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An Introduction to CB, GMRS, and Ham Radio

13 Aug, 2007

This article was submitted to us by one of our visitors. Bill says, "I am currently a Deputy Sheriff while I finish a degree in Telecommunications Systems Management. I also enjoy the hobbies of Amateur radio, scanner listening and emergency preparedness. I have read though your pages and found them to be very informative and helpful but I find one thing absent--communications equipment."

An Intro to CB, GMRS and Ham Radio

In today's culture we have become very used to extensive connectivity. We can pick up a phone to call from almost anywhere. Let's not forget the Internet and its many uses and applications.

In an emergency, one of the first things to go is power but communications are usually next. In areas prone to earthquakes and hurricanes it is almost guaranteed you will lose communication, possibly for an extended period of time. Not even cell phones are immune because most cell networks are wired into the regular phone network at some point.

Since resources will be at a minimum and travel disrupted, good communications will be essential. The are several options available to you in this area. Just like anything else you can prepare with, there are varying degrees of use and cost.

CB (Civilian Band Radio)

Let's start with the easiest, most plentiful and cost effective method -- CB or Civilian Band Radio.

These radios have 5 watts of output power giving you 5 to 10 miles of range and are widely utilized by many people in every day life. This is a plus considering the ability to call for emergency services or to pass along (relay) messages to family who may be out of range.

CB radios can be procured from many locations. Such as truck stops, national chain stores, radio dealers and my favorite place Garage Sales. There are several different model types; hand held, mobiles for cars, and home bases. Most of the units can be powered by 12V DC so they can be run off a vehicle or a back-up battery charged by a generator or some other source.

There are some drawbacks to CB (like all other communication methods).

First, is the range provided; if you are heading to and from work or shopping somewhere you may be out of range of all family members.

Second, is the fact that some units are not well made. You don't want to depend your communication on the lowest quality radio it may be your lifeline! More information on CB can be found many places including:

REACT International, Inc.
12114 Boydton Plank Road
Dinwiddie, VA 23841
Tel: 301-316-2900
Fax: 866-740-0936
Email: RI.HQ@REACTIntl.org
Web: reactintl.org

GMRS (General Mobile Radio Service)

Next, is GMRS, or General Mobile Radio Service. It has many advantages over CB as well as some drawbacks.

You can get GMRS hand held radios that are 5 watts and Mobiles up to 50 watts. The mobiles can also be used from a house with a 12V power supply. These have increased range because of the 50W but also because of the use of repeaters.

Repeaters rebroadcast your signal from a high atop hills and antenna towers to increase you range to a 100 miles or more. So you could keep a hand held radio with you where ever you go; shopping, work or just for a walk. Repeaters are usually run by not-for-profit clubs. Memberships and usage can run between $5 and $20 a month (at the time of this writing) with no per-minute charges like cell phone. This gives you the ability to stay in touch over a very large area.

There are 15 UHF channels available for use on GMRS 8 repeaters channels and 7 low power (5W max.). There is also a designated emergency channel at 462.675MHZ that is monitored by many clubs and other GMRS operators. This is handy when traveling!

Equipment can be obtained from many sources, such as radio dealer and mail order. Quality on average is good but there are many features out there to choose from. You will have to see how they fit into your usage. The draw backs -- cost, you need a license to operate GMRS but this is purchased from the FCC (radio dealers have the forms). The license lasts for 5 years before you must renew it. One advantage of the license is once an 18 year old member of the household has one it covers everyone in the house. There is no minimum age for operating GMRS.

The equipment can be expensive if you don't shop around. Used equipment can be found substantially discounted at flea markets and on the web.

Energy, just like everything else. You will need to power the radios in emergencies. The hand held models usually have ni-cad battery packs that will need to be recharged or you can purchase battery cases that hold standard AA's in emergencies at a reduced power output (usually 2W). Mobile can use vehicles or a deep cycle 12V battery.

If you wish to find more detailed information on GMRS, try a search engine on the Internet. The are several informative sites.

Ham Radio (Amateur Radio)

Amateur radio, also called ham radio is another option and possibly the most flexible. You communicate over short distances or to different continents. Equipment varies extensively from 5 Watt hand held to radios as strong as 500 Watts that let you talk to the other side of the world.

Some of ham radio's advantages include several thousand repeaters across the U.S., Canada and Central America. These repeaters have varying coverage areas from 30 to 200 miles away from their towers. Most of these repeaters are run by clubs for the enjoyment of the radio hobby or for specific reasons such as severe weather spotting.

N/ACertain ham radios have the ability to talk across several thousand miles without the aid of repeaters. Most of this communication is done on the High Frequency band. These radios can be extremely useful in coordinating emergency relief or contacting relatives who may be out of state. There are many Hams that relay messages to non-hams during emergencies.

If you have been curious about Ham Radio operation, we highly recommend HamRadioPrep.com.

Use coupon code EPIC for 10% OFF your course enrollment fee.

The Ham Radio Prep program makes it fast, easy and fun to get your license in just a few hours of study time. And there's even a FREE LESSON to get you started.

Ham radios can be obtained from several national catalog dealers and online, but you can usually find a bargain at Hamfest or swap meets. Ham radio operators bring new and used equipment to sell at reasonable prices. They can run anywhere from $100 to several thousand depending on how technical you want to get.

A Note from TheEpicenter.com: The BF-F8HP is a highly recommended hand-held Ham Radio with up to a 50-mile talk range, 1000 channels, and it's waterproof, plus a range of other great features. This highly rated, reasonably priced 8-Watt Dual Band Two-Way Radio (136-174MHz VHF & 400-520MHz UHF) Full Kit with Large Battery is available at Amazon.com.

There is a drawback to ham radio though; you need an amateur radio license. These are not hard to get. You will have to pass a written test that proves you have read the rules and are familiar with operating techniques. With the new licensing structure Morse Code testing is not required and there is no age limit. You just need to renew your license with the FCC every ten years.

If you are interested in learning more about ham radio, visit the American Radio Relay League at www.arrl.org.

-- Bill

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