Prepping 101: High Wattage High Frequency Ham Radios on the Cheap

A lot of these articles I write for those of you “in the trenches.” And by that I mean the people who have taken seriously the risks that we all face ahead, possibly this year, possibly even this month. Most things I write about I don’t expect a lot of you to go out and buy. For instance, the Sun Oven worked pretty good, but I know that only dozens of you went out and bought one. Communications I think touches everyone though. If you haven’t figured out how to keep in touch with loved ones far away, the time may be getting short here. So even though I recently posted an article on low budget worldwide Ham radios, this follow up to my Black Friday post was really due. Because as much as I can sing the praises of cheap cheap low wattage “QRP” radios, there is no substitute for 100-200 watts of radio power when you need as little to go wrong as possible.

In every one of my Ham articles I have to explain the basic premise of “HF,” or “High Frequency” as compared to VHF and UHF (Very and Ultra High Frequency). The handhelds that claim to be Ham radios seen on most prepper forums are almost completely useless for contacting anyone outside of your local area. Their signals can’t reach more than 7 miles due to the curvature of the earth, without what is called a repeater. The publicly available repeaters are only good for 50 miles or so on each side of the repeater, under the best circumstances, which rarely exist.

Real Ham radios that can reach out and communicate reliably, worldwide, work in the 1.8 megahertz to 30 megahertz range, which is called High Frequency (HF). Signals in this range bounce off of the ionosphere and can and do reach worldwide every day. HF radios require an antenna made for the band you are trying to work, and there are multi-band antennas that cover several bands. All Ham/Amatuer Radio communications require a license from the FCC to broadcast, but you don’t need a license to listen. Ham radios don’t need any type of cell tower or repeater, or anything more than electricity. It is hard to imagine a radio that can hear signals from Europe, Japan, Russia, and talk back to those regions as well, with an antenna in the backyard, but every Ham has done it, and you can too.

I personally believe that the powers that be will keep the grid up as long as possible, mostly so they can keep the Fox News propaganda flying, but once the grid goes out for good, you won’t need a license for your Ham radio. For now though, do not broadcast on the Amateur frequencies without a license. There are three types of licenses, and parts of the tests are challenging, but with books, and even some new phone aps, you can buff up on the actual question pool and it is pretty easy to pass the test. Beware that the Hams will rat you out if you try to break the law with illegal transmissions, and they will even triangulate you for the FCC, which is much easier than you might think. As I have explained in previous articles, there are very good reasons why you should be licensed to use the Ham bands as a matter of regular polite society. Available bandwidth is available bandwidth with Ham radio, so learning the methods that Hams use to not talk over each other are really important. When all the Hams are dead it won’t matter.

Now that I have (sigh), discharged my obligation to es’plain those basics, yet again, we can get into what this article is actually about.

I started looking for “cheap” Ham radios about a year ago, after I figured out the difference between HF and VHF/UHF. Even then, the preppers were bidding old and questionable radios up to over $200 in most cases, especially when the radio said Yaesu, Icom, or Kenwood on it. The other names, like Heathkit, Atlas, Tempo One, other more unknown names like the Swan radio you’ll see in the video generally have gone for less. But even on those radios you really need to read the details, and my prior article on what makes a radio more or less expensive. A lot of people are out there now who know what’s what on radios, so if want a good working radio, you will either have to pay a little more for a tested radio, or take your chances on an estate radio that will come with a lot of questions. These days you can still score a good working HF radio for under $300, but you won’t find one under $200, ***usually***, I have found a few exceptions this week, and there are a number of great buys under $200 closing this week that I hope a few of you grab.

My primary focus for this article was supposed to be the Yaesu FT-101 series, because until recently, they were plentiful under $300 in working condition on Ebay. Just a few weeks ago they dried up, which figures, and now there are only a couple, in the $300+ range. Conversely though, the Kenwood 520 and 520S have come from few and far between in the $350 – $550 range, to several popping under $250. Mostly people online are sheep, so if it so happens that a few people list a particular radio for a high price, it will lead to others copying them, until there are none to buy. Then the low price cycle can start over with estate radios, which for the most part are for sale for whatever people can get.

If you can find a Ham fest or swap meet near you, also check that out for cheap radios that you can actually test. All of the radios in this article and video are not desirable to licensed devotees of Amatuer (Ham) Radio, because these radios won’t do the digital computer modes easily. Some of them can be adapted for computer modes with aftermarket parts, but rarely do people mod them. So to an experienced Ham hobbiest, all of these radios are doorstops, just taking up space in the shack. They generally will sell them cheap.

That goes for the tube radios as well as some of the older the solid state models you’ll see me scrolling through on Ebay, and testing at the end of the video. There are a couple of those Kenwood TS-120s radios right now on Ebay for under $250, as well as the Icom 730 in the same range. Yet the Icom 735 is mostly over $300. Sometimes the prices make little sense, because again, it just so happened that three people listed the same radio for two much money, and they need to cycle out. If you do your homework and read the ads thoroughly, it isn’t hard to get a good buy on a radio that people just aren’t searching for right now, but that will serve you just fine for SHTF. Reviews

If there is one secret weapon when it comes to Ham radios, it is Eham. This is how you’ll find good radios that people aren’t bidding up right now, because there isn’t an expensive example upon which the sheep have placed their value proposition. You just have to have the courage and gumption to research and buy radios that nobody else wants.

For instance, there is right now an Atlas 210x holding at $86. If you search the reviews, there are over 50, all positive, for that radio. Don’t worry, I’m not going to buy it. šŸ˜‰

But as you can see, I have bought quite a few of these radios, and at one point, to me, an Icom IC-730 was no different than that Atlas. Now that I have researched them, read hundreds of reviews, bought several, and have actually held over a dozen radios in my hands, I understand the different eras of radios, even though the numbering systems for the models make no sense.

That is why, even though I personally picked out the Yaesu FT-101 and Kenwood 520 as great value for the money, you shouldn’t have a loyalty to any one brand or radio. Ebay has nice feature that shows you what people also looked at, and if you follow these rabbit holes often times you’ll find a motherload of radios nobody has ever heard of but that were made by Yaesu or Icom for some retail chain in the 80s. Go on Eham and look them up, and the reviewers will tell you the history, the selling points, and the comparative performance and reliability.

