View Full Version : Question on amateur radios and scanners
09-16-2012, 01:08 PM
Looking at some disaster prep communication options and my buddy and I are looking at ham radios and scanners.
Scanners - analog or digital? Looking for a local/regional EMT scanning solution. Prefer HANDHELD. Found a 200-channel radio shack which is analog for $100. Digital scanners seem to be SPENDY - around $300 or so. I read something that suggested that they will all "move" to digital in the near future... so that implies that analog isn't a good long-term purchase?
Ham radios - suggestion to me was a $60 handheld. What are the ranges on handheld in a populated/wooded area?
09-16-2012, 02:20 PM
Around here the whole state is going to "trunked" 800mhz systems, there are very few agencies still using the lower bands. Everybody will eventually transition to 800, the crowding of the lower bands is only going to get worse, and I suspect the FCC would like to free them up for purposes of selling them to a different user. That's what happened to analog broadcast TV. Without a digital scanner setup to follow trunked comms you will hear very little in the future.
Range varies a lot. With a good antenna and the right band, you can work CW from thousands of miles away with a couple watts. 2 meter/VHF handhelds with 5 watts and a rubber ducky antenna are limited to a range of maybe two to five miles or so in a town with lots of buildings and trees. Basically line of sight comms, if you have an unobstructed view of the other guy with nothing between you, you could go 20 miles or more, but that is a rare sitch. Add a few buildings or hills between ya, forget it. That's why most towns with any sort of Ham activity usually have a repeater or two on high ground to extend the range. An external antenna on your car or a long whip antenna on the unit will also extend the range. And of course there are always amps.
Most locales already have a ham radio network setup with local emergency agencies, ARES and RACES are the common names used. Find them and see what they use and recommend. The ARRL is where ya need to look for Ham Radio info:
American Radio Relay League | ARRL - The national association for AMATEUR RADIO (http://www.arrl.org/)
09-16-2012, 02:51 PM
Kernel typed faster, and gave better info too
I haven't dealt with scanners in a while, maybe about ten years, so someone else will have to help with that.
But for the handheld HAM, do you mean CB? The last time I looked into HAM they were fairly expensive.
I use to have a handheld CB type that I paid about $100 for and it sucked, half mile at the best. Most of the handheld units only put out a few watts which limits their ranges, and for $60 I don't think the one your looking at would be very good.
Let's say you just want something simple to talk to others in your group (like camping), those multi channel walkie talkies might even work for you, they have about a mile range (sometimes better), are fairly cheap and usually come in pairs, and I think most use the same frequency ranges.
If you want a radio for basic communications, and it doesn't have to be handheld, get a CB like you'd put in your car/truck. They run on 12v DC and have ranges from 7 miles & up, putting an antenna on the roof of the house (any where high up) really improves the distance, I got out about 40 miles already with one of these and it was only putting out 7 watts.
09-17-2012, 02:45 AM
I have a pair of the Motorola GMRS handhelds, they get about 5-7 miles with a slightly longer than stock rubber duckie antenna from Motorola's Spirit business band line. IIRC, they are 5 watts, and there is a mobile rig that runs 25 watts. These are the older "talkabout distance" models that look like a "real Motorola", not the multi-colored weird shaped ones they currently sell. There were two versions, one took a rechargeable pack only, and the other one could use the packs or AA batteries in a holder. Built like a tank, all I've ever had to replace are the battery packs @ $8 apiece from Ebay.
motorola talkabout distance | eBay (http://www.ebay.com/sch/i.html?_nkw=motorola+talkabout+distance)
They require a license but it is a fill out the app and if yer check don't bounce yer in. Channel crowding is the biggest issue, there are only 22 channels available and some are also FRS channels so everybody is on them at any type of event.
Now, if ya want short range "tactical" comms, the Motorola DTR series is about the best a civvy can do. Voice is converted to digital "packets" and sent out over a frequency hopping pattern, IIRC 90 milliseconds per freq. Consumer scanners will not be able to eavesdrop on them. Unless another DTR radio is "synched" to your network they can't listen in either. You can also select individual radios in the net to talk to privately without others hearing. They operate on the same band as WiFi, so no license needed. Pricey though. Range is also limited to a couple miles or so under ideal conditions, 1 watt. There is an optional mini keyboard that plugs in for text messaging, and there are 15 pre-programmed text messages you can send without the keyboard needed.
Motorola DTR Series (http://www.motorola.com/emea/dtr/en/)
The question is, do you plan to communicate with someone in particular, or do you mostly want to monitor unwanted "rescue" services?
09-17-2012, 11:30 PM
TRX has hit the nail on the head.
Your use will dictate what your choice will be.
Anything in the Civilian sphere can be listened to. Trust me.
The Kernel brings up some very useful points however. Who do you want to be secure from? The Gov? Forget it.
For longer distance comms (handheld) you are going to have to either buy a very expensive antennae, or learn the math and basics of antennae design.
What the Army uses nowadays gets boosted by the radios in the vehicles. It's all pretty automatic. If ALL of the vehicles get blown away, the radios know this, and fall back to a lower freq and broadcast a Mayday. once a helo or other unit's vehicle is in range, the radios switch back to a normal mode. God I hope that was declassed....Anyway. The brainbugs that run Army Comms can dial into just about anything they choose to.
09-19-2012, 09:58 AM
Both actually. As I stated I'm mostly interested in keeping up wiht my friends but they are about 15 miles away and definitely NOT in a clear area. Lots of trees in this area of Va :)
We are being led to believe that the $60 handheld wonder will be able to traverse the distance due to local repeaters. However the closest repeater to me that I'm aware of is about 5 miles away and there's that tree thing again. 5 miles on a $50 handheld just doesn't seem to be doable? I have seen some youtube vids of people getting pickup from other towns in their car w/ handhelds but that was in Texas I think? Lots of open space out there. Edit to add there might be more local repeaters, but I haven't looked for them yet.
Edit to add - I'm also concerned about the availability of repeaters during hurricanes and other power-related issues. Let's not use "SHTF" since that phrase is beat to death. I'm talking realistic situations that can affect me... not aliens landing or evil democratic flesh-consuming robot zombies roaming the land. I'm talking hurricanes mostly. That's the only "issue" I could face that would cause communication blackouts. Why are there black helicopters hovering outside?
09-19-2012, 01:13 PM
Repeaters are usually setup with at least a battery backup system so they can still be used in power outages. Ham radio has traditionally been the best/only means of comms when the lines are down and most clubs are setup to have some field days where they regularly practice comms without any outside power sources.
You could also setup your own repeater.