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HAM Radio Starter Kit - Information for Beginners

Discussion in 'Preparedness & Survival' started by JackThompson, Jan 15, 2014.

  1. JackThompson

    JackThompson Valley of the Demons Well-Known Member

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    ***UPDATED*** 5/6/2014 (See NW Ham Club Links at the end)
    ***UPDATED*** 5/7/2014 (Added Washington HAM Clubs)
    ***UPDATED*** 10/24/2014 (Added Software Defined Radio info)
    ***UPDATED*** 11/14/2014 (Added SHTF Frequency Listing)

    Ok, I've compiled some of the information that I have researched over the last year for communications and I'll share what I've found. (Mostly links, maybe some suggestions.)

    A huge challenge in learning this stuff is "What do I search for???"
    Please check the end of this document for KEY Phrases you might want to look at.

    DISCLAIMER: If you TRANSMIT on frequencies reserved for HAM radio without a license you will be considered a "Pirate" (Whether we agree with this or not). This is against FCC regulations and they can find you, fine you and take all your electronic gizmos.

    That aside, it's good to have for good times and critical to have them for bad times.

    When speaking on HAM frequencies you are required to give your call sign at the beginning of your transmission and every 10 minutes during a conversation and at the end when you sign off (Thanks Catcow for the reminder!).

    There are two forms of communication you will be most concerned with:
    Simplex - Radio to Radio communication. This is the closest you will come to a "Private" conversation as it doesn't travel through any other system, it just goes from one radio to another. You can setup codes on your radio to prevent you from hearing other people, but you cannot setup codes to prevent others from hearing you, so be aware of this.

    Repeater - Radio to "Middleman" that boosts the signal and relays to other Radios. This form of communication not only extends the range you can communicate over, it can also potentially bridge your communication across continents and cross it over the internet (With IRLP). To get a sense for where your communication and chatter can be going, look up a particular repeater on the internet or in a repeater directory (They sell those) book.

    Some repeaters require an access code to transmit on them. This code is in the form of an inaudible tone sent before your transmission. (If you see "Tone 123.000" on a repeater, that means you setup this tone when you enter that channel into your radio and it automatically sends that first. It's called "Opening the repeater")

    Some repeaters are just "Open" and require no tone to access.

    Repeaters also have an "Offset". Which basically means it sends signals out on the frequency listed, but receives your signal on a slightly lower or higher frequency. It would only take a few minutes to learn how to setup a repeater offset and PL tone.

    Check this guide to learn how to access and use repeaters.
    How to Use Amateur (Ham Radio) Repeaters

    Some specific frequencies have been setup (Reserved) for repeater use. Usually by clubs or organizations.

    HAM radio bands have slang names like "2 Meter, 70 Centimeter, 6 Meter, 10 Meter etc."
    Divide 300 by the average frequency and you get the "slang name" for a particular band.

    For instance:
    "2 Meter" is actually 150 Mhz. So 300 / 150 = 2.
    "70 Centimeter" is 450Mhz. So 300 / 430 = 0.7-ish

    "2 Meter" (Most common) = 144.000-148.000MHZ - This is VHF or Very High Frequency - Good for outdoors and unobstructed communications over modest ranges.

    In my experience in the city with a 5 watt handheld you can communicate over 20 miles with this, with a 25-45watt mobile vehicle radio over 50 miles. In the country/hills 5-10 miles handheld, 10-20 in vehicle. Through mountains 3-5 miles handheld, in vehicle 7-15 miles. With a home base station VHF radio running 50 watts over a good antenna you can reach out over 100 miles if you aren't going over too many mountains (And a handheld/mobile can receive your messages at that range, but may not be able to respond back at that range.) - With the novice (Technician) class HAM license you can operate over the entire 2 Meter spectrum.

    "70 Centimeter" = 420.000-450.000MHZ - This is UHF or Ultra High Frequency - Good for indoor communications, through some concrete as the shorter wavelength isn't as disrupted when it contacts solid objects.

    The range outdoors in my experience is about half that of VHF (I only use UHF from my home base station radio, but I have hit repeaters 37 miles away with a 50 watt home UHF radio. - With the novice (Technician) class HAM license you can operate over the entire 70 Centimeter spectrum.

    HAM Radio Resources
    SHFT Radio Frequencies. Good information for emergency communications, and might be something other preppers are tuning in to.

    American Radio Relay League | ARRL - The national association for AMATEUR RADIO - American Radio Relay League (This is the NRA of Radio)

    eHam.net Home - Amateur Radio (Ham Radio) Community Site - Ham Radio on the Net (This is the Northwest Firearms of Radio, Forums, Classifieds, Reviews.)

    eHam.net Ham Radio Practice Exams - Study guide for the HAM license exam.