Note though please. Unless you like to hunt killer deals on untested products, and you have a strong stomach, buy one that is tested and covers the bands between 3.5mhz, or 80 meters, and 30mhz, or 10 meters.

The Ham Bands & MARS/CAP Mod

The major difference you will see with the Yaesu FT-101 is that the 160 meter band is included on the radio. I always brain fart the frequency on this band, and the correct number is 1.8mhz-2mhz. Most radios leave this band off, because you need a really big antenna to work it effectively. The Kenwood 520 and most of the solid state radios don’t include it. My perspective is that the more bands you have available, the more there is a chance that you will find something once the world goes dark.

None of these radios have what are called the WARC bands that were added to the list of available Ham frequencies in 1979. These are very small slivers of frequency, and they are used very little.

But what you will see on Ebay are a few radios here and there that have what is called “the MARS/CAP” mod. Officially, these are radios that were modified to broadcast just outside the Ham bands for official purposes. MARS stands for Military Affiliate Radio System, and CAP is Civil Air Patrol. In real terms, the MARS/CAP mod usually means that the radio has been freebanded, and can now transmit on all frequencies within the frequencies covered by the radios. For a prepper these radios are ideal because if you get a hit on a signal, you can then contact the person on the other end. Broadcasting on non-Ham frequencies, with or without a Ham license, is a pretty serious FCC offense, so beware that as long as the government has policing power, you have to be careful.

If you haven’t read my article on RTL-SDR dongles, you really should check that out. Those tools are perfect for use with these radios, because you can monitor huge blocks of bandwidth for active signals, using your computer, then if you want, contact the other party with your Ham transceiver. There are Hams that have spent many thousands of dollars to get the performance of a $50 RTL-SDR dongle and Up Converter, and their transmitter in the HF bands is no better than your FT-101 that you paid $325 with shipping.

There will be a time when “radio silence” will use up its usefulness and you are going to want to communicate with the outside world, and one of these cheap Ham radios is your best bet to do just that.

AC vs. DC Operation

I didn’t address in the video that the FT-101 and 520 run primarily on AC. They actually run on 12 volts DC, like all of the solid state radios, but they come with a built in voltage converter and rectifier box. The manual on the FT-101 shows you the pinout on the plug to wire the radio for DC, and there have been people selling the cables on Ebay from time to time. I don’t know if it also works on the Kenwood, as they are the same plug. Theoretically, if you have the pinout, you can just look up the DC inputs on the power plug and use alligator clips to power the radio from a 12 volt DC source, such as a solar charged battery. I have bought a DC cord for the FT-101, but haven’t played with it yet. The FT-101 was specifically created for low power draw in receive mode, somewhere around 400 milliamps @12v. On transmit all of these higher wattage radios require 20-30 amps @12v, which is ~400 watts. To run them AC, a cheap 400 watt inverter from Costco works fine.

Antennas for HF

As I’ve explained several times in this series, antennas for HF communications are more important than the radio itself. You can spend a fortune on a huge aluminum monstrosity and tower, or you can use a cheap wire antenna strung either between two trees, or just strung up in one tree, and get almost as good results. I elect for the latter.

For most of the contacts in this video I used a Diamond WD-330 folded dipole between two trees in the backyard, about 15′ off the ground. I bought that antenna as one of my first investments because it says that it can receive from 2-30mhz, which is most of the Ham spectrum for long distance. I like the folded dipole because it didn’t need a ground wire counterpoise, and it doesn’t need to connected to a ground rod. As you can see, it works great, worldwide, with these radios.

Since they I have learned that there are plenty of both folded and regular dipole antennas that are cheaper, and that most likely work as well, though I haven’t had the time to work them. You can get a military G5RV design for as little as $45, and other brands of folded dipole claim that they can handle the 1.8mhz 160 meter band as well, up to the legal limit of 1500 watts.

To broadcast effectively, you should also invest in a decent antenna tuner. These can be had that will handle the 200 watts on the most powerful of these radios for under $200, both automatic and manual, from MFJ Enterprises, as well as LDG. When I finally get my Ham license I will experiment with tuners to see how they effect my outgoing signal. But alas, I still am not licensed.

These radios will of course work fine with the single wire antennas from my last article, but beware that many of them are not rated for more than 100 watts and these radios are up to 200 watts. I have yet to run a head to head test between the end fed dipoles with a balun/unun, and the folded dipole. That will probably be my next project for this series, after I get my license.

I strongly suggest that you buy a Ham radio book, like Ham Radios for Dummies, before you attempt to use your radio. If you do hit the transmit key, not only are radio frequency burns nasty, you also need to make sure that you don’t get arrested for an illegal station. Go buy the $50 worth of RTL-SDR gear first, and you’ll see just how easy it is for the authorities to monitor wide swaths of bands, which they absolutely do.

Should I Get My Ham License?

I don’t think so at this juncture, even though I personally will be taking the test fairly soon I hope. I am already on the government list as a troublemaker, so I have little to lose by being put on yet another list. For me, getting my license will make me look like I drank the coolaid and now want to become a government bootlicker. I’m thinking maybe they’ll invite me into the cabal! George Carlin perhaps thought the same thing.

Even though you own guns and you may feel like you are on a list, most likely you are not. Right wingers are so easily suckered by Fox News these days that the government is fairly certain they can take your guns when they want. They can, but I think we have been played to become the new enemy as climate change deniers, as I’ve explained at length in past articles. They don’t want our guns. They want to push us to use them so they can lock this whole mess down. You aren’t on a list that will ever matter for owning guns, even a lot of guns.

But Ham radio has become the darling of preppers and militia. There was even what I believe to be fake and engineered Ham broadcast from the Oregon situation recently that went viral, on the 80 meter band. I think the preppers are kidding themselves that the government doesn’t know they plan to use HF to communicate after the collapse. Ham radio will be used for disinformation and obfuscation just like everything else available to the cabal running this mess. Your best bet is to buy a radio through backdoor channels, and put up a wire, dipole, or folded dipole that nobody will notice. Then just listen.

