I want a cheap, easy to use radio with long range...
what do each of the following items have in common?
–– lower taxes.
–– honest politicians.
–– cheap, unlicensed, easy to use radios with long range.
none of them exist.
so, if you are about to start a thread along the lines of the following...
Originally Posted By xyz:
I am looking for suggestions on capable, 2 way communications that would be used primarily if the SHTF given that cell towers are not working, or just for use when traveling outside of cell coverage. I know from experience that the FRS and GFRS radios are complete crap. I am setting my budget at around $100 to $130 a radio. I want something with at least 10 mile (real miles, not line of sight) capability (if at all possible), handheld configuration (compatible with a base station add on later on), uses standard batteries (AA, C, whatever), and "somewhat" secure(in that Joe Blow cant walk into wally world, pick up a blister pack radio, and hear my communications)
Originally Posted By xyz:
I was thinking at work to day if TSHTF How would people communicate? I have 2 radios from work so I would plan on giving one to my friend or fiance, but regular walkie talkies are good for what 100-500 yards on a clear day? I have tried the ones that say they are good for 3 miles and they don't work within a half a mile.
Originally Posted By xyz:
I am not into cb radios or talking on ham radios. I really don't like to talk unless face to face. but i do know that i do need to be able to communicate or hear what is going on in the world and surrounding areas during shtf situations. so what are my options to cover this?
Originally Posted By xyz:
I want a radio that doesnt require any license, gets 40-50 mile range in any terrain, and oh yeah, it has to be really cheap too.
Originally Posted By xyz:
I wanna have more range than these junky little handheld radios you get at cabelas and dicks sporting goods for use when hunting or any situation where i might be further apart from someone i need to communicate with like a hunting buddy or whatever
Originally Posted By xyz:
Looking for some suggestions on reliable, good walkie talkie type radios that could be found fairly cheap for SHTF type scenario. Just something the local like minded people could buy now and be able to talk in that kind of scenario. Like for a scouting party. Multiple radios on the same frequency or multi frequency radios. Older, used, whatever...as long as they work. Something I can find on Ebay?
Originally Posted By xyz:
A few of us locals are taking steps to be ready if and when internet and cell phone comms go out. Can anyone recommend a good portable 2-way radio with a 20-mile range? Not looking for the Ham radio or anything with a huge antenna. Looking for something fairly reliable for mainly sporadic reports of things happening in our AO and to possibly arrange rally or bug-out points.
... the answer is "it's not straightforward."
your options are, in approximate order of increasing cost, complexity, and performance:
- Amateur (Ham) Radio
Originally Posted By JBlitzen:
Depends on your budget, and on what sorts of communication are utilized in your area.
Here are some good, and scattershot, rules of thumb to get you started:
A good dual band ham radio can usually be modded to pick up, let's say, 80% - 90% of local communications, and transmit back on maybe 20% - 75%. Of course, your local police station may be in that last 10%, with a digital trunking system or something. You really have to know what's around you.
A good scanner can usually pick up 90% - 100% of local communications, though it can't transmit at all.
A mobile radio with a good antenna will always transmit better than a handheld, even if the handheld has a good antenna, because mobile radios usually support much higher power output.
A mobile radio and a handheld radio, both attached to antennas of identical specs and positions, will usually receive equally well, since reception isn't really power based.
As a corrolary of those two points, if you want to transmit rather than just receive, even (or especially) just in emergencies, then you want to focus on mobile or base radios, rather than handheld radios. The advantage over handhelds is at least an order of magnitude. The cheap Icom mobile in my truck maxes out at 55 watts, my yaesu handhelds max out at 5 watts.
AM/FM broadcast bands are difficult to both tune into with any one ham radio, as they're so far apart on the RF spectrum. A good $10 am/fm radio will fill that hole in your listening needs.
Local communications are usually VHF or UHF, which are, basically, line of sight, and work like FM broadcast radio. If you can see the antenna tower, you can hear the station. If there's a building in the way, you probably can't.
Dual band usually refers to support for the 2 meter and 70 cm ham radio bands. 2 meter (144-148 mhz) is in the VHF range, and 70 cm (420-450 mhz) is in the UHF range, though it's not correct to say that 2 meter IS vhf or that 70 cm IS uhf, as the VHF and UHF ranges include a whole lot more than just those two ham bands. Thus, "dual band" isn't the same as "vhf/uhf". But, it's kinda close, and a lot of radio activity occurs within 50 mhz of one of those two bands. 800mhz has some public safety stuff (and a lot of the trunking public safety stuff), 200 mhz has a tiny bit of unencrypted military stuff, but most of what you'd actually want to listen to, except trunking public safety, will be within range of a dual band radio.
