My experience with SHTF radio communications so far

I thought I would write about something else besides weapons for a bit, and delve into something that many might consider as, or more, important than what rifle you pick. Communications. In particular, radio communications.

Now the first thing I would recommend to anyone interested in this stuff is check out the work by Sparks31, Danmorgan76, Brushbeater, and John Jacob Schmidt over at AMRRON. These men have been instrumental in me learning what I have so far. They truly do the liberty movement and preppers a massive service with their work, and if any of you happen to stumble across this I want to give you a heartfelt thank you for everything you have done.

I would also like to take this chance to echo all of their advice, and get your Ham radio license. It’s easier than getting a driver’s license, and cheaper. For $10, it is good for 10 years. All the answers are available online, or, like I did, you can get an app for your phone that basically tutors you. And it is a hobby full of people who are very eager to help. It is one of the few hobbies I can think of that actually fosters a sense of responsibility in helping new members get set up. The shooting sports/gun culture don’t even come close. If they did, maybe we wouldn’t have as many issues as we do today. Anyways….

So back to getting your license, because you are actually kind of serious about this stuff, right? I don’t mean to come off as condescending, but there is so much you are missing out on if all you do is buy some marine band radios or GMRS stuff. And I’m not even talking about HF yet.

So, now that I convinced you to get your license by looking up a date and place to test here, I’ll show you what I have been able to accomplish so far.

I basically divide my capabilities into local, or regional/national capabilities. For my local area, I have the usual FRS radios that you can get at department stores. These do not require a license whatsoever. These are what I consider my “neighborhood watch” or “around the farm” radios. I only expect these things to work out to about 3/4 of a mile or so. I know, I know, they advertise 30 miles on the package, but that is in space or something. I don’t get too wound up about it, because I have radios that will actually do that. The FRS radios come pre-programmed, and they are all the same. So channel 1 on a Motorola will communicate with Channel 1 on a Cobra, etc. This is nice for a local area with people who really don’t know squat about comms. But if you can tell them what channel to turn to, they can usually handle it. It takes about the same skill as putting the time into a microwave to blast some popcorn with one hand, and changing the channel on the TV remote with the other. I would think most of your neighbors should be able to handle that.

So, my next level out is still on the local level, but this time it has some teeth behind it. But, it requires a Technician ham license to transmit. You see, radios are typically capable of transmitting (sending a message) or receiving (um, receiving a message). In techno jargon, that type of equipment is called a transceiver. Just think of the Greek word tran, for “has both parts and is confusing”. So you see, it is perfectly legal to own a ham radio and listen on it, just not transmit.

So, I have no doubt ignited the sparks of someones mind, and they are thinking “I’ll just buy a radio, and not get a license!” Sure, and while your at it, why don’t you just buy a rifle and never shoot it. That way, I can make fun of you. Just like shooting, you need to get out and actually use the stuff to get good with it. And on the job is not the time to learn. And don’t, for the sake of the gentlemen I mentioned above, just think your going to read about this stuff and apply it when needed. Once again, treat it like shooting. Remember, we always revert to our lowest level of training when the feces is hitting the blades.

—So, a quick word on the ham licenses. This used to confuse me, along with the tran thing. There are three levels: Amateur Technician, Amateur General, and Jedi. Just kidding, the last is the Amateur Extra. In my humble opinion (for what it is worth), I think you should be like that boot butter bar, and shoot for General. (They should have named it Amateur Lance Corporal, that way you would actually know how to do something when you get it) That is what I have, and I got it the same day I got my Technician. Same 10 dollars even. So my point is that it is doable.—

So back to my local comms. Since I have all the Technician level privileges with my General license, I can use higher powered radios that run on similar frequencies to those of the little FRS radios. These are line of sight radios, but by line of sight, they mean more like ‘line of laser sight’, with the right antennas.

Now I don’t want to confuse you too soon. You see, what is really cool about ham radios, is that you can change out the antennas on them. (Go ahead, try it on your FRS or GMRS radio.) You can use anything you want for an antenna, as long as it works for the frequency you are on. You can use a fricking rain gutter, a garbage can, a random piece of wire, just about anything that is conductive. But it has to be RESONANT to work. If this type of thing interests you (as it should) then do yourself a big favor and check out the work of the guys above. So, back to my ‘line of laser sight’ comment. With the right antenna, and some height, you would be amazed at how far you can communicate with one of these hand held radios.