If you are of draft age, especially under 30, absolutely do not get your Ham license. They try a new tactic every week now to spin up the next war, and my friends, war is coming. Anyone with a Ham license under 30 years old will be in the first wave of draftees that have special skills. You don’t want to be on that list. This is a case of do as I say not as I do in my case. Right now you don’t want to stand up for anything, and you don’t want to be on anyone’s list. Hunker down. Make sure you have food and water for a long time. Get your family to do the same, and get everyone you love a Ham radio and antenna, and tell them how to use it when the time comes. Come up with a schedule of potential communications, once the dust settles, and then just wait for the dust to settle.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Wolf24 May 9, 2016, 5:31 am

    I’m interested in learning about ham but after seeing all these comments I wouldn’t know who to believe or where to start..

  • MGJ March 15, 2016, 3:47 am

    Paul, thanks for the article. But in my experience. … just kidding
    Seriously, if I have a larger budget, let’s say $300 – $1,500 , what radio (s) / type of gear would you recommend. ( apologize in advance if you’ve already written about it). I currently have an entry level CB with a good antenna that I use while mobile, so the advise I’m seeking is in line with your article. (HF radios). Thanks

    • Paul Helinski March 15, 2016, 6:28 am

      It depends if you want to go mobile, which is smart if you think about it. That was why I did the radio backpack article first. I used the Yaesu 857D for that, and as many commenters have said, it’s quite a little 100w radio. I need to go update that article at some point with things I’ve learned about antennas since, but the basic premise is still very good. Then check out the fishing reel idea from my last ham article, and use an end fed dipole with 9:1 balun. With a golf cart battery and solar panel you’re all set.

      • Rob March 15, 2016, 6:53 pm

        Golf cart batteries are usually 6 Volts and 12 Volts (13.8 Volts ideally) would be needed for a Yaesu 857D. A 12 volt motorcycle or car battery would be more appropriate probably for this setup considering the power consumption of the Yaesu. But you can hookup 2 of the 6 Volt golf cart batteries to obtain 12 volts.You can bump up the voltage of a 12 Volt battery (or two of the golf cat batteries) with a “Voltage booster” you can buy on ebay for under $5.00. I can talk to the Coast Guard in the state of Washington and to England and central Europe across the Atlantic ocean from here in Florida on the 20 Meter band with a 5 Watt QRP tranceiver, an end fed 20 Meter antenna up 33 feet (ideally half the wave length) a 12 Volt house alarm battery, and a voltage booster increasing the voltage of a 12 Volt house alarm battery to 13.8 Volts.

        • Paul Helinski March 15, 2016, 7:37 pm

          This is why I’m such an asshole. All 12v batteries are 13.3-13.8 volts. It just says 12v as a standard, but if you read the specs on the battery, it will say the true voltage, and it’ll hold up to 14-15 volts for a time. This is because there is no such thing as a 12v battery, or even a 2v battery. All batteries are made from cells that are just over 1 volt each, and as much as 1.8 volts each. Without a silicone voltage regulator circuit the voltage will float. Generally electronics are not dependent on a single voltage. The listed voltage is the level that the parts in the device are rated to withstand, and that can be very tight. I am going to cover survival computing at some point, and the pins on a Raspberry Pi are 3.3 volts, and you’ll blow them at 5 volts.

          • Rob March 15, 2016, 8:22 pm

            Yeah, I agree with you asshole! hehe…But 12 Volt batteries will draw down to 10 Volts or even lower with usage. (not recommended to draw down a 12 Volt battery below 10 Volts, that may destroy the battery). The voltage booster for under $5.00 on ebay (or Aliexpress for that matter) will keep the output voltage to your tranceiver up to the adjustable value that you set it at, ideally 13.8 volts. Even if your 12 Volt battery draws down to 4 Volts I believe it is. Yeah Paul, I know. You are not supposed to draw down your 12 Volt battery down to 4 Volts. But if the situation arises that you have to get your message out on the radio then you have to get your message out and your battery will just have to be ruined. Hopefully you have planned ahead and you have more than one battery.
            The nice thing about the voltage booster is that you can even use a 9 Volt or 6 Volt battery (like a 6 Volt flash light battery) and boost the voltage up to 13.8 Volts. So that increases your options as far as the kind of batteries you can use for your rig. You can get D, C, AA, AAA, battery holders and filled with batteries you can boost all of those up to 13.8 Volts with the voltage booster to power your tranceiver radio.

          • Paul Helinski March 15, 2016, 8:53 pm

            The only effect on your radio would be reduced output power. Nobody uses a voltage booster at field day lol. It’s just a gimmick and though I haven’t looked at them, without a coil, if it just silicone, most likely it’ll harm the battery if you used it a lot for more than a few volts.

          • Rob March 15, 2016, 9:21 pm

            That may be so but I have drawn down my 12 Volt house alarm battery down to 10 Volts and was still able to reach across the Atlantic ocean with my 5 Watt 20 Meter bands tranceiver combined with the Voltage booster (which I have mounted in a Altoid mint box btw) set to 13.8 Volts and an end fed 20 Meter antenna up 33 feet high horizontally and turned broadside to Europe on a bearing of about 60 degrees. I don’t think I would have been able to do that if I had hooked up my tranceiver directly to the 12 Volt battery while it was drawn down to 10 Volts. I have noticed that lower battery voltage will definitely reduce output power of your tranceiver.
            I can prove my contacts with QSL cards, which I like to collect.

  • B. Young March 15, 2016, 1:36 am

    The article mentions hiding your antenna there are quite a few cheap home brew antennas(and commercial models) that are made to go inside your attic as well as fake tree antennas to name a few. FYI-you don’t need a license to listen and learn on the ham bands.

    • Dave March 15, 2016, 8:51 pm

      As a former Special Forces Communications Sergeant, we did a lot of HF. The antenna he is describing is called a closed loop clandestine antenna. Another even better method is to use a clothes line, Ensure you direct it appropriately (east / west or north / south). Receiving the signals is the easy part. I was in Venezuela and used a fence to receive signal. i also received signal using a small piece of wire running from my antenna base to a nail that I stuck in a Pine tree in Florida. I received an entire 120 group message that way. Learn the formulas in order to construct a proper HP antenna as well. The most common is 234 / freq = 1/4 wave length (per side). Antenna must be constructed or your signal will be out of phase. Picture a sine wave. When everything is flowing (broadcasting) in synch, you have commo. When the wave looks like a bad EKG…well…its bad. Get the picture!

