paid attention to the Dow Jones lately? Record highs, right? And I know you’re paying attention to crude oil, copper, silver and

Baltic Dry. One market’s going one way, while other markets are going the other direction. And I know you’ve been paying attention to Ferguson, Missouri. A tragic event happened there. But the way the community responded, should have you seriously concerned. And I know you’re paying attention to the amnesty issue. On the other hand, there are multiple issues, and if I take off my shoes and socks, I can count many, many more issues, seriously pushing the envelope. If you can’t see what I’m talking about, then quit reading, turn on the football channel, and watch the cheerleaders jump up and down. Good. There went the vast majority of people to the football channel. Now we can talk without interruption. And, that’s what you want to do. To be able to talk without interruption. 

As mentioned above, you want to stay in touch with your friends and relatives. Here are some ways that you can stay in touch without grid power. Because if you agree with some of the dark topics I mentioned

earlier, then you know that one day we’re going to have some form of economic shutdown. We are in the process of it as we speak. Now. How are we going to stay in touch when the cellphones and hard line phones don’t work? When the internet is not working? We’re going to stay in touch the same ways hunters do when they’re out walking in the woods, and the same way the military and FEMA does for longer distance communications. Okay. Let’s go.

First, short distance communications. This is considered to be line of sight. If you’re on water, it’ll go a long ways. Hilltop to hilltop, a long ways, but it’s still line of sight. Now I’m going to talk about UHF and VHF frequencies. The first little radio is a GMRS/FRS. You can buy these at any sporting goods store, big box store, or online. They have 22 channels, up in the 460

MHz range. This is the type of radio hunters use, kids play with, and for the most part they are good solid radios. But, what you have in your hand, is what you’ve got. Some advertise 50 channels, not true. It is 22 channels with slight variations. Some advertise 36 miles, not true, unless you live in a perfect world, and that’s not true. I’m going to direct you to a previous post. But here is the GMRS that I recommend. These radios are not expandable and you cannot modify them. But if your buddy down the road, one mile, two miles or farther, depending on your terrain, has one, you can stay in touch. These are good radios, they’ll last for years if you take care of them.

Next, I would like to introduce what is called a commercial radio. It is made by BaoFeng, it operates in the VHF/UHF frequencies. It can be modified and expanded. Let me explain what a commercial radio is. If you buy this radio, there are no pre-programmed frequencies in it, like the above mentioned GMRS. It’s what is called open. The GMRS is UHF around 460 MHz. You can program in these same channels or frequencies into the 

BaoFeng radio. They are made for police department, fire department and ambulance type use. Some businesses also use them for commercial purposes, hence the name, commercial radio. Some big stores use these frequencies, Wal-Mart, Sam’s, and drive through type restaurants may use these commercial frequencies. But, remember, you need to program these radios, and there are various ways to do this. At this site, if you scroll down you will see a programming cable. It comes with a little disc, you put this in your computer, use the programming cable, and you can program this radio via your computer. This is where you can put in your GMRS frequencies. This is where you can put in the police department, fire department, and VHF/UHF ham radio frequencies. This little radio will work perfectly fine on these ham radio frequencies. Here is a link to a broader explanation about these handheld radios. The good part is, this handheld radio costs about $35.00 to $40.00. It is not a sophisticated radio. It is two channel operation, but you can only listen to one channel at a time. Read the previous posts, and you will get a lot more information. But these little radios work. They cost about the same as the GMRS mentioned above, will do the same job the GMRS does, and a whole lot more.

Word of caution. To operate the GMRS radio mentioned, you are supposed to have a license to do so. I guess some people do, but I’ve never met one that did. To transmit on any ham radio frequency, you will need the appropriate level ham radio license. These ham radio folks are very serious about other folks using radios inappropriately. Police, fire and EMS are also very serious about unauthorized people using the police and fire frequencies. Do not under any circumstances broadcast on any police or fire frequencies. They will find you and they will shut you down. But for the other frequencies, like GMRS, that is your call. These handheld commercial radios can be connected to an exterior antenna, something like a magnet mount on top of your car, that will sharply extend your range. You can find this information mentioned in the previous posts.