    Washington Amateur and GMRS radio repeaters - Washington Repeater Directory

    Oregon Amateur and GMRS radio repeaters - Oregon Repeater Directory

    US Band Plan by ICOM by dxzone.com - ICOM US Amateur Frequency Band Plan

    Clark County Emergency Services Frequencies (You can change the county/state here too)

    U.S. VHF Channels - US Coast Guard Frequencies

    International Distress Frequencies

    J Pole - Antennas: J-Pole - Make your own J-Pole antenna for REALLY cheap! (For under $20 these are great!)

    I recommend programming in these frequencies to start with if you are near SW Washington or NW Oregon. It's at least somewhere to start listening.

    AB7F Repeater System

    Excerpt from AB7F Repeater Page:

    Here's my recommendation for your first radio. It cheap and works as well as my Yaesu VX-170. (Just not quite as rugged)

    BaoFeng UV-5R UHF/VHF (HAM) Radio - Up to $38.05 now from $29 over the holidays.

    BaoFeng BF-S112 Two Way Radio Speaker (Handheld mic) - $7.19

    Car charger cable - $4.84

    ExpertPower 14.5" Dual Band Two-way Radio Antenna SMA-Female - $12.55

    Baofeng Programming Cable for BAOFENG UV-5R/5RA/5R Plus/5RE, UV3R Plus, BF-888S - $10.75

    This is the cable NOT TO BUY
    Amazon.com: USB Programming Cable for Baofeng UV-5R UV-3R+ Two way Radio With Driver CD: Car Electronics
    (Labeled as "USB Programming Cable for Baofeng UV-5R UV-3R+ Two way Radio With Driver CD")

    Chirp - Free Open Source Radio Programming Software

    Baofeng UV-5R Programming With a Computer (3 part video walkthrough on using CHIRP to program this radio)

    So after ordering 2x (2 is 1, 1 is None) of each of the items listed above I have:

    2 BaoFeng 2-way radios (With ear buds for silent operation)
    2 14.5" antenna upgrades
    2 Handheld Mics (Good for clipping to your collar like the EMT's!)
    1 Car charger (This requires you to use your regular charging station and this cable)
    1 Proper USB programming cable

    Prices (Shipped)
    1 Cable + 1 Car charger + 2 Mics (one order) = $37.43
    2 Antenna upgrades = $23.09
    2 Radios = $70.38

    Total cost: $131.90
    Total cost for ONE radio + Upgrades: $70.35

    Advanced Learning - KEY Phrases
    RDF - Radio Direction Finder - How to locate a radio transmission. (Or how they will find you)

    DTMF or Dual-tone multi-frequency signaling - How to send Text Messages without internet or cellular!

    Packet Radio - How to connect one computer to another to send text, images, voice and video without the internet.

    IRLP - Internet Radio Linking Project (Only valuable while systems are online, but works for global communication.)

    Echolink - Software that allows you to connect your radio or server to the Internet (If you are a licensed HAM you can also go to this web site and talk to other HAM operators using only your computer)

    CW or Carrier Wave (Morse Code)

    One last note from the author:
    People preparing for emergencies sometimes tend to border on paranoid, or be mostly concerned with their immediate safety and for their immediate family.

    I fell into this category until I started getting more involved in Radio and it got me to thinking about REAL world scenarios where say for instance the economy collapsed. Can you defend what you've stockpiled? Is it worth it for you to survive if EVERYONE around you perishes?

    For me, the answer is no. I'd rather get more involved in local community communication and preparation.

    I'd rather reach out and have a community survive disaster instead of just myself. I'd love to meet the Fema trucks and say "We got this, thanks though..."

    To that end, if you get your license, consider joining something like ARES - The Amateur Radio Emergency Services and get involved in neighborhood planning. (It doesn't have to be "Doomsday prepper" level planning, but emergency planning in the event of Fire, Earthquake, Extended freezing weather, Tornado etc. Look into the Community Emergency Response Teams. (While CERT is a FEMA group, it's focus is on local folks helping local folks, and still provides a leg up on preparing for disaster.)

    From Catcow: 5/6/2014 - Oregon HAM Clubs
    If you are interested in ham radio, be sure to check out the local clubs and come out to the monthly meetings.

    East Multnomah County - Hoodview Amateur Radio Club http://www.wb7qiw.org/, meets at Mt Hood Community College on the 3rd Thursday of each month at 7:30pm.

