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Author Topic: interstate communication  (Read 6074 times)

kablooie

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interstate communication
« on: October 10, 2014, 12:47:36 AM »
i'm becoming more and more interested, mainly as a way of communicating to family/others in the event of an emergency.  i have family in OR, MT, AZ, TX and KS.... what is needed to be able to reach them? (other than the obvious: a license for both of us, etc).
tia

gil

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Re: interstate communication
« Reply #1 on: October 10, 2014, 01:20:31 AM »
Hello Tia,

The most difficult thing will be convincing family members that they need to get a license.. Compared to that, the license exam is really easy. You would all need to get a Technician and General license. You can actually pass both exams the same day, and they are not very hard. The best thing to do it to go to the ARRL site arrl.org and order the two books. The chapters on both cover the same subjects, with just a bit more information for the General. You study both books, the same chapter from each in order. Then open a free account on qrz.com and do the free Practice exams until you pass nine out of ten times. Find an exam session near you on the ARRL site and go for it!

As to the kind of radio you'll need, it is an HF radio. Very easy to find used on Ebay for cheap. You'll notice that many members here like small portable radios because you can take them with you on foot if needed. some as small as a pack of cigarettes or a paperback book.. These small radios are Morse-code only, and although you might want to learn it some time, I guarantee you none of your family members will want to do that. So, you will most likely use a regular voice-mode radio, also known as an SSB radio. A good example would be the MFJ-9420X, or a Yaesu FT-817ND. The Yaesu can be used for local communications as well because on top of HF it has VHF and UHF, but it doesn't have much power. You'll learn more about all that reading the books... Anyway, an HF radio will allow everyone to communicate between different states. I'd suggest a radio that you can power with a battery and has around 20W of power. You'll get lots of good advise here. Your budget will dictate what you might want. You can get started with a $300 radio or get a top-of-the-line one for $1000, like a Yaesu FT-857D, FT-897D, Icom IC-7200 or Elecraft KX3. I have the KX3, it's awesome, only 12W but doesn't use much current and with a good antenna, it works well enough.. Best receiver ever! The MFJ-9420X and MFJ-9440X are nice, just 10W, but again, with a decent antenna, they work, and they are cheap and easy to use, less than $300 new. A good end-fed antenna from LNR-Precision is about $70.

Anyway, that's a lot of information already, but it will get you started. Don't hesitate to ask any questions..

Gil.

cockpitbob

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Re: interstate communication
« Reply #2 on: October 10, 2014, 09:30:34 AM »
Hi Tia,

The higher frequencies (VHF, UHF) that the Technician license gets you are only good for short (line of sight) communication.  Using repeaters that hams put up on hills, tall buildings and towers, you might cover an area 60 miles in diameter.  This is a pretty reliable way to communicate (assuming the repeater is working), can be done with a $40 hand held, but only covers a small area.  The General license gets you the HF frequencies which do atmospheric skip and can go around the world.  The problem is HF communication isn't perfectly reliable because it depends on the ionization of the upper atmosphere (ionosphere) and that changes from day to night and with the mood of the sun.  The higher HF frequencies work better during the day and the lower work better during the night, etc.  By having a prearranged plan to get on the radio at the same time and try different frequencies at the same time you can usually make contact.  For reaching people close by, up to about 400 miles away, if you use the lower HF frequencies and mount a simple wire antenna low to the ground(easy set-up), the radio waves go almost straight up and spread back down in a circle of 100-400 miles radius.  This is called NVIS (near vertical incidence skywave) and can be pretty reliable.  The military uses NVIS for tactical communications because of its reliability.  This may work well between several of the states on your list, depending on where in the state they are.

One other useful thing in ham radio is with your radio plugged into your computers mic and speaker ports you can send simple text emails.  Hams around the country have their rigs on 24/7 that receive the messages, convert them to a standard email and put them out on the internet.  If the SHTF in Oregon that person can send an email to family members in other parts of the country who still have working internet.

For radios I have a used MFJ-9420 that I paid $180 for on eBay.  It only does 1 band and only 10W but my first conversation with it was from MA to CA with solid copy.  I can run it on a pack of 10 AA NiCad batteries or from the car's cig lighter. My other voice capable rig is a Yaesu FT-857.  It does all the ham bands, all modes:  voice (FM, AM, SSB), Morse and digital(email, etc).  It puts out up to 100W and is designed as a "mobile" rig, meaning it can be mounted in your car and run off 12V.  I move it between my shack (desk) and car regularly.  It's my all purpose rig.  Note that since signal strength works on a logarithmic scale, the difference between a 10W radio and a 100W one isn't very much.  With Morse code I work all over the globe with 3W.