      • Ti April 28, 2016, 7:23 pm

        I’ve thought about what Dave says. And I absolutely agree.
        The best thing to do is study the subject, even rudimentary knowledge is going to be necessary to make your com system work efficiently. The antenna is the transducer by which electro magnetic waves are sent and received. An efficient antenna for a specific frequency can be made quite quickly, but bandwidth suffers generally. That’s why a ham can tune a bathtub at 80 meters, or the SOF makes a long wire nailed to a tree, but it really is only good for transmitting at one single frequency, vary much from that frequency and you will see very large VSWR, this means no power out. How much power out of transmitter is wasted by a mis-tuned antenna? By the laws of duality, electromagnetic waves are sent and received by the rule. A very effective transmit antenna is the measure of success in 2 -Way communications. VSWR (Voltage Standing Wave Ratio) is a measure of how well the power is getting from Transmitter to Antenna. Every break, transition from connector to cable to connector, oxidized conductor, mistuned feed line, etc., etc…. creates a reflection that means power isn’t going into the antenna, therefore not into space. That’s the antenna part, now we have to worry about direction, gain in that direction, terrain, polarization of signal, frequency propagation, time of day for signal propagation, and on and on…. It would be good for all of us to get someone in the Group/Team to study up and then practice what you studied, before we need it.

  • Kurt March 14, 2016, 8:24 pm

    Paul I though you did fine job on your article and I always like to read the comments, you can pick some useful information there,.work on your alligator hide and keep posting .
    I posted something on a FAL site a few years back and got hammered to the point that I was losing sleep and challenging people to come out from behind that computer and let see what you are made of .
    I got my general HAM license a few years ago but never been on the air

    • Paul Helinski March 14, 2016, 9:00 pm

      Well get on the air man! General you can actually talk. I’m listening to a pileup on 20 meters right now lol. Minnesota, Mexico, Oklahoma and, drum roll please, Australia! Healthy bands tonight.

  • Phil Carrera March 14, 2016, 4:28 pm

    It might be wise to have an experience ham operator/prepper proof read these articles before publishing them. It would be a huge mistake to run any ham radio on an inverter rather than directly from a battery. A “voltage converter – rectifier box” is commonly referred to as a “(DC) power supply” (don’t know what country you are from).
    My real complaint is the emphasis of HF over VHF. Talking to cousin Elmer in Arkansas over HF is nice but more of a luxury in the worst of times. The available power and coordination requirement is high, whereas I need a box of cheap VHF radios for perimeter and neighbourhood security immediately. I need to know who is approaching my camp. Cousin Elmer is going to have to wait. By the way, 400mA of radio listening all day is going to take a good amount of solar panel to recharge, especially the power wasted by converting battery-AC-DC. On the flip side, it is entertaining to read these uninformed articles.

    • Paul Helinski March 14, 2016, 4:44 pm

      You know Phil, nothing of what you said even makes sense. For one, I covered the VHF handhelds in my first Ham article long ago, so maybe you should check for details before allowing yourself the prozac talk. I guess you don’t have children is really all I have to say about cousin Elmer. The problem with running these AC centered radios on DC direct is that the cords have jumpers built in, and if you don’t have a correctly soldered DC cord, mickey mousing is just going to blow up your radio. You are better off using an inverter. A DC power supply is a voltage inverter and rectifier, but sorry if I’m typing a little too fast for you lol. If you bother to put down the brewskis and take a look at the back catalog, you might find some interesting things of use, including perimeter security.

      • Phil Carrera March 18, 2016, 7:55 pm

        You must be talking about very old radios. Most everything ham radio runs on DC.
        “A DC power supply is a voltage inverter and rectifier, but sorry if Iā€™m typing a little too fast for you lol” – Perhaps you should type faster? (and lay aside your condescending attitude for a moment and you might learn something) You’re saying a “DC power supply” changes DC to AC (inverter) and AC to DC (rectifier) in one operation. That makes no sense. It is like saying you have a humidifier-dehumidifier unit. If you were interested in the answer, it would be – A (linear) DC power supply for ham radio steps the voltage down, rectifies the waveform to a DC pulse then filters it. You could have copied the wikipedia definition. Well, on second thought, maybe you should stick with your version.
        I am just using cousin Elmer as a reference to family members, of course they are important, but if I don’t have local communications first (that you discourage), I won’t be alive to talk to them.
        I know you get a lot of back talk from writing articles such as this, but I think a little research and genuine understanding would reduce the negative comments. Your responses appear very childish. If you are an Obama or Bernie Sander voter, then just forget what I said and continue with what you are doing. It is very entertaining.

  • Michael E. Hensley W4MEH March 14, 2016, 3:55 pm

    As was posted about folks not really reading the Main Article, I agree !!!!
    Another nice toy to have with your Radio is a stand alone tuner, Just in case you need to use a Fence, a Gutter, anything mostly Metallic. And as much as it may Pain some hardcore Hams DO NOT forget the lowly CB. There are more of these than anything and they too will skip Talk although at the higher end of the HF range it is less predictable.

  • W4CLM March 14, 2016, 12:44 pm

    If I were you I would take this article with a grain of salt not taking any advice about using or buying an amateur radio transceiver from a Wannabe, unlicensed individual with little or no electronics experience outside of using a CB radio while only recently having discovered what an FT-101 is or how to use it. I have been using and working on these radios for nearly 45 years and it does take a minimal degree of knowledge, skill and caution making these rigs work properly, let alone the fact an H.F. transceiver usually requires a proper antenna anywhere from 30 to 300 feet long. Many of these transceivers can be easily destroyed by an inexperienced user resulting in costly repairs resulting in a cash layout more than the price paid for the rig itself, let alone finding replacement parts and “Sweep Tubes” costing $50, $60, $75 or more a piece. Some of the older Atlas transceivers our writer PAUL HELINSKI talks about are also problematic, due to poor internal connections, faulty solid-state devices and germanium transistors that are nearly impossible to find these days. More than likely these components were being produced long before Mr. Helinski was even born, therefore without years of service experience under his belt I would bet he has no idea what I’m even talking about. While trying to fix some of these older solid-state rigs I have run into many a transistor that were made of Un-obtanium and if you were lucky enough to even find the device the cost for what was a .79 device in 1970 is often $20 dollars or more for a single solid state device, which will not necessarily fix all the problems in such an older rig..

