COMMUNICATIONS

Suggestions for 2-Meter Ham Radio for Preparedness

guest article by ‘Minerjim’

There have been a lot of conversations on MSB lately about ham radio for communication preps. Most of this conversation has been geared towards getting a Ham Technician’s license and getting on the air legally with a 2-meter radio.

Many of us are familiar with the Bao-feng handhelds, which now go up to about 8 watts of power. Good for short-distance communications. But what if you want to really reach out into the distance to find out what is going on in the next county or state???

You need higher power, to begin with. This is where some folks have upgraded to higher powered radios in the 50-80 watt range. These are usually vehicle mounted (12 volt DC) or home base stations (12 volt DC or 120volt AC).

While there are a lot of older 2-meter FM ham radios out there, the cost of new is really pretty low. Do a search online for “2-meter mobile/base station radios” and you will see what I mean.

So which 2-meter radio is best???

They all have basic functions, but each has its own “bells and whistles”.

Truthfully, they will all do what you need them to do as far as transmitting and receiving. They are so cheap ($180-250) that looking for a used, older, 2 meter FM radio really doesn’t make sense, imho. Just buy a fresh radio with a guarantee, and learn to use it.

(Note: there are “Nifty” brand ‘cheat sheets’ for most new ham radios. Basically they are quick-start instructions for all the radio functions printed on laminated card stock. I consider these a must. Under $20 each)

Setting up a 2-meter radio base station

So what do you need to set up a 2-meter FM radio base station setup??

I will point out that FM is the most common 2-meter mode of transmission. There are other modes, but not widely used. The radios I list below will all be 2-meter FM mode radios.

Well, here is a minimum setup:

2 Meter FM radio, 50-80 watts

Most will be 12 volts. Recommendations as follows. Prices are in the vicinity of about $200, plus or minus.

Yaesu FT-2980R
(view on amzn)

Kenwood TM-281A
(view on amzn)

Icom IT-2300H or similar older radio
(view on GigaParts) (no affiliation)

12-volt power supply

This is for setting up a 12-volt DC radio inside your place. You don’t need this if you buy a 120 volt AC radio. You do not need a 12-volt power supply if you are setting this up for your vehicle.

MFJ -4128
(view at MFJ) (no affiliation)

Simplex SEC-1223
(view on amzn)

2-meter FM antenna

This antenna is vertically aligned. You can use a vertical antenna to start.

Your ability to send and receive is reliant on how good your antenna is. I can’t stress this enough!

If you’re looking for directionality, having a vertically aligned Yagi antenna will put more of your signal in the direction you want it to go. Much more efficient., but costs more.

  • Comet, MJF, etc., ($40 and up for a basic mobile antenna) (maybe $200 for a yagi)

Of course there are tons of sites online to show you how to build your own, great, antennas for 2-meters for pennies!

[ Ken adds: Strictly based on amzn popularity, here’s the leading base station ‘Comet’ brand antenna ]

>> 2-Meter (dual band) Base antenna

RG8 (50 ohm) coax cable

To connect the radio to the antenna.

[ Ken adds: RG8 has less loss and is thicker (.405″) in diameter than RG58 (.195″). Definitely get better coax (such as RG8) for a base station setup. ]

Power cable

To connect 12 volt power supply to the radio.

So where does this put you money-wise for a really fairly good 2-meter Ham radio?? Figure about $400-650, if you just want to buy it all off the shelf and set it up.

Can it be done cheaper? Yes! By buying good used 2- meter FM radio, power supply, etc. Also, if you make your own 2-meter antenna, you will not have that expense. This is very easy to do, as our own ‘Plainsmedic’ here on the blog, will tell you. If you put your radio in your vehicle and run it off the battery, or run it off of an existing 12 volt solar system, I bet you could get your cost down under $200 for a good 50 watt 2-meter FM setup.

Here’s a suggestion: Find a local Ham radio club that has classes for “Newbies” to get their Tech license, they will often provide you help to set up your station.

I want to stress that setting up any ham radio is going to take a bit of work and learning on your part. It is not like going down to Wally world and buying a “burner” phone and plugging in a sim card. Ham radio takes a bit of thinking, trying, tuning, aligning. That is the nature of the beast.

This is why most Hams recommend you get your technician’s license. In learning to pass the test, you learn the basics of ham radio to help you get on the air will less frustration. Also, you will be legal, and despite what some folks will say, it is important! The best way is to learn by doing the right (and legal) way! The reward for all your hard work is a reliable backup comms system.