Triband usually includes those two bands as well as 1.25 meters, which is kind of an odd, small, and low power band, which isn't used for a whole lot, and which isn't surrounded by much of anything interesting. Kinda, not much point.
Quad band usually includes the same bands as a triband (2m, 1.25m, and 70cm), as well as 6 meter, which is an interesting band right on the edge of VHF, almost to HF. It's possible, under ideal conditions, to make long distance transmissions on the 6 meter band. Doesn't happen much, but it's very cool when it does. You certainly can't count on it for emergency use, though. There's some more interesting stuff around the 6 meter band than around the 1.25 meter band, but not a lot. Really kind of a niche band. One nice advantage is that quad band radios will sometimes support AM broadcast reception, and will often support FM broadcast reception. FM is around 100 mhz (when you tune in to 101.3 Warm Black Dude's Voice Cat Lady Radio, you're tuning to 101.3 mhz), which is usually out of reach of dual or triband radios as it's significantly lower than the designed 144.0 mhz lower limit. AM is around, seriously, 1 mhz. When you tune into 1180 WHAM Rush Beck News Radio, you're tuning in to 1.180 mhz. Note the decimal place. That's why you seldom find both of those bands on the same radio. The AM antenna has to be shoehorned in around all the other complicated shit, somehow without it being interfered with, and the FM broadcast band is in an engineering dead zone smack between the intended reception and transmit bands.
Long distance communications are usually HF, which is weak enough that it can bounce off of our ionosphere and return to earth, rather than penetrating the ionosphere. That works like AM radio (which is actually medium frequency, lower even than HF, though there is a ham band there) (160 meters), where you can often hear stations at night that are not just counties but states or even countries away from you. And yes, standard HF ham radios can transmit at the same distances, although usually with lower power. One problem is that HF requires... patient... antennas. Which is to say, large antennas. Another problem is that HF requires a lot of power, since you're sending that signal way the hell up into lower earth orbit, bouncing it off of energy, and then sending it way the hell back down again, 1500 miles away. Bit more difficult than sending a cell phone signal to a cell tower 3 miles away. Thus, you never really see any portable HF radios. They're all mobile (designed to run off of high capacity vehicle batteries) or base (designed to run off of dedicated battery banks or AC power).
Shortwave, AM, and HF, all work almost identically. CB is in that group, too, although CB equipment is legally so limited in power and capability as to be irrelevant, unless you happen to be trying to talk to someone with a CB, in which case it's the only way to fly.
So, to fill out your communication niche, to listen to just about all communications, and transmit back on as many as possible, you'd want a mobile or base HF radio, a mobile or base VHF/UHF radio (possibly combined), a dedicated scanner or a very wideband VHF/UHF ham radio, and a simple AM/FM pocket radio for thsoe bands.
To give you an idea of what that would cover:
All ham frequencies
All shortwave frequencies (listen only, with emergency transmit)
All CB frequencies (listen only, with emergency transmit of dubious success)
AM broadcast band
FM broadcast band
Analog TV band
NOAA/All Hazards frequencies
All unencrypted public safety frequencies and bands
Most unencrypted government frequencies and bands
Most unencrypted military frequencies and bands (not satellite or ELF or stuff, of course)
Most unencrypted private frequencies and bands (again, not satellite or whatever)
Stormchasers/Skywarn/RACES storm spotting
Unencrypted 900mhz cordless phones
International Space Station
Amateur radio satellites
Unencrypted federal agencies
Unencrypted Air Force One
Marine (boats n stuff)
Things you wouldn't get:
Military and commercial satellite frequencies and bands
A couple other odds and ends.
A special note about the Skywarn line in the above list of capabilities: many if not most tornado warnings originate from unencrypted ham radio transmissions from qualified storm spotters. If you have any interest in, or concern about, local tornadoes, hurricanes, or other severe weather, it is essential that you have the capability to monitor these transmissions, usually somewhere in the 2 meter band (144-148mhz). You will receive information about developing storms several minutes before the weather guy on TV does.
Now, if you only had one radio per car, and you wanted to be able to get in touch with your wife, I would recommend a mobile radio with a good antenna for each.
