Monday, 7 November 2016- guest post –some thoughts on ham radio

In response to H Combs question the other day, I said I would post links to my previous comments about getting started in ham radio, from a prepper point of view.

Here is the full text of one comment I wrote for another site.  The poster’s question was about the using the Baofang UV5 handy talkie for communicating with his parents in another state, and what would be involved in making that happen.  Following the text is a link to the original comment, and all the other replies.  Many of the replies have a lot of good info too.  [I’ve added comments in square brackets today.]


nick flandrey says:

I own this radio too [Baofang UV-5Rplus+], and like it for an entry level radio. It will give you access to local repeaters, (which will increase your effective range) and let you practice radio use with the entry level license- the Technician Class.

Getting that first license is straightforward and (relatively) easy depending on your knowledge of basic electronics. REALLY basic. Many of the exam questions are things like “what is the symbol for a resister?”

The quickest route to passing the exam is to use one of the online practice exams (free) and just keep taking it until you can consistently pass. You can see the correct answer to the questions and you can just learn those. All of the questions on the exam come from the exact same pool of questions as the practice, so this is a good, fast, way to prepare to pass the exam. While you are practicing, once you can pass the Technician test, start learning the questions for the General test. Depending on your starting knowledge, you can learn the questions and answers in a few days of study. DON’T spend money on this. There are several free services online.

Once you are passing the practice tests consistently, go online and find a local time and place to take the actual test. Most cities have them frequently. There is a small fee for the test. The ARRL website has links to training and testing. When you get to the test site, tell the volunteer examiner that you will be taking the Technician class test, and if you pass, you would also like to take the General class test. It doesn’t cost any more to take the second test after you pass the first, and it will give you a lot of additional frequencies and modes to use that will let you communicate longer distances directly. [this is important!  You will need the General Class to use voice on HF, which is the only way to get out of your immediate area if the grid, and UHF/VHF repeaters are down.]

Please note that this is NOT the traditional route to a license! There are many in the ham “community” that really frown on this approach. It is the quickest way to get on the air and use your radio legally (and you should not use it illegally, unless WROL conditions are likely to exist for a long time.) MANY folks in the prepper and emergency response community take this route because they just want to be able to use their radios and communicate with their teams, and have no interest in joining the larger ham community. I was this way when I started, and I used this method.

The traditional method, and a better way to actually LEARN about radios, ham, and the ham community, is to join a local club and get guidance and help from them. There is a long tradition of mentorship (having a mentor, traditionally called an “Elmer” to help train you and answer your questions, as well as indoctrinate you into the language, techniques, and culture of the amateur community). They would recommend starting with one of the ARRL test prep books, and learning the material vs. just learning the questions so you can pass. The books are well written, easy to follow, FULL of useful information, and can be had cheaply if you can find them second hand. The questions don’t change that often, so the books are good for a while. The info in the books is good even if they are older, just use an online prep site for the actual questions.

I chose to quickly pass the test, get on the air, and then go back and read the books to fill in the HUGE gaps in my knowledge. I’ve found that I like many aspects of the ham hobby and am slowly joining in the hobby, not just using my radio as practice for TEOTWAWKI. The hobby is MASSIVE with an enormous amount of different areas to focus on or learn about. (You can talk to the space station for example.) There is also a long history of public service (it’s one of the reasons amateurs are given use of the otherwise very valuable spectrum for free.) Many in the prepper and emergency response communities will find a lot of crossover with ARES or RACES which are ham organizations that provide communications support in the event of an emergency. There are others as well- Red Cross, Salvation Army, LDS, NOAA all have amateur supported groups.

Also, don’t get frustrated! Like any culture, amateur radio has an established language, history, and procedures. It can take a while to learn those things, and to feel comfortable. A local club will help tremendously with those things. One note, it can be very hard to get a “straight answer” to some questions. The hobby is large, the participants all have their own focuses, and most are reluctant to give limiting, definitive answers without knowing a lot about your particular situation. Some examples are “what radio should I buy? What antenna works best for (this specific thing) I want to do? How do I talk with my aunt in Idaho?” This is another area where having locals who know you can be hugely helpful.

Finally, I found some accessories will really help you use your radio. You will want a better antenna. They are cheap on ebay, less than $10, and will help. Also, a battery eliminator is a good bet, and the extended battery pack is highly recommended. I’d also suggest a mid-price dual band antenna on a magnet mount for your vehicle ($40) Using a handheld inside a vehicle is problematic. If you are worried about stealth use, a headset/earphone will help keep you quiet.

