Zombie Squad Amateur Radio Network: part 3 - Equipment

Topics on Radio (CB, GMRS, Ham, etc), GPS, Smoke Signals, or whatever else you can use to talk to other people who are not within yelling distance.

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Zombie Squad Amateur Radio Network: part 3 - Equipment

Post by Doctor Jest » Sat Sep 03, 2005 10:34 pm

Once you get your ham license, you need a station. Ham radios are like cars in a sense; you can buy a more plain one for a lesser price or a fancier one if you have more cash.

There are a lot of places to buy ham radios and accessories. Ebay certainly has vast amounts of ham equipment. Many hams are growing old and often their equipment appears for sale once they pass away. There are also web sites specifically for selling used ham equipment – just search. Hamfests are another source. Hamfests are gatherings of ham radio operators where they buy, sell, and swap equipment, win radios as prizes in drawings, take ham radio tests, and talk, talk, talk. At hamfests you can get both new and used equipment. Many hams operate with used rigs, and a well-cared for radio lasts all but forever. If you want a new radio, there are online dealers who sell every radio made; one example is http://www.aesham.com.

If you got a Technician license, you probably want to get a handheld 2 meter radio. That way you can talk on the local repeaters to all the hams in a radius of about 100 miles or so using clear-as-crystal FM. Plop a magnetic mount antenna on the roof and you can use your handheld on the go. Since repeaters blanket virtually the entire USA, you can always find locals to talk to. I once got stuck in a horrible traffic jam on I-95 South on the North Carolina border. I easily found my way on the back roads past the problem with the friendly assistance of the guys on the nearest repeater. New handhelds vary from about $80 to $500 or more. The super cheapo ones have too little range; they put out tiny amounts of radio energy. Spend a little extra cash and get a five watt radio.

Once you get your HF privileges, it’s time to make some decisions. Here are some of the types of radios available, roughly from cheapest to most expensive.

There are certain hams who are into “QRP,” or low-power operating. They pride themselves on using the absolute minimum power to communicate, and use tiny radios. Frequently they build these miniature radios themselves; ham radio magazines contain plans for radios built inside tuna cans and 35mm plastic film containers. These people tend to be outdoorsy, and will hike to a mountain peak to transmit from great heights. The radios they use are almost always Morse code only, since it is clear even when it is very faint. Their radios are often very inexpensive.

Technicians who have passed a Morse code exam can operate using voice communications on one HF band, the 10 meter band. Many companies sell 10 meter radios specifically for these people. Ten meters is one of the radio bands that is affected by sunspot activity; when the Sun has spots, it works well for long distances. When the Sun is spotless, 10 meters is only good for local communications. The sunspots go up and down in an 11 year cycle, and are on the low side right now. These radios are about $150.

VHF and UHF radios are used by Technicians and higher class licensees. They operate on higher frequencies (shorter wavelengths) than HF radios. They are usually for the 2 meter, 70 cm, or 23 cm bands. They are for local use only (except under unusual conditions). The hot thing now are all the digital modes. Ham radio is going digital, and the marriage of ham radio and computers is a quickly expanding area, especially on VHF. These start at $100 and go up to over $500, depending on what you want: handheld or base radio, plain or fancy.

HF radios that allow you to communicate worldwide come in many different forms. From small, plain, single band radios to gigantic multiband rigs with the latest features.
Small low-power single band radio: Sounds good, lets you talk on the band of your choice. With some radios, you can buy plug-ins that allow you to use more than one band. Maybe only 20 watts or so, but if you are patient and have a decent antenna you can have a lot of fun. It’s more of a challenge than using a kilowatt, but that’s part of the fun, too. About $250 new.
Regular multiband radio: Typically puts out 100 watts. It has the features you need to operate DX (talk to foreign stations) like split (listening on one spot, transmitting on another). It allows you to use different modes such as voice, Morse code, or radioteletype. You can talk on any of the HF ham bands, and listen to any HF frequency (it’s fun to listen to shortwave, military, etc.). There are many different radios in this category. About $500 new.
Fancy or top-line radios: For the truly serious. These go all the way up to about $5000 or more. They have antenna analyzers and tuners, computer control, digital signal processors, etc. These are for the guys that also spend $5000 to put up a 50 foot tower in their backyards and buy a $500 amplifier so they can put out a kilowatt. They are the opposite of the QRP people.

