Brand new to radio

Started by Mbahu, June 18, 2014, 12:37:37 pm

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Hey everyone.

I'm new to the world of radio and have some basic needs that hopefully you all can help me with:

If I want a radio that I can stay in contact with my family in a large area in the case of cell service going down I've been told I want HAM. Is this right? How far can the farthest HAM handheld go too? And what handheld HAM radios wold you recommend? Also what does a HAM base station do?

I'm going to put a cb in my jeep and one in my fathers land cruiser for vehicle to vehicle communication. Again just for safety precautions. Best choice of cb? Best choice of antenna?

Thanks guys I know that's a lot and it seems confusing to me but I believe I'm in the right place!


Hi there. A handheld at 5 watts can cover a large area if a repeater is used. I typically get county wide coverage using a repeater. In simplex it depends on height, objects in the way and the frequency used.

Baofeng UV-82 is a nice entry radio because it is a lower cost radio for handheld use. It covers 2 m and 70 cm bands. 2 m has better coverage in a large area. 70 cm will get though buildings better if you are inside. I can easily hit repeaters 50 km away because they are on mountain tops.

A Yaesu vx-8 is an expensive option, but it has 1.25 and 6 meter bands in addition to 2 m and 70 cm bands. The 6 meter band has very good local coverage and it can also link to a repeater. The 6 meter simplex coverage is much like that of a 2 meter band repeater coverage. You would need a larger antenna for 6 meters. Some people try DX with 6 meters. DX on this band is not reliable. Openings for long distance can open and close in seconds. Using 6 meters for a local area is nice because fewer people use the band and the coverage locally is great.

If you are licensed appropriately, HF would give you regional and continental coverage. The cost of a radio is higher and the antenna size is bigger for these bands. HF is considered 160 m to 6 m. Tech licensees have FM access on 6 meter and SSB access on 10 meters (in the USA). General and Extra gives additional band coverage. See your country's rules for actual coverage.

CB is okay, it has some unreliable skip for local conversations at times. I have encountered issues where I could only hear remote transmissions and the local ones were not getting through. CB is full of users who feel rules are not applicable to them.

I know a few off road users who have used MURS (VHF) for local communications in lieu of CB. They had better reliability for local talk. Almost no one uses MURS so the few channels available are usually clear. Finding mobile units is probably going to be hard. MURS is similar to 2 meters on the amateur service.

One other option is GMRS. You can become licensed without a test and your entire family can use the license. GMRS is in the 70 cm band and it gives you clear communications at higher power levels than CB. I have used this mode for car to car communications several years ago when cellular phone minutes were limited and expensive.

Each system has its merits. Amateur gives you lots of bands and modes and some amazing coverage. You can use data, voice (AM, FM, SSB), and Morse code. There are some restrictions on the content of your messages (commercial being one of them). The unlicensed bands give you more freedom of the content, but you share the airwaves with hoard of unwashed masses. The modes that you can use are also restricted. No FM on CB in USA. No repeaters on MURS. No data on GMRS.
GMRS gives you a license without a test that covers your family. This service allows you to use repeaters for additional coverage. The license cost is high and it is only good for 5 years. If you have family members resistant to taking a test, this may be the way to go.

So, hopefully the explanation gives your some more options and information. Most likely if you are new, my explanation might be a bit like drinking from a fire hose.



For the GMRS it sounds like this would be a good alternative to cb. What's the distance?

I'm having trouble understanding the purpose of the repeater is that to pick up signals I'm sending out and then to effectively resend that signal so it can reach farther?

So let's say I have the baofeng you mentioned how far can it reach without a repeater near by?


June 18, 2014, 03:27:24 pm #3 Last Edit: June 18, 2014, 03:38:53 pm by gil
Yes, you do need a Ham license and radios, but more importantly, you need more knowledge.

Luigi has good points here, but I will explain things in a simpler manner since this is all new to you...

QuoteI'm having trouble understanding the purpose of the repeater is that to pick up signals I'm sending out and then to effectively resend that signal so it can reach farther?


QuoteSo let's say I have the baofeng you mentioned how far can it reach without a repeater near by?

Reliably, 2 miles. Climb up a tall tree and you might get up to 15.

Range is always the question asked first, and you would think there is a simple answer to that, but unfortunately, that isn't the case. It's not a matter of handheld vs. base or mobile. The frequencies (band) you choose to use will determine your range at different times of day and seasons, depending on the kind of antenna you use and how high you can get it...

