Originally posted over at American Partisan. Come check us out- lots of good liberty-oriented material getting posted daily.
Many of the questions I get on a day-to-day basis revolve around what equipment is needed to get a radio station up and running with minimal cost. That’s a tough question and one that’s even tougher when you don’t know where to begin. A lot of survivalist and prepper-oriented folks getting their feet wet think that commo begins and ends with a handheld radio – and while that might work within a family farm of a couple dozen acres or even over a small town with a repeater, a group can do so much more, reliably, with a better base station. In addition, a repeater should never be part of your communications plan. It’s another point of failure that decreases the robustness of your communications. For those starting out I highly recommend bypassing the more complicated digital equipment and keep it all analog. One of the many topics I cover through field use in my RTO Course is the versatility of analog systems and the ability to nearly hide in plain sight- with the proper instruction and application. Simplicity is a huge asset to the survivalist and prepping community. We’re going to talk about how to build a robust local radio network for not that much more money, but offer a lot over simple handhelds in terms of capability.
Stepping Up From The Handheld- The Dual-Band Mobile Radio
Many old-time radio enthusiasts will tell the up-and-comer that the first radio they should buy is a VHF or UHF mobile- one that does both, known as a dual band, is even better for flexibility. A dual band mobile offers a world of capability over any handheld option for not much more cost and in some cases can be cheaper. Although this first purchase is usually not the case, it’s solid advice and should be heeded for a couple of reasons. First, a mobile puts out more power, more efficiently. You can do a lot more with 25 or more watts than you can with 4, and having an external antenna that is closer to an electrical match as far as efficiency goes gives that 25 watts more bang for your power buck. Most newcomers like the plug and play aspect of a handheld, but a mobile can be a more effective learning tool through the more things you have to do to get it on the air. Second, a good mobile usually can handle a higher Duty Cycle– in layman’s terms, the amount of time you’re transmitting versus not transmitting, which generates heat in the radio and can cause problems. The higher the duty cycle, the longer you can talk without damaging your set from the built up heat.
A mobile or base unit needs a good antenna. In the RTO Course each student builds an improvised wire antenna that can certainly be used with a mobile radio, but for a longer-term or more permanent setup you might want to look into some of the purpose-built VHF or UHF antennas on the market. Arrow Antennas builds a really good one at a fairly inexpensive price. You’ll need to get it up high, and the beauty of the Arrow’s J-Pole model shown here is that it can be bolted on nearly anywhere- on the eves of a house or building or even a homemade mast from conduit pipes if you want to get fancy like my home setup. I’m not a fan of the various roll-up J-poles out there as a primary antenna. They’re made from 450-ohm ladder line and are intended to be a temporary solution just like our Jungle antennas built in the RTO course. If you’re hanging it up for a quick deployment, fine, but it won’t last under full time duty. A much better way to go is a sturdy antenna made of copper or aluminum for a more permanent installation.
Connecting that antenna to your radio is fairly simple- you’ll need 50 Ohm coax cable, easily found in any truck stop’s CB shop. Make sure it is 50 Ohm and NOT 75; television coax cables are 75 Ohm. TV coax usually has F-type connectors, two way radio most commonly has UHF or BNC. If you’re not sure, read the print on the cable itself- usually it will tell you. There’s many types and grades of coax cable, and usually what’s sold at the truck stop is on the lower end of the quality scale. That said it still works, its cheap, and for our purposes works just fine. The most common types you’ll find are RG-58 and RG-8X, and there’s not a lot of practical difference between the two.
You’ll need a way to power your rig- since nearly all portable radios are designed around 12v Direct Current (DC) systems, you have two options. Either connect it directly to a deep cycle battery for off-grid power or purchase an inexpensive power supply that plugs into any 120v AC outlet. Doing either or both is simple and made simpler by equipping your power cord with Anderson Power Poles. These standardize all of your connections and make it simple to go from one power source to another. Something else I do is build a type of jumper cable with clamps on one end and power poles on another so that I can scavenge any type of battery I might come across.
More Power, More Height, More Line Of Sight
Going back to our main point above, the increase in power output, having a mobile up and running with a good antenna creates a center for people with their handhelds to communicate with- you have greater Line of Sight over the horizon. Since your antenna is generally larger, more efficient and at a higher position, it both sends a signal much further and receives weak signals much better. Couple that with more power and you’ve got a big leg up over simple handhelds. So what does this mean for the end user? A more reliable station with the ability to maintain communications with your people in the field at a longer range. It’s a no-brainer for a solid mobile to be added to your Command Post (CP) or Prepper’s Retreat signals package. Not only that, but it allows longer distance contacts with other retreats or groups that have similar setups. And as inexpensive as some of the decent options are today, there’s not reason not to.
If you’d like to learn more about building your off grid communications skills, there is an upcoming RTO Course. We’d love to have you out- email me direct at [email protected] for more details.
27 thoughts on “Guerrilla Radio: Getting Your Local Station Running”
Reblogged this on FOR GOD AND COUNTRY.
Reblogged this on Starvin Larry.
