Radio Communications Post SHTF

radio communications post SHTF

Will radio communications be helpful during the time period of post-SHTF?

I recently read the following comment / question here on the blog and felt it would be an interesting topic to consider.

“…still unsure in my mind how useful radio communications aside from listening and sorting out propaganda from truth will be post SHTF.”

“I mean how far away can your tribe be an asset to each other? How far can ‘you’ travel to bring me some milk or dry wheat if it’s walking time again?”

“Transmitting can generate unwanted interest in people still tech enough to have high tech toys. Do I want them searching me and my tribe out?”

The comment expresses security concern for being discovered and also challenges the notion of radio communications usefulness during such a time. Legitimate concerns.

Will we all be stuck in our own Tiny World Without Communication & Transportation or will radio communications be useful in any way? Lets talk about it…

How To Determine When It’s REALLY SHTF instead of a ‘blow over’

 

Radio Communications (Receive Only)

“Information” can be valuable. We have all kinds of ways at discovering information. Reading, hearing, seeing, word of mouth, and the variety of electronic / technical devices in our modern world.

Since we’re talking about post-SHTF (which I did not specifically define) will any or some radio broadcasting be available for reception post-SHTF? Maybe, maybe some, maybe none.

However I’ve always advocated having some technological means of gathering information over the airwaves. A portable battery operated AM/FM/Shortwave radio is one of those methods.

Radios for Gathering Information

While the information that you may gather from a distant radio station may not be immediately helpful in a tangible way, it may be helpful in other ways. And of course any information that you may hear from a local or regional transmission may be more immediately helpful. How? Knowledge of what may be going on out there.

There are all sorts of radios and many different frequencies & bands to listen in on.

Most common for most people are the AM/FM bands. Today, FM Radio mostly broadcasts music while AM radio is mostly news & talk.
Additionally, these bands for the most part constrained to local & regional (technical limitations) with the exception that AM radio at night can go for quite a distance.

By the way, awhile ago I had researched what is the best AM radio for long range listening. I bought it, and wrote an article about it. It’s great at pulling in long distance AM radio stations especially during the evening or at night.

More: Best AM Radio For DX Long Range Listening

One of the better type radios for listening to gather information (or simply as a hobby) is a small battery operated portable AM/FM/Shortwave radio.

Although they apparently no longer manufacture the portable radio that I currently have (it was the best in its class – the Sony ICF-SW7600GR) the next best model is this one:

Tecsun PL880

Related: A Portable Shortwave Radio To Discover What Happened After SHTF

A shortwave radio like the one listed above will also have HAM radio bands where you can listen to people around the country (and world) depending on conditions. Again, beneficial in finding out what’s going on out there…

 

Radio Communications (Transmit & Receive)

In my estimation, one of the more important uses for radio communications post-SHTF will be for security. 2-way radios used for communications.

We’re talking about the type of radios designed for relatively short range transmissions.

Related: Emergency Communications If The Cell Network Went Down

Related: 2-Way Radios For Pre & Post SHTF Local Communications

A potential problem though (and it would be a ‘worst case’ situation which may or may not happen) is if someone were to find your location due to your transmissions.

There are portable antenna designs which if adapted to a radio could indicate the direction of a transmission. While it would take someone with enough ‘smarts’ to do it, the point is that it’s possible.

Also, merely listening in and hearing that someone is out there transmitting on 2-way radios, it may be a red flag of sorts. Is it a strong signal (maybe close by). Is it a weak signal (maybe not so close).

How do you mitigate that? Maybe you keep your transmissions short. Coded perhaps. Change frequencies regularly.

Any thoughts out there and how to utilize 2-way radio communications post-SHTF while not readily giving yourself away?

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70 Comments

  1. I am pretty well set on AM/FM/Shortwave receivers, GMRS/FRS radios and portable CB radios. What I don’t have is a set of portable HAM radios for longer range transmissions.
    With what I have, transmissions more than 5 miles would be difficult at best even though some radios claim up to 36 miles of transmission.
    I really don’t plan on transmitting much because of the possibility of being DF’ed but for emergency security situations I can see a need for communications. Also, in a bugging out situation I can see a need for longer range transmitters/receivers as our groups plan is to stagger out our departures and pass on to the rest in the group which routes may be best and which areas must be avoided due to violence or road blocks.
    Can anyone recommend a good portable HAM radio which may have a 25 or more mile range?

    1. 2m ssb, It is all about the antenna.
      cw (morse code) is like a foreign language to 99 %
      Keep xmit to absolute minimum, but do xmit. Information is critical.

      1. All radios are about the antenna.

        QRP = Hams talking all around the planet on a radio with 10-watts or less. Why does it work? Because of great antennas.

        With a $30.00 Baofeng and a good beam (a 13 element Yagi up 50-feet) on a house a person could easily communicate 100 miles.

        Antennas are the most important part of a radio system.

        1. Chuck Findlay
          I’m still a rookie at this ham stuff. Do you really think you can do 2m FM or 70cm out to 100 miles? I have a little baofeng and it will not do 2m ssb. The 4 watt radio is good for what it does but please educate me how to get 100 miles out of a baofeng. Please remember, no repeaters. I’m assuming vertical polarization, right? 2m ssb is horizontal, as I’m sure you know. This is an honest question. I got a very late start on this hobby, still learning. I have homebrew 6 element yagi-uda, built specifically for 2m ssb. It works very well on 45 ft. tower. I’ve been told by other hams: Ya just can’t do it with a little boafeng on 2m fm or 70cm. I’m looking at 75 miles here. If there is a cheaper way, please enlighten me.

          You obviously have a lot of experience in ham. I don’t, Thanks

          1. Real life.
            From my area, the Boafeng with a long rubber duck will hit two local repeater 10 to 15 miles respectable, 4 to 5 miles radio to radio.
            a 100 miles maybe if you are on top of a mountain with a clear view , I have a 70 foot tower with two Yagi s co phase together, at about 100 watts can hit repeaters around 200 +or so miles, good conditions, base to base 30 to 40 miles.
            This is why one gets license and learn how to use there radio, so when it all hits the fan you can adapt .

