Getting Started with Radio Communications – Part 2: The 5 Things You Need Now

Getting Started with Radio Communications – Part 2: The 5 Things You Need Now

There seems to be a common list of things folks get when starting out as preppers. Websites and books are full of lists of guns, food, bunkers, and radios. And it seems there’s at least one thing that a majority of folks seem to agree on – the inexpensive BaoFeng UV-5 handheld radio (or HT).  What they don’t usually provide anything beyond “get this radio.”  Here at Mobile Preppers Community we’re all about making sure you are actually prepared so here are five things you need to get started, plus a bunch of little things you didn’t even know you’d ever need!

One of the few comms shopping lists I found was on the American Redoubt Radio Operators Network (AmRRON) website. I used that list as a starting point and built my recommended list in the order below.  Later on we’ll go into more details for each item:

  1. License;
  2. HT radio (a BaoFeng UV-5R in my case) and programming cable;
  3. Upgraded antenna (both NA-771 whip and UT-72 magnetic mount);
  4. 12VDC adapter;
  5. Handheld mic/speaker;

What no one mentions is that you also need to get some adapters and cables. I’ll explain more about those in a bit.  You should get the following adapters/connectors:

  • Two or three SMA female to BNC female adapters;
  • At least three BNC male to SO-239 (UHF female) adapters;
  • At least two BNC female to SO-239 adapters;
  • Two or three PL-259 (UHF male) to PL-259 connectors;

It never hurts to have some cables too.  I ended up with several:

  • A three foot BNC male/BNC male cable
  • A short PL-259 to SMA male cable
  • RG-8 antenna cable (length based on your situation)

The License

In Getting Started with radio communications – Part 1 I recommended getting a GMRS license, but regardless of which license you get (GMRS or Amateur) the first step is to register with the FCC to receive a FCC Registration Number (FRN).  You’ll receive your FRN immediately after registering.

GMRS

If you apply for a GMRS license through the FCC website you will login with your FRN and password to begin the process.  After you log in, select Apply for New License.

Next you’ll select the radio service – GMRS is coded ZA and is the last one in the drop down.  Just click through the screens (most people will accept the defaults – (trust me, you are probably not exempt from FCC fees).  The current (February 2018) cost is $85.00 for a 10 year license.  Remember that this license covers your entire family and gives you a wide variety of broadcast options.  After you have completed your application you will receive an email notifying you that your license has been granted (or denied I suppose, although I haven’t ever heard of that happening).  The email will include a link to download the official copy of your license.  Do that IMMEDIATELY as the link is only good for 30 days. You can download a “reference” copy of your license (with your callsign) from the FCC ULS website at any time using your FRN and password.

Amateur (Ham)

For an Amateur license, which I also recommend getting, you can check the ARRL website for test locations in your area. Tests are handled by local Amateur Radio Relay League (ARRL) clubs. The maximum fee allowed is $15, although some clubs will waive that fee.

Many clubs offer free or low cost classes to prep you for the exams.  The first test you’ll take is for your Technician license – remember to bring your FRN, it will go much faster if you already have that.  The club sends the test results to the FCC and you should have your license in a few days.  When I got my Technician license I tested on Saturday and had my license by Monday (your experience, however, may vary).

The Radio

I have the BaoFeng UV-5R, which is a very inexpensive little radio. While many Ham operators have a low opinion of BaoFeng radios, there is nothing wrong with the brand. It is good enough (a principle I talk about in this post). As the UV-5R is no longer made I’d suggest the BaoFeng F-F8HP. Other good radios are those made by Wouxun, iCOM, and Yaesu.

Better Antennas

The stock antenna on most handheld radios is less than optimal. The AmRRON article suggests a 14.5 inch whip. The only addition I’d make to that is to get a BNC antenna and add a SMA female to BNC female adapter to your radio, as shown below.

The UV-5 series radios have an SMA male antenna connector. SMA connectors are not very durable and over time the small pin may break from repeated connecting/disconnecting. The BNC connector is much more durable. This becomes important if you, like me, use your new HT for more than just an HT.

A good low-priced replacement antenna is the NA-771 Dual Band VHF/UHF BNC Antenna.  For a roof mount look at a UT-72 19″ Magnetic Mount VHF/UHF antenna.  You may need additional cable for your car/truck – make sure you use RG-8 cable and double check the end connectors.

With the magnetic roof mount antenna on the car you can turn your HT into a (low power) mobile unit.  To do that you’ll need the 12VDC adapter and an adapter or a cable to connect the antenna to the radio.  In my setup I put a BNC female to SO-239 adapter on the antenna cable; then used the three foot cable from above to give me more flexibility in placing the radio.

I also use my HT as my home unit by using an older Radio Shack discone antenna mounted to the ladder of our RV. For the mast I used a 16′ collapsible painters pole placed in an RV flagpole mounting system by Flagpole Buddy.  I then ran RG-8 cable from the antenna to the area I use for a ham shack in the RV.

A 12VDC Adaptor

While I’ve had good luck with the stock battery in my UV-5A it is still a limitation.  To extend operating time I purchased a 12VDC adaptor (official name – “battery eliminator“).  To use the adaptor, you remove the battery and slide the adaptor into the battery mount bay.  Very easy to use and it allows you to take advantage of any standard 12VDC outlet.

A speaker/mic for easier use

Adding a corded speaker mic (similar to that on a CB radio or as seen on your favorite cop show) is also a great upgrade.  This is especially useful when you have your HT connected to a roof (or other fixed) antenna.  When I have the radio mounted in the car the speaker mic makes using the radio much easier and (in my opinion) safer.

Putting it all together

We’ve seen that it’s critical to be able to communicate in an emergency – regardless of the cause or scale.  As with all prepping skills, you have to practice to be proficient.  And without proper licensing, equipment, and knowledge you won’t be able to practice in any meaningful way.  We’ve put together a nice reference for you to use – the MPC Pocket Guide to Radio Communications. To get your free pocket guide sign up here.

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