OPTIONS FOR POST-Y2K 2-WAY RADIO COMMgreenspun.com : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) Preparation Forum : One Thread
POST-Y2K 2-WAY RADIO COMM --- THE OPTIONS
There have been multiple threads devoted to various aspects of radio communications, as an alternate to phones, cellfones, and the Internet.
Notice I did not include commercial broadcasting, whether domestic radio, shortwave radio, or TV. Do not consider those venues as part of your communications options. For if you do, you are obviously looking at a different Y2K than what we're planning for. If conventional broadcasting is up and running (either here or overseas) it means the power grid is still up, and Telco is still up, and the Internet is still up. In that scenario why in Heaven's name would you want to fool with all this expensive, complicated, relatively unreliable, and most of all arcane -- alternate radio technology? Instead of wasting your time reading this thread (and further time, focus, and considerable $$$), better you should plan on 'a three-day storm,' make reservations for say the 2nd week in January for that ski trip to the Rockies or the cruise to the Caribbean you had in mind before this y2k fuss came up on your radar screen. If you can keep uppermost in your mind what we kooks met at every turn back in 1997, that "Y2K is a big JOKE!" --- than it will be easy to finish off your preparations without getting your shorts in a bind: flashlight batteries, a couple cases of soda pop, plenty of Taco chips, and don't forget to make up 3 days of casseroles ahead of time (You can keep them cold just by leaving them in an unheated room -- which should be ANY room.)
However, if you've swerved off the Center of the Bell Curve and find yourself in the Eccentrics' Camp read on. What we (I'm starting the thread, but others will follow with supporting 'hints and kinks.') will do is provide LEVELS OF OPTIONS for designing your radio comm setup. We need levels because we are 'all in the same ocean' but 'paddling different boats.' Our situations are unique, so this thread has to deal with a diversity of: predictions of how bad Y2K will be, financial reserves, technical knowhow, availability of alternate energy sources, what geographic distance you want to cover, how reliable you want your comm link to be, related to that -- whether you need voice comm or can settle for Morse code interchange, and especially at this late date how tight you are on time.
Now regards this last factor I want to report a little known event (I was one of the very few outsiders tipped off to the details.) Back in the Spring of this year Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, and John Koskinen considered crafting a Presidential Executive Order changing the New Year's date. They had in mind shifting it to 2003 or 2004. However, unnoticed by the three a guy cloaked in black, with a scythe over his shoulder, slipped into the room quietly, said nothing -- and just stood there near the door while they were heavy into conferencing. Finally when they had put the finishing touches on the document they turned to the big clock on the wall behind them -- and noticed the visitor standing underneath. It is to their eternal credit that instead of arguing with the man in black they turned back to each other, nodded, tore up the paperwork, and filed out the door in silence. Incidentally, later that morning Kosky met with the press and gave another one of his reassuring statements that all was well with Y2K preps.
(There was one kinky little rumor about this meeting that might deserve mention. I've heard it from one of my DC spies, that one of the three at the meeting suggested changing the West over to the Jewish calendar, which has no millennial rollover coming up shortly. The option was quickly tabled however when Billy Jeff reminded them that Hillary was planning her New York Senator gambit --- and he was concerned the plan might run into opposition from the local Rabbinical Council -- they're naturally touchy about possibly triggering a response from those voters [Hey every one counts when it comes to Election Day.] who focus on such political realities as "The International Zionist Bankers & Munitions Manufacturers' Plans To Take Over The World.")
(Hey, you P.C. lurkers who are ready to pounce on me for 'bringing up religion' or worse, for being 'anti-semitic' --- back off: I'm not only Christian, but I'm also born Jewish, you jerks.)
Anyway, enough of this seriousness, and back to some real humor: the likelihood of ANY of us preparing extensively enough to GUARANTEE coming through hale and hearty on the other side of what Y2K may have in the offing for us.
