A Mash-Up of Radio Communications Info
Are communications a part of your SHTF plan? Not every prepper considers how heavily our society relies on digital technology to obtain news and to keep in touch with loved ones. Losing touch with the goings-on of the world is a situation that any preparedness-minded individual never wants to be in. Having good communication equipment, such as a HAM radio, and knowing how to use it can put the fears of being in the dark about recent news and the whereabouts of family members to rest and keep you in the loop.
Learn how to communicate after chaos has hit and the Internet (possibly the entire power grid) is down and you want to know what’s going on. The main modes of communication we are choosing to focus on are freeband and HAM radios. These two options are electronic, but they can run on minimal energy input, whether in the form of solar power or battery power.
Here are some key terms used in this article:
CW: Constant Wave Mode. This is the radio mode that is used to send Morse code.
RTTY: RTTY (radioteletype) is a way of sending text files via the radio to others. To do this, create a text document using any word processor, then save the file in .txt format.
SSTV: SSTV (Slow Scan TV) is a bit of a misnomer. It’s more like sending and receiving a fax. You would send a .jpg or .bmp file.
Using a freeband radio for transmissions
Now we’re going to talk about how to transform a Freeband radio (which can be a 10 meter converted rig or an HF Ham radio) into a simple modem through which you can send text messages or images. These are some of the things you’re going to need to get started experimenting with radio facsimiles and packet radio transmissions:
- A Ham Radio, or any radio transceiver (listening and talking), with CW (Constant Wave) mode. If you just want to receive (listen, not talk) any Short Wave receiver that can tune to the frequencies you ll need is good enough.
- A cable to connect the radio to the computer (via the audio output) to the radio’s CW input for sending RTTY messages. For receiving RTTY messages, the cable goes from the mic/audio input to the radio’s CW output. Most often this is 1/8th inch stereo plug, like those found on headphones and earbuds.
- HamFax software, available here for free. There are many other programs that can do RTTY or Slow Scan TV but we have found the HamFax software to be easy to use and works with Windows, Linux and Apple.
- The program GMFSK, available here. With this software you will be able to make .txt documents into packets that you can send to anyone listening.
- Either a photo or text file to send or receive.
- A network of others equally equipped at various long distances with whom to experiment.
After you’ve installed HamFax, you can run the application, choose a photo that you want to send, and in the tool-bar, you will click transmit, transmit to file. Hamfax will have a set of questions for you to answer to set up the transmission to best fit the hardware.
Now, let’s get into packet radio. Packet radio uses the CW mode and is faster, more practical, and more intelligible than other modes. Like the old HAMs say, when nothing else can get out, CW will get through. This process uses a faster audio transmission and translates text. The packet is a text file of your choosing.
To test your receiving capabilities, most Slow Scan TV pictures can be found on the 20 meter band, beginning around 14 Mhz. Just scan up the bands until you hear the sound of fax machines on the air waves and you’re there. With either software booted and the radio’s audio output (also known as external speaker jack) connected to your computer’s microphone input, you can begin receiving faxes/photos or text files. All this can be done with 12 volts of DC solar power!
This simple option is the first thing we need to consider when we look at rebuilding electronic communications after the SHTF. Imagine a valuable tool like the Internet, available to anyone who can pick up and translate a radio transmission. Imagine if that independent link to the rest of the world could be a fountain for knowledge.
This may only be simple communications technology just the basics. The important fact is that the information to be published through that bandwidth will be free and uncensored. This will remind us and motivate us to keep working together to improve this technology as we keep it free.
We own a used Grundig Yacht Boy 400 World Receiver and recommend it highly. These were made in the 1990s, but are still state-of-the-art . The CCI radio company sells a clone of this model today. Good used Grundigs can be found on Ebay in the $50 to $100 range. The YB400 has some great features:
- AM/FM and Shortwave bands
- SSB receiver
- Tuning Scan
- 40 Channel Memory
- Sleep Timer
- Two Time Zones
We consider it the best AM portable receiver made. At night we can listen Coast to Coast A.M. on stations from Los Angeles, San Antonio, Omaha, Denver, and even Detroit and Chicago at times, all sounding clear from here in New Mexico.
Our Yacht Boy 400 receives from 55 Kilohertz through 30 Megahertz, covering the entire HF (high frequency) band. In a time of crisis, shortwave may be the only radio signal out there. It may come in real handy when we can’t depend on the Internet to know what is going on.
WWV is the international time standard hack that can be found on the following shortwave frequencies:
WWV continuously transmits official U.S. Government frequency and time signals on 2.5, 5, 10, 15 and 20 MHz.
