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

OPSEC Communications

Hello Everybody, Frank here.

It’s the weekend and we had a great rain last night. Now the freshly tilled garden would be just the place for making mud angels. For you Yankee types, some of you would still be calling these snow angels, but here in the south we actually call it mud wrestling.  See, we have a problem here with communication. Some of you think snow tires and some of us think mud tires.

This previously driven article is about communications. It’s titled OPSEC which means operational security. This article is five years old, but the information is still the same today. We NEED to be able to communicate with our neighbors. No, it’s not the kind of communication that you say you can’t have with your teenage kids, you know, ‘we just can’t communicate’. The type of communications mentioned here is the life and death type, where you NEED to be able to talk to the person down the road.

The first picture down below is of Nunam Iqua, Alaska. Fern and I used to live there, it is located at the mouth of the Yukon River on the Bering Sea. For you curious types, the zip code is 99666. Google maps will take you right there. 

The article is about radios. This is not so much about ham radio, actually, it’s not about ham radio at all. It’s about the across-the-counter type of radios. But, ham radio is a good idea, it vastly expands your options. If you are of the level that you find reading Frank and Fern enjoyable, then you should have no difficulty with the first two levels of amateur radio testing for licensing. Ham radio can be very, very expensive, or it can be quite inexpensive. It’s kind of like flying a remote controlled airplane, now days commonly called drones. I didn’t realize some of those drones are as big as a jet, a big jet. But I’m drifting here. 

Something to remember. Anything that is said on a radio can be heard by someone else. I used to teach my teachers, if you don’t want someone to read something, then don’t write it. Same applies to radio. Anything you say can be heard by that drone flying in the air. Think about it.

Hope you enjoy the article. Have a great day. And get ready. It’s very near.

We’ll talk more later, Frank
 

Originally published January 4, 2014

Nunam Iqua, Alaska

Once upon a time, there were two people that lived in far bush Alaska that could see dark clouds on the horizon. These two people, knowing what dark clouds meant, started to prepare for a serious storm. As the clouds got closer, and the sky darkened, these two adventurous souls packed up all their gear and relocated to a somewhat safer location. Even though these people escaped this particular storm, the storms followed them to their new location. And the storms have continued to grow bigger and bigger and bigger.

Okee-dokee everybody, back to reality. My first experience with radio communication in the modern world we live in now, was with two little walkie-talkie radios. Fern and I were leaving Alaska and we were going to drive to southeast Oklahoma. Through a large portion of this trip there is no cell phone service. Since we were traveling in two separate vehicles, each pulling a U-Haul trailer, I bought a couple of the above mentioned handheld walkie talkies from Cabela’s. And that’s how this radio story started. That was five years ago, and here we are today.

I knew nothing about rechargeable batteries. I didn’t know that you could recharge batteries while you’re driving down the road. So we used eight alkaline batteries a day. You see, Fern and I are an odd couple. We actually like each other and enjoy talking to each other, so the radios came in real handy. So, after our little trip, which took eleven days, I discovered the benefits of rechargeable batteries.

110/12VDC charger

So, when we got here, we put the radios away for a while. I’m not sure exactly when or how or why, but we started using them again around our little farm here. And like many things in life, I had to experience a large learning curve. Well, we started using the little radios again and learned

about rechargeable batteries. I decided I wanted extra radios. I went online, found a couple, and not paying attention, realized they did not use a AA battery. But, instead these new radios used a AAA battery. This was not my plan, but I didn’t have the knowledge to know the difference. So, now I need AA and AAA rechargeable batteries. Well, this system worked out okay. I found a place online to buy batteries that I like. And I still use this same place, by the way. So, now I have a hand full of radios, two different types of batteries and the system is working pretty good. But the three AAA batteries will not stay charged near as long as four AA batteries. 

