Jargon free explanation of radios

Here is a VERY simplified breakdown of what's available, and some pointers on getting started. I will attempt to avoid tech jargon and write this for first time radio folks. Its been our experience that reaching out for information at the beginners level is difficult. There is a lot of technical "snobbery" that gets in the way....If you're not sure about radios, this is a good place to start. Here is a VERY simplified breakdown of what's available, and some pointers on getting started. I will attempt to avoid tech jargon and write this for first time radio folks. Its been our experience that reaching out for information at the beginners level is difficult. There is a lot of technical "snobbery" that gets in the way.... UHF or VHF?


In a nut shell it boils down to range. UHF operates on a smaller wavelength than VHF and as a result doesn't push out as far, and if you factor in obstacles its even less.

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Wattage: With out getting into the nuts and bolt of it, its how we will assess the output of the radio. The more wattage you have, the more range you have... Family Radio Service -or- FRS radios operate on UHF for line of sight communication, like the old walkie-talkies. Keep in mind the FCC limits the amount of power on the FRS to 0.5 watts, which frankly sucks, that's a huge limiting factor and manufacturers love to inflate their capabilities with what's called LOS or line of sight ranges. Most families are only looking for a simple back up during phone service disruption, and hand held FRS radios will fit that bill around the house or property BUT wont reach out to your job or school. You can upgrade to 2 watts and VHF or Multi-Use radio System -or- MURS and push out a little further, you can even pay a $90 FCC fee and try General Mobile Radio Service -or-GMRS which extends you between 5-50 watts, and of course a Amateur or "Ham" license is a whole other story!

Simplified: More power = more range. Factor this into your cost early on.

*Typically, you’re only going to find a 5 watt max on handhelds, but what’s also important is ensuring they have different settings for power. Meaning that they have the ability to switch between a low power setting and a high power setting. This will ensure you have a handheld that can function well for GMRS and HAM wattage, but can also dial down for operating on MURS frequencies and not violate any FCC laws.

Base station or mobile system?

71mfFSsJbrL__SL1500_A mobile system, or hand held is limited by the amount of power you can push with, and the antennae you can use. With out going into to antennae theory, you need to understand they have a huge role to play in how well you broadcast and receive. Basically we are talking about walkie-talkies for adults. This is what most families are searching for in an emergency radio. Pictured is the Baofeng UV-5r.

IMG_4073-300x222Its possible to rig up a mobile base station, this way you can take advantage of some of the features a base station offers on the go, but your still limited to the kind of power and antennae system you rig. This hybrid system works well for some families looking to take the central base with them when they are bugging out. This can also accommodate a vehicle, depending how much money you want to invest.The benefits are a mobile system, like a hand held are pretty obvious but they don't have the same range. Just because they operate on the same frequencies doesn't really translate into the same capability.

[caption id="attachment_724" align="alignright" width="300"]Courtesy of the preppjournal Courtesy of the prepperjournal[/caption]

If you're interested in establishing a base station the choices are limitless, and you can reach out across nation if you're skilled enough. Getting to this point is a gradual process and you shouldn't expect to just by a radio set and start talking with Fiji. It helps to take a class and join amateur radio groups to refine your skill set. Try to remember that sometimes they can hear you, but you cant hear them.... Base stations are a great way to break into the amateur radio hobby, and you can set them up to monitor while youre in your office writing on your blog! I recommend the BSA Radio merit badge. Its loaded with good stuff and explains step by step what each part and piece is and does.

For beginners, if you're still not sure we suggest starting with the programmable Baofeng UV-5R. It has just about everything you need and is a great place to start learning.

Baofeng UV-5R71mfFSsJbrL__SL1500_

  • Frequency Range: 136-174 MHz, 400-480 MHz RX (receive) and TX (transmit)
  • FM Radio: 65 – 108 MHz (RX)
  • Selectable Power: VHF/UHF – 4W high/1W low
  • Selectable Step Sizes: 2.5, 5, 6.25, 10, 12.5 or 25 kHz
  • CTCSS/DCS: 50 CTCSS and 104 DCS Codes
  • Memory Channels: 128
  • Programable: Via Keypad or Computer w/ Kenwood Style 2-Pin Connector
  • Scanning: Priority
  • Other Features: Keypad Lock (auto or manual), Flashlight Illumination, Optional Voice-Prompt Operation, VOX Function, Emergency Alarm, Wide/Narrow Band Capable, Timeout Timer
  • Includes: ANT5 SMA-J flexible antenna (male connector), 1800 mAH BL-5 Li-ion battery, belt clip, wrist strap, AC adapter and drop-in charging tray.
  • Operating Temperature: -4°F to 140°F (-20°C to +60°C)
  • Dimensions: 2.2” wide x 4.3” height x 1.2” deep (with battery, without antenna)
  • Weight: 6.8 oz. w/ battery pack and included antenna
  • Made in China

In closing its almost impossible to say what kind of radio a person will need, I can tell you what I think you need, whether or not that will work for you is another story. You have to factor in their budget, commitment to learning and the network they intend to broadcast to. You can be a HAM radio ninja, but if no one else in your family wants to play your just going to be a hobbyist for a while. That's ok, it takes time to teach people the ins and outs of life saving skills.

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Keep in mind that this day and age most people want a simple push to talk, like a cell phone and aren't willing to learn the tech stuff between point A and B. But keep at it, they'll come around, if you lead by example.

Common definitions:

UHF-Ultra high frequency (UHF) is the ITU designation for radio frequencies in the range between 300 MHz and 3 GHz, also known as the decimetre band as the wavelengths range from one to ten decimetres. Radio waves with frequencies above the UHF band fall into the SHF (super-high frequency) or microwave frequency range. Lower frequency signals fall into the VHF (very high frequency) or lower bands. UHF radio waves propagate mainly by line of sight; they are blocked by hills and large buildings although the transmission through building walls is high enough for indoor reception. They are used for television broadcasting, cordless phones, walkie-talkies, personal radio services satellite communication, cell phones and numerous other applications.

VHF-Very high frequency (VHF) is the ITU designation[1] for the range of radio frequency electromagnetic waves (radio waves) from 30 MHz to 300 MHz, with corresponding wavelengths of ten to one meters. Frequencies immediately below VHF are denoted high frequency (HF), and the next higher frequencies are known as ultra high frequency (UHF).

FRS-The Family Radio Service (FRS) is a private, two-way, very short-distance voice and data communications service for facilitating family and group activities. The most common use for FRS channels is short-distance, two-way voice communications using small hand-held radios that are similar to walkie-talkies.

MURS-The Multi-Use Radio Service (MURS) uses channels in the 151 – 154 MHz spectrum range. The most common use of MURS channels is for short-distance, two-way communications using small, portable hand-held radios that function similar to walkie-talkies.

GMRS-The General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) is a licensed radio service that uses channels around 462 MHz and 467 MHz. The most common use of GMRS channels is for short-distance, two-way communications using hand-held radios similar to walkie-talkies....

Amateur/Ham-The amateur and amateur-satellite services are for qualified persons of any age who are interested in radio technique solely with a personal aim and without pecuniary interest. These services present an opportunity for self-training, intercommunication, and technical investigations.




Sources and citations: https://www.fcc.gov/ http://www.arrl.org/what-is-ham-radio * http://www.itstactical.com/digicom/comms/ultimate-radio-communication-guide-what-to-look-for-in-a-handheld-transceiver/ http://electronics.howstuffworks.com/ham-radio.htm
Last modified onThursday, 20 April 2017 06:31
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