          2. I have a friend with a 13 element beam (vertical for FM ) at 70-feet and 2 stacked (horizontal for SSB) 17 element antennas at 90-feet and when hooked up to his Icom hand held 100-miles is not that hard with the 13 element antenna. An HT is an HT be it an Icom or a Baofeng, they both generate a radio signal and the antenna works with either.

            I have to live with a lot less antenna then he does so I only get that range with side-band when the band is open. But he can do it all the time.

            A good antenna way up in the air is a real boost to your range.

          3. Chuck,
            So with antennas in mind, wouldnt a tall antenna with a couple long horizontal runners connected to a souped up CB base get pretty good range? Was talking about that with a few guys i know, line of sight between all our places is good if you are 60’ off the ground, and straight line none of us are much more than 14-16 miles distant,,, am not real strong knowledge wise on this stuff. The thing with the CBs is a lot of the boaters use them as well as the VHF marine radios.

          4. (Wouldn’t a tall antenna with a couple long horizontal runners connected to a souped up CB base get pretty good range?)

            Not sure what you mean by runners?

            An antenna (A tall antenna) is always going to see farther then an antenna closer to the ground.

            There is always a “BUT.”

            But the longer the antenna wire between the radio and the antenna is the more power you loose.

            It’s easily possible to have a high gain antenna that while it works great it is not getting much power to it because the wire (called in most cases “Coax”) has a loss to it.

            You can buy better coax with lower loss but it comes at a much larger price.

            If you are using a CB you are a bit lucky in that CB frequencies don’t suffer as much loss as a VHF & UHF do. But still a low-loss coax is going to put more power into your antenna.

            Marine radio frequencies are VHF so they need better coax then CB frequencies do.

            Most marine radios are probably within 25-feet or so of the antenna so the coax loss is not that big of a deal. But if you put a marine radio antenna up 85-feet it’s possible you will get less range then one at 25-feet unless you buy some very expensive coax.

            Good coax = Belden brand, but it cost. I like their 9913 coax. I buy it at Hamfest.

    2. (Can anyone recommend a good portable HAM radio which may have a 25 or more mile range?)

      Kinda long, but here it goes, hope it helps a bit and does not confuse too much…

      For direct talking from one radio to another (radios with the rubber duck antenna) without a Repeater it’s going to be mighty hard to get over 4 or 5 miles at best.

      But if using a repeater you may be able talk to others at 25-mile range. But it is dependent on a few things. You should get longer antennas (normal duck’s are like 5-inches) they make a longer duck (15-inches or so) antennas that extend your range.

      Any HT you buy is going to be able to talk on repeaters, other then an old one that is 40-years old. I have a few that no longer work on repeaters because many repeaters require a sub-audible tone they don’t have. All new radios have the tones built into then (Called CTCSS), even the inexpensive $30.00 China-made radios have tone ability.

      If you hook up your hand held to an antenna on the car you can get a lot more range.

      Also most hand held radios are in the 4 to 5 watt range and when you use a full 5-watts your battery dies pretty quick. But if you get a power cord to power the radio off the cars cigarette lighter plug you can run it full power all day. I bought (like 20-years ago) an Icom IC-V82 HT because (because it’s an Icom) and it puts out 7-watts even when running on batteries. That extra power has only been handy a few times, but it’s nice to have when needed. But it does eat batteries when on full power.

      EXPLANATION of a REPEATER and SIMPLEX.
      (As it applies to FM Hand-held radios we are talking about here)

      Simplex is one radio to another (like the walkie-talkies you played with as a kid) and the range is limited by the fact that your power and antennas are somewhat limited.

      Repeaters are machines (usually up high on top of buildings or hills) that listen for a signal from your HT and then instantly rebroadcast it out at a much higher power level (not sure how much, never looked into their power level) maybe up to a few hundred of watts. Being a repeater has more power and it’s up high it can be listened to at a much longer range. Most of the repeaters I use (both 2-Meter and 440-MHz.) can easily work for 30-miles from a car with an HT on an outside antenna. Sometimes more but 30-miles is realistic for an HT hooked up to an outside antenna and to the auto’s power plug.

      Every city has 20 or 30 repeaters so it’s easy to find one. There is a book for them and I’m sure an on-line listing. I buy the book every 4-yars or so, it’s handy when going to a new city. Repeaters are expensive machines with expensive duplexers, hard-line and antennas that are run and paid for by normal Hams or clubs. Be aware you are using something for free that cost somebody a lot of money. My club just spent $18,000.00 on antennas alone for repeaters.

      There are a few closed (private) repeaters out there (I have never ran across one in 25-years) but pretty much they are open for all to use and the repeater, owners want people to use them, just be polite.

      If we loose the grid repeaters will go away and you will be on simplex (
      radio to radio) but for any event short of a grid-down-event repeaters will still work. Even when the cell phone network is overwhelmed most Ham repeaters will work. And if they are busy you can still use them. Just throw out your call sign and they will let you talk. Hams have a talking mindset of being very polite and helpful. It’s nothing at all like CB.

      Now to talk a longer range you can buy a mobile radio (looks like a CB radio as far as looks and size) and with a good auto antenna you can talk much longer. Most mobile radios put out 35 to 50 watts. And with a better antenna (It’s always about the antenna) you can talk to repeaters maybe 60-miles away I have a Diamond 7/8 wave 2-Meter antenna that is wonderful, it and my Icom 2-Meter 50-watt radio work great. But it’s only a 2-Meter antenna and doesn’t work on 440-MHz. I need to buy a Diamond Quad-Band antenna as I have a Quad-Band Yaesu radio I want to put in my van.

      I use simplex a lot to talk to a small group of friends (mostly at night). But for drive times going to and from work I use a repeater more as I can hit it for 35-miles in every direction from the down town building it’s on. Interestingly enough the simplex and repeater friends are different people, some cross over that use both, but mostly different people.

      How to get much more range out of radios is probably more then this thread is aimed at.You can get radios that use side band, different bands that lend themselves to longer range (or do both SSB and a longer range band) but these things are more complicated and cost more. It takes time to learn and understand how these radios and more important how radio waves propagate at different frequencies.