Just today in fact, I had to opportunity to get an antenna up pretty high, and I hit two repeaters that were each about 50 miles away from me, and also 50 miles apart from each other. I had not expected that at all. I was running my radio on High, but that is still only 5W of output power. In the ham radio world, that is not very much at all, considering the max allowed is 1000W.

So what kind of radio do I use? It is a Yaesu FT-60R. If you are just getting started and interested in this stuff, do yourself a favor and ignore the Baofengs for now. They have their place, but on your gear while providing security or trying to communicate with loved ones when there is no other help available to them, is not the place. They are good for a backup radio, or maybe one that stays at the house inside to communicate to the radio watch. Or, if you have lost your job, and you feel that you must have some radio communications, maybe then so you can bust it out and communicate with the local fire department during a search and rescue after a tornado or something. But even then, a good radio would be worth twice it’s weight in gold.

So why did I pick the FT-60R? Because Sparks and Danmorgan76 told me to. Seriously. The radio is nearly water proof , built like a tank, and the best part? You can use AA batteries or the rechargeable that comes with it. Now that in itself isn’t necessarily amazing, but what is great, is that you can still transmit at full power with AA’s. There aren’t many radios that will let you do that. Usually you can only get half power or so. This is definitely a nice feature, especially if you have a stock of rechargeable AA’s that you can swap out.

Now, I’ll be honest, I’m not a huge fan of the speaker mic connection. It’s like a regular Walkman headphone jack. I would prefer something heavier duty that screws on or other wise is very secure, but the radio is so small I rarely use it with the speaker mic anyways.

So what antennas do I use with this thing? The first thing to note about changing out antennas is the fact that you are probably going to want to get an adapter for a different style of connector. The factory connection is called an ‘SMA-female’. That is a very small, and diminutive looking connector. It kind of looks like the coax connector on the back of an old TV, but about half the size.

Radio (5)

 

 

So I got an ‘SMA-female’ to ‘BNC-female’ adapter. This is more like it. Instead of having this little connector with about 10 threads on it, I now have a nice fat one that only takes about a half turn to tighten. So now, whenever I look into getting a different antenna, I get one with a ‘BNC-male’ connector on it, to mate up to the female on the radio of course. This makes changing antennas in the field very quick and easy.

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Now to the antennas I use. The antenna that I usually have on the radio in the house or when I’m mobile (either foot or vehicle) is a Retech RHA-771. It is a flexible whip antenna that has worked pretty good so far. Make sure you check the connector type when ordering antennas.

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Now, what about if I am going to be stationary for awhile and want to communicate farther/better? This is the antenna I use. This was the antenna I was using to hit the repeaters at 50 miles. And for $25, it is worth every penny. I don’t use it all the time, because it has to be suspended somehow, but it is a great tool to have in the toolbox. And since it weighs less than a twinkie, you can easily fit one into your pack. (Just like a twinkie, minus the mess)

Radio (2)
10 feet of 3/4 PVC, my roll up slim jim, and five watts of power helped me hit two repeaters 50 miles away.

Now I’ll introduce a concept that will help you mount your radio on your gear. Your antenna does not have to be directly attached to your radio. That’s right, you can remotely mount your antenna, and use a small piece of cable (called a feedline in ham speak) to connect it to your radio. This is the same thing I was doing with my slim jim antenna. It has a 10 foot feedline on it. But on our gear, we will just use a little 6 inch or so feedline.

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This is a decent method for low profile use. If you a really worried about being stealthy you could use one of the little stubby antennas instead. I would need to spray paint this stuff too. My radio pouch would go to the right of my dump pouch.
Radio (11).jpg
Here is all my radio gear for local comms, minus a bigger antenna and feedline.

 

Radio (1)
And here it all is put away in a Condor radio pouch.

So I think I will call that good for now. I do have HF capabilities, but to be honest it would be a waste of time for me to discuss them right now. I am still getting that side of things set up. I am trying more to get my local comms system in place and working, because local is where it’s at. Keep that in mind, in everything you do, as you prepare and plan. The most important part of a wheel is the hub, and I think it will be that way for us in the coming days; you have to have a solid center before you can worry about anything else.

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My experience with SHTF radio communications so far

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