So new I can barely spell Ham Radio

Started by ericturner, April 19, 2013, 06:12:54 am

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Ok so I am a newbie here, I am very unsure where to start. Let me explain my need and you can help me out. I have several family members spread in about a 100mile area. If the crap hits the fan/marshal law ect... We need to be able to communicate. We were mulling around with ideas for a few base units and a few portables but don't want to break the bank. Is there a way to do this relatively inexpensive? At first we thought about CB radios but not sure  if they would reach consistently. If anyone can help please let me know!


April 19, 2013, 08:43:04 am #1 Last Edit: April 19, 2013, 08:46:27 am by cockpitbob
Welcome to the board.  It's a small place so far, but it makes it up in the high quality of its members!

100mile comms is a little tough.  It's a little long for CBs and 2M radios but too short for atmospheric bounce.  I'm no expert in propagation, but I'll get the ball rolling with what little I know.

CB:  No license required.
Uses 11meter wavelength and restricted to 4 watts.  From a car they are only reliable for 5-15 miles depending on terrain.  If you put antennas up on the house's roofs you will get much more distance, again depending on terrain.  Houses 100miles apart probably won't be able to talk directly but you might be able to relay messages from one end of your family to the other.

The 2M band:  Requires Technician license (lowest of 3 levels of license)
2M allows more power.  Most mobil rigs run 50watts or more but 2M is line of sight.  If you are in flat Texas you might get 50miles or more between 2 houses with antennas high up on the roof.  Handhealds won't go nearly that far because of the lower power, tiny antennas and being only 5' off the ground.

HF bands:  Requires Genreal class license (middle level ham license)
In the longer wavelenghts (40M and 80M bands) you can do Near Vertical Incident Skywave (NVIS).  This is where a horizontal antenna is close to the ground (<1/4 wavelenght) and the signal goes almost straight up and bounces back down.  This is a good way to cover a circle several hunderd miles in diameter and it is less sensitive to terrain (hills and mountains).  The antenna is cheap.  All you need is a 60' piece of wire suspended horizontally about 10'-20' above the ground (got trees?).  The radios aren't so cheap but single band ones can be had for $150 on eBay.


Best way to start is plot out every spot based on distance "as the crow flies" straight line. By doing this you might not have direct contact with everyone but more of a relay system, spot A to B, Than B to C, then B back to A, Once you have the distances use the info by cockpitbob to find what rigs you will need. Keep in mind terane buildings, mountains, etc.

Here is a link to a straight line map.

73 Joe



Google Earth is very helpful for this.  You can measure distances with it and as you move the cursor along the line you can see the elevation.  This will tell you what terrain is in the way.


technically, cb radios are the best choice for a prepper, ham radios have become too reliant on todays technology, and also require repeaters for their range.

a good classic cobra 142 gtl base station with a decent antenna will get ya around 40-60 miles. and cb's an be setup to run alot
more then the standard 4 watts :)

and we know that the 4 watt limit only gets enforced when somebody decided to be a bunghole and reports the op for
bleeding over his stuff, lol.

as long as your in a decent rural area, you shoud be good at 200 - 500 watts with a linear amp :)


I had the same question and you are right that CBs won't cut it, and the answer on Ham radio is it depends on a bunch of factors, but the biggie is geography.  If you have line of sight between members of the group, you should be successful, but line of sight can be interrupted by anything from a building to the curvature of the earth.  As a result, you won't find anyone saying "Buy this and it will solve your problem." but you're on the right track.  I started with the same problem, except the distance I needed to communicate was about 30-35 miles.  Nobody could tell me with certainty that it would work, but once I got a radio and started listening I found I was picking up signals from much greater distances and now the problem is getting everyone to get licenses and radios so we can test out very specific point to point connections.  My expectation is we may find someone needs to get their antenna to a higher point or some such issue, but that we can make it work.

Essentially, the best way to get an idea of what will work for you is to get a radio and start listening.


Technically?  Well, technically, CB is the worst possible choice.  Here's why:

With CB transceivers, you're stuck in a horribly miniscule portion of radio spectrum, which can not reliably support communications to any single place, no matter what your requirements are.  It's just the nature of the spectrum.  Sure, you can get where ya wanna go, sometimes.  But for preppers, sometimes just isn't good enough.  It needs to be each time, every time, without fail.

Consider:  For about a fifteen dollar fee, and the taking of an exam (and don't forget, we provide you with ALL the questions and ALL the answers in advance...) we give you the use of millions and millions of frequencies, all up and down the spectrum.  Knowing that, you can readily understand how it is that radio amateurs routinely (and reliably) communicate to their specific destinations. 