      Starting out most people go with FM hand held radios on the 2-meter and 440-MHz. band (you can buy one-radio that has both) and these are good radios to have. Every Ham I know has like one-doz HT’s laying around because they are easy to use and very handy. Most times these HT’s are all you need. They will easily hit a repeater and allow you to talk to other people all over your city while sitting in the back yard.

      PS: you need to not look at radios as a stand alone thing. You need extra batteries as they always seem to go dead just when you need them to work. When you have a spare battery you unplug the dead one and plug in a new one and are back talking in 10-seconds. Most Hams have 3 or 4 batteries for each radio.

      You should get power cords to run the radio off your auto’s power so you don’t kill the battery while driving about.

      You need to get better antennas so the radio can talk and see farther (I know I keep saying antennas are the most important thing with radios, but they are) Home antennas are very easy to make, there are lots of plans on the net for ones that work pretty good. Google homemade J-Pole for 2-meter, a 2-Meter J-Pole also works on 440-MHz so you don’t have to make 2 of them to use these bands).

      Auto antennas are a LOT harder to make and most all Hams just buy one (or 3, or 5, or 7 of them, I lost count of how many I have…) They range from $20.00 to $140.00 (most good ones start at $50.00 and go up, but a $50.00 one will do you well).

      A speaker-mic is not needed but nice to have. You plug it into the HT and it acts like a normal CB like microphone and it also has a speaker in it. These are handy when driving your car.

      It’s probably a good idea to think of a radio as a radio system and not just the radio alone as all these accessories really help out a lot and while not an absolute need they make the radio work much better

      Look for a Ham Radio club and go to a meeting to get help. At first it will seem boring with all the tech-talk (OK even after going to them for years I still see a lot of boring talk) but going to them allows you face-to-face talk with a bunch of guys that are super helpful, if not a bit technical. I know a guy that you are almost afraid to ask any question of as he will rattle off stuff for 10-min and most of it is to say the least a bit complicated. By he’s a nice guy that helps others all the time.

      And many clubs do classes to help people get their Ham License, my club does this every Spring and Fall.

      I can already see your brain overloading now with all this info, I’ve been doing it for years so it’s just something I rattle off. But you don’t have to learn it all right now, if you get into Ham radio and develop an interest beyond the HT’s you will gradually learn more. But honestly there is nothing wrong with only using the HT radios. No ham will think less of you, other then a few old-geasers most Hams are very friendly and only want to enjoy talking to others. In fact most Hams use the same HT radios every day that you will be using.

      1. Chuck,,
        You got a workout today bud!
        Thank you for sharing your expert info, much appreciated and very interesting.
        😎👍🏻

        1. I wouldn’t say I’m any kind of expert. I know a lot of people that know way more then I do.

          But what I do is experiment with things first hand to find what works and why it works.

          I like making antennas and such (Just bought an antenna analyzer don’t know how I lived without it all my life?)

          I always try to learn more, and I have a long way to go, but learning and doing has always been enjoyable to me.

          I learned (mostly self taught) more in life then I ever did in school.

          I taught myself electronics as I have always had an interest in it since I was a kid. Ham radio goes well with this interest.

          1. Chuck Findlay,
            Thanks for your insight. You put a huge amount of info in these posts. It is appreciated.

            I’m looking at the most inexpensive way to get the 100 mile range (75miles in my case). I have a 45 foot tilt up tower, I put a cheap rotor ($85) on it for my little 6 element homebrew yagi-uda. I have yeasu 857d (50 watts on 2m). I use LM 400 coax. Found old Kenwood for my family on the other end. It does ssb and cw. It is currently being repaired, I hope!!! I built a second yagi identical to mine for my son. He has access to abandoned 50 foot oil structure very near his home. Stairs to the top.

            I have checked elevations at various points between the two antennae. Within 6 feet of me or lower everywhere I have checked.

            There are so many options with ham, which band, which license, which radio, which antenna, coax, amplifier, power source, etc. I hope I have made the right choice for my situation 2m ssb. It takes the right radio and a good antenna, but for the $$$, I hope this all works. Haven’t got the other end complete yet, but we are really close.

            I’m not really interested in HF either. I am not into contests or any of that. Contact with family is what it’s all about. Please give opinion of my set-up. I can always do something different, if I have to.

          2. Well Chuck, expert or not thank you much for all the info, much appreciated. Good stuff bud!

  2. Communications are important. I have a Ham Radio and went with one that has fairly limited range. I do not plan to broadcast unless I need to. I feel it is too easy to be tracked once you start to broadcast. But if you need to….then you need to. Additionally, I have radios for work which are set and encrypted for State emergency channels.

    My communication preparations are limited. I have not put much effort into it because I am still solo prepping.

  3. i have small am/fm/sw grundig i got a few years ago from radio shack before they went under. i used to have a set of kenwood two way radios that had the donald duck setting, so if anyone was listening with regular two way radios, your transmission would be garbled. of course here is my paranoia again, most likely law enforcement might be listening in, so you would have to contend with that. just my 2 cents.

    1. Honestly, if shtf I think law enforcement will have their hands full with the event and covering for desertions and no shows. Local leo will have no idea of what rdf is, and where to look for comms unless they have hams working with them. I have been in traffic stops and had the officers ask me if my 2 meter radio was. a scanner or could it get police channels. They have no idea what they are looking at, they are just appliance operators. I can’t blame them, they have enough to do without having to worry about what every electronic device is for. The FCC would be my only real worry, and they have closed a lot of offices in the past ten years, and they will be busy elsewhere.

  4. I’ve got 5 or 6 of those Baofengs plus extended batteries, long antennas, AA battery adapters. programming cables, etc. Yes they are feature rich and they are cheap…….. AND inexpensive too. Never could figure out much of the features. Radio to radio they are mediocre at best. More disquieting is they are very susceptible to EMF interference, especially from generators and inverters … D’oh!

    OK, so maybe I’m not smart enough to figure them out. I turned on the FM band receive mode… they couldn’t even decently resolve high powered LA FM stations that every other receiver has no trouble with.