Next post: Thoughts on the ZS radio network: what we need to do to establish a functional radio communications network (just in case this inner-net thingy ever breaks)

Part 1 - Intro
Part 2 - Licensing
Part 3 - Equipment
Part 4 - Networking
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Post by raptorman » Sun Sep 04, 2005 3:22 am

Doc, I read all three of your posts and found them very informative. I've used pretty much every frequency band to communicate, even ELF (to talk to submarines). Before I became a naval officer, I was a Radioman First Class (radiomen no longer exist in the navy). I've always enjoyed being a communicator, and I plan to get into the HAM world as soon as I get back stateside.

I always enjoyed setting up a network with a navy battlegroup using secure HF teletype and Q & Z signals, or setting up a video teleconferencing (VTC) using a WSC SHF transceiver, bouncing the line-of-sight signal off a Navy satellite so a couple admirals can chat together costing the government 20 dollars a minute.

I've been out of the trade for quite a few years now, and miss it. Of course, on the aircraft we have the VHF radios for chat with air traffic control (ATC) and we have a couple HF radios for transoceanic flight with the various controllers there, doing position reports. We also call triple 1 75 for POTS phone call relays, or 8992 for the same. (maincell or mainsail however you choose). Sort of funny how quirky HF is. I could be flying off the coast of Iceland trying to call an HF station there, when Puerto Rico answers as clear as if they are in the aircraft with me. :)

We also have UHF radios for the stuff I can't talk about. In our survival vests, we carry the PRC-149 survival radio. Pretty bad-ass little handheld. No idea what the cost to the government is, but it transmits on every aviation distress frequency you would need, and even sends a burst to a satellite telling the rescue guys where you are (or at least where your radio is.)

Thanks for the great posts.
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Post by Johnny » Mon Sep 05, 2005 11:08 am

Awesome posts, I really knew nothing about ham radios or communicating through them. It definitely sounds like a very important skill to have if TSHTF, also the ZS network sounds like a great idea also. Count me in!

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Post by multipass » Mon Sep 05, 2005 2:26 pm

Read all posts so far and i like them. Is very informative and i think i will bypass these down into a Word Doc on my comp so i can re-read them later. also when i get into the army i will see what i can do to get radio training, i know i took some basic stuff when i was in the army CadetForce, but haven't used the radios for soem years, well used them in the training and that's it sadly.
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Post by kyle » Tue Sep 06, 2005 2:23 pm

Thanks a lot, Jest!

These three radio posts are very informative. Far better than would I could toss together in the short notice that you put these up.
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Post by bgaesop » Wed Sep 07, 2005 4:53 pm

These have been really awesome! I have a question, though. If you have the HAM stuff, is there any point in having a CB radio?

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Post by Doctor Jest » Wed Sep 07, 2005 6:11 pm

Sure, we can use both ham and CB. The idea of the ZS radio network is that some people will get ham licenses. They will be able to talk over longer distances.... state to state or country to country. CB is usually only good locally. So the ZS hams could get info from central command (ie, St. Louis), and pass that on to the non-licensed hams over CB.

I personally don't use CB too much. I'm spoiled, I like the organization of ham radio over the more chaotic CB band. But both serve their purposes, and I keep two CBs (one at home, one in the car) just in case.

And we sure are looking for ideas here, too. Any thoughts on how we can organize a radio network are welcome.
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Post by bgaesop » Wed Sep 07, 2005 6:33 pm

Don't remember the thread, but we had a "12 on the 12s, channel 33" idea set up. Basically, noon or midnight your time zone, check channel 33 for twelve minutes. Can't remember if it was CB or what, I don't know from channels.

Oh yeah, and I meant to ask something else: can you listen to CB channels on a HAM?

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Post by Doctor Jest » Wed Sep 07, 2005 9:30 pm

Can you listen to CB on a ham radio? Depends. On an older radio, or a single-band new radio, no. But most "regular" ham radios nowadays have the ability to listen to the entire high frequency band from 1 megahertz (MHz) to 30 MHz, and that includes the CB band.

That capability, to listen to all the HF frequencies, is a lot of fun. You can hear foreign broadcasters, for example. Listen to the same news story from the Voice of America, the BBC, and Radio Beijing. Fascinating how the same info can be presented so differently. (BTW, everyone speaks English.) You can hear military transmissions, wierd unidentified signals, all kinds of crazy junk.