I agree that a mobile station makes a great base station to keep in your radio shack/TOC/BDOC. A good option is a TYT-9800. 10m/6m/2m/70cm FM only, but you’ll notice that 10m and 6m FM are dead. This is good for obscurity. I have mine hooked up to a 5/8 wave 2m NMO style antenna mounted on a flag pole. Puts the antenna up high, and the 5/8 wave 2m also works on 6m. If I could find a good set of 6m HTs I’d be set for VHF low band in our hilly rural terrain. With this setup, I can hear every repeater in my county, and the repeaters in each of the neighboring counties as well. The traffic in my AO is all 2m at this time, so losing broadcast ability on 70cm isn’t an issue for me. Your mileage may vary, however. That’s why it’s important to scan your frequencies and know what’s going on around your airwaves. For 10m, my HF rig already covers it, so I’ve got redundancy there with a much better 10m antenna to boot, but 10m FM is as dead as 6m FM here. Listening is so much more important than talking, and with the right adapter (SO-239 to SMA pig tail) this antenna can be used with an SDR dongle to scan local first responder frequencies as well. An antenna solution in the DIY category is a 2m 1/4 wave ground plane. I believe constructing this antenna is already described in the Jungle Antenna post, but if not there are plenty of YouTube videos out there showing how to make one out of copper wire and an SO-239 chassis connector, bought by the dozen on Amazon for a few dollars. This will get you operating on 2m and will work on 70cm as a 3/4 wave antenna. Both antenna designs have their pros and cons, but for the price ($20 for the 5/8 whip and about the same for the DIY 1/4 ground plane) you really could afford to have both and see what works best for you. I’ve mounted the 1/4 wave in the attic and still managed to hit repeaters in my area just fine, and if VHF/UHF is all you need, there is the advantage of a stealth install if you don’t already have an antenna farm in your yard.
That reminds me- I need to get back to you.
10m and 6m are dead until the band opens up. Then you’re talking to Timbuktu on 5 watts and a wet noodle.
Watch your beacon sub bands on 10 and 6. Those will tell you when the band is local or not.
With that said, 10 watts SSB into a ground plane gives you “local” out to 20 miles on average.
We’re getting into 6m season too.
June VHF Contest is next month. Great way to test your gear and see how far it reaches.
There was a guy in QST a while back who’d built a whole Jeep rig just for VHF contesting. Pretty impressive stuff.
In Sweden there is Jakradio on 31MHz – which I have always thought might have potential elsewhere.
Now that’s interesting.
Could also try installing a good mobile with cross band repeat functionality at your base (or a suitable remote site) configured to use with your dual band HTs out in the field thus extending your footprint ?
You sure could. That’s actually something I’m dealing with in an upcoming post. You don’t even need crossband repeat, you can get away with dual watch.
On VHF and especially UHF ham bands, try to run the lowest loss coax cable you can afford. RG-8X at a minimum for VHF. LMR400 or equvilant at UHF. Your station will work better.
RG-58 is good for short jumpers and works ok at 10 meters and below.
You can use 75 ohm coax in a pinch, provided your SWR doesn’t go above 2:1, but your radio wants 50 ohms and your performance will suffer.
Many HF tuners will go to 6 meters, and longwire antennas do fairly well there, but they’ll have an ‘effed up pattern and your mileage will definitely vary.
Get copies of the old VHF Handbooks from the 1970s and before. Lots of good info from the days before appliances and store-bought antennas.
The coax bit was written to tell folks what they can source locally- but the differences between grades of coax can be vast and you’re right. For a permanent installation I ALWAYS run LMR 240, which is a slim form of 400. In a pinch however, or a come as you are type station, RG would work (just not well).
The old RSGB handbooks on VHF are excellent.
You mentioned local sources.
The local Radio Shack franchise sells wireless phone repeaters to help get coverage in fridge rural areas. Since some of these repeaters are for buildings, they sell microwave rated coax as well. Spendy, but works very well on UHF. Some folks might be surprised at what they can source locally.
Out here I buy most of my coax at the truck stop. They have RG-8X which is good to 6m and ok for 2m.
We *used to have* Radio Shack. All ours are gone. So that leaves hamfests, truck stops, and the odd-lot CB repair shops.
My local Radio Shack is 35 miles away, and a franchise run by the local computer shop. Mediocre at the best of times, but you run with what you got.
That’s cool that you still have one.
You should see the VHF roamers some of the guys from NEWS had. 50 MHz to 24+ GHz. in the back of a Honda Element or Dodge Caravan.
Excellent post. We have 4 homesteads in the county set up with mobile vhf/uhf rigs similar to the QYT shown in the first picture. Each of them is coupled to a high gain vertical base antenna up about 25-30 feet. Every BOV/daily driver is equipped with the same radio and a dual band antenna. We also run 10/11 meter ssb rigs in every vehicle and home as well. Even though we are in rural / mountainous terrain, simplex coverage is excellent countywide and beyond. If someone has no amateur license they can replicate this on GMRS and 11 meters with equally good results.
Thanks bro. Don’t forget MURS. 🙂
A 25 -50 MURS base…now that could be fun.:)
Only in theory, of course. 🙂
Oops. Meant to say 25-50 watt.
I see really good coax sold very cheaply on ebay for commercial wifi gear. It usually has N connectors, but that’s not too big an issue. Often, the man’f sends out pre-made cable with their antenna that doesn’t get used. Something cisco made must have come with a ton of it, because I see a lot of 25ft cables that end up on ebay…
on a different note, there was a press release article in Evaluation Engineering Magazine that reveals some interesting capabilities is some test gear from Tektronics. The link is https://www.evaluationengineering.com/key-trends-include-migration-modularity-interoperability-and-long-term-support and you should scroll down and read the section about “Spectrum interference.” The author is talking about testing on friendly gear, but I immediately thought of sigint applications. Perhaps this is already widely known, but maybe not, so I share….
“configure dual RSA300/RSA500s to detect, identify, record, and analyze signals of interest (SOIs), using one of the analyzer’s sweep of several spans per second to capture hard-to-detect or low probability of intercept (LPI) signals. “Once detected, the second analyzer provides a higher fidelity, real-time capture and record, while analyzing only the signal of interest,” she added. “DataVu-PC hosts the ability to record for any required length or duration, providing tools enhanced by a multithreaded core capability to quickly find important events within the data.””
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