In conclusion, I have to say there are probably several other ways to get a 2-meter radio setup. There are so many good radios out there from the major manufacturers. What I have presented is what, imho, I would do if I were just starting out. Best of luck to you all.

~73 Minerjim

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Thanks Miner, concise and to the point.

Minerjim,

Thanks for taking the time to encourage future HAMs using plain language. I have a technician license and have learned a lot over the past couple of years through ARRL and just being on the air.

73’s

Minerjim,

One of the features on the Baofeng walkie-talkies is the ability to manually program them. A little tedious, I know, but fairly easy with practice.

All the Youtube vids I’ve watched on the mobile HAM radios, I’ve not seen one that mentions any programming not using the chirp cable……my thought is having that ability if internet accessibility is gone.

Another question on 12v power supply (converters). I bought one several years ago for a CB base station at a Radio Shack. I believe it’s a 3 amp. When I bought it, another customer asked what I was using it for. When I told him it was for a CB, he smiled and said that it would be ample for that application. He then said he was a HAM and that more powerful radios needed higher amperage capability. Any advice?

I was promised there would be NO MATH when I signed up for this site. Numbers and letters make my head explode!!
Lol
Good article Miner Jim.
Peace
MadFab

MadFab
You didn’t get that promise in written form, did you?

(I’m on your side)

MadFab,
Once i get past 10 fingers + 10 toes I’m toast myself. LOL. But Ken did the math for you on power supply, so you’re good to go.

For the numerically challenged… like me… there are free calculators on line. Just search “Ohm’s Law Calculator.” I’m a math BRICK. I’ve also been a ham since 1975, and hold a General Class ticket. It can be done. Don’t be afraid!

Dennis,
On a lot of the radio manufacturer’s sites (Icom America for sure), you can download manuals for these ham radios for free. You can look at how they are programmed. i know the big push is towards using CHIRP, but i gotta figure manually progrmming these radios is still viable. Also, look at the “Nifty” brand cheat sheets for each radio. They are basically a quick start, easy visual to get you what you need without going through the radio manual.

A lot of the old Radio Shack power supplies were not well filtered or regulated. They were rushed to market during the CB craze in the 70’s. They were… found wanting… If you find a used power supply and it’s cheap, go ahead and try it, as long as it’s rated for your radio. You may be disappointed though, when you hear a hum on your receive side, and others hear a hum on your transmit. THAT is the lack of filtering. The CB max output back in the day was 5 watts. Most mobile ham gear has at least 50 watts of output. Running your radio with an underrated power supply can damage the radio. Size your power supply to the requirements on the radio’s spec sheet. If you don’t have a spec sheet, do a search for the radio on line. If the manufacturer can’t supply the info you need, some ham out there will have the info. Hams are GREAT about sharing information! EHam.net is a good source for a lot of info!

Almost EVERY radio out there can be programmed manually. Baofengs are actually one of the hardest to program that way, and benefit most from programming software. My advice; get the programming cable and software… BUT… try programming your radio manually. You may not always have a computer handy. No, I’m not Superman. I’m more like Olderman. I can’t remember how to manually program a radio from one time to the next. Most folks get their radios, program them with all of the local repeaters, and don’t touch those buttons again for years. Then they go somewhere else with them and can’t program new repeaters in. Keep a copy of the radio’s user manual, HARDCOPY, in your go bag, or wherever you most use the radio. Most are free downloads from the manufacturer. I keep a copy in the go bag, another one in the fire safe, and an e-copy on a thumb drive. Bookmark the pages dealing with programming, and highlight the good stuff. …In a SHTF situation, old school may be the only school…

Yes, thank you for the article, minerjim.

Communications are key, and I like the sounding of a 12v system.
I have minor comms in place, but would definitely consider a step up.

Time, money and priorities seem to get in the way of venturing outward.

Ken, Minerjim,
Thanks to both of you. Very good info. On the power supply; I’m using a battery. I always have, even though an AC to DC power supply is reasonably cheap. Kind of gives me a feel for how much draw down on the fully charged battery. If we still have the grid, we likely still have phones and internet. Just a thought.