THE CRITERIA FOR DETERMINING THE OPTIONS
Here are the factors I see determining how deep you go into putting together 2-way radio gear for what the new millennium may bring. The order in which I spell these out does not necessarily represent YOUR priorities -- it will depend on your circumstances.
1. How bad you think Y2K will turn out to be. That could be anywhere from a 1 (Break out the champagne, watch the ball fall in Times Square.) to a 10 (Pour a glass of water from your hand-driven pitcher pump, watch the water pressure fall in your city-supplied domestic water system.) The more likely your belief that we'll lose the infrastructure, the more likely you will be planning on a substitute for Ma Bell.
Closely related to this criterion, really a sub-heading of it is: how long you think 'the bad' will last. If the bad includes the entire infrastructure going down -- power, fones, water, sewage, oil, gov't, the whole shebang -- but it only does so for a day, a few days, a week, maybe two at the most -- but then comes back in fairly good shape -------- why bother with this whole, complex, expensive, time-consuming search for alternate 2-way comm? Consider it a story to tell your grandchildren and move back into life as we've known it in the 2nd half of the 20th Century in the Land of the Free, Home of the Brave.
2. How much money you have to spend on radio gear. On one extreme a couple of CB units picked up at the local flea market will set you back $10 to 20. (You can spend more, specifically for a good outside antenna, for your signal to reach out further. We'll go into that later.) On the other extreme you can spend $800 for a 100watt HF ham rig, with a good outside antenna and attendant accessories. In between the two extremes there are other options such as FRS (Family Radio System), 2-meter ham radio rigs, and 'jacked up' and out-of-band ('freeband') CB rigs.
3. The availability of alternate energy sources. You may be fortunate in having readily available a year-round, healthy-sized source of flowing water, like a mountain stream or a small waterfall. This will allow you to put in a very efficient, long-lasting, low-maintenance, relatively troublefree 'low head' (low flow) hydroelectric system. Or you may live in northwest Wyoming (as I did until last summer) where the wind blows day and night, so you can put up a wind genny (generator.) The same if you live on the top of Mt. Washington, NH, or on one of the ocean fronts. On the other hand, you may be like the rest of the 99.9999% of us who don't. In which case your least complicated option will be solar electric (photovoltaic.)
4. What geographic distance you want to cover. You may live on the Right Coast and want to talk on a regular basis to your mother-in-law on the Left Coast, in which case you'll need two things: a) an IMMEDIATE visit to a psychiatrist, and b) an HF ham rig. On the other extreme, you may have made enemies with everyone you've ever met all your life, in which case a children's Walkie Talkie (a very low-end, 100milliwatt CB rig) will do, one that will only let you talk to the people on the next block (who've not generated enmity towards you, as they've not yet met you.)
5. How reliable you need your comm link to be. You may need a direct, 100% reliable link to a grown son or daughter (and their young children,) who need your ongoing advice re any number of survival strategies -- because they were too involved in their power yacht activities, vacations to various parts of our fair nation or the world, or climbing the corporate ladder, or whatever --- to have taken seriously the noises they heard about Y2K (or as my 42 year-old teenager living in North Hollywood said when he first heard about me digging into Y2K issues in Jan '97, "Oh well, now Dad has something NEW to go crazy about.") If that is your situation the only rig that will fill the bill is a 100 watt HF ('high frequency') rig, covering the 80 meter band through the 10 meter band, with a high efficiency outdoor antenna.
Or you may be the gambling type, who enjoys the excitement of never knowing whether your signal 'will get through' or not. You may look at life as kind of a cosmic Bingo game. So if you don't make the connection you had scheduled with someone, it's no biggie. You are the laid back type -- there are a LOT of those kind of people down here in the South. (I get along real well with them -- they are a great antidote to my jumpy, jerky, Yankee personality. My new wife really is a big help that way -- calms me down when I get to climbing the wall.) If you're that kind you can just go back to shoveling some more compost, working your garden the way you had planned on doing when the sun woke you up earlier. The equipment to satisfy these needs, for any given distance, generally speaking is cheaper, simpler, and less power-hungry than the full-bore version. (You would then be more at the mercy of the changes in 'propagation' that affect the range of radio contacts: time of day, day of the month, month of the season, season of the year, where in the 11-year sunspot cycle we are, and the presence or absence of 'geomagnetic storms' which can wreak havoc with radio comm.)