This radio station also allows you to check space weather as well as satellite environment (interference). We can use these frequencies to gauge the effect of solar activities on our radio communications. WWV has a very strong signal. For most, it will be received as a strong S 8 to 10 signal strength, but in the event of adverse solar activities, even these stations can become covered up with static and noise. So if you are trying to receive a certain station and are having difficulties, check WWV to see if their signal is coming though clearly, or if it is covered up with static.
Family Radio Service (FRS) and Business Radio Service (BRS) are the frequencies for the common walkie-talkies you see. They often say that they have an 8 mile range. However, most of these radios have a hard time transmitting further than 2 miles. Not everyone lives in a laboratory environment. The 8 mile range estimates take into account line of sight factors only. If you can see the other party that you are trying to communicate with, you can talk to them. We don’t live in a flat world without a horizon and without trees, buildings, mountains, etc. Because of this, these radios are overrated and can only be used for close-up communications (typically less than 3 miles at best). They certainly can be useful if your community uses them in a small area (40 acres or less).
The Business Radio Service does include base radios, which have more power than family radios. You can add an external antenna on a mast high above the ground to stretch their range up to 10 miles.
A pocket scanner, such as the I-Com IC-R5, is a handy radio to own. The I-Com IC-R5 is available in US models and overseas models. The FCC gave the I-COM company a license to sell this receiver in the U.S. only if certain frequencies were blocked out. With this in mind, the best place to buy one is on Ebay. There are sellers on Ebay from other countries such as Japan who sell unblocked IC-R5’s and IC-R7’s. These ebay listings will be explicit. It will say it is a Japanese model and does not have any blocked frequencies. The IC-R5 can scan from 30 kilocycles to 1400 megahertz (1.4 Gigahertz). Within these frequencies are a few things you may find interesting to listen to. Here are some of the stations you can listen to that are on hard to find frequencies:
FBI Tactical 167.400 fm
FEMA 138.400 fm
FEMA 138.5750 fm
FEMA 139.9500 fm
FEMA 155.340 fm
Army Civil Disturbances 34.9000 ssb
FEMA 130.0500 fm
FEMA 139.1000 fm
FEMA 138.2250 fm
FEMA 139.4500 fm
FEMA 140.0250 fm
Fed. Disater Network 170.2000 fm
Border Patrol 163.6750 fm
Border Patrol 163.7250 fm
Border Patrol 163.7750 fm
BP 164.1150 fm
BP 165.8500 fm
BP 165.9250 fm
Natl. Emerg. Weather Svc (news) 173.1875 fm
News 167.9750 fm
News 169.8750 fm
News 167.9250 fm
Fed. Disaster Net 170.2000 fm
FEMA 5.210 ssb
FEMA 10.493750 ssb
FEMA 4.7250 ssb
FEMA 139.350 fm
FEMA 143.0250 fm
FEMA 143.2500 fm
FEMA 167.9750 fm
BLM 169.6500 fm
Forest Svc. 170.5250 fm
Omaha SAC 11.17500 ssb
NORAD 13.2000 ssb
NORAD 15.0150 ssb
Omaha SAC 4.7250 ssb
NORAD 6.7400 ssb
Air Force Bomber EAM 4.743750 ssb
EAMS 6.71250 ssb
EAMS 6.7400 ssb
EAMS 8.993750 ssb
EAMS 11.1750 ssb
EAMS 13.2000 ssb
EAMS 15.0150 ssb
NORAD 228.6000 fm
NORAD 228.9000 fm
FEMA 5.2100 ssb
FEMA 16.9500 ssb
Fed. Emerg. Task Force 165.23750 fm
Task Force 169.4500 fm
FBI Tactical 167.21250 fm
Want to find frequencies near you? Check out this website.
Emergency Action Messages (EAM) are the encoded radio traffic between NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) and SAC (Strategic Air Command) with the nuclear bomber fleet, like in the movie, “Fail Safe.”
With Fusion Centers operating, the radio traffic is mostly digitized and scrambled. You may notice that when they are working together, the scanner’s frequencies will all seem to light up at the same time. In this event, you will notice your local sheriff/state police/ local cops/ FEMA/DHS/Border Patrol/FBI, etc., all going encrypted and all talking at once.
Creating a radio Round Robin
With the right equipment, a group of people can create a a radio Round Robin. This is when a group of people has a specific place on the radio to meet on a regular basis. For example, let’s say there are 6 people in your round robin and you all decide to meet on Saturday mornings on CB channel 40, 27.405 Mhtz, LSB, lower side band (or CW for RTTY), and exchange news with each other. In an emergency, perhaps if phone lines and/or the internet is down, this will be a way to communicate with your loved ones. It will also be a way to transmit and receive information about emergency conditions in each person’s part of town or the country.