The CB band is around 27 MHz (the 11 meter band). If your radio can listen in there, you can pick up CB. You have to tune (turn the frequency knob) carefully to go from one "channel" to the next, they are pretty close together.

There are laws pertaining to ham radio ops using CB....I gotta get around to looking them up.
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Post by Bear_B » Thu Sep 08, 2005 3:56 am

CB has been INCREDIBLY useful to the truckers in the NOLA area... and this is probably the closest thing to a PAW this country has seen yet.

And it proves that CBs are worth their weight in gold for what they were designed for...

Short range communication among team members (or in this case convoys). Plus one person can transmit to a group with no extra effort, unlike cell phones.

I plan on having both... ham for long range and cb for short range.

CB is also a good alternative for those who want to be able to communicate vehicle-to-vehicle when cell towers go down, or in areas where cell coverage is non-existant.

You can put a cb in a vehicle in 10 minutes and 40 bucks. No permits required.
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Post by multipass » Thu Sep 08, 2005 8:59 am

Yeah when my Dad was a trucker, before mobile phoens came about, if a certain person was needed to be told soemthign it would be passed up the chain of truckers on a stretch of motorway until it reached it's designated person.
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Post by CounterContagion » Fri Sep 09, 2005 11:30 am

Any idea of the range of a handeld to a handleld without repeaters? Say like a 2M.
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Post by kyle » Fri Sep 09, 2005 11:45 am

CounterContagion wrote:Any idea of the range of a handeld to a handleld without repeaters? Say like a 2M.
From what I understand, it greatly depends on the quality of the radio, antenna and watt power output. You can get like 20 miles without a repeater from what I understand. The little 2-meter wave is definately limited and not made for long range communications.

A 10 or 20-meter wave can reach hundred of miles. A 80-meter is capable of touching down all over the planet.
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Post by Doctor Jest » Fri Sep 09, 2005 2:17 pm

Without a repeater, the range of a handheld is 20 miles or so. It depends on how much power you put out, what kind of antenna you have, and the terrain.
The more power, the better. Handhelds are usually 5 - 7 watts. But a small mobile radio (for in the car) can put out 50 watts, much better. If it is hilly where you live (like SW PA), the mountains can block your signal and reduce your range. And a full-size antenna (a one-meter long "dipole") works better than the little "rubber duck" antennas on a handheld; even better is a Yagi, or "beam," antenna that focuses your signal in a particular direction.
With a repeater, you can get out 100 miles or more. It depends on the repeater - how powerful and high up it is. But for truly long distances, like across the USA or to another continent, you need longer radio waves...what are called "high-frequency" or "HF" radio waves, which are 10 meters to 1000 meters long. The most reliable ones for long distances are the ones about 20 meters long.
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Post by CounterContagion » Fri Sep 09, 2005 4:00 pm

Thanks for the information guys... Another one..

I am looking at radios now single/dual/multi band etc and my question is basically.. is 430/440 Mhz very useful? I have seen dual band radios with 144 (which I know is 2M) and 430 or 440. I am assuming these 430/440 both represent the "70 cm" band.
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Post by Doctor Jest » Fri Sep 09, 2005 4:34 pm

70 cm is, in my opinion, only partially useful. If you can get it as a free extra on a handheld, okay, but don't pay extra for it.

There are repeaters for the 2 meter band (144 MHz) all over this country. Virtually anywhere in the USA, and in a lot of foreign countries, you can go anywhere and "hit" a repeater (use a repeater to communicate). The ARRL sells a small book about the size of a pack of cigs listing all the repeaters, their frequencies, etc., so anyone traveling around the country can easily find a local ham to talk to. As I mentioned, it's great if you're lost or trying to find some destination. You get live directions from locals eager to help.

There are also repeaters for the 70 cm band, and the 1.25 meter band (440 MHz and 220 MHz). There are not as many 70 cm repeaters as there are for 2 meters, but there are a lot. If you had a dual radio you could talk on both sets of repeaters.

Also, there is some specialized activity on these bands. Exotic modes like ATV (amateur television), some satellites, and moonbounce are done on these bands. Usually beginners don't get into these deeper waters unless someone local teaches you about it.