6. Whether you need voice comm or instead could settle for Morse code interchange. The upside of Morse code is that it will always get through any kind of propagation conditions better than voice. Not only that it will get through with less power output. The downside is that 'learning the code' takes some time and dedication. Another downside is that it is exasperatingly slow (even if you are an old hand at it.) Finally, you lose a LOT of the information that gets across with voice: the inflection, pace, emphasis, double entendre, the whole bit -- so in evidence as we see miscommunication between various posters on our TB2000 threads. If, after surveying the pros and cons of Morse code, you would like to go for it, there are quite a few low-power, non-complex rigs, assembled or in kit form, that will get your signal out with a minimum of expense.
7. What your level of technical 'knowhow' is. This is a big one. One of the major advantages of the non-ham radio route is that you don't need a license to operate. Next up in knowhow level is a Technician ham ticket that will get you on 2 meters. All it is is a theory exam -- not at all overwhelming if you put in several weeks with a good manual (Gordon West's #GWTM: $12.95, from The W5YI Group, 800-669-9594.) The next level is the Technician Plus level, that adds 10 meter privileges. To pass you will use the same manual, that covers the second set of theory questions. You will also need #WMC: W5YI Morse Code Software, $12.95. (Another very good Morse Code software program is Morse Tutor Gold, $30 --Ham Radio Outlet, 800-444-4799 [Mid-Atlantic store -- you may be referred to another regional store].)
The next level up is the ham General license. At this late date, if you haven't started studying for it, forget it. (If you have started and want a good route to go, ck the "CQ Y2K ... QRZ?" thread I started. I've given some good pointers there in the way of study hints. If you get this license you are entitled to use a 100watt HF ham rig on all the bands of value in post-y2k: 80 meters through 10 meters, in addition to the 2 meter privileges you already have.) As I mentioned above time has now become an overriding factor. So on with the final option criterion.
8. How much time you have left to get your rig up and running, and get enough practice to feel comfortable with it. This was not a major factor 2 years ago, but more so last year. Finally here in September 1999, there is precious little time for preps. Everybody feels rushed and pressed (except our Polly friends, who would like nothing better than if you would continue using up your valuable time answering their provocations on the various Main Forum threads.) In many cases, it will be the determining factor in deciding which level of radio comm to go with. Only you can be the judge of that decision.
BASIC DESIGN PRINCIPLES, NO MATTER WHAT KIND OF RIG YOU CHOOSE
1. Powering your rig is a keystone consideration. Assume you will have to resort to photovoltaic (solar electric panels.) If you rig needs low power, e.g., conventional CBs, FRS, and GMRS, and 2-meter ham xcvrs (transceivers, i.e., combination transmitter/receiver rigs), say up to the 5-watt range, then $50-60 should cover the costs of your 1 1/4-watt (100 mA) PV panel (and you probably already have the nicad batteries to be charged by them; otherwise add $35.)
If your rig needs to put out 20 watts or so, $350 should do the trick. That includes a 5-watt PV panel plus charge controller, plus 60 AH sealed gel cells.
If you plan on 100 watts out then you'll have to put out about $900. This includes a 22-watt PV panel, a charge controller, and a sealed gel-cell battery pack that can put out 260 AH.