Frequencies, below 30mHz have the ability to bounce on the ionosphere in ways that are not always, but can be predictable. You will need some schooling on that later. So, even some handhelds can do that and give you a range of more than a thousand miles. However thay are not that great for local communications. That would be a CB handheld with SSB modes, for instance, or a 10m one, which is similar. You can only usually count on a few miles with these. The lower the frequency, the longer the antenna, up to hundreds of feet. So, as you see, handhelds are pretty much only good for higher frequencies, mostly 50mHz and above, with the most common being the 2m band (144-148mHz) and the 70cm band (420-450mHz). Problem is, higher frequencies do not bounce on the ionosphere, they shoot out to space. Bouncing on the ionosphere is what Luigi reffered to as "skip." So, higher frequencies do not skip.

Communications within 5 miles and beyond 500 miles are fairly easy; it's the in-between that poses problems. A person standing with a handheld at head level can talk to another person doing the same to about 5 miles, depending on obstacles. It has nothing to do with the type of radio you use, but the curvature of the earth. Climb on a roof and you get more range. You both climb on a roof and things get even better... Height is the main factor in local communications. Direct communication from handheld-to-handheld (or other radios) is what we call simplex. Using a repeater is like using a cell phone. Well, not quite, but you rely on a tower and a relay transceiver of sort.. I suspect repeaters would not work much longer than cell phone towers, if at all in a power-out emergency. Not to mention that towers can be downed by weather. Better not rely on repeaters.

Handhelds are only reliably good to a couple miles, potentially much more however if you can get a direct line of sight. I would only use handhelds if you are in close proximity to each-other.

Same for CB, though a house antenna like the Solarcon iMax2000 might give you 15 miles, up to 20 maybe... CB will skip sometimes though and you can get trans-continental contacts if the conditions are right. However, if your family is not at the skip distance, you could be talking to someone in Europe and not hear your uncle fifty miles away... I hope that makes sense.

2m might be your best bet up to 30-50 miles with antennas high up.. I have a Yaesu Ft-2900R which has 75W of power and a base antenna on my roof. I can reach pretty far... You can use a Yagi antenna and reach out to 100 miles if both antennas are pointing at each other. A Yagi antenna is a directional antenna with a lot of gain..

If you want to reach people within say, 50 to 500 miles, you would have to use HF, probably 40m (7mHz) or 60m (5mHz) and bounce your signal straight above you using a low dipole antenna. I know, I said higher is better, but this is the exception. It's called NVIS (Near Vertical Incidence Skywave). The antenna however will be at least 66ft. long, mounted horizontally, maybe 20-30ft off the ground.

My best advise is to get your Technician license ASAP. It's very easy. The  get some 2m radios, handhelds and mobile/base. My Yaesu is a mobile radio, but I have a power supply and use it at home with a roof mounted antenna. As you get used to that equipment, study for you General exam. It isn't much harder than Tech. so you might want to even pass both exams in the same session. I passed all three up to Extra Class the same day, so it's not that hard. Then get into HF...

This post wouldn't be complete without me mentioning Morse code ;) Morse code (CW mode) is like using a laser instead of a flashlight... It goes very far with very little power. Not that easy to learn and master, but the rewards are great. I routinely get contacts in Europe from the U.S. with a radio that fits in an Altoids mint box :o That's smaller than a pack of cigarettes.. So, something you might want to look into later.. It's very hard to get friends and family menbers to pick-up radio, so, imagine Morse code.. It is probably the best prepping mode though to get and send news to/from the outside world.

I would have a CB on top of 2m to start, something like the Galaxy 979. Make sure it has SSB modes. Then, after I got the General license, I'd shop for a HF rig on Ebay. I personally went a different route, learning Morse code and building my own CW radios, but that isn't for everyone. I also have no family nearby to talk to..

I hope this helps...



June 18, 2014, 04:16:13 pm #4 Last Edit: June 18, 2014, 05:21:28 pm by Luigi
Gil's remarks are right on. He does a much better job of explaining what you need. Great explanation.


Here's an article that might help to understand radio for the type of applications you are asking about.  It's written as in introduction, so is pretty non-techincal, but accurate.

>RadioRay  ..._  ._
"When we cannot do the good we would, we must be ready to do the good we can."  ~ Matthew Henry


That's an excellent article Ray. Here's a couple more aimed at beginners:
"Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety" - Benjamin Franklin



License first for all persons you wish to contact. I would start simple. 2 meter like a Yaesu 2900. 5 to 75 watts. Antenna is more important than the radio.

CB can be a disaster if you really need to contact someone.

Fighting the noise and craziness on CB is impossible at times.

Good luck and keep asking questions