    If you are truly interested in electronics and amateur radio, do it right. First get a license, they are easily obtainable in today’s world with a little memorization of the written exams which are now printed in verbatim and can easily be passed by a seven year old. Then with years of experience under your belt or technical school you maybe will be able on your way to repairing your own equipment. Otherwise get a license, put your money into a newer transcriber which would be a little more usable and of the plug and play variety, these typically coast $700 and upward. Just because a man may know the difference between a Glock and an AR-15, not having the knowledge or experience with a transceiver could likely be similar to banging on a 7.62×39 shell with a hammer.

    In closing should you truly need communications in this world when the walking dead come banging on your door, most people would likely be better off with a $40 CB radio, as they are cheap, plentiful, antennas are small and no brain is required to operate one. Leaving you with this final example, when on a long road trip are you better of with an H.F transceiver that can talk to Africa and the middle east or a CB radio that will get you the information a mile or two up the road, while you’re stuck in a traffic jam. I would think the CB radio would better suit most people’s requirements in the long run. If you are a prepper, spend your money wisely and buy yourself a YEARS worth of food from “Wise food products” as it has a 25 year shelf life, stock up on water, and medical supplies for your family. And above all I’m sure Mr. Helinski and I will be in agreement on this. Invest in precious metals: “LEAD”


    • Paul Helinski March 14, 2016, 12:52 pm

      So, should I delete comments like this or reply to them? It seems that people think I shouldn’t call this guy a complete fucking moron, replete with his suggestion to buy survival food at 100 calories per dollar when you can buy flour, beans and rice at thousands of calories per dollar.

      Sorry, but he is a complete fucking moron, and the poster child of what is wrong with America. He clearly didn’t bother to read the article, watch the video, or care to even think before writing his comments. Like so many, his only concern is to spew his parrot nonsense that he didn’t research himself, including the availability of germanium transistors, several dozen of which I own and use to build fuzz face guitar pedals, not that you need to fix a radio that the owner has tested as working on all bands, and that you can buy for $100.

      • Ronald Davis March 14, 2016, 2:07 pm

        One thing not mentioned in the article is the use of a good ground reference. It is essential to have a good earth ground for the radio as this will improve reception and transmission. It will also removed the possibility that the radio will be HOT meaning that RF will be on the radio case which could yield burns at some frequencies.

      • Col_Temp March 14, 2016, 4:13 pm

        While I would agree with you Paul on the Wise food reference. There are better foods than that. Look around.
        Paul’s suggest is also about as lame. Flour, beans and what not are great IF you have an easy way to cook them. Flour goes bad after a year or two unless sealed and even then has much shorter life than whole grains. So 1. skip the flour, buy a grain mill and whole grains. 2. Buy pre-cooked freeze dried along with the regular grains. This way if the power is out, likely, or you need to cook things via a campfire or small cook stove, you don’t waste lots of fuel and time trying to cook down the beans and rice.

        I would prefer to see most of Paul’s comments scrubbed. There is no place for cursing. If you wish to disagree, do so logically. He is not a moron but lays out a comment worth considering. Instead of name calling, which tells me right off you have little or no facts to dispute his post (Hint its a dead give away you have no intention of arguing logically), tell us why he is incorrect and what your credentials are.

        • Paul Helinski March 14, 2016, 4:47 pm

          Flour does not go bad with an O2 absorber, and if you bothered to read any of the back catalog here, you’d know that. Whole grains and a grain mill are also good, which is why I ran a “cheap survival food from the mormons” several weeks ago, that you may wish to read. There are also tons of resources for cooking, and great data on comparing fuels.

        • BobbyD March 15, 2016, 1:12 am

          Paul will probably survive when the SHTF and we’re back to sticks and stones. You wanna know what he won’t survive? His own isolation. No one with two brain cells to rub together will want the company of a bipolar asshole like him.

          Q – Whatyado when a Pollack throws a grenade at you?
          A – You pull the pin out and throw it back!!…HaHaHaHaHa!!!

    • Rob March 14, 2016, 3:45 pm

      W4CLM, I have found that Paul is very smart and informed on many subjects but he does not recognize it when he is being outranked by someone with more knowledge and experience on a subject he has written about. Maybe more wisdom will come with higher age? He is trying to tell us licensed hams what to do and when we don’t agree he turns to insults and fowl language. I don’t really care myself because I can take a header pretty well and I am just feeling very lucky to still be alive today but I do think it is rather foolish because he may need our help sometime.
      But in the end this is his blog so he can say what he wants really and we can choose not to participate.
      Paul, sometimes you can leave a comment just for what it is rather then feeling obligated to respond to everything. If you do decide to get your ham license everyone who knows your call sign will know where you live so I don’t know if you would like that too much, especially when you talk about “hiding” so often. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with hiding in certain situations, but obtaining a ham call sign will make hiding much more difficult.

      • Paul Helinski March 14, 2016, 5:03 pm

        That is one of the issues with getting your license of course. That is why I said that in general, I don’t think getting licensed right now is the right thing to do.

        I don’t have the luxury of anonymity, because I chose to stand up and use my real name in regards to what is really going on around us and above us, and frankly risk my life.

        Outranked is interesting, in light of the advice I just saw from a long time licensed Ham who doesn’t seem to know that it is better to use a 1:1 balun on a dipole so you don’t get transmission loss in your feedline. My grandfather was a “50 year licensed Ham” and only used one radio and one antenna his whole life. There are extremely knowledgeable and helpful people in the Ham community, and they all know that radio science is still in its infancy after all of these years, and you can learn something every day that you didn’t know. I am not writing these article for licensed Hams. I am writing them for people who are terrified, and being led astray by the people trying to sell them Boefeng UV-5R radios and freeze dried survival food.

        • Rob March 14, 2016, 8:46 pm

          Thank you for actually posting my comment and I appreciate your thoughts but if you are able to do it try to stay away from calling licensed and very experienced hams names. I don’t care what you call me be because I can take it but other people in your customer base may not think the same way. Ham radio is a complex subject matter and not all of the hams are going to be familiar with all of the factual details but many hams have been doing it for a long time and being called a name by a non licensed person is often times not being taken very well. When you yourself need any kind of help other hams may not be there to help you because of that reason. So that would be something to consider for you even though you may have more “book knowledge” than any of us. Try not to alienate yourself.

