One very important part of prepping is radio communications. It’s a great way to keep in contact with your family, neighbors, or your community if you have one. I have been using radios for the past 70 years so I know what I am talking about. I started when I was 8 years old, and I will soon be 79.
Most people don’t use radios for communication, and no cell phone while using radio technology is really not a radio communications tool. It requires electricity, working internet, and an active cell tower to work. Your Comm radios require only power. If the internet went down, your cell phone would become a piece of electronic junk. It can also be used to track you and if you use it for say Google email and your surfing, email, and surfing are not secure. To prove this, go search for dog food on your cell browser and see how quickly you get dog food ads. I could easily write a book on radio communications but will keep it simple.
Most communications that a prepper will be using will be handheld radios. Mostly they will be low power and will have a limited communications range. They will be FM (frequency modulated) types. The things that limit the distance a radio can communicate are the following:
Even expensive radio equipment will be limited by the above things so spending large amounts of cash will probably be wasteful. The only advantage of say an expensive commercial radio may be that they are more robust physically. But with simple radios for under $20.00, you can just toss one if it fails.
How to increase the range
The range will increase when you do the following:
A base station is usually a non-portable radio that has a higher power of 20 – 50 watts, and a vertical high gain antenna that is elevated as high as possible. The reason for this is that the base station can communicate with low-power portable radios. They can also relay information to all the portable radios. To increase communications over large distances using low power equipment will require a repeater.
You also need to understand that unless radio communications is encrypted, it is not secure. Digital radios are more secure than the standard FM radio as most people do not have digital equipment. In a grid-down situation, you will need some way to run your base station and charge the batteries in your radio. Solar power, rechargeable batteries, and AC inverters will be needed.
Note some of what I am talking about may have legal problems. This whole Blog is about prepping for an SHTF type of problem. At that point, there will not be anyone to enforce how communication is done. Until that eventual possibility obey all laws.
You talk the other person (Bob) listens. You (Joe) listen and the other person talks. You and the other person transmit and listen on the same frequency so you can’t talk or listen at the same time. This is the way most radios are set up. A radio is not a cell phone.
A duplex system where you can talk and hear at the same time. Joe and Bob can hear and talk at the same time A cell system is a Duplex system
A Cell System is a duplex system where you can talk and hear at the same time. If the cell tower is not working, then your cell phone is a worthless piece of junk. Also, the internet must be working as it keeps track of what tower you are using and will switch you from tower to tower as you move about. I don’t expect the internet or cell towers to be working during the deep days of the SHTF or a CME that takes out the grid.
A repeater is a powerful radio transmitter and receiver. They are usually put on towers or high buildings ( The antenna anyway). Repeaters allow someone with a low-power radio to talk over long distances. Here is how it works:
The repeater uses two frequencies. One that it transmits on and one that it receives on.
The repeater can receive and transmit at the same time. When a user uses the repeater, the user will transmit on the repeater receiving frequency and the repeater will re-transmit on the repeater transmit frequency. All the other users are listening to the repeaters transmit frequency as you transmit (talk). The advantage of a repeater is that it will allow a small low-powered HT (Handy Talkie) to communicate over long distances, A repeater user can only do 1 thing at a time – Transmit (Uses the repeater) or receives (Listens to the repeater. If the repeater is down, then the system will not work. This type of system is used by most city and state agencies – Also Ham Radio Operators
Most communications and the ones you will be using will be VHF or UHF radios and the antennas will be vertical polarized. Note: VHF = around 150 MHz and UHF = around 450 MHz. For most communications, you will be doing (VHF and UHF) radios and will be the line of sight. Note below is an example of a high gain vertical antenna. Mostly these are used as a base antenna and can be rotated and pointed. Your portable radio will be low gain and also vertical as shown below.
Perhaps this is too much but here goes. Radio waves are created using an oscillator and are usually fed into an amplifier. The amplifier is connected to the antenna via some sort of feed line. These oscillations are then connected to an antenna. See below. Antennas can be used to transmit or receive radio waves. When the electromagnetic radio waves strike the receiver antenna, it creates a current that can be detected by the receiver. This current can then be rectified to remove the audio information added to the radio waves with a modulator. This rectified or detected modulation can then be fed into an audio amplifier and speaker. Antennas have a resonant frequency as well. The one thing that determines the resonant frequency is the length.
Usually, VHF and UHF ranges are small. To communicate across a state or country or even the world requires high frequencies (HF). which are much lower (7-21 Mhz) in frequency than simple portable radios.
Oh no more radio stuff!!
Antennas have a resonant frequency as well. The one thing that determines the resonant frequency is the length. If a load is connected across the feed Line, the current will flow in the load. If the radio wave striking the antenna is not at the resonant frequency of the antenna, the current will flow, but at a much-reduced level. So just poking a wire in a transmitter will not work very well.
Before we get started, you need to understand some terms. These are full, half, and quarter-wave. When talking about antennas and waves, we are talking about the length of the antenna element as compared to the length of radio wave (wave – Length) that will be launched from it. Radio waves lengths are measured in meters. A 10 meter ( CB Radio) wave would have a length of 98.43 feet. Most CB antennas and HTs (handy talkies) use a 1/4 wave antenna which is not very efficient.
Other Types of Antenna
There are a huge number of antenna types. One thing that is common in all these types is that they all have a driven element. The driven element is what the feed line (for connecting RF energy) is attached to.
OK, so you don’t really like all those cheap toy HTs. Range sucks and you need to communicate over longer distances. There are only two ways to do that. One is the Family Radio Service (FRS) and General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS). And the best of all is Ham Radio or Amateur Radio operation. All the above are controlled and licensed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Most countries also have the equivalent to the FCC.
Below are examples of FRS and GMRS radios.
OK, that is enough for Blog 1 on Radio Comm prepping. Next comes Blog 2 on the subject. I hope I have not overdone this blog. See you in the Next.
Dennis – The Grand Solar Minimum Prepper