So, I decided to buy more radios. That’s when I started using the Midland GXT1000 and 1050. They are the same radio, one is black the other is camo. I got lucky when I bought this little radio, because it did something I didn’t know it 

would do. It comes with a rechargeable battery pack, which looks just like three AA’s put together. But it says it will take four AA’s, and it will. If you take the cover off and take the battery pack out, you will see that there is an extra slot for a fourth battery. The cool part is, these four AA rechargeable batteries, will also charge in the charging cradle that the radio came with. Here’s where I got lucky. Midland makes a bunch of radios that look just like this, that have the same set up with the same battery pack, but the other ones will not recharge the four rechargeable AA batteries while in the cradle. As the learning curve increased here, it was obvious that not all of these radios charge the same way. So, a bonus feature, because later on I bought some other Midland radios that looked identical, but I could not charge the four AA rechargeable batteries in the cradle. So much for that issue.

I know these little radios are advertised a certain mileage. But that is under perfect conditions. So, remember, these radios are line of sight, and if you need more information about how the radios operate and their properties, go to Frank’s Radio Communications page. These are good radios, high quality and they work well, and they did the job we needed around the farm.

I’m still, at this time, not into ham radio. I tried to get some of my friends and neighbors to get some of these little radios so we could keep in touch. No one was interested in this form of communication, and years later, they’re still not interested. That pretty much took care of the home issue. Now I wanted to be able to reach my wife by radio 30 miles away. Bigger 

issue. We tried CB radios with SSB and due to the properties of the CB radio, it just would not work. I live in hill country with small mountains. So one day, looking at a retail radio site, I noticed a programmable commercial radio. Did a little bit more research and realized that these radios would broadcast on the same frequency as my little walkie talkies. That is when I started to realize about different frequencies. You see, a CB radio is around 27 MHz. My little walkie talkies are around

460 MHz. These new little commercial radios are handheld and they would broadcast on the VHF band which includes most local police, fire and ambulance. It was also good on the ham radio frequencies, which at that time, I cared nothing about. All the ones I just mentioned, police, fire and ham, are in the VHF range, that’s around 140-155 MHz. But these little radios would also work for GMRS, which is my little walkie talkie, at around 460 MHz, which is UHF. There is also another free public band called MURS, which is around 150 MHz. So, I tried these little handheld commercial radios and they worked great on this frequency. Some of these activities mentioned here, some folks will tell you that you cannot use a commercial radio for, and they are right. But as long as you are not bothering anybody, most people don’t care. Also, remember that in an emergency, anyone can use any frequency if no other means is available. 
So, I put a couple of these little commercial radios, remember, these are handhelds, in our cars running legal power, and could talk to my wife most of her way to work. I dug out my old Radio Shack power supply, I put up an outside antenna, and used one of these little radios to talk to my wife all the way to work. The antenna outside of my house is what made the difference.

Okay. That’s where we were. So using a handheld radio, with an outside antenna at my house, I can now talk to my wife in her car. Shortly after this stage, I got my ham radio license, and we’ve made other changes since

then. But what I’m getting at here is, if you want to have communications, and you do not have a ham radio license, it is available. A small power supply, just about any transmitting and receiving radio, the proper antenna and you can talk to your buddy a good ways down the road, even with your little walkie talkie that does duck calls. That little gizmo thingy that your kid is out playing in the yard with, is probably a GMRS radio. Now, you cannot take a GMRS radio and attach it to an external antenna, you just can’t do it. But you can, with a handheld commercial radio, and it’s not difficult. Now don’t think you’re going to take one of these little handhelds and increase the power to 500 watts like some CBer’s do. They’re just not intended for that use.

But, that CB radio that you have out in your truck, is good for other purposes. All it is, is just a ham radio around 27 MHz, or in the ham world, called 11 meter, that will transmit line of sight. But it will also, when the atmosphere is right, transmit very long distances by bouncing off of the atmosphere. Read the other posts for more information on that. So, you have a CB radio, you can talk to your buddy down the road. If you have a GMRS radio, you can talk to your buddy down the road. Someday, you’re going to want to talk to your buddy down the road, because your cell phone and your telephone may not work. Some people say, “Hog wash! We’re always going to have electricity and telephones.” Yep, and the Titanic was floating just fine, until it hit that iceberg. 

Okay. Some little tips here. OPSEC. That translates into operational security. Anything you say on a radio can be heard by someone else. Let me say that again. Anything you say on a radio can be heard by somebody else. Any point where you transmit from can be located. Ham radio operators have a game where they try to locate a certain transmitter. The military and other government agencies also have that ability. So don’t think you can’t be found. If you’ve read some of my other posts, I emphasize, don’t be stupid.