1a. Further considerations re power source. Eventually your batteries are going to give out -- that means the end of your 2-way radio communication -- anywhere from 3-5 years for gel cells (altho if you baby them by specifying the charge controller described below supposedly you can get a lot more mileage out of them,) to 20-50 years if you buy hunker industrial lead-acid or wet-cell Nicads. I've got the Nicads but most people should opt for gel cells -- they're easier to maintain and you're less likely to make a mistake in charging/discharging. Such a mistake will permanently damage your batteries. The caveat with gel cells is that you have to carefully choose your charge controller. The way to go is with a Sun Selector (www.sunselector.com/). You need to call the factory, 1-304-485-6303, Tech Questions line, 9-5PM, EST, and tell them what wattage output your panel is (better would be to tell them what the panel's "maximum current output under load" is) and that you will be using gel cells. These require different voltage settings than ordinary 'wet' lead-acid cells. They will then custom build your charge controller.
So what happens if the grid is still down when your batteries go south? Lifestyle-1880's here we come.
2. You want to use the least amount of power to get your signal to the other party. That means you need a very efficient antenna. That means an outdoor antenna. Get a vertical antenna, mounted on the roof for your FRS, GMRS, or 2m ham rigs. An alternate would be a Yagi-beam. I don't know much more about these jobbies, so someone more knowledgeable please report in!
For your CB rigs once again you'll be recommended to buy a large vertical (pay about $100) mounted on a mast (which is preferably on your roof.) But a 'wire' antenna (a 'dipole') will work fine, and be a lot cheaper. Again there are (expensive) Yagi-beams, but I can't advise you on the nitty gritties. Forrest or other CB gurus should be able to help out here.
For your HF ham rig if you talk to 99.9999% of your ham buddies they'll tell you'll get out best with a multi-element beam on a rotor for 20 meters, and a half-wave dipole for 40 and 80 meters, all of them mounted as high as possible. However, being the eccentric I am, I latched on to advice by Jocelyne/Jon Slough, Thomas Miller, and lots of reading -- and came up with the NVIS antenna. Read about it in the "CQ Y2K--QRZ?" thread. It's cheaper, better, safer, easier to install (should not be more than 10 feet off the ground!)
BTW, no matter what kind of "wire" antenna you choose make sure it's insulated copper-clad steel. I recommend getting it from The Wireman, Landrum, SC, 800-727-9473. Specify their #531, Toughcoat-"Silky." In addition your feedline should NOT be coax -- use ladderline instead. Specify #553. Read all about why ladderline is better (plus all kinds of excellent 'hints and kinks' in their 'Wirebook III" -- $3.00.)
SOME MORE INFO
1. The most convenient place to buy some of your comm gear and accessories is at a local Radio Shack. Just beware of the salesmen's advice --- usually they're grossly ignorant and unintentionally misleading. Unless you can find a NON-franchise store, IOW, one that is a general electronics store and does R-S on the side. We have one here in Cullman, AL, which gives out good info generally. Much better is to stick with The Wireman, or other specialists in 2-way comm supplies. If you can find a CB shack in your area they can help out quite a bit (Here in the South, there still are some of these outlets -- they take care of all the truckers and of course some of my favorite people [and those likely to best survive y2k's onslaught] -- the rednecks.)
2. I don't think there'll be many hams on the air, especially those who'll be able to put out 100watts on 80, 40, and 20 meters even if the power grid goes down. Just a few of us. We'll need to coordinate with the other services that will be more common: low-power ham radio, ham radio in the 10meter, 6meter, and 2meter bands, and maybe some of the CB'ers. If we're lucky the distribution of the 100watt stations will be dispersed enough around the continent (and overseas?) that they can be used to relay some messages. But fair warning here: I believe all of us will be up to our eyeballs in survival activity to the point where we won't have much spare time. So try to get as far-ranging a system as you can afford, $$$-wise, 'knowhow'-wise, and timewise.
3. We've got the other thread for 80 to 10 meter ham radio ("CQ Y2K QRZ?") -- I think we shouldn't use this thread for posts that belong there. Rather this thread should focus on FRS, GMRS, 2 meter ham work (NOT repeater work, but SIMPLEX work --- repeaters largely depend on the power grid, and those that depend on alternate power are often down for maintenance -- if the grid is down the repeaters will be down,) and CB.
