Prepper Comms…

Besides talking to someone face to face, you can communicate by phone, radio, snail mail, or over the internet. Snail mail is slow and sometimes gets lost on the way. Phones (esp. cell phones) and the internet rely on infrastructure that you can’t control and can be shut off whenever on someone’s whim. Radio OTOH can only be jammed. Because of this, I think radio is the best choice next to direct communication.

Assuming radio is the second best choice, what radio should you get? There are lots of choices, which one is the best for a prepper? That depends on a few things. Radios fall into several types. Some radios require a license to operate legally. Range depends on frequency, output power, antenna type and size, and quality of the radio. I really believe the “best” radio for a prepper is one that operates on the amateur bands, i.e. Ham Radio. The only downside is a license is required to legally operate on the Ham Radio bands.

Since some preppers don’t have and won’t get an amateur radio license, I want to talk about unlicensed radio use. Radios that can be legally operated without a license include Citizens Band (CB), Family Radio Service (FRS), and Multi-Use Radio Service (MURS) radios.

CB radio is legally limited to 4 watts of transmitter output power, which is plenty for local communication if you have a good antenna. In my area, almost no one is using CB, so the band is pretty much wide open (other locations might not have it so good). Some CB radios can also operate in Single Sideband (SSB) mode, which increases the legal transmitting power to 12 watts and has other characteristics that increase the range of a CB in SSB mode over one operating in standard (AM) mode. In my oppinion, the only currently available CB radios worth considering are the Uniden Bearcat 980SSB and the and the Midland 75-822. The 980SSB is a mobile unit that can be set up as a base station if you have a 12V DC power supply. It can operat in both AM and SSB modes, and can also receive NOAA Weather Alert frequencies, which is a nice feature. It doesn’t suffer from frequency drift like the SSB CB from Galaxy. The 75-822 is a hand-held unit (walkie talkie) that can also receive the NOAA weather channels. Range with the “rubber duckie” antenna sucks, but still better than the Uniden PRO401 (which I also have). It only operates in AM mode (no SSB), but there is an available car power adapter and tuned roof mount antenna, so it can also be used as a mobile CB. Assuming a good antenna and maximum legal power output (4W), the range of a CB radio operating in AM mode can be up to 10 miles and possibly more. CB radio has 40 channels allocated. By regulation, Channel 9 is reserved for emergency communications, and by convention SSB is generally used only on Channels 16 and 36 – 40.

FRS radios are legally limited to 500mw output. They also operate on UHF between 462 and 467 MHz, so they’re basically line of site. That means if there is anything (a hill, lots of trees, buildings, etc) between you and the person you’re trying to talk to, you might not probably won’t be able to communicate. Some makers advertise a range of “up to 36 miles,” but that is under ideal conditions – like mountain top to mountain top with nothing in between. Real life performance is more like 1/2 to 1 mile. FRS has 14 channels allocated, 7 of which are shared with the General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) band.

MURS radios operate on VHF between 151 – 154 MHz and are legally limited to 2 watts of transmitting power. Only a few companies make MURS transceivers, so they tend to be more expensive than CB or FRS radios. The frequencies they operate on work better in rural terrain than FRS radios but not quite as good as CB. On the other hand, MURS radios operate using frequency modulation (FM) which is more immune to radio noise than CB radio, so the range can be as good as CB in spite of the lower transmitting power. MURS has 5 channels allocated.

For unlicensed 2 way radio, my choice is CB. The band is pretty much unused in my area, so there is almost no interference. I also like the potentially longer range and that there are 40 available channels instead of just 5 or 14.