  • Bruce March 14, 2016, 12:11 pm

    Sure… follow this idiot’s advice. IF and when there is a draft, those WITHOUT SPECIAL SKILLS, SUCH AS COMMUNICATIONS EXPERIENCE, will be with a rifle in the trenches instead of a nice, warm comm center.

    And yes… I’ve been a ham for 50 years and can’t IMAGINE advice from idiots becoming the norm for amateur radio operators.

    • Paul Helinski March 14, 2016, 12:15 pm

      Well I’m pretty sure that the intake form will ask if you have special skills lol. Once you are drafted, and you actually go (don’t go fight a banker war if you are smart), of course you would tell them that you are better off in the comm center.

      And I’m the idiot lol.

  • Rob March 14, 2016, 10:50 am

    Great article. may I ad that if you do have a HAM license and yo don’t want to be found when the situation arises, don’t keep your equipment at your own house, use a call sign of a dead HAM operator when transmitting (this is not legal, of course but you don’t want to get another live HAM in trouble), use very short transmissions, and keep moving your rig around all the time. You can get “Shark Mini” antennas for most of the bands to mount on your car with a magnetic mount (or on a 50 Gallon drum lid etc.). This is all that I will say on the subject.

    • Paul Helinski March 14, 2016, 11:28 am

      In my experience the multi band wanderlead antennas don’t work that well, and they require a 72″ whip to work really at all on the most useful bands. My previous article on the QRP bag radio and end fed dipole are far more effective. One of my first Ham articles was also a radio backpack, in which I linked to several other antenna options.

      Unfortunately it is advice like steal the callsign of a dead Ham that gives creedence to official enforcement of radio laws, because patriots like you have your heads so far up your ass it is hard to believe that you can even breath. Better advice would be to set something up with a friend or family member out of state at a particular time at a relatively inactive part of the band, and see if you can reach each other. As long as you aren’t pushing a ton of wattage the local Hams won’t rat you out unless they see it often. All you need to do is figure out if what you intend to use works.

  • Bob March 14, 2016, 10:43 am

    Looks like you have picked up lots of good info this last year. Much of you article is exactly what I tell new hams. You do a good job of summarizing many aspects of the hobby.
    I find that QTH.COM, EHAM.NET, and QRZ.COM are great sites for used ham gear and where I buy and sell most of my equipment. Many hams will not sell radios on those sites to anyone but other hams so be aware. You can also put out a wanted ad on the sites and see what responses you get. You have to pay an annual fee to get access to some Eham features and join the sites for some others but it is worth it to get better deals than ebay.
    As you said, EHAM.NET reviews are pretty much the go-to site for finding out about radios and other ham gear.
    If you want to find out the features of any ham radio you can just type in the radio name, such as TS-870, for the Kenwood radio and one of the hits will be They have a picture of the item and the specs. Great place to get information on the radio you are thinking about.
    QRZ.COM on their home page has a spot that gives an indication of what the solar situation is. There is a listing of the bands and it will show you what bands are good and which are not. Good “layers” to reflect signals off of makes all the difference in long distance communications. What you will note if you have been following the solar activity is that 20 and 30 meters have been pretty consistently useable while the others have been fair or poor. When you think about what antennas to put up first I would want to know what bands generally give reliable communications. That solar activity display should help with your understanding of ham commutations.
    Their are hundreds of thousands of hams in the U.S. and the number of new hams is growing. I doubt having a license will make you any more attractive to the military than anyone else but having one will give you loads of knowledge and experience on how to make emergency communications work when the chips are down. Now, if you are a serious video game player, you would definitely be of interest to them.
    Keep up the great articles!!

  • Chuck Matson March 14, 2016, 10:22 am

    Good article, thank you.

  • ke6iyc March 14, 2016, 10:15 am

    While I have several issues with this article, I won’t bring them all up. I have been licensed for more than 20 years, and am VERY deep in the ‘prepare’/patriot movement. Yo are correct, strictly speaking, in that you won’t need a license after TEOTWAWKI, but that doesn’t help much if you have never transmitted a message to anyone. An amateur radio (ham) license now gives you a chance to get familiar with your radio of choice (all tube radios will be un-affected by EMP), create a communications plan with your family/friends/group members, and build skill to become an EFFECTIVE communicator. Breaker breaker 19 won’t get you very far. You would not buy a new AR-15, and stuff it under the bed, never to be used until the end of the world, so why would you do that with any other survival tool? Train like you fight, fight like you train.

    • Paul Helinski March 14, 2016, 11:37 am

      Repeating the foolishness that tube radios will not be affected by an EMP has really no point. Have you ever even looked into the science of EMP? Because I have, and posted a very comprehensive article of the existing research. “Tube radios” have only tube finals, and they are loaded with transistors for the preamp stages. Any radio is by nature hardened against EMP because the receiver sits right next to a powerful transmitter, and the transmitter would blow the circuit if the incoming signal wasn’t filtered and rectified before hitting delicate components.

      Nearly 100% of what you will read and hear in the prepper world about EMP is bullshit. If it was easy to turn waves into even usable energy, let alone damaging energy, we would use energy beams to power our cars. We don’t use energy beams for anything in fact, because even with extremely low frequency booming waves at high amplitude, you don’t get much in actual energy. Small devices and small electronics not connected to a large antenna are at no risk of damage from an EMP. Waves need an antenna, plain and simple. I don’t know why people keep repeating foolishness when real tests were done by the Russians and by us and the tests showed that EMP is a theory that did not show any material effects.

      • ke6iyc March 14, 2016, 11:47 am

        When I referred to ‘all tube radios’, I perhaps was not clear, my error.

        I was referring to ‘all tube’ radios (for example, the Collins KWM-2/2A) that have NO semiconductor parts, not the hybrids which, correctly, you refer to.

        I apologize for any mis understanding on that point, but stand by the rest of my post.

        • Paul Helinski March 14, 2016, 11:58 am

          That would be because you are a fool, repeating fool advice without investigation. You obviously have never had a preamp tube go on you in your Marshall lol. The only tubes available for those radios at this point are NOS, in which the N is a lie. There are no new tubes available, because the only tubes made today are in china and russia, specifically made for guitar amps. I’m guessing, just guessing of course, that you’ve never even owned an appliance with tubes, let alone said Collins radio. You can “stand by” whatever fool advice you like, but it is not something you personally did the math on, because the math would have shown it to be false. You are just another armchair fool thinking that this game doesn’t matter. But you’ll see soon I think.