We need to hear from people who are EXPERIENCED --- in FRS, GMRS, 2 meters simplex, and CB (both AM and SSB.)
4. I will cut/paste here a post from the "CQ Y2K...QRZ?" thread, by Forrest Covington, which really belongs here. It covers CB from an interesting point of view, in addition to contributing much wisdom and common sense to this whole subject of alternate comm.
"Point 1: Most people will have CB's if they are lucky. Others will have FRS walkies and a few GMRS radios. Ham rigs will be rare, relatively, and reliable means of powering them (Solar) more so still.
Point 2: There aren't enough codeheads to take over too much serious traffic. Can you sit in front of a radio all day? Who supports you? If it breaks out badly you will have to spend a lot of time dealing with your own and family's survival scene.
Point 3: Ham rigs are pretty high-tech these days, yet lightning and other mishaps fry them easier than the old tube jobs. Spare parts?
CB will be the mainstay simply because there are so many of them. Hams and CB'ers get along like the guy in the mansion with the butler and the bubba in the trailer park. Yet post y2k commerce could mean talking to the bubbas who have the farms and the deer jerky. And CB is how they will get messages to you. Channel 9 could become more like 911. There is a CB emergency service called REACT, but it is very small.
There are a lot of old busted CB's to scavenge parts from. Also they can be had cheaply, a little Maxon four watt mobile was 34.99 at Wally World last time I looked. Great Christmas stocking stuffers. Also yard sales. No need to liscence or train an operator, just get your brother in law on it and he can talk while you organic farm or fight off looters or what have you. There are lots of CB handhelds out there as well.
With 12 watts sideband you can actually go places, I have talked to Hawaii on skip on a Uniden Grant mobile, and at least 2o miles locally during the day.
Two wires 102 inches long become your antenna, the biggest problem will be finding enough 50 ohm coax.
CB isn't glamorous, but that is the reality of what's out there and will be pressed into service if we get widespread telcom failures. Some twiddling with a terminal node controller and you can packet on it (I DON"T DO THIS but I hear it out there.)
CB is abysmally underpowered, and 40 channels is ridiculous. With a little tweaking....
There is almost nothing between 25.155 and 26.905. There are foreign CB operators between 27.405 and 27.985 (Europeans have many more channels) Skip is very reliable in some of these frequencies, especially with beam antennas and a little juice.
Ther are thirteen gazillion Mexicans and rednecks out there with Galaxy and other export radios. We've all heard them. These modified and technically illegal rigs are everywhere (not illegal to posess or to listen, just to transmit) However I have not heard much about FCC enforcement actions unless the offender was running truly outrageous power or being a butthead in some way. I think they have pretty much given up on 11 meters, kind of like the way society has abandoned ghetto areas. This makes these bands annoying and obnoxious, but fraught with possibility.
(Disclaimer: The above post does not advocate violating FCC rules nor does it imply that the author has done so or intends to do so. Discussion purposes only.)
(call sign redacted)
-- Forrest Covington (firstname.lastname@example.org), September 08, 1999.
5. Your comments, advice, and questions are welcome. PLEASE DON'T DO YOUR COMMUNICATING BY EMAIL ---- DO IT HERE --- IF YOU'VE GOT A GOOD MESSAGE BROADCAST IT!
-- William J. Schenker, MD (email@example.com), September 13, 1999
I will stick to my mundane Baygen wind up am-fm-shortwave radio. It has more than paid for itself from the valuable information I have gotten on the short wave bands. I don't expect all electric grids to either go out at the same time or stay out at the same time all over the world. Give me a break!
-- FOX (Ardrinc@aol.com), September 13, 1999.
Bargain 5-watt PV panels
Ordinarily they price at $70 to $100. Just received a flyer from "Electronic Goldmine," 800-445-0697, $19.95 each, limit 4 per order. You can use one to power a 20-watt output rig (or use 4 in parallel to drive your 100-watt ham rig.) I've dealt with E.G. for years -- very reliable.