Repeaters?  Not necessary.  At least not the kind that the 'locals' use in the U.S. My own requirements include the ability to send messages to any portion of the country, any State, any town within those States.  Done deal.  I participate in networks that allow me to get my data to where I want to go.  How could that possibly be?  Bazillions of frequencies and the use of amateur radio networks that do the heavy lifting for me.

I agree with Geek; we can make it work.  Indeed, we do it every day.

Best 73

Luck Hurder, WA4STO


Like others have said, terrain and local conditions (apartment, antenna/deed restricted community, farm, etc) is key to answering your question, along with the relationship of each party to the others.  Depending on specifics there can be several solutions, but ham radio will address any of them.  Some people who live in relatively flat country and have the space to erect high antennas can make reliable direct distant contacts with equipment/frequencies permitted with a Technician class license. 

I live in a hilly/mountainous part of the country so my options are more limited.  However, using an NVIS setup as mentioned by cockpitbob I can reliably connect with a good friend about 100 miles to my north using 50 watts or less on the 75 meter HF band.  The downside is the antennas are long - they are only simple wire dipoles, but they are about 135 in overall length.  That isn't a problem for me; I have plenty of room and no restrictions, but it might be difficult for someone in a city apartment.  This requires a General or Extra class license, but that isn't a big hurdle these days.

There are so many options for infrastructure-free (no repeaters) direct communications that it can be confusing to come up with an answer.  There are voice modes, digital data modes and of course the old standby - Morse Code (CW).  A big factor in creating a communications plan is identifying how much time, trouble and expense each member is willing to put into the project.  There may be other ways of accomplishing your goals, but ham radio has so many options that if none of them meet your needs than you can be sure the other methods won't either.



i hate to maul ya wa4sto, but cb's are the best choice, as they actually can reliably transmit to every single place. sure we got a small frequency range, but we make the most out of what we got.

yea, thats 15 dollars sounds real good, but thats just a tiny portion of the real and extremely large cost of getting into ham radio, which can cost 500 to over a thousand dollars. where as you can find a nice cb radio at a yardsale, you can get a decent cb radio for 15-100 dollars :)

cb stations can often go worldwide with the proper antenna setup and height. CB radio is a pretty much unregulated band now. where as ham radio is heavily regulated, by the fcc, radio clubs, and other forms of the government. so cb radio is essentially a better choice, no matter what the "nature of the band" is.

and thats what i mean, even a repeater is a little better then a network, as least ham ops might have a chance to protect their repeater stations from the government. but when your relying on the internet to talk to others, its not event real radio anymore. and if the feddies decide to shut off the net, those network hams are gonna be backquiet.

if you do get a ham radio, i wish you the best of luck

2MT350 on the side


How does cb to worldwide? I assume it has the same chararistics as the 10 meter band and 10 is far from reliable. I think cb has its place but it is no means be all end all.


Just FYI..
Ham radio networks (nets) have nothing to do with the Internet.


disinformation, echolink, lol.

cb radio is very reliable.


April 20, 2013, 01:02:53 pm #13 Last Edit: April 20, 2013, 02:59:45 pm by RadioRay
Eric -

Pleased to meet you.  We have people here who are quite happy to help you to develop an effective communications plan. There has been good success here, because like anything else, the tools must match the problem to be solved. Many of us here used to do this for a living, so we'll do what we can to be helpful. Geek came aboard here recently, with a very similar line of questions.  We asked a few questions, did some computer analysis of his average terrain and made some focused recommendations.  He took appropriate action from there, got his 'Technician' license (20 questions) purchased his gear and did what was needed for his requirements.  It will only get BETTER from there.

Rather than simply throw some 'opinion' out there, we'll gather a few facts first so that we can offer a real solution. I'll need to know a few basics.

1. Let's draw a circle on a map 100 miles across.  As I understand it, you want to reliably reach a family/team living in various areas within that 100 mile radius.

2. What is your terrain - hilly, flat, mixed?

3. Are any of your family/team located centrally AND on high ground?  If so, this just became VERY easy.

I'll wait for your answers. 

de RadioRay ..._ ._

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


To give a sense of the terrain issue, I live in NJ on the side of a hill facing east toward NY.  I have been able to pick up signals from every direction except west towards PA.  That's because the hill I am on rises to the west and drops to the east.  Fortunately for me, everyone I want to contact is north, east, or south, so it isn't a problem.  If I wanted to communicate to the west, I'd need to do something to get a signal past the hill, but so far I haven't even tried.  As a result, I can probably handle up to a hundred miles in every direction except west.

If I was another 10 miles to the west, I'd be into rolling hills and assuming I was in a low point rather than the top of a hill, I probably wouldn't get more than 5 miles in any direction.

As it is, I got lucky on the geography.