          • ke6iyc March 14, 2016, 3:44 pm

            I will bite my tounge, due soley to the fact you do NOT know what you are talking about.

            Before you insult someone, by calling them a fool, YOU need to learn FACTS with RESEARCH.

            There are plenty of tubes available, and no, they are not only fot guitar amps.

            I will reference you to for validation.

            There is a world wide association of collectors of Collins radios, and they are far from the ‘doorstops’ you refer to.

            There is an entire subset of ‘hams’ that enjoy restoring old radios, and I assure you, these are well respected folks in the radio industry.

            PLEASE, get your facts right, and do not spread fear and discontent.

          • Paul Helinski March 14, 2016, 4:55 pm

            Maybe you should read the websites you google before you post them. Tube factories in China have closed over the last few years and very few tubes are being made anymore. When the boutique tubes were made, they were made in batches, in small numbers under contract, and the performance is all over the place. Even guitar amp tubes have had issues with QC over the years from all of the factories.

            Nobody said that there is not a place for boutique tube Hams. This article was for someone with a $300 budget for a radio, and you still have yet to contribute anything of substance.

          • Steve Warren March 14, 2016, 4:26 pm

            “That would be because you are a fool, repeating fool advice without investigation.”

            Paul, dude, we really need to work on your people skills. First, quit being such a jerk. I mean really, you’re acting like a jerk. Stop it.

          • Paul Helinski March 14, 2016, 4:51 pm

            I think that we are close enough to the end that it is time for a complete lack of civility. When it all burns down, I promise you that there will be a complete lack of civility. Nobody is going to complaining about being sworn at lol.

    • Rob March 15, 2016, 10:08 am

      Quote: “I think that we are close enough to the end that it is time for a complete lack of civility. When it all burns down, I promise you that there will be a complete lack of civility. Nobody is going to complaining about being sworn at lol.”
      Paul, let me just say this; The outcome of a crisis, an emergency, or dangerous situation will greatly depend on our knowledge and skills but also on how we behave and carry ourselves. “A complete lack of civility” as you call it should never be a part of that.

      • Paul Helinski March 15, 2016, 10:47 am

        You obviously have never known anyone who has been in a starvation situation where people are dying. I have. It isn’t going to be pretty, or civil. And there are literally millions of Americans right now who know that a shake up is coming and think that all they need is a gun and they’ll get whatever they want. I talk to people, all kinds of people, and if you are still caught up in the myth of “American exceptionalism” you are sadly mistaken. This column is one of due diligence, because on my examination, we are headed for something the woorld hasn’t seen in centuries. Ultimately your survival depends on the Creator, through whatever preparations you made, or what would appear to be dumb luck.

        • Rob March 15, 2016, 12:25 pm

          Paul, Thank you for your comment. My closest relatives have lived in situations of war, hunger, starvation, disease, and desperation. They became refugees surrounded by corpses due to enemy bombing raids and other acts of war. Some of them are still living with the physical consequences today. I have learned a few things from their first hand experiences and “Infighting” is not one of them.
          I do agree that our survival depends on the Creator and other forces present in the universe.
          Whatever it is that is coming our way, we will deal with it to our ability as it is coming and when it is here. As friends and family we will stick together and do whatever it takes to help each other to make it through and come out alive at the other end.
          If you want to attract people to contribute to this blog you should allow them to speak their mind without risking being attacked immediately with fowl language and insults by you, the moderator. You should know better then to scare off people who may have some very good and valuable knowledge to share.

          • Paul Helinski March 15, 2016, 12:52 pm

            Go try to find a resource, at any price, with a tenth of the knowledge and experience I have shared, for free, that will bring someone from completely ignorant to able to act. In all of my Ham articles there have been very few if any truly useful comments from people who weren’t repeating something in the article. If all you did was listen to the bootlicker Hams, you’d never get a radio until you were licensed. I have deleted dozens of comments to that effect, many on this article. Meanwhile hundreds of thousands of preppers have quietly bought Ham radios and multiband antennas, and they’d never share that information with anyone, because they don’t share any information with anyone. I have intentionally created a hostile environment here, as an example to other bloggers and youtubers, as a feeble attempt to teach the online world to not suffer prozac infused fools lightly. It’s too late. You’ll see soon I think.

          • Rob March 15, 2016, 2:46 pm

            Ok Paul, fair enough and I can understand why you would want to create a hostile environment intentionally.
            A drawback of that would be that “thin skinned” people who may have very good ideas and suggestions to contribute will not want to participate in this blog. Some people you can call names, insult, humiliate, knock over the head 100 times and will still get back up, but not everyone is like that. I have sent you a few comments you did not publish but I am pretty sure by now that you can take what you give as far as hostility goes. It may be too late for some people but especially a person such as yourself and a number of others should not be afraid of what the (near) future holds for us.
            Thank you for sharing your knowledge and information and keep up the good work. We are looking forward to your next article you idiot! (hehe…).

  • Steve Warren March 14, 2016, 9:48 am

    Good article.

    Just remember, it’s not the low power of handhelds that limits their range. It is their low power plus the very low inefficiency (rubber duck) antenna. A high wattage VHF/UHF rig will be able to communicate further but that is because they are usually hooked to high-efficiency antennas put up really high. And the key here is the height above ground of the antenna. Remember, other than a few rare exceptions, VHF/UHF is a line of sight mode. But that is what VHF/UHF is for, local communication. HF is for long range communications.

    Your suggestion of looking at used gear at is an excellent idea. E-HAM also reviews places to send equipment for repairs. If the rig looks good and gets good reviews, take a chance and buy it. You can send it off and have it repaired and tuned up and end up with a really nice rig. This goes for anything from a vintage tube-type rig to a modern solid-state radio. Keep in mind that the more modern gear (last ten or 15 years) has general coverage receive (and transmit with a mod) and can be used for short-wave listening.

    BTW… You don’t need to buy an antenna. A dipole antenna is just two quarter-wave pieces of wire connected to a feedline (coax) in the shape of the letter “T”. One side goes to the shield, the other to the center conductor. The other end connects to your antenna tuner and radio. String it up as high as you can, and you have a functioning antenna.