Next, we’re going to do a step up to another type of commercial radio. It will require an external antenna, an external power supply, and produces quite a bit more power. These are often used in automobiles, they can be used for home operations. For your home you will need a power supply and an external antenna. For your automobile you can use the same

antenna mentioned above and your car battery for a power supply. They have the same basic features as the handheld, except that you can listen on two channels at the same time, and you have much greater range due to the higher power. These radios also cost more, starting around $300.00, some a little more, some a little less. I would recommend the AnyTone AT-5888UV. The same laws and regulations apply to this radio that applies to the handhelds. For your ham radio operator, they’re sharply cheaper than most dual band ham radios. If you do search and rescue with proper authorization you can use these radios on police, fire, EMS, and you can use them with the ham frequencies if you have a ham radio license. It is legal with proper authorization and with proper licensing.

All the above mentioned radios are either VHF/UHF or just UHF. These are considered line of sight communication devices. If you live in an area that has a ham radio repeater, and you have a ham radio license, you can use the commercial radios. You can use the repeater which is still line of sight, but you broadcast from your radio to the repeater, then it repeats the signal out to other radios. Now to use these radios, as mentioned above, you’ll need an external antenna, and a power supply if you want to operate inside your house. I will provide links to some of these sites

This is a good time to mention safety. Handheld radios as a general rule do not produce enough power to do anyone harm. Your mobile radio, with more power, can. If you don’t know what you’re doing, don’t do it. Take a little time and read some of my previous posts about safety and equipment, and most of your questions should be answered there.

Now let’s talk about a little bit longer distance radio communications. The same safety rules apply. This type of radio communication is seldom used with a handheld or mobile radio. It can be, but not very successfully. You will be required to have a ham radio license to transmit on this type of system, but that doesn’t mean you can’t listen. ICOM makes an entry level HF radio, which is a solid, functional High Frequency transmitter and receiver. This radio will also receive all of the shortwave frequencies,

and it will transmit and receive all of the lower band ham frequencies with the proper antenna. You will also need a power supply. But the type of transmitting that I’m going to talk about now is NVIS. Do a Google and check this out. It has a radius of around 300 miles. The military and FEMA use this same type of system. It is a fairly reliable way to transmit and receive, covering a larger area. Again, about a 300 mile radius. You see, ham radio transmissions that bounce off of the atmosphere, some days are reliable and some days aren’t. But this type of system, NVIS, for the most part is reliable. NVIS, check it out. You will need a ham radio license to transmit on any ham radio. I’ve mentioned this type of system in other posts. Please take the time to read them. Follow all safety requirements.

What I’ve tried to put together today is a group of relatively inexpensive radios that are solid performers, and do a more than adequate job. If you need a radio with more bells and whistles, they’re available. If you want basic, reliable communications, what

I’ve given you here is a good start. There may come a day when you want to stay in touch with your friends and family, when normal forms of communication may not be available. I make no profit whatsoever from any radio post, it’s just that God has given me the ability to see what is coming. And if I can share with you, just a little bit, and encourage you to make that step, then maybe you can stay in touch with your loved ones when there are no other means of communication available. Under a very worse case scenario, you might be able to let your Bubba down the road know that something bad is coming his way. And in return, he can do the same for you. This is all just food for thought. 

While you’re at it, please check out the humble CB radio. At this link start at the bottom of the page and you will see four posts dealing with CB radio. There is a lot of very good information there. When things shut down, it will find it’s place again. 

You ask, “Well, how do I power these radios when things have shut down?” Read some of the earlier posts. A solar panel is a real easy way to have radio communications. If you’ve got a little extra jingle in your pocket, read the post about scanners. That’s all they do, and they’re much faster than the scan on your handheld radio. 

Get ready. It gets closer everyday. Now, aren’t you glad you didn’t change to the football channel? This is not a joke boys and girls, and once it hits the fan, it will be too late to prepare.

We’ll talk more later. Frank