    I used to collect and restore Marine radios, like Findlay does, back when I lived near Lake Michigan. I like the high power aspect. Valued the third party perspective of ships away from shore when something hits. And in a true SHTF, no one is going to care if I am illegally talking to a skipper somewhere.

    1. And the Baofengs can themselves be used as a repeater. Get someone young and brave to scale a tall tree. Mount a pulley, and return to the ground. Now one of your radios can be set to repeat, and hoisted 90feet in the air. Be aware that the FCC takes a dim view of this now. However, in a WROL/SHTF scenario, You can extend the operating range of your security patrols, and keep a sniper team observing the tree with the repeater. If someone is savvy enough to use a direction finder, they will probably be drawn to the strongest signal. At that point you can decide to engage, or cease transmissions, and slip quietly away.

      1. As far as using HT’s as a repeater (cross-band repeater) some of them will do it but be careful.

        I have an Icom W32A that does it. It’s an unpublished feature of the W32A as Icom knows this is hard on the HT.

        The problem is duty cycle, yes they will do it but they are small radios that are not made to take the duty cycle of a larger radio or a regular repeater.

        I just bought a Yaesu FT-8900 that list cross-band repete as one of it’s features, I’m looking forward to playing with it.

        For emergencies and light duty I would say they would be fine, but do it too much and you can burn the radio up from over heating.

        For those that don’t know what Cry Havoc and I are talking about. Some radios have the ability to listen on one band and instantly rebroadcast on another band. You can have a 50-watt radio in your auto set to listen on 440 MHz. and then send out what it hears on 2 Meter. With this setup you can use your 2-watt HT to talk through your auto with 50-watts. It also listens and sends what it hears to your HT.

        This has the potential of being handy in an emergency.

        If we ever were to suffer a power loss / Grid-down event the normal repeaters may not work. But you could turn on your radios cross-band repeater and still have a high power radio to communicate.

        Kinda neat thing to play with.

  5. HI ALL ,,,,,,,,,,what about VHF/UHF aircraft radios ?or base stations ??? Old ones are cheep ,,,ok so not a lot of chit chat ,, but would be very Gray ,,,,all we used in Alaska along with CB,,,, me thinks your asking for trouble to hit the trans key in SHTF ,,,,,

    1. Why not? Key it up on 121.5 and talk to center. They love to chit-chat. Just ignore the pounding at your door ;>)

    2. (HI ALL ,,,,,,,,,,what about VHF/UHF aircraft radios ? or base stations ??? Old ones are cheep ,,,OK so not a lot of chit chat ,, but would be very Gray)

      Going Grey is about going or being unnoticed. Chit-chat on a aircraft radio is going to get you noticed, tracked down and then your door busted in by men with guns and a bad attitudes.

      Nothing Grey about it…

      1. CHUCK ,,when I flew in Alaska it was common to use the VHF to tell some one we will be there at so and so or when’s lunch or I’ll pick that up for you ,,or so and so got hurt can any one stop and pick him up,,even 121.5 got used if there was urgent need on the ground ,,,,lots of folks had a base station just to keep in contact out in the bush ,,,,,,a FAA up tight thorn dike found life got very hard and best stay in his office and drink coffee ,,,50% of Alaska pilots have never had a pilots license at that time ,,,,,,,

        1. BY saying “flew in Alaska” implies you were in fact using an aircraft radio in an aircraft.

          But using it from your car in (any-city) to tell your wife you are going to pick up KFC is a lot different and not going to go over well.

          Why do illegal things with an aircraft radio when a Ham radio licence is easy to get (a 35-question test that the FCC gives you the right answers to and you can get 9 of them wrong and still pass) and radios that work are selling for $30.00 each new?

          1. CHUCK,,,,,,,AIRPLANES YES. ,,,,can only think of two with HAMs that were on all the time ,,, was CBs or VHF that we used ,,,,,a HEY I NEED HELP would be heard on those ,, be it from some remote camp ,or a boat on the river or a oh shit my engine just quite,,,,,living in the bush was a lot like what a real SHTF may be like ,,,,,,,some times you learn form the real world what works and what doesn’t,,,,,and I don’t give a rats rear end about rules and regs when things go bad ,,,,,still have a old VHF nice 12v unit with a little and handy antenna,,,works fine as a base

          2. You don’t have to don’t give a rats rear end about rules and regs when things go bad as The FCC says anyone can use any radio they can find in an emergency.

            And I imagine there are a bit more emergencies in Alaska then in the lower 48 and also radio is much more the way people communicate up there as cell service is probably a bit spotty to not at all.

            Different animal up there then down here.

          3. CHUCK ,,,,,,the best radio is the one you use all the time ,,,,we use VHF in the valley down here ,, but then we have airplanes ,,,,,don’t make sense to have two different ones ,, and we are not interested in signals getting out

  6. We have a Radio Shack hand held scanner Dual Trunking 1000 channel. It was purchased for fire season but we pick up other items such as Morse code , and the occasional ham operator in the area.

    On the 4th I listen to the radio for what is going on in case some idiot sets off fire works to start a fire. CA department of Transportation blocked the channel where it would not scan up or down. They locked it down for about 15 minutes, I shut our unit down and waited then turn it back on, finally it was going so we could tell what was happening in our area. First time I have ever experience a total lock down on the scanner.

    1. AC they can lock down YOUR Scanner? Wow…

      Ok radio friends how can Modern Survival Blog friends hear the news as to make informed decisions on just how messy it is out there?

      Advice please.

      1. NH Michael
        More in the line of blocking the ability for the unit to rotate to the next channel, not even the medical channel or the dispatch center which we get all the time was not there. This unit is the older analog style, an they told everyone they would have to go digital years ago. We never did, as this one was still working just fine, still does until this occurred. spooky

    2. WOW-I wonder if they just started broadcasting an unmodulated carrier on the channel to get the scanner to lock onto the channel. If they did this continuously, it would give the appearance of the scanner locked up.
      Is there a button on the scanner to manually force it to advance to the next channel? (I do not claim to be an expert on these!)

      1. Cat6
        It may have an advanced button, but it was programed so long ago that do not mess with the buttons. Did find a operations manual on line for it, so will down load it for the next time they decide to block me from getting the data I require for our own safety.