Plainsmedic,
Having battery power is very good. I am investigating a “Buck-Boost module”. This unit will take any battery power 5-30V DC and concert it to whatever voltage/amps you need, within reason. It is the ultimate for drawing the most power out of batteries, and getting it to the right voltage you need, like 12 volts for a radio. Basically it will make whatever DC source you have match you need. Once i get it figured out, i’ll write an article for everyone.

Minerjim,
You mentioned the “buck-boost module” a while back. I did a little bit of research on it. Decided to wait and see. It just seems to me, the simpler the better? Not many things are more simple than a 12 vdc battery. They are literally everywhere. If emp, there will be batteries in every car, truck, whatever. I have taken to making notes on the location(s) of solar panels. Not the ones on homes or businesses, I’m talking about the ones on utility poles, signs, all kinds of things. Solar panels are getting to be everywhere too. In a post grid world, ………? I’m not a thief, but at some point is it salvage? I guess that’s a decision for another day. Not a decision I want to ponder.

Plainsmedic the problem with salvaged solar panels post SHTF is two fold. One a LOT of people say they are going for them. Could be dangerous with other salvagers out there.

Second is the few I’ve looked at most are either 6 volt, 12 volt and a few other voltages in the 24 volt range. Makes getting a controller interesting.

Some actually have mini-inverters and are 120 volt AC but EMP would make that likely to be useless.

A few hundred dollars now makes for a secure HAM solar charger friend.

NH Michael,
Agreed. Just brainstorming mostly. I do have spare inverters and charge controllers in faraday. Heck, I’ve even got a brand new Harbor Freight Kit, still in the box. Even a set-up like that, works surprisingly well. Years back I played with a HF kit to learn about solar. I have small solar and wind, here at the house. I’ve noticed with my ham stuff, very little draw down when listening. More so, if I get to running my mouth.

Plainsmedic,
Not all batteries are 12 volt. Not all solar cells are either. That is why i am looking into a “buck-boost” module. You can feed DC electricity into it from any voltage (5-30v) and you can set your output voltage and amperage to whatever you need. Regardless of how the supply (battery) voltage drops, the module adjusts and provides your set required voltage. So all those 20 volt hand tool batteries could be “bucked down”, to power a 12 volt radio, or maybe you have some batteries that put out 10 volts, they will be “boosted” to 12 volt. Basically, you have a tool to utilize any voltage you come across, and condition it to a voltage you need.

Minerjim,
Yes, it could be a valuable item. The one I looked at was basically a circuit board. Looked a little fragile to me. Faraday? Let us know if ya get one. Maybe they have different units now??? Definitely a possibility.

Plainsmedic,
Buck-boost module circiutry has not been around that long. Whatever I figure out will have to be put into a case. I’ll report back what I find, maybe an article.

Minerjim,
A big thank you to you and Ken for the article and Ken for his informative comments. I’ve been on the net more lately and have been wanting to upgrade my equipment and go bigger. The information you and Ken have provided will help me make that move. One more reason I keep coming back to this site.

A theoretical question for Minerjim or other HAM operators.
Since the MURS frequencies are just outside the 2meter range, would the distance capabilities be similar if wattage output and antennas were equal ? (I’m aware of restrictions by FCC, just a theoretical question…asking for a friend….just in case an emergency like the end of mankind…might be good to know)

Dennis,
Yes, the MURS (Multi Use Radio Service) frequencies (151-154 Mhz) are just outside of the 2 meter band (144-148 Mhz), and would therefore have similar capabilities. Note that MURS frequencies are limited by the FCC to 2 watts.

2M has repeaters available. MURS, not. Factor that in. A Technician ham license is easy-peasy. Get the license! Don’t hamstring yourself!

I seem to recall that when I went through the testing preparation for Ham that they recommended NOT using a 12V power supply in a vehicle via the cigarette lighter but a direct connection from the radio to the vehicle battery. This would maintain reliable power to the radio. Any thoughts on making such a connection?
I didn’t have any luck using CHIRP when programming channels to a Baofeng to a HT, nor did an experienced Ham who came to the house to help troubleshoot the problem. Manual entry worked fine.

Tom,
No, using the cigarette lighter port for power for one of these radios is not recommended at all. When i bought my ICOM radio (it is a predecessor model, the IC-2200H) it came with a fused power cord long enough for me to fish from the battery clamps into the cab of my truck. Heavy duty wire. BTW, even though we speak of the radios being “12 volt” they are rated for 13.8 Volts input. Having a fused power line from the battery directly is the way to go.

