Letter Re: Retreat Commo and Monitoring Suggestions from a Ham Operator

Mr. Rawles,
I would like to hopefully answer some questions on retreat communications.  I have been a ham radio operator since I was 11 and am the third generation of hams in my family.  I was recently asked by multiple people to help them come up with a list of equipment that they could buy to have decent communications in there planning.  These people are not hams and don’t know much about radios.  After giving it some thought I have come up with a list of things that can be purchased on today’s market that should cover basic communications needs.  I know that there are many hams out there that will disagree with this list, but they need to keep in mind that these choices aren’t for the best DX radio but are chosen for reliability, value, and ease of use. 

First I would like to mention that it is illegal to transmit on an amateur radio frequency without the proper license,  and that just having a good radio and not knowing how to use it is like having a rifle and not knowing how to load it.  No amount of high tech gear is a valuable as good knowledge.

HF TRANSCEIVER:  For a new HF radio I recommend the Alinco DX70-TH.  This is HF plus 6 meters. It doesn’t have all the fancy bells and whistles as some better radios but is rugged, reasonably priced, and very easy to use.  For a backup I recommend buying one of the older entry level radios such as the Yaesu FT757GX, the Icom IC-725, or the Kenwood TS-140s.  These radios can be bought used online at places like eBay or QRZ.com. Having an All-mode general coverage receive HF transceiver lets you listen to signals from around the world and transmit on the amateur bands in an emergency.

VHF TRANSCEIVER: I recommend the Yaesu FT 2800M or FT 2900M.  Both radios are rugged, simple, easy to operate radios that you can purchase new for 150.00.  These are also the radios that 90% of amateur radio emergency responders use.  It gives general coverage receive on most of the VHF spectrum, and has a built in weather radio. 

Citizen’s Band: I also suggest getting a basic CB radio.  Any of the brand name 40 channel CBs will do.  CB is one of the most common and easy to use radios available, but they are very limited.  one thing to keep in mind is that because of their ease of use, and availability they will probably be the choice of the lowest common denominator. [JWR Adds: For the beast range versatility, and a hair more security, get an SSB-capable model.]

SCANNERS: A decent scanner is also a good tool, a simple Radio Shack scanner can quickly scan a large number of frequencies saving precious time.  [JWR Adds: Be sure to get one of the later models that can demodulate trunked traffic.]

FRS:  These portable radios are a good tool for communications in a small group.  They are legal to use by any one much like a CB.  I will not mention any certain brand or model, just some features.  Make sure that they are the kind that recharges in a docking station and also use common batteries.  Also look for ones that are weather resistant.  I would have at least one of these for every member of your group. 

ANTENNAS:  I will not get into debate about why one antenna is better than another.  I will only give specific suggestions of what to get to have reliable communications.  HF antenna; an off center fed dipole for 80 meters, and the comet CHA-250B vertical.  VHF; Diamond X59A.  Scanner; Radio Shack discone antenna.  CB; Radio Shack mobile whip with ground plane kit.

ACCESSORIES:  Some needed accessories are a 12 volt 20 amp power supply [such as those made by Astron], extra batteries, and 50 ohm coax cable. 

Most of these things can be purchased at Ham Radio Outlet online, or at your local Radio Shack.  Even with this list of equipment if you can’t use them then they are useless.  Also keep in mind that all of these forms of communications are open, non-encoded transmissions, so always exercise good COMSEC.  Also, always store all radio equipment disconnected from the antenna, and in an EMP-proof container.  73s – Tim