        This has never happened before so it must be a new protocol for whatever they had going on that evening.

        1. All my scanners have a ‘scan’ button. If it stays on one channel just hit the scan button and it will continue. Also look at the buttons , one should have l/o (lockout) beside it. You may have to press a button labeled ‘f’ or ‘func’ (function) first. The lockout will make the scanner skip that channel when it scans. Works great for stuff like that or annoying channels. I lockout the noaa weather, but still have them programmed as they are useful sometimes

  7. My years as a street cop branded in my psyche the necessity of portable communications for survival. Early in my career, hand held portable radios were just being deployed and were not issued to every officer, and the ones issued were fairly bulky and not reliable. Many times you would find yourself fighting your way back to the squad car, not for the shotgun, but for the radio. Your buddies can’t help you unless they know that you’re up to your neck in doo-doo. That technology has improved by leaps and bounds since.

    Long distant communication is important, but dying because you couldn’t get help from a family member or willing buddy a half mile away should never happen. With the low price and availability of the shirt pocket size FRS/GMRS radios, it’s ridiculous not to have one for every member of your family/group/community.

    When things go south, I want to be able to check on my family when I’m out of sight from them. The absolute worst they’ve performed has been 3/4 mile through very dense heavy woods and foliage. On the other end of the spectrum, they have never failed to operate clearly when talking to my best bud who lives 5 miles ATCF (as the crow flies) distant. We both live on ridge tops with no obstruction between us.

    We also have CB radios that have been “tweaked” that supposedly put out 25 watts. They typically are good for 10-15 miles, but that varies greatly, usually for the worse, if atmospheric conditions are allowing a lot of “skip” from outlaw rigs, usually transmitting out of Mexico.

    I’ve been dedicating some thought for communicating locally in a true catastrophe where radios ain’t working. At one time bells were used to communicate warnings and simple messages over a couple of miles. If you haven’t checked, bells are scarce and expensive (I bid on a 16 inch at an auction and dropped out at $500). As most of you know, I shoot steel targets exclusively. A non-resident, fellow prepper who has his bug out location a mile distant ATCF, tells me that every time I’m training, he can hear the “ping” of a .22 round hitting the AR-500 targets and the “bong” of larger calibers, distinctly and as loud as the report of the gun . I plan to work with him to test the practicality of using those gong targets and a ball peen hammer for a crude warning/come running system. A 12 inch AR-500 steel gong costs $50 or less. Just a thought right now.

    Pardon me, I sometimes think outside the box.

    1. P.S.- Anyone who might consider the steel gong idea, be aware, only consider the AR500 armor steel. The cheaper mild steel targets made for pistol caliber rounds don’t resonate nearly as loudly.

    2. Dennis I like how you think. However transmissions from a radio aside from a “coming home and doing ok” scenario makes me wonder about high tech folks targeting my tribe with radio direction. As you know I feel in a full on SHTF my best option is to go dark for about 30 days to hopefully avoid the aggressive sorts until most have run out of firepower/dead from poor sanitation sickness. I would be listening to gauge level of activity out there but not transmitting.

      As required my tribe has whistles and laminated cards of message codes. A Dinner Bell/Gong (neat idea BTW) could be used in a series of prearranged signals. A couple of different laminated code cards can be made so if one set is comprised you can agree (maybe the Gong Signal) to change to next card?

      As a nod to the Vietcong Bugles showing your patrol was surrounded we plan on using whistles to remind someone that they are surrounded as needed. PsyOps often are useful.

      For example if a shady group was moving near your homestead and your aware of it. Having bicycle riders carefully move to over watch locations and upon Gong command blow whistles (and shift locations) might make a unknown group unsure if they have the advantage. They would know their stealth failed and have to wonder just how many armed people are around them.

      Maybe they will leave or talk instead of being a trouble for the tribe. A option in addition to the classic ambush but even a perfect ambush can generate casualties to the friendlies.

      Yes not too grey but sometimes tactical communications are needed. A Radio can be radio detected by high tech folks for how many miles?

      Thoughts?

    3. P.P.S.- Standard Acme Thunderer police whistles should be EDC for short range communications on the homestead when danger levels increase.

    4. NH Michael,

      Having pretty solid experience with how personnel and resources are allocated when catastrophe strikes, unless you were a primary/critical target before the event or do something to make yourself one during or in the aftermath, I don’t see authorities going to that much trouble to zero in on you. I always assume that when I’m talking on any commercially available device that someone could be listening in. I never say anything that could be construed to be subversive or threatening.

      Having said that, if the situation becomes one where searches and skirmishes with some form of organized, well equipped entity enters my corner of the boonies, and not knowing the capabilities they may have, I would think that any electronic communication would chancy. The question becomes then, what is their objective? Locating threats or any live body? There again, what’s their objective. If it’s to destroy anyone they encounter, it would be like avoiding enemy contact when your in the jangles. Don’t light up a cigarette or rattle your gear.

      1. P.S.- On your thoughts of whistles to disconcert your enemy, I agree. I mentioned this once before on a similar thread a while back.

        When you are trying to avoid detection or create an illusion, especially when in heavy cover, don’t fire your weapon unless you know that one shot will get it done whether shooting supper or taking out a foe. One shot alerts, two shots gives your location. One shot and move, or two shots and staying put, plan on an engagement. Same with a whistle. Tweet and move. Tweet again a move. Knowing you are there but unable to pinpoint your location, or as you said, numbers, will give them pause and maybe cause them to reconsider whether they have the advantage

      2. Dennis I hear you but the most difficult folks to deal with are the ever helpful “We are from the Government and here to help”. They often have an armored vehicle to “Assist”.

        I prefer NOT to be shuttled off to the “Safety” of their protections.

        My send greatest concern is the High Tech Predators who have plans to acquire power and slaves by force of arms and their night vision gear.

        That neither of the above group have the skill set or ability to manage a whore house properly, let alone run a successful society does little to reduce their destructive ability in the short run.

        Thus our decision go dark until the lights come back on or 30 days of careful listening (NO Transmitting) to judge if the lack of sanitation has thinned the aggressive. Lack of sanitation has destroyed many an army or castle.

