September 17, 2015 at 4:45 am #43860
I was surprised when I did a search on the site and found no returns on the words “radios,” “radio,” or “ham” (other than a discussion on knives). So, here goes.
With respect to ham radio, if one already has a license, it would be good to have gear that could be reasonably portable, potentially powered by alternative means without sucking too much power from other things, etc. Even low power rigs can reach around the world easily, even with a fairly basic wire antenna that can be thrown up fairly quickly and easily. If CW (morse code or “continuous wave”) is used, you can easily reach around the world on the right frequencies and the right times of day – again, if you’re already at least somewhat operationally familiar with amateur radio. If voice communication is desired, sideband can get further than AM signals. But I’m not recommending someone go out and start from scratch on learning what’s needed and obtaining the equipment. It could be great to have for a variety of reasons, especially when there’s widespread chaos and disconnection from law and order.
What everyone can have, at relatively low cost however, is a good radio receiver. There are cheap ones, and there are very expensive ones. I’ve personally found that the best balance in features and reception is the Sony ICF-SW7600GR. You can find it on Amazon still, even though it’s been rumored for years to be on the verge of extinction. Apparently some of the older models from what I’ve got were even better, but I’ve had one for several years, and am quite glad to have it (I’m fortunate to have a Japanese-make unit, not Chinese). It will pick up AM, FM, upper and lower sideband as well as CW, and has a very wide frequency range. FM is from 76-108 MHz (the full normal US “FM radio” band plus a bit extra at the bottom end, Shortwave is from 621 kHz – 29.999 MHz, MW is from 530 kHz – 1620 kHz, and LW goes all the way down from 150 kHz – 529 hHz. Most suppliers appear to be selling the external antenna with it (you HAVE to have an external antenna to make it worth having – the little collapsible antenna built into the receiver is worthless for most purposes). The external antenna that came with ours is branded Sony, but appears to be the exact same thing as the Sangean brand antenna – just a different name on the case. Read the Amazon offerings closely, because some are sold with the antenna, and some are not. But even if yours is not, you can purchase the Sangean antenna for a nominal additional price if you don’t know how to, or don’t want to make your own. I know how, but really liked the compact, retractable features of the Sony antenna that came with it. If I need more antenna “power,” I’ll make my own for less portable use.
I never bothered to get the AC power adapter for it, because it uses 4 AA cells, so solar recharging is easy with a small Goal Zero setup I’ve got. Battery life is actually quite good on these.
I had another portable short wave receiver that actually had a bit better reception, but didn’t have sideband, nor did it have as many features. Plus, it was FAR larger, and rather heavy. Tuning was a pain in the behind. These are very small, weigh almost nothing, and can be added to a back pack easily, while taking up almost no room.
Why get one? With the very wide frequency range, you can quickly determine if there is just a local problem (i.e. lots of regional and world wide stations), or a more widespread problem if it does seem that the S has indeed HTF. And the ability to listen to English language (for those of us whose primary language is English) broadcasts from all over the world could be almost priceless. One could get a world wide perspective on a more widespread SHTF situation in that case. Along that line, I also recommend getting a current year edition of the World Radio TV Handbook (WRTH). A new one comes out each year, and it lists almost every radio broadcast station in the world, including countries, frequencies, languages (frequently multiple languages on some of the larger stations, including China, Russia, BBC, VOA, and many others). You name the country, there are stations listed. You name the language, you can find it. Imagine not having any radio outlets available in your local area, yet being able to hear BBC or Radio Moscow (or whatever they call it these days – I’m “old school”), and listen to their versions of what’s happening in the world, including your own country. It could explain a lot when there’s no local idea of what the heck is going on with a major SHTF situation.
There are many sources, and prices. For starters, here are the links at least on Amazon:
Radio (no antenna listed with this one, but lowest price even when purchasing a separate antenna – below)
Antenna (again, be sure your radio doesn’t already come with an external antenna before ordering this – not to be confused with the relatively worthless metal collapsible antenna that is part of the radio at the upper left corner)
WRTH book (you can save some money and get a 1-2 year out of date version, with most stations still the same – plus, there are updates on line at http://www.wrth.com)September 17, 2015 at 12:34 pm #43867
I have a couple of that type radio tucked away, though I’d need to dig them out to see exactly what models.
Something I did some years back was buy a standalone Sirius radio. This was when you could still buy a lifetime subscription. My thinking was come SHTF that stations like CNN would still be broadcasting if at all possible and that it might be possible to get at least some national information that way. It can operate on batteries.September 17, 2015 at 12:40 pm #43869
Thanks for the recommendation. Used on Ebay they start at around $75.00 and new anywhere they are $140.00.September 23, 2015 at 10:19 pm #44009
I will start this by saying I am a HAM.