Okay. Don’t use people names on the radio, because somebody is listening. Develop real simple little codes about locations and where you are. Teach other family members to do the same thing. Well, you say, “How are they going to know what channel I’m broadcasting on?” Anybody with a scanner that has these programmed will know exactly what frequency you’re broadcasting on. You ask, “How will they know where I’m located?” It’s called electronic triangulation. So, don’t kid yourself, that you’re smarter than the government, because some of those folks are very, very good at what they do.

So, if you’ve got a bunch of guys you go to church with, and you all have those little GMRS radios, one day at church, set up a time and see if everybody can talk to each other. Just practice and see if you can talk.

Also try it with CB radios, too. Then if you can communicate, set up a time to do it in an emergency. You say, “Well you talked about the power being off and I don’t want to use batteries.” Well, then don’t. Get you a couple of rechargeable batteries. And you say, “Well, fool. If the power is off, how am I going to recharge them?” Get you a teeny, weeny solar panel and check out this link. It will give you a lot more detail.

I use my little radios everyday. My wife gets this strange kick out of feeding farm animals. I don’t need to understand why, but she does. And we stay in contact. We make sure we have contact before she walks out the door. We make sure the batteries are charged. Give it some long term thought. Plan ahead, test your equipment. If you choose to advance to the ham radio hobby, then you will understand a whole lot more about what you are doing right now, and a different radio world will open up.

But if you choose not to, you can still communicate. And if you just want to listen, get you a scanner and a shortwave radio, and there are few things that you will not be able to listen to. The scanner is for local and the shortwave is for long distance. Because you might want to know when there is a forest fire coming your direction. It can also tell you from the National Weather Service, when a tornado is coming. And if you listen to the local ham radio weather clubs, using weather spotters, they will also tell you where the tornado is and what direction it’s traveling. Then you may hear when they’re loading up people into buses a mile or two down the road from you. By the way, don’t get on the bus.

When you see those big black clouds come rolling in, then you need to be able to communicate. It will be too late to find your radio and see if you have any batteries. It will be too late to set up a system of communication. It will be too late. Folks those dark clouds are gathering. Pay attention.

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 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
  
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

Antenna Tower Sneak Peak

Over the last few weeks, Frank has been working on upgrading our antenna towers. We’re still not finished, and hope to raise the last one today. There are many details that Frank will explain in a future article, but for today, you get a pictorial of our progress. Please feel free to ask questions in the comment section. We have learned a lot doing this project and are very pleased with the outcome so far.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prayer is healthy.

 
This has been, and continues to be, a big project for us. We are very excited about increasing our ability to communicate via radio, whether it is GMRS, MURS, CB or ham radio. This is a very important part of our survival plans. If at all possible, we want to know what is coming down the road before it gets here, and you should want to know, too. Don’t get on the truck.
Until next time – Fern

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

Around the Shack

Hello, Frank here.

Hi Everybody. Boy, I hope summer is over soon. Here in southeastern Oklahoma, it’s not only hot, but it’s humid. It’s a very wet year, and outside feels like a perpetual sauna. And, for you folks up north, I am very happy. I’m happy that you’re there and not here. Okay, so much for the weather and humor.

A couple of days back, Fern posted a picture on the header of the blog and I thought I would take this opportunity to talk about some of the radios. Also this week, I received an email from Dan Romanchik, KB6NU, the author of the No-Nonsense Study Guide manuals. I will include the entirety of his email and my response further down in this post. But for now, let’s talk radio. Fern likes the picture, as did I. She kind of likes the pictures with the sunlight in the background and the rays coming through. I guess it kind of adds a feeling of freshness and purity. These are the things we deal with in life.

Starting at the top left. You can’t see the entire radio, but it’s my old 300 channel scanner. I say old, it’s probably pushing around 20 years. It was made by Radio Shack, and it will scan all 300 channels in 1 second. It has 10 bands, 30 channels in each band, and each band has a priority channel. Which means, while scanning, it will go to each priority channel and see if any signal is there. So, if you’re listening to the police scanner, and you have set up another frequency as a priority, and your buddy calls to tell you the football team just scored, then it will interrupt whatever you’re listening to and bring you his message. It’s an analog scanner, because there was no such thing as digital when it was made. It is a Radio Shack Pro-2050. It’s a good little scanner. It’s got some nice features.