Get your license, get on the air on a local repeater, and practice! Most folks in the community are friendly, welcoming and responsive. When you find someone who is not, just ignore them and move on. You might find that you have added not just a prep, but a new hobby.

good luck,


oh, and to answer your original question. If you and your parents are in states covered by a repeater system, tied to other states, like the Saltgrass Network, or Winsystem, you may be able to use that radio to talk them during normal times when the repeaters and the internet are up. To talk state to state directly you will need radios capable of HF frequencies, a General class license, antennas, and some other stuff. Even buying used gear, you could spend $500 – $1000 at each end. The key in either case, is practice ahead of time.

/end of copy paste





8 Comments and discussion on "Monday, 7 November 2016- guest post –some thoughts on ham radio"

  1. Robert Bruce Thompson says:

    Thanks for the post.

  2. DadCooks says:

    @nick, good refresher for this old know-it-all 😉

  3. Nick Flandrey says:

    Thanks RBT, I’ve written literal thousands of words on the topic, so while I hate to reprint, I don’t think I need to re-write it yet again. Hopefully it will be useful here too.


  4. Dave says:

    The only thing I would suggest differently is to look for an exam sponsored by Laurel VEC, as they are free. That way you can take the money you would pay for the nominal fee to take the test and buy the ARRL guide for the exam instead.

    Ironically, I drove to the next county to find a place to take the exam for a nominal fee on a Saturday morning only to be unable to find exactly where the exam location was. So I wound up finding an exam about a mile from my house sponsored by a club that is part of Laurel VEC on a Monday evening.

  5. H. Combs says:

    Nick – Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. I took electronics in high school back in 1970 so would need to brush up a little on the color code and ohms law. I used to know quite a bit of antenna theory too. Hope that comes back with a little study.

  6. Nick Flandrey says:

    Just keep doing the online tests. I did them in between working on other things on the computer. You will quickly learn the correct answers. (Won’t need resistor color code, I’m pretty sure. Will need basic symbols.)

    Stay focused on the goal… Passing the test, getting the license, getting on the air to practice communicating.

    ATM, the goal is NOT relearning electronics, or learning radio theory, or anything else. Passing the test, getting the ticket, then getting on the air.

    From a prepper standpoint, do the general class tests when you can pass the tech class tests. You absolutely need the General for the HF stuff that will really be your comms if the world goes pear shaped. The two biggest impediments to getting the General ticket are getting back to the examiners to take the test, and not having the radio, so no preceived urgency. (as you know HF radios will be much more expensive than the baofangs) If you follow the advice, and do all your studying before taking the test, you can get your general the same day for no extra money, and be READY when you find that great deal on a radio.

    Go back once you have your ticket and fill in the theory as you have time and inclination. This is where the ARRL test guide books are great. Keep one in the bathroom. You can fill in the gaps that way, WHILE using your radio to practice actually communicating.

    One other thing, you don’t need the ticket to LISTEN. Program your one or two local repeaters. Have your radio on all the time while doing other things. Scan between the repeaters. You will discover when the busy times are and if any of the repeaters are linked with others, and you can listen to the chats and any nets. This will give you a feel for the ‘vibe’ of each net, and you will be ready to join in to any that strike your fancy once you do get your ticket.

    I’ve got a cheap analog scanner in the garage (more than one actually, but one mainly) and I have several local repeaters in it. I leave it scanning all the time. The talking might act as a burglar deterrent, and I can hear when there is activity. If a net catches my ear, I stop the scan or lockout any freqs that are interrupting.

    Our main ‘big’ repeater here is tied into the western conference server for most of the morning and has access to several nets that are hosted there, and then is connected to the winsystem (a system of repeaters linked throughout the western and southern US as well as points east and foreign lands) for most of the evening and on weekends. There is almost always something on that repeater to listen to, or join in.

    Our other main repeaters are more ‘drive time’ busy, and often have more of a ‘clique’ feel where all the talkers seem to know one another.

    REMEMBER THE GOAL and do just enough to get there. Time is short, you have tons to do, don’t spend it on things you don’t need to do, or think you need to master something before moving to the next step.


  7. Dave says:

    @H Combs,

    If you already know electronics, I’d suggest at least skimming the book. One chapter each time you sit on the uncomfortable chair will probably get you through the book before the next local exam. It refreshed a lot of memories for me, and I hadn’t thought about analog electronics much since college in the 80s.

  8. Nick Flandrey says:

    There will probably be at least 2 questions on Ohms law. Figuring power draw for a radio with x amps at 12v and one involving a resistor. Multiple choice, but it is better if you can do the math.


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