Letter Re: HF/VHF/UHF Amateur Radio for Preppers

First, thanks for all that you do for the preparedness community. I have been a reader since [the early 1990s] when you had the early draft of your novel available for free download. I did send in my the $5 in shareware you asked for I believed it to be excellent fiction.

Second, I want to write you concerning an aspect of preparedness which is often overlooked. I know that in the last few months I have seen more posts on your blog and am grateful. I want to talk about communications equipment.

As has been previously noted there are really two major types of communication which are readily available to civilians. Naturally, I am speaking of the ham bands which consist of the VHF/UHF and HF spectrums. In reality the modern radio is mostly a computer or computer driven (hence the need to have a spare protected in a Faraday Cage).

It would behoove anyone [in the US] who is prepping to first get your Technician ham license. Any number of internet sites have the exact question pool which you will be quizzed from. You can prepare one of two ways – buy a book on the fundamentals of radio communication or simply go to a web site such as QRZ.com and work through the question pools. Currently, there is no code to learn as there once was – therefore you will not be tested on Morse Code. However, I would recommend that as soon as possible that one begin to become fluent with CW (Continuous Wave, i.e. Morse Code). At times the nature of the HF bands are such that people can communicate with one another using CW and not via voice.

Once you have your Technician license you will want to either get involved in an amateur radio club or begin to monitor the VHF/UHF bands. The VHF/UHF band covers 50, 144, 220, and 440 MHz (6, 2, 1 1?4, meters as well as 70cm respectively). Most often the easiest way to monitor the VHF/UHF is through a handheld unit. I have had a number of different models but for my retreat we use the Yaesu VX 7R. This model is built to mil spec standard – waterproof and shockproof – as well as easy to operate. It is about the size of a small paperback and has the longer lasting lithium-ion batteries. It is presently selling for around $270.

The VHF/UHF bands are limited to line of sight communications and for long range communications in these bands you need the services of a local radio repeater. I will not go into the technical aspects of a repeater here suffice to say that it boosts your signal strength and resends you signal to others monitoring the same frequency. I often work a repeater some forty miles from my house – but I sit atop a hill.

The HF frequencies are truly worldwide communications. You can with little equipment work stations as far away as the South Pacific on good days. However, to open these frequencies up you need to have either your General or Extra license. The next step is to get your General and then lastly your Extra license. With each further step you gain more band privileges – the Extra basically being an unlimited ticket to ham radio communications.

HF transceivers can be expensive but don’t necessarily have to be. I have two different types of HF radios currently in my ham shack – modern radios (Yaesu 857D (HF/VHF/UHF radio), ICOM 718 (HF + 6m), and an old tube rig (Yaesu FT 101E). The HF frequencies covers 160, 80, 60, 40, 30, 20, 17, 15, 12, and 10 meters. Presently with the [pitiful] shape of the sunspot cycle only from about 20 – 10 meters is active depending on where you are and the time you are monitoring.

Space and time preclude an in-depth examination of HF transmitting – I would recommend a good beginner’s book such as the ARRL Amateur Handbook for Radio Communications. This work will give you more information than you really want to know about HF communications. It is truly fascinating to listen to different stations on the HF bands. You get to such a worldwide spectrum which is largely absent from the VHF/UHF side of the hobby.

Lastly, with the HF radios you will have to have a quality antenna. “Quality” does not necessarily mean expensive. I have a G5RV Jr. antenna which is hooked up to my ICOM 718 and I have picked up stations all over the world. This particular antenna cost me a whopping $38 less than a year ago. A word of caution – antennas have to be tuned to each specific frequency which you want to listen or transmit on. Some HF radios have built in tuners while others you must buy an add – on tuner. (Essentially you are really tuning the antenna to match the band frequency which you wish to transmit). Antennas can cost as little as my G5RV to thousands of dollars for tall towers. If you are wanting to keep a low profile I would suggest erecting a dipole cut to the specific frequency length which you wish to transmit on.

Much more could be said – however, IMHO your communications will be much more operational with ham equipment than with CBs or the like.
With Kind Regards – Dr. Joe