Next on the list, right directly underneath the scanner, is a VHF/UHF radio. It is the Alinco DR-635T. It is a ham radio, but it’s one of those ham radios that can be easily modified to broadcast on the frequencies that it advertises it will receive on. It’s a good little radio.

It’s respected in the ham world, but it is a ham radio. In the very near future, it is going to be replaced with an AnyTone AT-5888VU. The reason for this. The AnyTone is a commercial radio which will work fine on the ham frequencies, and it will also work on search and rescue frequencies, which, with permission, these frequencies are legal. It is not legal to use a modified ham radio on the search and rescue frequencies, even with permission. Are there many people out there using modified ham radios for search and rescue? You bet there are, lots of them. It’s up to you.

Just to the right of the VHF/UHF, is my trusty CB radio. You see folks, I like CB radio. I know the talk can get a little trashy at times. In this case I have chosen the Galaxy 979. It is your standard 40 channel CB radio with SSB, single side band. It has no modifications, and it’s pretty. It is a good solid performing CB/SSB radio. I have listened to and talked to people in various parts of our great nation with this CB radio. But you’ve taught, CB is line of sight. And it is. But if the atmospheric conditions are right, it will bounce off the atmosphere, just like any HF radio will. Because CB falls between the HF 10 and 12 meter bands. CB is sometimes referred to as 11 meter. If you’re looking for a good CB with SSB, check out the Galaxy line.

Next. In the center we have an ICOM IC-718. It is an HF radio. It is considered in many circles to be the bottom of the line, but it is a solid performing radio. It will cover 160 meters to 10 meters with the proper antenna. Sitting on top of it is an LDG IT 100 tuner. The tuner matches the antenna to the radio without going into any great detail. Do you have to have it? In my case, yes. But, some people don’t use them. On top of the tuner is an old Radio Shack speaker I have had for years. 

This 718 will listen, or receive, from 3kHz up to 30 MHz. That means, you can receive all of the HF ham frequencies. You can also receive all of the shortwave radio frequencies. And that also means you can listen to and receive the Citizens Band or CB frequencies, because right outside the CB frequencies, a lot of guys do Free Banding. This way they can avoid all of the traffic on the usual 40 CB frequencies. It’s not a legal practice, people all over the country do it. If you modify your 718, then all of the frequencies I’ve just mentioned, you can also transmit on. Remember, it’s not illegal to have a modified radio. Let’s take 60 meters for example. This radio will not broadcast on 60 meters. Can you modify it to where it will? Yes. Is it legal to broadcast on 60 meters? Yes it is. But for this radio to broadcast on 60 meters, then it must be modified. When you make that modification, can you then broadcast with this radio on the CB frequencies? Yes, you can. Is it legal? No, because it has not been approved by the FCC to do so. Do people use these radios to broadcast on the CB frequencies? Yes, they do. There is a group of radios called 10 meter export radios. The vast majority of these radios are used to broadcast on CB frequencies. Are they legal to do so? No. But I’d bet half of the truckers in this country have 10 meter/Export radios in their trucks, and use them on the CB bands. Remember, to broadcast on any ham frequencies, you need a ham radio license.

On this 718 a couple of nights ago, I talked to a gentleman in Oregon on 17 meter. There was a contest going on, and I run the power that comes out of the radio, which is 90 watts. It’ll actually run 100 watts, but I stay at 90. I know some of these boys out there run a whole lot more power than I do, but I got through. I heard him and he heard me. Then I listened to people talk to each other from Vermont to just north of L.A. on 17 meter, using my A99 CB antenna.

Okay. Speaking of antennas. Look just beneath the CB to the back wall. What you see are three sets of switches. Since my CB and my HF radio can use the same antennas, I have them both come in to the first switch on the right that you see. Coming into this switch is the A99, which is a CB type vertical antenna. Also coming into this switch is a dipole antenna rated 160 to 10 meter. I also have my first antenna, which is a 40 meter dipole, which I made out of 12 gauge house wire, coming in to this switch. So, there are three antennas going into this switch. The coax coming out of this switch and going to the one just to it’s left, goes into the center of the switch. Out of that switch, the coax goes to my CB radio and to the HF radio. This way I have a choice of three different antennas, going to one of two radios. Kind of confusing, I know, but it works. These switches also help provide lightening protection. There is no 100% way to provide total lightening protection. These just help.