    Portland - Portland Amateur Radio Club http://www.w7lt.org/, meets in the basement auditorium of the Liberty Center building at NE 7th and Holliday on the 4th Friday of the month at 7:30pm.

    West side - Oregon Tualatin Valley Amateur Radio Club http://www.otvarc.org, looks to meet at a church on NW Cornell Rd on the 3rd Thursday of the month at 7pm.

    And then there is the Amateur Radio Emergency Services groups. Multnomah County ARES http://www.multnomahares.org/ meets on the 4th Thursday of the month at 7pm at Portland Fire Training Center and Fire Station 2 on NE 122nd just north of Sandy. I'm afraid I don't have the info for the other ARES groups in the area handy right now.

    Coming up at the end of next month is the ARRL Field Day http://www.arrl.org/field-day, a rather busy event that is part contest, part emergency exercise, where you spend 24 hours in the field running off of batteries. PARC participates from a site on top of Kelly Butte on the roof of the old city nuclear bunker. Just about every club will set up somewhere, and lots of individuals doing it from home, or from a park, or even some lightweight gear and go camping or hiking for the weekend and do it from the forest.

    From Bazooka Joe: 5/7/2014 - Washington HAM Clubs
    Seattle area - Mike and Key Amateur Radio Club http://www.mikeandkey.org/ , meets the third Saturday of the month. 720 South Tobin Street, (MapQuest Map) Renton WA. This location is situated at the southeast corner of the Renton airport, one block North of the Renton Parking Garage. The building is open for socializing, coffee, and doughnuts at 9:30 AM and the meeting starts at 10:00 AM.

    Tri-cities -- Tri-Cities Amateur Radio club http://www.w7az.org/ , meets the first Monday of the month at 7pm. Tri-Cities Red Cross Building, 7202 W Deschutes Ave, Kennewick, WA.

    Yakima -- Yakima Amateur Radio Club http://yakimaamateurradioclub.com/ , meets on the Second Tuesday of every month at the Yakima Chapter of the American Red Cross at 7:30 p.m. local time. 302 South Second Street, Yakima, WA.

    Spokane area -- Spokane DX Association http://www.sdxa.org/ Regular monthly meetings are usually alternated between Spokane County Libraries and, unless otherwise posted, are always at 7:00PM the first Thursday of every month. Check the website for location of next meeting.

    WA State ARES http://www.wastateares.org/
    ARES of King County http://www.aresofkingcounty.org/
    Spokane ARES http://www.spokares.org/
    Yakima ARES/RACES http://ares.ykm.com/

    Software Defined Radio (SDR)
    Software Defined Radio is basically running the radio hardware (Transmitter, Receiver, Antenna) connected to your computer, and the "Brains" of the radio, instead of being firmware in a radio, it is a software program on your computer.

    PROS: You download new software, and you have a new radio. You get the benefits of on-screen displays, wide frequency scanning, recording, analyzing and more that aren't available on all but the most expensive radios.

    CONS: It's Computers... they're horrible pieces of technology, so you better know how to run one, and troubleshoot one, and have a regular old radio as a backup.

    Below, I've linked a SDR (Scanner, receive only) setup I'm playing with.

    RTL-SDR, FM+DAB, DVB-T USB Stick Set with RTL2832U & R820T. Great SDR for SDR#, HDSDR - $8.10

    MCX (Tiny antenna) to PL259 (Real antenna) adapter - $7

    SDR# (Software Defined Radio Software) - $Free

    So for $15.10 I have a scanner that will allow me to monitor all frequencies (At least theoretically) within a fairly decent range.

    2 of the RTL-SDR's are rumored to be able to even scan trunking systems (1 picks up the control channel, then passes the information to the chat channel on the other system)

    I'm just getting started with SDR, so please feel free to expand on this anyone with experience!

    Here is a video that gave me the idea to setup SDR (This video isn't for SDR, it was to show a radio that transmits on expanded frequencies, but it really shows the capability of the SDR setup!)
    Last edited: Nov 14, 2014
  2. Don H

    Don H Oregon Well-Known Member

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    Thanks for sharing!
  3. oknow

    oknow amboy wa. Well-Known Member

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    Good info. Thanks a lot:thumbup:
  4. ZA_Survivalist

    ZA_Survivalist Oregon AK's all day.

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    Thats a lot of cool info.
    I really need to look into operating.
  5. Sgt Nambu

    Sgt Nambu Oregon Bronze Supporter Bronze Supporter

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    Great information! Thank you!
  6. JackThompson

    JackThompson Valley of the Demons Well-Known Member

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    Here's the prepper version of the above document.