Anyone can get their ham license.  My son got his General ticket when he was 11.  But, it does take a bit of work.  I'll guess that if you stay focused it will take 10hrs of studying to pass the Tech and another 5-10 to pass the General.  Do them both together quickly while you are in the studying mood.  Some people get their Tech and wait years to get the General.  The 3rd and highest level of license is the Extra and it really it really isn't worth the effort.  All it gets you is a few more frequencies in the same bands you can use with a General ticket, plus bragging rights.
« Last Edit: October 10, 2014, 09:37:39 AM by cockpitbob »

gil

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Re: interstate communication
« Reply #3 on: October 10, 2014, 11:11:13 AM »
Quote
The 3rd and highest level of license is the Extra and it really isn't worth the effort.

Except if you are into Morse code, in which case it is really worth the effort.. 8)

Gil.

RichardSinFWTX

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Re: interstate communication
« Reply #4 on: October 10, 2014, 11:31:47 AM »
I agree with about 98% of what Bob said.

I would add though that if you're going to be involved at the club level with amateur radio it's a good idea to go ahead and get your Amateur Extra class license.  If you want to help out proctoring license exams it helps to be an Extra.  You can do it as a General; but the only ones you can proctor are Technician class exams. 

Then there's that whole OCD thing... ;D

KK0G

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Re: interstate communication
« Reply #5 on: October 10, 2014, 11:50:25 AM »
Quote
The 3rd and highest level of license is the Extra and it really isn't worth the effort.

Except if you are into Morse code, in which case it is really worth the effort.. 8)

Gil.
You beat me to it Gil, there's quite a bit of choice, uncrowded real estate available only to Extras, especially in the CW portions of the band. Another nice thing about having an Extra class license, is the fact I don't need one of those band charts hanging on the wall to reference where I can and can not transmit - I have full privileges everywhere on all amateur bands. Having a shorter, easier to send 1x2 or 2x1 call is just icing on the cake. I'm not saying you can't have fun as a General class, or that you're any less of a ham, I was a General for many years myself, but in my opinion it's definitely worth the effort.
"Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety" - Benjamin Franklin

KK0G

gil

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Re: interstate communication
« Reply #6 on: October 10, 2014, 11:52:24 AM »
Quote
If you want to help out proctoring license exams it helps to be an Extra.

Sure... Though the OP is primarily concerned about communications with spread-out family members. A General license covers pretty much all voice communications needs. Some people are not comfortable with the math involved in the extra, though it is only remembering formulas.

Yes, Bob explained things in more detail, very good.

Quote
Having a shorter, easier to send 1x2 or 2x1 call is just icing on the cake.

LOL, yes, that's primarily why I got extra right away, I wanted a shorter call sign for CW!

Gil.
« Last Edit: October 10, 2014, 11:54:00 AM by gil »

kablooie

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Re: interstate communication
« Reply #7 on: October 10, 2014, 09:32:27 PM »
thank you all for the info.

btw: tia = thanks in advance.  unless you guys were calling me Tia in jest.  :-P

Anyways, it was mentioned , "For radios I have a used MFJ-9420 that I paid $180 for on eBay.  It only does 1 band and only 10W but my first conversation with it was from MA to CA with solid copy." 

This is what I'm looking to be able to do for SHTF, but also to start as a hobby with my boys.  My 11 yr old is insanely smart and will easily ace the tests, so he willl be studying with me in the upcoming time.

Anyways, back to "MA to CA"... was it just the radio being capable of this or are there things to consider (amp? repeater? etc). I'm a visual person so seeing this stuff in action and being able to do it means more than someone telling me.  Unfortunately, i'll just have to suffice with expanded explanations. 

Thanks again!
-Louie

p.s. when do i get to stop putting morse's and marconi's last name?

gil

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Re: interstate communication
« Reply #8 on: October 10, 2014, 10:01:15 PM »
Louie! Ok, "Tia," that would make a good name... For a girl... Maybe that could be your nickname here  ;D

Quote
Anyways, back to "MA to CA"... was it just the radio being capable of this or are there things to consider (amp? repeater? etc).