There was a time when the “cigarette lighter” socket actually powered a cigarette lighter, and had, like, a 30-amp circuit. These days, that socket may only be good for little more than USB phone chargers. A lot of them are also “switched” power, which means that they lose power when the ignition is shut off. I recommend running power directly to the radio from the battery. I fuse both sides AT THE BATTERY just to double-diaper my butt. Why at the battery? Because if you fuse at the radio and your wire’s insulation rubs through and touches ground, you’ll have an INSTANT car fire!, as the fuse is downstream from the short. Fuse the power cable at the battery, and any problems from there on will blow the fuse.

Good article! A question on programming. Other than chirp do the recommended units have a computer program to program the radios? Thanks

Deep South,

It appears that each of the radios i listed have memory programming software availible. Each is unique to each radio. i guess if you have a lot of frequency locations you want to enter into memory, this might be a good thing. This sotware is not required to program the radios, all that can be done from the front face of the radio. i would recommend that you go to each of the manufacturer’s sites and download the manual for the radio you might look to purchase. Yaesu has a lot of ‘bells and whistles” that you might not need. Kenwood and Icom have the more “basic” radios and have worked to make them easy to use.

Thanks!

A few things to look for if you’re looking for a radio; Dual band, 2M/440, is a good thing. It gives you access to more repeaters. LOTS of dual band antennas out there. A lot of the mobile rigs have really small displays and even smaller knobs. Find one that’s comfortable for you… especially if you’re using it in a vehicle while driving. One more thing; COOLING FANS. If you can find a radio that doesn’t use cooling fans, this is a plus. Cooling fans tend to go bad LONG before the radio gets old. They’ll either go bad altogether and overheat your radio, or they’ll keep soldiering on in a really loud way. Fans also draw dust into the radio, and draw extra power. They often turn on when you key the mic, and stay on for a minute or so after unkeying… even when the radio is stone cold.

TomMacGyver,
Thanks for your input. I’m of the opinion, repeaters will fail quickly. I am concentrating on simplex ham radio for shtf. What do ya think?

Dag Nabit Jimbo:

Ok Ok, I’ll get to working on my license, geeeeze
Been needing something to do anyways, God knows I got days on end with nothing to do now that retirement has kicked in LOLOL
But yar right, time to get off my ass and do it.

Great Article Sir.
PS: I get this done I’m kicking up to 200+ watts and going ta talk yar ear off 🤪 🤪 🤪 🤪

What a great article!!! Thanks for sharing this with us!!! I have been a Ham for over 40 years and I understand that HAM RADIO is not for everyone. So if you want to have about the same communication ability with out studying for a HAM LICENSE then I would look into buying a FCC GMRS license. About $75.00 for 10 years and everyone in your family is covered under your license…wife kids cats and dogs 🤪😱 too!!! Yes I have a GMRS License also for over 20 years. They have Repeaters etc!!! Just do a GOOGLE SEARCH for GMRS and all the info! Check Amazon for base mobile and handhelds rigs. Stay with the name brands and you can’t go wrong…and get the extended warranty if possible…they also have base and mobile antenna systems. GOOD LUCK AND SEE YOU ON THE AIR SOON… When you buy your GMRS license from the FCC during the work week you will get your CALLSIGN in about 24 to 48 hours vie email and you are GOOD TO GO!!! 73
PS BUT FOR THOSE WHO HAVE THE DESIRE TO BECOME A HAM I WANT TO SAY WELCOME TO THE GREATEST HOBBY IN THE WORLD!

Newbies,
There are what hams call nets. What’s a net? An experienced ham will establish a day, time, and frequency. He will then ask for other hams to report in. Typically, the “net control” the experienced ham, will have a big power and great antenna station. He will often have a yagi antenna that he’ll use to slowly work his way around 360 degrees. It’s a quick thing. Just check-in with your call sign and often a little chit-chat. It’s a good way to know when others will be on-the-air. You can make “ham friends.” I participate in one “net” per week. It’s always the same day of the week and the same time and the same frequency. It makes for an easy and sure way to check your equipment. You know, make sure everything is still working.
Don’t be intimidated. They want more hams to participate. They are thrilled to get new hams. Most “nets” are listed online, if ya do a little research. Pick your band, mode, whatever, and get on-the-air. You’ll be surprised at the number of hams all around you. It’s more than ya think.