Profile photo of

MB, your thinking on Sirius may turn out to be OK, but for anyone not already owning one, I don’t know that it’d be my first choice. First, you’d have to keep up a subscription, I presume (I dumped Sirius/XM several years ago because of their pricing and very poor customer service). And with a lot of disruption, the company itself may not be able to coordinate all that’s necessary to process payments, keep track of subscribers, collect signals and upload them to the satellite, then back down to earth again. And in the event of a major solar event, their satellite might get knocked out as well (see discussion below about solar storms and satellites). I think there are a lot of things that could go wrong with satellite radio, potentially, but if someone has it, why get rid of it?

A simple medium wave (AM radio band) and short wave receiver depends on only two things: the integrity of the receiver at your end, and the integrity of the stand-alone transmitter at the other end. Short of a global catastrophic event such as what could potentially happen with an 1800s style “Carrington” solar storm, and even with such an event, there would likely be at least some stations still transmitting – somewhere. But in that event,

Experts who have studied the question say there is little to be done to protect satellites from a Carrington-class flare. In fact, a recent paper estimates potential damage to the 900-plus satellites currently in orbit could cost between $30 billion and $70 billion. The best solution, they say: have a pipeline of comsats ready for launch.

A good friend had to stop just short of his PhD in electrical engineering due to money. Fortunately, he had the vast majority of the classroom study out of the way, and then put decades of experience behind him with IBM. I asked him recently if there really is a way to build an effective Faraday cage for home use, and his answer was, “We just don’t really know.” He said in theory, yes, but there just haven’t been enough opportunities to test out the various theories against all the possible types of circumstances. In theory, an old galvanized trash can or other similar all-metal container with a same-material lid on it MIGHT work for home use, but he said it would not be a guarantee. What most people don’t realize is that a massive EMP is not just an event that comes at you from the sky, it sets up currents in the ground as well, and “insulating” electronic equipment from such an event, be it nuclear or solar, is no easy task. According to another electrical engineer I know that works for a major utility, there’s even only so much they can do to protect the grid.

So I think a fairly simple MW/SW receiver is probably the best first option. It is very small, can easily be transported, and with just a little bit of study, one can create an easily stored wire antenna that could be highly effective when deployed. Even just a “longwire” can be very useful, though tuning for specific frequencies would be ideal. Good antennas can be simply made with just copper wire strung between trees with insulators and a coax feed line (lightning protection is recommended). Can you imagine the psychological comfort that could be provided simply by listening to even a far away radio broadcast, if you were completely isolated and cut off from others for some reason? At least you’d know you weren’t alone, and could potentially even get a better idea of what’s going on in the world, and maybe even your own region.

ONLY for those that want to dig a bit into the technical aspects of antennas, this page has some good information on various kinds of antennas, some of which are very easy to construct. A little planning before hand can be a real blessing after the “fact” (whatever SHTF fact that turns out to be). And some of these are quite portable, or could be. Most won’t be interested and want to go this far, but at least it’s here as a resource.

Another idea is to keep a 4-5 watt portable (large “walkie-talkie”) CB handheld in your vehicle, along with a magnetic roof-mounted antenna. If you’re on the road and want to talk with someone, these can reach several miles potentially (highly dependent on conditions). With CB radio having lost much of its appeal since 20 or so years ago, you can pick up such radios fairly inexpensively (even new). Set them up to be powered by your 12-volt receptacle in your vehicle (though most can also be operated on a fairly large number of AA cell batteries). The antenna can come down in moments so as not to be vulnerable to theft or even “flag” the fact that you’ve got a radio. And a hand-held radio can be hidden out of site, so as not to be a vehicle break-in target hanging under the dash. Plus, you can even take it with you somewhere to be totally portable – just be sure to mount the antenna on a metal “ground plane” (metal roof, even a file cabinet, as Robin mentioned). Here’s just one example of what’s available at prices well below what I paid years ago for ours. There are others like it. Yes, they’re limited in frequency and range (though long-distance “skip” is possible at night under the right but relatively rare conditions), but again – it’s another option. I like the idea of the power and easy portability (both antenna and transceiver). Just be sure to get the converter plug to allow connection of the large antenna coax connector in place of the little (ineffective) whip antenna on top of the unit.