Last on the list is a little hand held radio, bottom right hand side. I did a post on this radio a short time back. It is an HT BaoFeng UV-5R+. It is a hand held VHF/UHF commercial radio, that costs less than $40.00. It’s not a tremendously sophisticated radio, but it will provide you with a basic VHF/UHF full functioning radio. This particular radio comes in multiple colors, red, yellow, blue, black and camo. You say, “Why the different colors?” Some rural fire departments use these little radios, and it’s a whole lot easier to find a bright yellow dropped radio, than it is to find a black dropped radio. Fire sights have a tendency to be a little wet, hoses leak, tankers leak, and it’s easier to find a yellow radio than it is to find a black radio. You notice, mine are camo. Great little radio for the price.

New Alinco commercial radio

So, these are the basic radios that are in my shack today. As mentioned above, I will be trading out the VHF/UHF for an easier to operate commercial model. An editors note here. I have already bought the AnyTone radios to replace the Alincos. But I noticed a couple of days ago that Alinco has now come out with a VHF/UHF commercial radio. They have it at Universal Radio’s site. Check it out. 

So, these are the radios I use daily, well, almost daily. I keep my scanner going most of the time. I use a CB maybe once or twice a week, just for fun. And that’s about the same amount of time I spend on the HF rig, two or three nights a week, maybe 30 minutes to an hour. If you’d like more information, check out some of the previous articles and I think you’ll find some interesting information. As I’ve said before, there is something in radio for about everybody. If you’re the competitive type, there is contesting. There is search and rescue for those that like to get out and play in the dirt. There is shortwave listening. You can spend lots and lots of money, or you can do search and rescue with a $40.00 radio. I do radio for survival practice, because I think I can see what is coming. None of my equipment is high dollar, but it all does the job. If you want to buy high dollar stuff, it’ll work too. I hope you enjoyed the little tour. You might have noticed that I don’t use a computer doing ham radio. Can you? You bet you can. It’s just one of those things that if you choose to use a computer, you can.

Now, next on the list, I’d like for you to read an email from Dan Romanchik, KB6NU. And then, I’d like for you to read my response. 
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Thu, Sep 4, 2014

Hi, Frank:

Thanks for plugging my study guides on your blog. I wonder if you could make a couple of changes, though:

1. I like to refer to my study guides as KB6NU’s No-Nonsense study guides. KB6NU is a lot easier to remember than Romanchik. 🙂
2. Please use the link http://www.kb6nu.com/tech-manual instead of linking directly to the PDF file. That link has links to all my other study guides as well as the Tech manual.

Thanks & 73!

Dan KB6NU

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Dan,

Thank you for your manuals. I know when I first investigated ham radio, I was introduced to your manual and used it extensively along with QRZ to get my Technician’s license. I am in the process of working on my Extra, and I have purchased your No-Nonsense manual for the extra class. I’m also using the ARRL Extra book, and HamTestOnline.com. Hopefully, in the near future, I will be able to enjoy all of the bands.

It was an oversight on my part to not include your webpage. As a general rule, on many of the posts where I have mentioned your manual, we not only include the pdf to the manual, but also a link to your webpage. Everybody I know just calls you Romanchik, or some variation of that. (-:  I will certainly make the change to your call sign in my next mention, which will be very soon.

I personally want to thank you for the time and effort you have spent in writing your manuals. I do not know of anyone that has not used your Technician and General manual. Again, I thank you.

73s,
Frank
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Ladies and Gentlemen, it is my pleasure to be able to write these articles, I hope you find them enlightening, a little bit challenging, motivational to a certain extent, because this is what I do. Radio is a part of my life, it’s a part of my preparations for the future. If somehow it fits into your scheme, then please use any information provided here. We’re all in this thing together, and when it rains, it rains on all of us. So, take time to get ready. I hope you find a place for communications in your process of getting ready, because folks those dark clouds are getting closer and closer every day.

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