Some of my group are not radio folks. They went out and bought small Chinese Handy Talkies. Including the ones sold at WalMart and such companies do not believe the “goes up to 35 miles!!!!!!!” Yes it will, in a perfect vacuum with nothing between the two radios and those are the only radios in the world.
Having said that:
You can spend almost nothing to almost break the bank for radios. You are limited by: where you live, where there are large amount of buildings and how far you are trying to transmit.
Antennas and the wire (coax) between your radio and antenna is where you should spend a little extra. If you take a Chinese hand held, take off the factory antenna and then run coax to a antenna with a magnetic mount you will be surprised how far you can reach on your transmissions. By putting the mag mounted antenna on just a file cabinet you will increase your transmission distance by a bunch. If you have a metal roof then put the antenna there.
RobinSeptember 24, 2015 at 12:04 am #44011
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.December 7, 2015 at 12:16 am #45790
GS, I just ordered 2 of that Sony radio you recommended back on Sep. 7th, one for my son for Christmas and one for my son-in-law for Christmas. Looks to be a good unit.December 7, 2015 at 4:18 am #45802
I hope you’re as pleased as I am. I only occasionally listen to it, but enjoy it when I do. I mostly have it “just in case” of whatever HTF (local power outage, regional power outage, or much worse). By all means, if you’re not sure about antennas, read up on them and learn to orient one, use it properly, etc. You can even “tune” one if you know what frequency range you’re wanting to monitor, but realize that various frequencies change with daylight vs. night time (just like the normal US AM band, for example – otherwise known as “medium wave”). Sometimes 20 meters and 15 meters are great ham frequencies (particularly 20 meters), but sometimes they’re dead. It depends on time of day, solar activity (or not), etc. Learn a little about propagation of radio waves at various frequencies for the “just in case” times.
Enjoy! I hope you end up “wasting” your money (just like I hope I never really “need” my radio either).
It’s like auto or home owners insurance – hopefully a waste of money, but very nice to have “IF.” In the meantime, hope you thoroughly enjoy it.December 7, 2015 at 1:11 pm #45812
The radios are going to my son and son-in-law so I won’t have this new unit myself. My son will appreciate it for the purposes intended. He very much gets it. My son-in-law thinks I worry too much but he is willing to listen to me. In light of current and recent events I am interested to see where his head is at when we visit them next month. My daughter & family are in suburban Charlotte, NC which is pretty flat terrain and so not much in the way of reception obstructions. My son will be in the woods in Vermont when he moves and so for him reception will be an issue he needs to work on. For the non-Americans here, Vermont is mostly rural, wooded, and mountainous, and things like getting good cell phone reception is an issue in much of the State.December 7, 2015 at 2:06 pm #45815
MB, I suggest Google Earth (http://www.google.com/earth/). Once in the program have your son pinpoint his location. In the bottom right of the page he will find the lat/long and height above sea level. Use this reading to compare against interesting places (ie nearest downtown, known cel tower etc) and it will give him a rough idea of how much antenna (and type) he needs. If his location is higher than anything for about 50 miles then selection is unlimited. However, if he is in a hole (lower than anything around him) he will need to get an antenna on some type of mast and get it up in the air.
A simple antenna to build is a J-Pole (http://www.buxcomm.com/jpoles4ever.htm). I have made many to include one that folds for storage.
Lowe’s has top rail post for chain link fencing that can be used to mount antenna and get it up in the air. One end is tapered to fit inside the end of another post. (http://www.lowes.com/pd_103268-215-58910235___). Drill holes at the top and at the middle and attach guy wires. If you need to go higher than 35ft then I recommend a tower. I get tower sections by keeping my eye open for ones laying on the ground next to buildings. Just ask the owner if they plan to use the tower section. Many times I have people ask me to “please” take it!
RobinDecember 7, 2015 at 8:16 pm #45823
Thanks Robin. The elevation feature on google earth is very handy. His property is down in the valley and I was able to see that it is at about 1,100′. More importantly between his property and what constitutes the center of his town or further away in the nearest “big” town the elevation only varies up and down by a couple hundred feet. The valley that all of this is in is blocked in by small mountains rising to about 3000′ with his property butted up against one side of the valley. While this relatively flat terrain between him and the places in the valley where there would be towers, his land is fulled wooded and has lots of trees more than 100′ high….old white pines and various hardwoods. The lumber for the house will come off of the property but the guy who will cut and mill them told me many of the trees are just too big to process. The trees thus might be the biggest reception inhibitor from that site. We’ll know when the house gets built. The project got put on hold when his wife was in that head on collision a few months ago which she is still recovering from. The hope is to proceed next Spring.December 7, 2015 at 8:45 pm #45825
MB, in that case read up on a “NVIS” antenna. (https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/NVIS/conversations/messages)
This yahoo group knows their stuff. They may argue with folks but
generally mind their manners. Poke around in the files.
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