Handhelds are radically less effective than base or mobile radios, though of course are the only real option when outside of vehicles and away from a base station.
If you can get mobile radios that support crossband repeat, that enhances your capabilities a little, by extending the utility of your mobile radios to a line of sight perimeter around the vehicles. A member of this forum was able to use that capability, after a hunting accident, to call for help while outside of cell phone calling area. He transmitted from his handheld radio, which relayed/repeated through his distant vehicle's mobile radio, which was able to reach someone who was able to alert the authorities and convey his location and status.
If you can get mobile radios that support HF, that's really cool, and really fun, but adds nothing to your local capabilities, while compelling you to use a more complicated antenna system on the vehicles.
On the other hand, *some* dual band VHF/UHF handheld ham radios make decent little scanners on their own. They can't track trunking conversations, but they can get pretty close, and can pick up most everything else. I like my FT-60R's for that purpose, though quad band radios have wider receive and transmit capabilities. Unfortunately, I'm not aware of any quad band radios that can run on high power from internal alkaline or lithium batteries. Additionally, the extra spectrum access really doesn't cover much of anything, except a small public safety band that isn't often used, and one or two other little things.
My setup is an FT-60R handheld dual band as a portable radio/scanner, with an IC-208H mobile dual band VHF/UHF in my truck, and an IC-706MKIIG mobile HF/VHF/UHF as a base station usually packed in a pelican case.
I started with the mobile radio, and I'm glad I did.
I've never tested the range on it, but I can hit repeaters from 15 miles away in a city with no signal loss whatsoever. It can also pick up nearly all of the local public safety frequencies.
As you can see, all of this kinda flies in the face of affordability.
My starting radio was about $300, I think. And it doesn't support crossband repeat. A crossband repeat capable mobile radio would run somewhere around $400.
A suitable antenna would be $50 to $75. Appropriate cable would be another couple bucks.
Installing it is a chore, but you can do it yourself. Not much more difficult than installing a new car stereo and speakers and stuff. Almost any car audio installer will be happy to install ham equipment for a couple bucks.
The Yaesu FT-8800R would probably be ideal for that purpose.
If you want to go cheaper, and are only interested in communication with your spouse, and listening to other people, but never, ever, even if your spouse is on fire, being able to communicate to people you hear, then you could go with a single band mobile radio in each car, like an FT-1900R ($140 at universal radio) or an IC-2200H ($160), again with $40-$60 antennas each, for about $200 - $250 each car. Then get a portable trunking scanner for a little under $200, like a radio shack or uniden or something, to give you that listening capability.
If you want to go even cheaper, then you can do handheld radios, like FRS/GMRS blister packs, but they tend to universally suck. They're okay if you're in a car following your spouse, but if the two cars get separated, because one gets lost, then you might easily wind up fucked.
Unfortunately, handheld ham radios don't fare a whole lot better. There are unavoidable limitations when you compress a power supply and antenna into a device you can clip on to your belt. While it's true that you can plug handheld amateur radios into vehicle mounted antennas designed for handhelds (assuming the appropriate impedence; you probably can't pull that trick off with a cable and antenna designed for a mobile radio, since I believe they're 75 ohm, rather than 50 ohm that handhelds expect), you're still only transmitting at 5 watts max, and that's going to give you trouble.
But, an FRS/GMRS blister pack set can be a good way to start feeling your way into radio communications. They're also usually much easier to use than ham equipment, because their capabilities are so very limited. That can make them more appealling to disinterested spouses.
To give you an idea of what ham radios are capable of, if the above doesn't suggest it, consider these examples:
1. Severe storms are approaching your area. You set your portable ham radio to scan between the skywarn RACES repeater frequencies of three different counties; yours and two upwind of you. You listen to the storm spotters and the national weather service talk to each other about what they're seeing in person and on radar. You hear about a tornado sighting when it's five miles away. Two minutes later, the guy on the TV in front of you finally mentions that there's a tornado warning, but you already had that information, and had called your kids in from the yard.
2. You're out hunting, and you fall from your treestand and break your leg. You're unable to walk, three miles from your vehicle, twenty miles from town, and you can't get cell phone reception, so you request help via your portable ham radio, through your vehicle's powerful crossband repeat radio, to an area ham radio operator, who calls an ambulance for you. This, as mentioned elsewhere in this post, is basically what happened to a forum member here.