    Finally, go to your local Ham Radio Club meeting. Even if you don’t get licensed you will get a lot of good ideas and see what the capabilities of amateur radio are. The 4th weekend in June is the nationwide annual Field Day when all Ham Radio Clubs will set up using alternate power (off the grid). It’s a good time to test ideas and equipment. Everyone is welcome and should try to go.

    • Paul Helinski March 14, 2016, 11:21 am

      I disagree about the antenna, and I would put it in the category of “you can just” which I have addressed a number of times here. The internet is full of people who will tell you that “you can just” and they have never done it, only read about it, or “know” it in theory. In practice, the $20-$100 dipoles and $70-$300 multiband folded dipoles, and the $20-$100 end fed dipoles not only have well developed methods of stress relief and weather protection, often they come with baluns that will protect you from line loss. You get what you pay for. As I have linked in previous articles, there are people selling 20-40 meter dipoles on Ebay for little more than the cost of the wire and hardware. You’d be a fool to build it yourself.

      • Steve Warren March 14, 2016, 4:00 pm

        Ahh… Paul… It’s me Steve KS4HE… always bragging about 25 years of experience… Ah yeah, done it, got the log books to prove it. A half wave dipole really is that simple. It’s my favorite antenna. The only drawback might be for 75/80 and 40 meters you need enough room to put it up, the higher the better, but I have put up many for myself and fellow HAMs. They work great.
        The balun is an impedance matching device. But if you use an antenna tuner, it is an impedance matching device and if you use one you can get away without a balun.
        I will admit that this is one of the topics HAMs love to talk and argue about until your eyes glaze over.

        • Paul Helinski March 14, 2016, 4:49 pm

          You are still better off with a 1:1 balun on a dipole to avoid line loss.

  • Kerry Keel March 14, 2016, 9:15 am

    While I will admit that I did not read the whole article, I have to comment on the section about VHF repeaters. The writer of that article seems to be lacking in real knowledge of the scope of repeaters. Repeater output power, -AND- antenna height make a very big difference in the range of a repeater. Although not 100%, the repeater on, I believe it is called, White Mountain, it’s location is in the area where the states of Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina come together, I have used that repeater from the Fort Mill, SC area. That is 125 miles by straight line travel. There is a repeater in Raleigh, NC that is useful from about the I-95 corridor, west to Raleigh, NC. the distance to the west is unknown. Height above ground is extremely important for VHF range. A 5 watt hand held radio, from the top of a 2 or 3 story building will reach the radio horizon, which is about 15 miles away.
    As for HF, the antenna makes the difference. A properly tuned antenna with an impedance (this is based of the reactance of capacitance and inductance) of 50 ohms is going to perform better than an antenna that is not properly tuned. A bad antenna makes the best radio look bad. The worst radio with a good antenna, the radio will look better, with a better antenna. It is best to have the best knowledge possible to make the best use of any radio.

    • Paul Helinski March 14, 2016, 9:26 am

      Anyone can do the simple math of repeaters Kerry. A 5 watt handheld can reach the international space station. You get lost in making an obvious point when we are talking about reaching family members several states away. For most people a handheld is useless and a false sense of security.

  • Howard O'Chocke March 14, 2016, 9:07 am

    Just so you know, transmitting on ham radio frequencies without a license is a federal offense. Nothing illegal about listening, but no transmitting. It is easy and cheap to obtain a license. Most ham radio clubs offer free licensing classes and exams. I hope to hear you on the air!

    • Paul Helinski March 14, 2016, 9:29 am

      It is funny when people comment without reading the article. Is a well intentioned fool still a fool?

      • DAVID March 14, 2016, 12:42 pm

        Maybe the article was read and he just wanted to re-enforce what you were saying. That is very valid point to make. you can listen all you want just don’t talk. That little phrase may be enough to get other people involved. I don’t get why you attack commenters. We are why you are here. Less attacking the readers and maybe just respond with your facts as presented in your article.

        • Paul Helinski March 14, 2016, 12:55 pm

          No, you are not why I am here, or why I do this. I do this for the over 6,000 people who have read this article this morning and taken the free and incredibly useful information to heart, and to action I hope. I beat up the morons rather than delete them in hopes of waking people up to their own foolishness, so that maybe they will go buy some Walmart flour instead of Wise storage food. It’s hopeless for most of them, but they’ll die remembering that someone took the time to try to put them on a valid perspective.

        • Col_Temp March 14, 2016, 4:21 pm

          Have to whole heartedly agree with you David.
          I’m about to just ignore anything Paul writes as its obvious he has no interest in discussion.
          It the I have the facts and don’t know one dare to tell me otherwise. I hope to be along way away from people like him if things really do go bad. While he may have some good info and actually know a thing or two, no thanks to the attitude.

          wonder if anyone from Gunsamerica is actually monitoring what he is up to? Most other places he would be reprimanded or fired for the kind of posts he’s made on just this one article.

          • Paul Helinski March 14, 2016, 5:07 pm

            Oh I’ll ask the owner if it’s ok. Oh shit, I am the owner. I forgot.

            I would just about ignore everything I say and go about your business. I’m full of shit anyway, just shilling for Ebay and people selling used radios. Oh better, maybe I bought up all these radios, just to “pump and dump” them right? Walmart is paying me big bucks to get people to buy flour there. And don’t forget Amazon. I link to products there all the time too.

            It would be smart to be a long way from me. This column is disposing of my responsibility to mankind.

    • Bob March 14, 2016, 12:06 pm

      It’s not a long article, after all. Is it too hard to give the author and fellow visitors the courtesy of reading it?

  • Patrick March 14, 2016, 8:47 am

    Excellent article. Just what I was looking for yesterday. Communications will be key to finding out what is going on when you are skulking in the forest or wherever. Where are the bad guys? Where are the FEMA MRE’s being handed out, where is a medical facility that is open………etc .etc.etc.

    • Paul Helinski March 14, 2016, 9:01 am

      The FEMA MRE’s are all in bunkers in the ozarks lol. The truck ain’t coming. Please see my survival food by the numbers article, or you are just going to die in the woods.

      • Steve Warren March 14, 2016, 4:08 pm

        The FEMA MRE’s are right over there, through that gate. Yeah, that one, the one with the sign over it that says “Work will set you free”.

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