If your local ham buddies gab on a 70 cm repeater, you may want to invest in the dual rig. But 2 meters is more popular and it seems like not quite enough return for the extra cash to me.
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Post by TangoFoxtrotUniform » Fri Jan 06, 2006 12:20 am

Doctor Jest wrote:70 cm is, in my opinion, only partially useful. If you can get it as a free extra on a handheld, okay, but don't pay extra for it.

There are also repeaters for the 70 cm band, and the 1.25 meter band (440 MHz and 220 MHz). There are not as many 70 cm repeaters as there are for 2 meters, but there are a lot. If you had a dual radio you could talk on both sets of repeaters.

If your local ham buddies gab on a 70 cm repeater, you may want to invest in the dual rig. But 2 meters is more popular and it seems like not quite enough return for the extra cash to me.
This really depends on the location. Around big metro areas all of the 2m repeater pairs have been taken and activity "swarms over" into 440.

Around here, there are probably about 2 times as many 440 repeaters as 2m. And many of the "high level" repeaters have their 2m and 440 MHz sides linked.

In general, if I've got a choice of 2m and 440 MHz bands, I stick with the higher one as the noise levels are lower. But that's a pretty specialized quirk...

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Post by jamoni » Mon Jan 15, 2007 12:14 pm

JoergS wrote:Realistically, I think I can launch a nine pound chain saw at 50 fps from a shoulder mounted rubber powered bazooka...
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Post by Doctor Jest » Mon Jan 15, 2007 12:16 pm

Very cool little soldering kit, jamoni.
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Post by jamoni » Wed Feb 07, 2007 9:15 pm

So, here's a question:
How hard would it be to build a repeater that received GRMS or CB and transmitted on UHF or VHF? What I'm thinking is, you could probably take the audio output of the cheesy radio, and pump it into the audio input of the HAM radio. I'm sure you could do it this way, but would the result be clear enough to understand, and would it be legal?
I think such a simple approach might result in a crappy signal.
I also have a feeling it might not be legal, even if a licensed HAM monitored the transmissions.
The reason I'm asking is, it would be a low cost way to fit out a large group with long distance communications ability. Everybody has GRMS, and if they need to go long, they patch it through the HAM repeater.
JoergS wrote:Realistically, I think I can launch a nine pound chain saw at 50 fps from a shoulder mounted rubber powered bazooka...
squinty wrote:I reserve the right to yell "Dookyhole!" - or it's Hebrew equivalent if such a thing exists - whilst dispensing a barrage of palm strikes at my opponent.

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Post by Doctor Jest » Wed Feb 07, 2007 10:34 pm

My gut feeling jamoni, possible but not legal. Third-party operations (passing a message for a non-ham) is legal, and you can even let an unlicensed person talk on ham radio using your license under your direct supervision, but I don't think this includes retransmissions of other services.

Though crossband repeaters are common.
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Post by jamoni » Thu Feb 08, 2007 12:10 am

Doctor Jest wrote:My gut feeling jamoni, possible but not legal. Third-party operations (passing a message for a non-ham) is legal, and you can even let an unlicensed person talk on ham radio using your license under your direct supervision, but I don't think this includes retransmissions of other services.

Though crossband repeaters are common.
That's kind of what I figured. Still, my understanding is that under true emergency conditions, you could do it. And just having the equipment wouldn't be illegal, as long as you didn't use it.
Still, it'd be damn near as easy and definitely legal to just relay the message verbally. Just slower.
JoergS wrote:Realistically, I think I can launch a nine pound chain saw at 50 fps from a shoulder mounted rubber powered bazooka...
squinty wrote:I reserve the right to yell "Dookyhole!" - or it's Hebrew equivalent if such a thing exists - whilst dispensing a barrage of palm strikes at my opponent.

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Post by jamoni » Wed Apr 18, 2007 10:06 pm

So, I'm going on an extended bicycle trip this summer, and I want a radio. I was talking to Ollie, and I've decided on a simple 2 meter mobile, a gel cell, and a simple whip antenna.
Here's what I'm looking at so far for radios:
Icom 2200H
Yaesu 2800M

I don't even know where to start with the battery set up.
This looks like a good place to start, but which one? This will be primarily for my bicycle and car, but may be called upon for backpacking, so I want the weight kept reasonable. And chargers. I'll need chargers.
Any suggestions?
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Post by MICKPORNO » Tue Apr 24, 2007 9:35 am

just received my new YAESU HT yesterday....

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so far haven't had a chance to really put it to the test as it's still charging the battery....but soon...
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