Commo for Family, Group, or Community, by Tunnel Rabbit
(Continued from Part 3.)
Cobra has time-tested models that are sure to please you. However, there are less expensive brands that may be just as reliable, but lack some of the useful features that Cobra offers. Regardless, 40-channel handhelds and mobile CBs are limited to 3.5 watts. As a practical matter, I would be inclined to buy several of the least expensive CBs before getting something as nice as a full-featured Cobra, or better yet, a CB with SSB. I apply this approach to all my purchases in order to create as deep a supply as possible. Logistics wins wars, and the same principle will help the survivalist survive.
I recently tested a Uniden hand-held CB radio, the PRO401HH. This ia a 3.5 watt transceiver purchased on eBay for just $49. Relative to the older models of handhelds that are as large and heavy as red bricks, this is a slim, more compact, and comfortable to hold modern handheld CB. I found that it is very easy to operate. It can be powered and charged directly by 12vdc, and be connected to an external 1/4-wave ground plane, or a shorter non-ground plane antenna that is more convent to install. It would be a good substitute for a mobile and used as a ‘base station’ in the home, or in a vehicle with a magnetic-mounted rooftop antenna, and can be carried. Given the antenna requirements and limitations of installing larger antennas needed to get the most range out of a CB transceivers, its range is typically less than handheld UHF/VHF transceivers. CB will, however, be popular, and is a must-have if someone wants to keep their options open so that we have the ability to talk to neighbors who will be using these radios, since a CB may be the only transceiver that they process.
User-Friendly CB/FRS/GMRS Mobile Transceivers
Midland offers a good line of mobile transceivers with various maximum power outputs that are at various price levels that are easy to use, and do not require programming. These are repeater-capable and dedicated GMRS mobile or handheld transceiver with only 8 channels, and 8 repeater channels. The range of UHF is noticeably less than a similar powered VHF transceiver, but with a 15 to 50 watt GMRS mobile, or by using a very high gain omni-directional antenna available for UHF, performance can be satisfactory. We have two GMRS repeaters just outside our valley. There is a license requirement and there is also an annual fee required by a private party owner.
VHF Marine radios are ideal for those who do not wish to program their radios, and who have a larger budget. These mobiles are limited to 25 watts, yet that is more than adequate most of the time, for community commo. VHF Marine band frequencies propagate well. As these are typically a marine-grade radio, many models are waterproof and corrosion-resistant, and of generally higher quality. Hence, the price well-justified, yet still failrly reasonable.
CB radio will once again become popular out of necessity, and because of their long history of use. Many truckers, farmers, and ranchers still have a dusty box of CBs in storage. However, because of their 20+ year vintage, they may have leaky or dry electrolytic capacitors and corrosion that makes the radio inoperable. About half of the CBs that I find at yard sales do not work. Because of the age of my CBs, I purchased many of them, and also purchase one new one as I expect that my collection of vintage CBs will fail once in service for a period time. Also, consider that although there are many “spare” CBs out there, the majority of them will be without an antenna.
The Anytone Smart, A Token Bone for Hams
To make sure that I had at least one reliable CB, I purchased an Anytone Smart. The price continues to hover around $59. It is for the Ham operator, a bargain, but this is not a transceiver for the masses. It is not a CB radio until modified by a technician with very good eyesight. This is a micro-sized radio that can fit in the palm of your hand. It has solder joints appropriately sized and almost microscopic! With a single modification performed, that is no more than a typical MARS CAP mod, it puts out 8 watts AM/FM on 11 meters. The newer model Anytone Smart produces 15 watts on FM, and 8 watts on AM. With both modifications performed, it has a selection of 400 other frequencies in total, that include 12 and 10 meters AM/FM. This is a good way to get your CB requirement filled, and get a 10 meter AM/FM, and get way off the beaten path of frequencies. CBs with FM mode are now entering the market, so you’ll be in that arena as well. Here is a good video introduction to this tiny radio.
Off-Grid Power Supply
The weakest link in our comm plan is our power supply. I can suggest various and durable photovoltaic (PV) array systems, but the heart of the problem is closer to devices that use that power. Not everyone will be adequately prepared and have access to more than a single 12vdc automotive battery that is charged up by their neighbor’s generator or PV array.
Use the inexpensive Chinese inverters at your own risk. They will work for a while, but if your entire commo plan is dependent upon these flimsy devices, then I would be nervous. If I need to depend upon an inverter, then I would purchase three of the Victron model below. Two of yours should be stored in a Faraday cage/ or can. The specs are impressive. If more power is needed then I would buy several sets, rather than stepping up to the 800-watt model. The following is a 500-watt model, and the most power for the money spent:
Victron Energy Phoenix True Sinewave Inverter 12/500 120V VE. Direct NEMA 5-15R. Reviews are excellent. Check out the performance specifications here and here.
However, I firmly believe that one should avoid the use of one or more inverters. I instead favor the redundancy and convenience of DC-to-DC conversion that also solves a key logistic problem. Using a DC voltage step-down or step-up converter solves many issues. All of my radios except my vintage Kenwood 830s can be operated directly from a 12 vdc source. I’ve converted every other scanner, and transceiver to 12VDC or 12VDC-adapter cables. No rechargeable batteries are necessary if a radio can be powered directly from 12 VDC. Costs are reduced and reliability is improved. And you can store redundant sets of commo equipment and not need an inverter for each set. I can also hand my neighbor a single handheld receiver with a 12 VDC car/truck charging station, and they do not need an inverter to charge it up. We can also charge the transceiver from a vehicle, or by a small PV array designed specifically for that purpose. Running a generator to charge up transceiver batteries would be wasteful, and the fuel will eventually be exhausted. In any disaster, PV will rule the day!
A Homemade Battery Charging Power Supply For Baofeng and Other Radios
The following are plans to build your own Homemade Battery Charging Power Supply for Baofeng and other radios that require a 9 to 10 vdc power source. A number of years ago it was fairly easy to find a variable voltage cigarette lighter transformer that would plug into the back of a Baofeng UV5R charging station. USB charging systems have now taken center stage and I recently could not find the older standby. The cost was usually about $12 each. Therefore I began looking for a substitute and found it, and although it requires assembly. But a $5 dollar investment will allow you to charge four or more Baofengs if one scavenges the rest of the parts.
The power source can be either 12 vdc battery of any decent size, or a nominal 12 vdc PV array. This device solves a significant logistical and technical problem associated with many brands of handheld radios that come with only a 120VAC “wall wart” AC-to-DC transformer. These power cube transformers are another link in our commo plan that can fail, or even overheat and start a fire. All my friends want one or more of my cobbed-together adapters, so you might also see the need. If I were so inclined, one might sell this sort of thing on eBay or Esty.
(To be concluded tomorrow, in Part 5.)