The radio can do it. Keep in mind however that because of the nature of HF and the ionosphere, like Bob pointed out, it won't work any time you want... You will have to determine the best times depending on season, solar activity, time of day, and the number of cows facing east on slightly sloped pastures... Just to say that there is a bit of an art to it and we don't always know when a band will be open... You don't need an amp, but you do need a good antenna. Like one of these: http://www.lnrprecision.com/endfedz-specs/ or a good'ol dipole you can make yourself with a bit of wire. No need to spend a whole lot on an antenna. It is one of the rare things where more expensive does not mean better...

Gil.

cockpitbob

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Re: interstate communication
« Reply #9 on: October 11, 2014, 09:25:48 AM »
Hi Louie,
Gil is right that the ionosphere gods were helpful that night as I don't hear California all that often.  To help know what the ionosphere is up to, there are web sites and apps that show in real time the places hams are able to talk between on which frequencies.

I'm visual too.  Picture this:
The radio, about the size of a thick hard cover book, is on my desk connected to a mic, a long-wire outdoor antenna and a 12V power supply (could be a 12V battery).  That's all. The antenna is like the end-fed antenna in Gil's link above.  It's just a 63' long piece of wire (thinner than a lamp's cord).  One end is 45' up in a tree (used a slingshot and fishing reel).  The other end meets my house where it connects to an "antenna coupler".  The coupler is smaller than a soda can.  It converts the antenna's high resistance into 50 Ohms, which is what the radio needs to see.  A length of coax cable (1/4" diameter) goes between the antenna coupler just outside my window and the radio on my desk.  For lightning protection I got an 8' ground rod from Home Depot and drove it into the dirt outside my window.  I put a lightning arrestor on the coax and connected it to the rod.

That's about as basic a home system as you can make.  I do ham radio while camping with the Boy Scouts.  There I just get one end of the antenna up in a tree, let the coupler on the other end dangle a few feet above the ground and have a short coax cable from the coupler to my tent.  If there might be a thunder storm it all comes down quick.



cockpitbob

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Re: interstate communication
« Reply #10 on: October 11, 2014, 09:34:28 AM »
This is what I'm looking to be able to do for SHTF, but also to start as a hobby with my boys.  My 11 yr old is insanely smart and will easily ace the tests, so he willl be studying with me in the upcoming time.

My 11yo son is also smart, but there's no way an 11yo will really grasp much of the theory.  I taught him some basic theory, but my son got his general mainly by grinding through the practice tests on qrz.com until he had memorized all the correct answers.  THAT'S OK.  For him, the main thing is to know the rules and operating procedures well enough to stay out of trouble.  That's easy, and of course you'll be around as backup.  If he stays with ham radio he'll get the theory as time goes on.  Besides, by learning several hundred correct answers you do learn quite a few useful things.  I envy how well kids that age remember things.

It would be great to get some young blood in the hobby.  Unlike 50+ years ago, ham radio is dominated by older men these days.

Do it now before he becomes a teenager.  Several of us in the local ham club helped our kids get their licenses at a young age.  They all lost interest once the hormones kicked in.

gil

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Re: interstate communication
« Reply #11 on: October 11, 2014, 01:22:17 PM »
Quote
One end is 45' up in a tree (used a slingshot and fishing reel)

I don't use a reel... I put the spool on my pinky finger, of the hand holding the slingshot.

Quote
For lightning protection I got an 8' ground rod from Home Depot and drove it into the dirt outside my window.  I put a lightning arrestor on the coax and connected it to the rod.

Exactly what I did Bob! I used one of those Home Depot red post-pounders, whatever they're called, to drive the rod into the ground. I did the same for my VHF antenna.

Gil.

Xicaque

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Re: interstate communication
« Reply #12 on: November 21, 2016, 08:25:41 PM »
what is considered lower bands and higher bands??? confused... :-[ :-[ :-[ :-[

gil

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Re: interstate communication
« Reply #13 on: November 22, 2016, 04:25:02 AM »
Hello, higher refers to frequency. A low band would be, say 80m, 3.5 to 4mHz. A high band for example is 10m, 28-29mHz. The frequency in mHz is how many times the signal oscillates per second. The wavelength in meters is the distance between the signal's peaks. So they are inversely proportional. More oscillations per second (higher frequency) means a shorter wavelength, and vice-versa.

Gil.