    Step 1 - Buy two of the radios listed above.
    Step 2 - Figure out how to enter in a frequency on it. (Internet, YouTube, The Manual etc.)
    Step 3 - Punch in 146.535 (Simplex radio to radio channel) into the radio (No other settings needed)
    Step 4 - Figure out how to save that into the radios memory. (Internet, YouTube, The Manual etc.)
    Step 5 - Save that frequency into channel 1
    Step 6 - Put the radios in your Faraday box and pull them out when the zombies arrive :cool:
  7. EZLivin

    EZLivin SW of PDX Well-Known Member

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    Great thread. Thanks!
  8. JackThompson

    JackThompson Valley of the Demons Well-Known Member

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    You bet! Sorry I had to edit it a bunch after submitting it. I just kept thinking of more info that would be good to share. :)
  9. bwchase

    bwchase Pacific City Active Member

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    Is there a reason you chose 146.535 frequency?

    "Step 3 - Punch in 146.535 (Simplex radio to radio channel) into the radio (No other settings needed)"

    Why not national calling frequencies on both bands?
    Freq search(scan) from 146.520 through 146.595 for that segment of FM simplex.
    Same principle on 70 cm.
    1+ on getting licensed and involved with local agencies and volunteer groups.

    Good to have several licensed and experienced hams share information on the forum.
  10. JackThompson

    JackThompson Valley of the Demons Well-Known Member

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    I selected 146.535 because it's #4 on my list of Simplex frequencies to use, so that keeps folks off my #1-3 ;)

    You can absolutely scan for chatter, or go through the band plan linked above and decide which frequency you most prefer to use (I even have a HAM friend that uses a reserved satellite frequency for his simplex communication! :confused:)

    But on the 5-Step process there, that's more for people that don't want to spend too much time learning how it works, set it and forget it, then when a comet hits the earth they can yank their radios out of the box, turn them on and use them without trying to remember what button to hit to scan. :cool:

    QUICK EDIT: You brought up a great point though! I added the text of the VHF/UHF band plans for more clarity. :)
  11. CoastRange57

    CoastRange57 Western Oregon Bronze Supporter Bronze Supporter

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    To add a couple of things...

    Wherever you go, you will have a commonality with other hams, and many are more than happy to assist you if you need it. I have made contacts all over the state and region, never met some of them, so of them I have, but always have a friend or contact somewhere.

    Many hams are like minded as a lot of people on here. A fair number are into firearms, CCW, shooting, and the usual diversions. There is a state wide sportsman "net" on the Oregon link net on Wednesday nights. Although it tends to be dominated by some mid valley hams, you can usually " check in" and participate if you want. As with society, you are probably not going to like every ham you hear. Some are complete a**holes, and it is very evident. Over all, the good far outnumber the morons.

    I went to a gathering at a local watering hole last Saturday, of some hams on one local repeater. Got to visiting with them, and come to find out, out of about 22 people there, 10 were CCW. Felt pretty safe there. Ages from 70 to 26.

    146.520 National Simplex calling channel has put me in contact with some great people when traveling. I usually research repeaters before traveling, and preprogram those into my radio. I make sure I have easy access to the linked repeaters. I weekly talk to hams in Medford, Redding, Bend, LaPine, Klamath Falls on these 2 meter linked repeaters.

    Deep in the Wilson River Canyon I have used my radio to call for assistance for motorists, injury accidents, and contact other hams. Even my Baofeng will reach out down there. I travel Oregon a lot, mostly in the northwest area, and in a lot of isolated areas and leaving home with out my 2 radios would leave me feeling as vulnerable as being unarmed.

    I have convinced 2 of my sons to get their tickets, and " radio up". They do not much care for the Federal involvement, but the advantages of solid dependable communication outweigh that dislike. I plan on getting my General ticket soon, long distance comms is one of my responsibilities in our group. Helping others with our VHF set ups is also part of my responsibilities.

    Forget CB, forget GMRS, forget marine, as a "primary" communications. I have CB, GMRS and marine units. Not hooked up, but stored and ready to use if need be in SHTF. Ham will still be my primary go to platform for comms.

    Thanks for posting that information Jack. I found some great things in there.
  12. JackThompson

    JackThompson Valley of the Demons Well-Known Member

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    Taku, I totally agree on the VX-170. That's been a bulletproof radio for me for a year as well.

    I've been to busy to chat much on the radio since I got my license (Meaning 4 conversations tota, I mostly listen) but I've been looking for a net of firearm or outdoor folks and haven't had much luck yet!