        Although we have police and ex-military in my tribe we have decided not to be heroes during SHTF. No Emergency Room, No Backup, hummm bad idea.

        As I have posted before we have no issue to helping useful people. If they are willing to work we have work and food/shelter/sanitation for them. Look to the past to see how the Vikings social system of free men, freed men and thralls kept useful people from slitting a Vikings throat as he/she slept.

        Not PC but snowflakes need not apply.

        Again transmitting seems not a good idea anymore than burning bonfires when avoidance is the idea.

        As far as your question of what is their objective, you and I will only know when they act. I prefer to be hard to find and deal with the stubborn as the situation call for it. Thus the mobile whistle action I described earlier if they are clearly homing in on us to encourage a little extra fear of the unknown.

        NOW if some of the Tec Savvy want to list a set of good radios to cover the electronic band width for listening and maybe transmissions I for one would be grateful. A police scanner is a start but a lot of it is scrambled. Advise welcome.

      1. Tommyboy,

        Truthfully, I don’t know. The first target I purchased was about 12-13 years ago. It was a full size PPC silhouette AR500 armor steel 1/4 inch thick target. At the time there were only about 3-4 sources. I handles .223 rounds well, and of course all pistol rounds. My next was a 2/3 scale PPC silhouette 3/8 inch AR500 from a different supplier and it has handled .300 Win Mag quite well. Then I got into gongs, the last one from an Amazon vendor. My experience has been that unless you are going to be shooting it with .50 BMG class weapons there is not a need to go thicker than 3/8 inch. (cold rolled steel needs to be 1/2 inch for pistol calibers and is totally useless for high powered rifles)

        The main thing to consider when buying AR500 targets is how it was cut. Water jet is best (yes, water can cut armor plate) and laser cut is a close second. A lot of the lower cost Ar500 targets are cut with plasma cutters and the strength is weakened in the process. The good news is that if it’s water cut or laser cut, the manufacturer will note that. If it doesn’t mention the cutting method, it’s probably plasma cut and should be avoided. Good news is that prices have dropped considerably since I first started, but that may change with the steel tariffs.

        Sorry I couldn’t be more specific.

        1. On the water cut, before someone corrects me, the water is the delivery medium for the abrasive that does the cutting. The water keeps the material being cut from overheating.

          1. Tommyboy,
            Radios? If your looking for the best, I’m probably not the best one to ask. My first pair were 2-channel Cobra’s that cost almost $100 years ago when FRS radios were first offered. A couple of years later, prices came down dramatically and I snagged a blister pack of 2-Audiovox FRS for less than $10 off a rack in a 7-11 store that reduced the price by half everyday until they sold.

            Later, when the FRS/GMRS radios with the advertised extended ranges came out claiming anywhere from 15-36 miles, I bought a pair of Midland’s and a pair of Cobra micro-talk’s, both with the privacy channels capability (a plus is their weather radio capabiltiy which brings in the weather broadcasts clearer than my stand alone weather radio).

            In my use, I’ve found very little, if any difference in the range capabilities of any of them. My original FRS Cobra’s (without digging them out of the Faraday container, I believe they are the “Talk-a-bout” model) were advertised to have a 2 mile max range, but they work just about as well as the newer ones under similar conditions.

            One caution. Be aware, the Midland’s recharging capability only works using their battery packs. They will work using standard rechargeable AAA batteries, they just won’t recharge them. Being the tinkerer I am, I took them apart and rerouted the wiring for the batteries and now they charge any rechargeable AAA’s using their charger base.

          2. Dennis please look for my query on weekend free for all

            Off topic but semi-radio

            Thanks

          3. Ya Dennis, radios,
            You were talking about what you use up above so was curious the brands, i mostly want them for just around the neighborhood or such, theres a fair few HAMs around but are mostly a bunch of stuffy dicks and not real helpful, ill be damned if i get licensed for one more damn thing, so thats out,
            Plus then all i can talk to is hams and they aint on my list,,,,
            Can get a commercial setup through a communication company here and can then get repeaters etc but its spendy, but on the up side it works! Kenwood hand sets so the real deal, but not so sure i want to drop 3-5k on walkytalkys,,,
            So thinking just log on to Amazon through Kens link and order something off there, are a few newer brands that are similar to the little Baofeng and supposedly have good range so looking at them seriously, will see

          4. Tommyboy,
            I understand where you’re coming from. Not stepping on anybody’s toes I hope, but the Ham’s I’ve known (and I’ve known quite a few) tend to be almost cultist. They love to talk about their hobby (in many cases, their obsession) but don’t want to share the secrets until you get the license to verify your entrance into the realm, therefore worthy. I understand this. Their hobby requires strict adherence to protocols to keep the airwaves from becoming flooded by arrogant abusers like happened to the CB bands. I’ve known Ham’s who do car to car with family members over great distances with fairly reliable success. From what I’ve gleaned, this requires coordination with other Ham’s in order to clear the frequency. Maybe Chuck can add to that thought.

            I’m considering the Ham option, but I’m not sure I’m ready to dedicate the time and energy and/or would it be critical to my needs.

          5. Dennis,
            I started downnthe process to get the license then got a taste of the way these local guys operate, this group isnt like the oldtimers i knew growing up, they were willing to help out any way they could, it was sort of another slap of reality to me, so i decided these were not my friends and didnt want them to be, trying not to generalize but its hard when the judgement reflects the majority of the close at hand.

          6. (They love to talk about their hobby (in many cases, their obsession) but don’t want to share the secrets until you get the license to verify your entrance into the realm, therefore worthy. I understand this. Their hobby requires strict adherence to protocols to keep the airwaves from becoming flooded by arrogant abusers like happened to the CB bands.)

            It’s actually against the law for Ham’s to talk to un-licensed people. So yea they are not going to talk to someone that didn’t go the distance (not really that far) to have the legal right to talk on a Ham frequency.

            Exception: Anyone can use any radio they have access to in an emergency to get help and Hams will talk to you then and move mountains to get you help.

