Are you interested in adding HAM radio to your communication preparations, but have an apprehensive attitude towards it due to cost, time investment or knowledge? If so, this article is an easy way to get started into HAM radio for under $60.00 and about 3 hours of study time.
For those who are not aware, HAM radios are devices used for two way communication via radio frequencies. Depending on your setup, you can talk to other people from a couple miles away to all the way across the globe!
From a preparedness standpoint, communication is key and having backup communication methods is imperative. As you network with individuals, you should think about setting up HAM radio operations with them (or at least some suitable type of A to B communications – CB, FRS, GMRS, etc.).
I know from personal experience that preppers are somewhat intimidated when it comes to investigating HAM radio due to two factors:
1. Potentially High Cost
2. Complex system setup
Let me help demystify HAM radio for you so that it may encourage you to pursue it as part of your preparations and network with the group. This summary will not be an in depth description of HAM radio. It is just enough to not be intimated and get your feet wet.
– You can purchase a hand held HAM radio for about $40, upgraded antenna for another $10, and the cost of taking the technician class license is FREE (or $15 at some volunteer locations). That means you can get into HAM for under $50-60 and it will serve most of your local communication needs! There are a variety of factors that can affect your transmission and receiving distance, but handheld HAM radios can allow you to communicate across 50-100+ miles through the use of repeaters. Repeaters are essentially tall towers placed on the tops of hills or mountains that “repeat” the signal from you hand held device. FRS, GMRS and CB radios cannot use repeaters which severely limits their range to line of site.
HAM (or FRS, GMRS) hand held to hand held radio transmission is more limited as you’re only holding the radio at about 5 feet off the ground. The curvature of the earth then starts to impede your signal. You can figure that these radios will transmit <4 miles across a flat plane when you talk about line of site communication (more if you are going from one high elevation to another as shown in the picture). The Baofeng UV5R+ is a hand held that has very positive reviews. I’ve purchased it myself and have found almost all amateur radio operators have/had owned one and love them for the price and functionality. You cannot go wrong purchasing this radio as a beginner.
Now that we’ve laid the cost fear to rest, let’s talk about complexity. With a hand held device, it is incredibly simple in terms of equipment set up. With this particular radio, you can program it manually via the keypad, or buy a Baofeng USB Cable for $8 and use FREE CHIRP software to program it on your PC. Do yourself a favor and download the FULL translated Chinese manual of the Baofeng UV5r+ as it is 10X better than the US one that comes with purchase. The only thing that will require some training and practice is studying for the technician license and programming your radio. Study material for the license is widely available. Here are two free sites with a study guide and flash cards with all the study questions and answers…how much easier could it be to study for a test?!
After you have studied and are ready for the 30 some question test, you can find a testing center and date here:
Once you are licensed, there are lots of people and internet material available for programming your radio. I encourage you to find a local HAM radio club and join them. Joining a club is usually around the ball park of $15-25 per year and is essential for networking and expanding your knowledge. You’ll also find that most if not all HAM radio operators have a preparedness mindset as well. You’ll fit in just fine!
As your learn more about HAM, you’ll find out that you can use A to B communication (no middle man telephone services) to talk across the US or the world. There is much more time investment, learning, and money that is needed for this topic, so until next time…
See you on the air waves!