    I tried to get on a few that Oathkeeper mentioned to me but haven't managed to pick any of them up yet.

    Great additions Coastrange57!
  13. FateOne

    FateOne Battle Ground Member

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    How is APRS coverage around here? I had an APRS setup in my car when living in a mountain state with dangerous roads during the winter and before cell phones we ubiquitous. It was a reassurance for friends and family to see where I was when traveling through blizzards and over icey passes while driving across the state.

    That equipment was stolen and I after moving here haven't bothered putting together another setup. I have almost everything now except a radio to replace my Yaesu FT-1500m. I'd like to build a system again if there are APRS repeaters and gateways to give me decent coverage, particularly in the forest out east of Lucia falls.
  14. CoastRange57

    CoastRange57 Western Oregon Bronze Supporter Bronze Supporter

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    This is a link to the Oregon Connected repeaters. Great for 2 meter work all over the state. I have talked to Oathkeeper before, great guy. It was a bit scratchy because of his location and mine have some pretty good hills between us.

    Sportsman Net Wednesday nights 7 pm, there is a swap net as well, and some others.

    [Oregon linked Amateur Radio Repeaters
  15. Martini_Up

    Martini_Up NW USA Well-Known Member

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    Thank you, JT.

    A fantastic post with many informative replies. Thanks, All!!
  16. uscsoldier

    uscsoldier Salem, OR Bronze Supporter Bronze Supporter

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    great info!
  17. Will_Power

    Will_Power OR via OK Active Member

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    Very helpful and informative thread.

    I'll be making the jump into getting my HAM license and setup later this year for reasons some of you have already mentioned: I travel recreationally a lot around the region and often find myself out of cell range. Having reliable communication in that context seems prudent (not to mention in case of emergency or other SHTF concerns).

    One question: Would it be wise to get some manner of more "robust" dipole type setup as a handheld antenna or would a single pole work just fine to start out with on a handheld/pouch sized unit?
  18. CoastRange57

    CoastRange57 Western Oregon Bronze Supporter Bronze Supporter

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    On my base units, I have a single copper J pole antenna. Shop it is mounted about 20 feet up and about 12 on the house. Works fine for me, $ 32 on E Bay.

    I have the Baofeng UV 5 RA with a PL 259 connector . I can use it on the home units, and with my mobile mag mount 2 meter, about 28 inches long. I have a 14.5 inch antenna for walking use.

    I am going to make J pole mount for taking up in the hills with me to experiment with. I get real good output with my 2 meter mobile antenna on top of my Explorer, especially sitting on a logging landing 3,000 feet up in the coast range. I want to rig up a J pole to be able to haul up a tree to 35 feet or so. That would give great simplex work with just 55 watts, then of course a bilateral linear amplifier to get it up to 150 watts makes it a blow torch at 3,000 or better feet.
  19. AMProducts

    AMProducts Maple Valley, WA Jerk, Ammo Manufacturer Silver Supporter

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    Just an FYI, your entry for "echo location" is incorrect, the proper term is "RDF - Radio Direction Finding" which uses either physically scanning antennas (like a yagi on a rotator), or diversity antennas (two or more antennas as an array) to determine signal strength and azimuth.

    Also for antennas... Dipole and any horizontally mounted antenna is going to be for AM-HF operation, yes you can use it for FM, but generally there is a slight bit of directionality to it, so it's going to perform best as a vertical on FM. Most radios expect a 50ohm impedance so unless you're using a balun, it can be quite difficult to get dipoles to work properly.

    For any kind of permanent installation, I would recommend the copper J-Pole, as well as the groundplane antenna. as these excel at VHF and UHF bands when used with an FM radio.

    I've looked into a few others, one I'm playing with currently is a copper loop yagi for working LEO satellites as some new ones are supposed to be coming online soon. For this I'm going to be using a diplexer with two radios hooked up to catch the uplink/downlink.
  20. JackThompson

    JackThompson Valley of the Demons Well-Known Member

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    Great catch AMProducts! (I just went through the Technician exam again, and I found the question that contained RDF, but I couldn't find the question for Echolocation.. I swear it had to do with radio location as well!) I updated the information above to reflect the correction to Radio Direction Finding though.

    I made a copper J-Pole using one of the designs listed above and it works amazingly! I took it to a HAM Elmer (Elmers are other HAMS that are happy to help new HAMS learn the art) and he connected it to his meter. It had an amazing 1.2:1 SWR!

    Quick question on the LEO Satellite work. I thought LEO was going to a trunking system that would be fairly closed? Is that not the case?