-- William J. Schenker, MD (firstname.lastname@example.org), September 13, 1999.
I must agree with FOX that not all commercial broadcasting will go off the air. Many of the commercial facilities have generators. These should stay up for a couple of weeks. However, some sort of censorship might be imposed on the news. Ham radio offers a possibility of finding out what is happening elsewhere. CB radio offers a low-cost short range communications capability with no test requirements.
-- Mad Monk (email@example.com), September 13, 1999.
An Antron CB base station antenna can be found on the Net for around forty dollars plus shipping. I don't want to advertise vendors so do a search for Solarcon+Antron+99 and go for the best price/closest shipper.
Instructions for making homebrew antennae can be found at
Calculating the length of a dipole
-- Forrest Covington (firstname.lastname@example.org), September 14, 1999.
Sorry, the first link seems to be dead. Do a search for "The Antenna Elmer."
-- Forrest Covington (email@example.com), September 14, 1999.
the NVIS antenna is what I aluded to on the other thread. can yo drop some of the details in here???
-- Chuck, a night driver (firstname.lastname@example.org), September 14, 1999.
Here's the cut/paste of my answer to Debi, kg4dcy, on the other thread re NVIS details. Is this what you need? It describes dimensions for an 80 to 10 meter antenna, but you can change the measurements to work for any band. I don't know how it would work for real shortwave freqs, like 2m, however -- but it's easy to put up and try.
1) Put up a NVIS antenna. It's a horizontal plain wire square loop, 67 feet on each leg, and ONLY 10 FEET (OR LESS!) OFF THE GROUND. That means you can put it up with 4 pieces of PVC pipe (and a 5th one to support the "T"-feed (an ordinary dipole feed -- or you can homebrew it) placed in the MIDDLE of one leg (NOT at the corner, as shown in most antenna books.) Feed line? Skip the expensive heavy-duty coax that everybody uses -- and has all kinds of radiation problems, and causes the whole system to be very finicky regards dimension -- 'cause it's a TUNED system. Instead use cheaper "ladder-line" feed -- turns the whole loop plus feed into one system, which does NOT require precise measurements being NON-resonant, is easy to match across all the bandwidths from 80 to 10, and doesn't radiate all over the place. Bring it into the shack with 'twin-coax' leads no longer than 10' (Read about it in "Wirebook III," page 26, $3.00, 800-727-9473. Drive down and visit them in Sandrum, S.C. Talk to Press Jones, N8UG -- owner -- he'll walk you thru lots of technical questions.), hook it to an MFJ-948 antenna tuner (Don't buy the 949E that everyone else including me did --- you don't need the dummy antenna -- it's WORTHLESS 'cause the tuning you end up with has nothing to do with what you'll need when you actually get on the air with your antenna --- entirely different dial positions!)
If this is not what you had in mind, or need more details, post back here.
-- William J. Schenker, MD (email@example.com), September 14, 1999.
REDUCE YOUR POWER DRAIN BY DISCONNECTING INCANDESCENT PANEL LIGHTS:
Cut your current drain significantly in listening/monitoring mode by having a local nerd or comm tech (e.g., CB shop) disconnect the little light bulbs behind your display --- eats up unnecessary power.
Do NOT have your LED displays or lights disconnected -- their power draw is negligible.
-- William J. Schenker, MD (firstname.lastname@example.org), September 14, 1999.
I've got a variation on that. Suppose you need the lights sometimes when it's dark. Just undo the ground legs for the bulbs (NOT the positive end, JIC) and install a switch from (Hardly Any) Radio Schlock.
If it uses LED's leave it alone because they use very little juice, also you can fry them by reverse connecting them accidently or a whole LED display if a wrong voltage gets in there.
-- Forrest Covington (email@example.com), September 18, 1999.