            Recently a sailor (and a Ham) had an medical emergency on his boat and made a distress call on 14.300. He was 200 miles south of Ensenada Mexico, Ham’s answered the call and relayed the info to The Coast Guard and stayed in contact for several hours. The Coast Guard relayed info to an on-duty flight surgeon. They decided he could make it to Ensenada and flew to a Naval hospital in San Diego. It was determined he had a detached retina.

            Nice to hear a positive story once in a while instead of all the junk on the news.

          7. (I’ve known Ham’s who do car to car with family members over great distances with fairly reliable success. From what I’ve gleaned, this requires coordination with other Ham’s in order to clear the frequency.)

            Not really, there are so many frequencies to use on the ham bands it’s actually quite easy to find a place no one else is using. Most of the 2 Meter and 440 MHz. band is dead and you can easily find a quiet place to talk.

            CB radios have 40 channels, Ham radios have thousands of frequencies. Not really any channels on the ham bands.

            With CB you are legally tied to the 40 channels as this is what the FCC says is so. So CB radio manufactures make radios that use these 40 channels.

            The FCC says you can for the most part pick the frequency you want to use on VHF & UHF. (some exceptions to this, but not many and there are still a lot of places to talk).

  8. During WW1 the troops used a low frequency radio that transmitted signals through the ground, instead of the air. Miners and some Cavers do the same thing today. Distances to several miles. Can’t be detected withouta proper ground antenna set up. Talk about “underground radio” ! We are talking in the 80 -160 meter an lower frequencies. Might be a good setup for a local network, hard to trace, if at all. G___le ” cave or rock radios”. Barring this, I still plan on doing more listening than transmitting i am wondering about how well a NVIS antenna cn be tracked as the majority of the signal goes straight up, bounces off the atmosphere then comes back down. Hard to get a fix on. Might be why the military uses them so much. Thoughts from any other his out there?

  9. I totally agree with the idea that FRS/GMRS radios will be very useful if other forms of communication go out in a SHTF situation as a means of talking with other members of your family/group. Their relatively low power levels would make it nearly impossible for anyone to use direction finding (DF) to locate you unless they’re right on top of you. They are strictly line-of-sight communicators, though, so you’re only going to get 3/4 to a mile range out of them (the 5 miles they advertise is total crap unless you have “perfect” conditions). Get a set and practice with them now.

    I have and love my Uniden HomePatrol II scanner, because it scans virtually the entire frequency spectrum and has the latest frequency hopping capabilities built in to listen to most police and similarly trunked emergency services. If someone does lock a signal “on” to try to “trap” your scanner, it’s also extremely easy to program this radio to simply ignore that channel as it scans.

    For higher power AM/FM radio transmission, the simplest way to limit who can listen to you (as well as a good way to amplify your signal) is to use directional antennas. A half-wave dipole, which is an extremely simple antenna to construct, will only transmit (and receive) signals perpendicular to the way the antenna is strung up. By turning this into a Vee pattern, you can make the antenna even more directional. You can look up how to create these in innumerable places online. When I was an Army Signal Officer, this was the only type of antenna we would use for our 500 watt radio teletypes in order to limit a would-be adversaries ability to locate us, as radios are high-priority artillery targets!

    I echo the recommendation of getting a Baofeng handheld for low-cost, longer-range radio communications. However, be aware that these currently require you to have a HAM license to transmit on them. They also rely mostly on “repeater” stations to extend their range, which may not be available in a SHTF situation, so I’d also get a “Slim Jim J Pole” antenna for your radio, as well. However, while these radios top out at 8 watts, if you use the “rubber ducky” antenna that comes with them or the J pole antenna I just recommended, you will be broadcasting a signal out in all directions.

    If you’re looking to be able to transmit on a broader range of AM and FM stations, I use the Yaesu FT-857D Compact Mobile Transceiver. You will need a HAM General license to currently operate one of these on any HF channels and they are definitely more expensive (about $1000), but it’s small size will allow you to take it almost anywhere, which could be a big factor in a SHTF world. Again, if you pair this radio with the right sort of directional antenna, you don’t have to worry too much about being “found” by typical DF means. That doesn’t guarantee someone’s not listening to what you’re saying, but they’re not very likely to find you unless you tell them where you are.

  10. The reason Solar Ham has a site all about the sun spots/magnet fields etc. is because the lack of sun activity has a negative effect on communications. The waves travel more efficiently when the sun is active. I have been considering getting my ham license, but now I am not sure it would be of benefit.

  11. Mrs. USMCBG
    Get the Technician license. It’s not hard and you learn a lot. You can find the ARRL book on Amazon.

  12. your preferred SW radio is available used and horribly expensive around 300$ and up.

  13. Ok. I guess none of the other hams are going to comment, so I will act as the ‘un stuffy ham’ and weigh in here again.
    First off, all these UHF/VHF (CB, GMRS, FRS, 2 meter, 70 cm) radios are only as good as the antenna. (as Chuck Findlay said) At any rate, even with a directional antenna on them, they will be very detectable by other radio users. Easily to use RDF ( that’s Ham talk for Radio Direction Finding) to locate where you are broadcasting from. You broadcast, figure you are going to be tracked.
    NOW, as I stated above there is a way to use radio to communicate and make it very hard to be detected and tracked. You have to use NVIS (Near Vertical Incident Skywave) antenna. This is simply a dipole (or similar) antenna mounted right above the ground ( like 1/20 of the wavelength above or less above. for 80 meters this would be 4 meters about the ground). This sends the signal straight up, bounces off the ionosphere and back down in a large circular pattern (like 600 – 1000 mile radius). When trying to get a direction for RDF equipment, it looks like the signal is coming from everyplace, unless they are very close to your location. ) the only issue is that a NVIS antenna is really effective on the 1.8-7.3mhz frequencies, meaning ham bands 160 meters to 40 meters. This is why the military uses NVIS, to get a broad omni-directional signal out that is not effected by terrain (mountains and canyons) , the signal is coming back down from the ionosphere almost directly down over this area, and the signal is hard to jam. It also is very difficult to use RDF to find the source. Just saying, this is a good reason to get a HAM license and learn about this stuff if you have the desire. ( I can tell your the basic Technicians license is very easy to get) I know a lot of HAM groups are very tight knit, but you can learn a lot for free on the American Radio Relay League (ARRL dot ORG) site, and there are also a lot of other Ham radio sites on the web that are free with their information. do a search of NVIS antennas and you will find that what I am saying here is true. Sorry for the rant.