3. I go to a river lock for fun. Boats approach the lock. I take out my FT-60R, set it to smart search the marine band, and put it back on my belt. Two minutes later, I take it out again, and flip through the three results it found. One's a beacon, I can't figure out what the second one is due to there being no current traffic, but the third is the marine frequency that the lock uses to communicate with boats. I leave the radio on that, and listen in as the boats go through the lock cycle. If I had any reason to, I could press the transmit button and speak to both the boats and to the lock operator. Doing so would violate FCC rules, as the radio is not certified to transmit in the marine band. However, FCC rules also state that, in an emergency, I can use any damned means necessary to obtain help, which means that, if I fell down and broke my leg behind a bush, and I couldn't get cell reception and nobody responded to shouts, I would be legally permitted to hit that transmit button. Mundane, but a good example of the technical capabilities.
4. You swerve to miss a deer on the road. You end up running off the road into a tree, receiving light wounds in the process. The road isn't used much, it's six miles to a road that is, and you have no cell reception. Calling for help on your mobile radio obtains no answer from the local repeaters or the simplex emergency frequency. You scan through some public safety bands and immediately come across a state trooper communicating to his dispatcher about a traffic stop a couple miles away. You hit the transmit button and the dispatcher hears you. You inform them that you're a licensed amateur radio operator in a serious emergency. Maybe they yell at you, but they also send help.
One last thing: it's important to remember that this is a broad overview. The capabilities and limitations of different radios within the same class, even if made by the same manufacturer, even if in the very same model series by that manufacturer, can and do differ *WIDELY*. On the universal radio site, in the mobile amateur transceivers category (we call radios like these ham radios "transceivers", as they can both "TRANSmit" and "reCEIVE", as opposed to your bedside alarm clock radio, or a shortwave radio, or a scanner, all of which only receive), I can see maybe four or five out of the 20 or 30 models that would be appropriate for casual and emergency use. For instance, digital radio is almost completely useless for your purposes, and that's what the more expensive radios usually are for.
Also, the ability to modify a radio to receive, and, particularly, to transmit, outside of its intended capabilities, is vital. There are some very good radios around that simply can't be modified to have extended capabilities. That means that you're sitting there, listening to a car accident victim's screams, and listening, over the radio, to two police officers chatting on their intercar frequency at, whatever, 162.5 mhz, but you cannot talk to them because your radio only transmits between 144.0 and 148.0 mhz, and you can't raise any amateur radio operators in that band.
When you see some of the Icom and Yaesu radios get mentioned, like the FT-60R, the VX-7R, the VX-6R, my IC-706, and some others, those can be modded very extensively. My 706 can essentially transmit on pretty much any frequency between 1.6 mhz and 54 mhz. Forget bands, it'll give me its best shot on literally any frequency in that range, with just a few patches for phase problems or whatever. Of course, power output and signal quality will degrade as you wander away from the designed specs, but it's a hell of a lot better than a "no tx" warning on the attempt. VHF/UHF are usually more restricted in capability due to engineering problems, but you can still open those radios up quite a bit, if they're designed for it.
Other variations can be signal quality, reception quality, scanning capabilities (the Yaesu radios have a smart search capability that's breathtaking in its utility), power supplies (the FT-60R can run maxed out on humble AA's, while the VX-7R monster can only do so on internal rechargeable batteries with their logistical complexities, or on complicated external battery cases and straps; mobile and base radios are much thirstier for power, and require serious thought to their power needs, using RC, golf cart, or car, batteries), design ruggedness, interface complexity, cooling requirements, antenna connectors, mic/earphone connectors, etc.
You definitely don't want to buy a radio just because the price is right, or because it looks cool.
You really need to carefully review the specifications and accessories, research available mods, and read the reviews of that radio at http://www.eham.net/. Then, because those eham guys have their own interests, you'd want to come here or to a forum like zombie squad, where we're more conscious of the specific problems related to emergency use, and check with us.
Originally Posted By GlockTiger:
Stop looking for the quick fix, easy way out. This board is about preparedness. Actually preparing for something usually involves a little time up front. There's no quick fix in building a BOB or BOV or gardening or canning or investing or defensive training –– why must there be one for communications?
You showed foresight by recognizing the need to communicate. Now that you have some direction on the subject, don't give up because you might have to invest some thought into it to achieve your objectives. We have an excellent learning environment for the topic of communications from a preps perspective –– don't shortchange us or yourself by throwing in the towel because you're intimidated by a topic that is new to you.