    1. Minerjim,

      Didn’t see that as a rant at all. Lot of good thoughts. The NVIS antenna and resulting “umbrella”, is that always reliable no matter the atmospheric conditions? Does it require “enhanced” power output from the transmitter? Is the signal pretty constant no matter where the receiver is located under the umbrella or does it fade the farther from the transmitter?

      1. Dennis,
        The NVIS antenna is very reliable in the frequencies listed. 40 meter, 80/75 meter, and 160 meter are always “Workable” to a good degree all day, which is why a lot of hams go for a ‘general license’ to have transmit privileges on these frequencies. These frequencies are less affected by sunspots ( or lack there of) and space weather than other higher frequencies like CB, GMRS, FRS, and 2 meter. Also, a lot of hams transmit with QRP (low power rigs, generally under 10 watts) on 80/75 meter band using a NVIS antenna and report that they can get a good signal out into that 600 – 1000 diameter circle with this low power. Signal is pretty consistent over this area, but subject to normal atmospheric ‘noise’ as is any other signal, but not subject to terrain interferences. You can buy an 80 meter SSB (‘Single Side-Band’ in Ham speak, basically voice transmission, as opposed to CW which utilizes only Morse Code) radio in kit form (mostly assembled, just need to mount in a box or small cabinet and make some basic solder connections) for less than $150. The range is ‘all in the antenna’ as they say, and a NVIS antenna is easy to build or buy and set up. The reason you don’t hear much about this is because those frequencies (Ham bands 160,80/75, and 40 meters) are pretty much open only to Hams with a general license at this time. But in a SHTF situation who is going to check your license? (not that I advocate transmitting without the proper license.) It is important, as with a lot of things, to practice well before you have a crisis, hence I encourage people who are interested in getting their Ham License (referred to as your ‘Ticket’ in Ham speak) and then get out and learn and get on the air before you really need it. once you get your license, it is good for 10 years, and then you only have to renew it, you do not have to re-test unless you let it lapse.

        1. Minerjim,

          Forgive my ignorance, but are you saying the cheap Baofengs won’t work the same using this antenna? Are both the units conversing have to be using this type antenna to have reliable contact within this signal umbrella?

          1. Nope it won’t work. 40 meter, 80/75 , and 160 meter are Short Wave,

            Baofengs are VHF & UHF, they are short-range line-of-site radios. Each radio antenna has to be within site (radio site = strait line) of each antenna.

            Short Wave (called HF) bounces off the atmosphere and therefor can be used for long range where each radio antenna can’t see the other antenna. This is how Ham’s on HF talk all around the globe, they bounce radio waves of the atmosphere.

            The idea and practice of an NVIS antenna is that it directs rf strait up and it bounces back down to earth.

            If you had an antenna for a Baofeng pointing up it would sedn the RF (radio signal) into space because at VHF & UHF frequencies the signals go right through the atmosphere.

            But with a small hand held homemade beam and a Baofeng you can talk to the space station as it goes overhead. It’s somewhat popular for Ham’s to do so. I have a few friends that do it.

            My Dad did it just talking on his 2 Meter radio in his truck several years ago. He got a QSL Card from NASA for doing it. Kinda neat to have.

          2. Dennis,
            As Chuck and I stated, the NVIS antenna only works for the 160, 80/75, and 40 meter hams bands. The Baofeng radios in the 2 meter band. As Chuck said, those UHF and VHF frequencies do not bounce off the atmosphere when going straight up, they go through it. Longer wave lengths bounce off it and come back down.
            As for your question about both radios needing a NVIS antenna, the answer is it would really help, but not necessarily. the 2nd radio could hear the 1st with a NVIS, but might not have what it takes to get a signal back. Best to both be bouncing off the atmosphere vertically then back down. This is the type of antenna (NVIS) the military uses when they do not have to broadcast around the world or are in a limited operating theater.
            Point is the signal gets everywhere and is hard to use radio direction finding on that would give away your position. But has to be in those HF bands (160,80/75, 40 meters).
            Thanks for the help explaining Chuck,

          3. Minerjim,

            I’ve read numerous discussions over the years on prepper/shtf sites about the wisdom of Ham radios over other, shorter range units. For those who’s eyes glaze over when Ham’s started spewing technical jargon, it’s difficult to follow the conversation long enough to decide if the effort is worth it.

            I can’t speak for everyone, but in my case, and I suspect most preppers are more interested in regional communication with family, friends, and folks dealing with threats that affect folks in your area rather than talking around the world. Your explanation of NVIS sold me on the need for a radio capable of utilizing this method. I was on the verge of buying a Baofeng without this capability. Your and Chuck’s advice/explanation has changed my direction. Thanks.

      2. Minerjim and Chuck,

        Thanks guys. Very well explained tutorial. You guys have succeeded in giving me the bug. Thanks for your patience.

        1. Dennis,
          I encourage you to go to the ARRL-dot-org and look at the books they offer. The books they have to study for the ham exams area great. Lots of good, clear, explanations of radio science, with carefully thought out examples. Each book builds on the previous. That is the ARRL’s purpose is to teach and train people all about HAM radio and radio in general. They have done a good job IMHO. They even have written books so that pre-teens and teens can understand and learn enough to get their first HAM license.
          I will apologize for the HAMs you may have encountered that seem ‘cliquish’ or ‘distant’ or who want to talk a bunch of technical jargon. HAM radio does seem to appeal to ‘nerds’, myself included.
          Glad that Chuck and I could help explain about NVIS antennas and HF bands in a way you could understand, that tells me we ‘came down out of our heads’ and were able to give an understandable rational explanation.

  14. There are a few other ideas for obscuring communication,. you could change the polarization of the signal. There used to be an rdf column in 73 magazine which had ideas for the hunter and the hunted. One was a loop quad beam with the directors suspended from fishing line. I would guess that would offer widely varying signal levels that would make tracking quite interesting. The column was called ‘homing in’ and the author was Joe Moell if I remember correctly

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