Radio Comms- A Basic Primer

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Radio Comms- A Basic Primer

Postby SpanishInquisition » Tue, 24 Dec 2013 22:42:41

Lots of talk about radio communication these days. Here's a quick overview of what's available to common folk:


Citizens Band Radio (CB): You've all seen it, and some of you are old enough to have seen Smokey & the Bandit in the theater. The FCC regulates CB to 4 watts output AM and 12 watts PEP for sideband. (more on sideband later, maybe) CB operates in the HF part of the radio spectrum.You can expect to communicate perhaps a mile or a little better between cars, car to base maybe 10 miles depending on the antenna setup on the base. CB requires no license these days. The band is also overrun with non-type accepted radios and amplifiers, making local reliable comms a challenge if one wishes to observe the FCC regulations. In summer months and in times of high sunspot activity, it possible to get sporadic comms over vast distances via "skip" on the ionosphere.

FRS: These are blister pack radios often seen in big box stores. If you see "14 channels", it's FRS. These units are FM and on the UHF chunk of the spectrum, in general meaning clearer sound than CB. FRS is limited to one half of a watt of output. handheld to handheld can often get a couple of miles in clear terrain, less in urban areas. FRS is a license free service.

GMRS: The big brother of FRS. GMRS shares some channels with FRS, but has 8 more that are GMRS only. GMRS requires a license, but the license is valid for your immediate family as well as the named licensee. The license costs $75 per 10 years, IIRC. Like FRS, GMRS is FM and UHF, but mobile and base stations with much higher power are allowed, meaning more comm distance under ideal conditions. Most of the blister packed radios in stores these days are GMRS units. DO NOT BELIEVE THE OUTLANDISH RANGE CLAIMS ON THE PACKAGING. COUNT ON NO MORE THAN 2 MILES BETWEEN HANDHELDS! High power mobile units with car mounted antennas may well be able to talk to a base station tens of miles away. Licensees can set up a "repeater", which if properly placed, can relay signals between mobile units that cannot communicate directly, effectively increasing comm range.

MURS: Similar to FRS, but in the VHF band and 2 watts of transmitter power are allowed. External antennas are also allowed, unlike FRS. A MURS base station may have an external antenna that does not exceed 60 feet in oberall height. MURS has fewer channels, only 5. No license is required. Because of the fewer channels, MURS never caught on in popularity, which means you're less likely to have congested channels.

Amateur Radio: Many bands, many modes, many miles. The entry level test for the Technician license covers very basic electronic theory and radio procedural stuff. The test questions are published to the public by the FCC, making study a simple matter of memorization. A ham license covers the licensee only, so family members would also need to test, pass, and apply for their license. The most popular comm mode used by Tech licensees is the 2 meter FM band, which lives near MURS on the radio dial, but has the advantages of higher power units. Another advantage is that there are many repeaters maintained by ham clubs and individuals, again, allowing for longer mobile to mobile ot mobile to base comms.

The Tech license also allows the licensee to operate in the 10 meter band, which has similar characteristics to signals on CB. As with CB, favorable (but only favorable) conditions will allow global communications.

There are other levels of Amateur licenses that allow hams to communicate on other bands that are much more reliable for voice comms both locally and globally.

Study materials can be found online, and for as little as free. Testing via a local club can be free or coost 15 bucks or so. The license is good for 10 years.



OK, that's a basic overview of the different types of radio comms that are available to us chickens. If I've not made any of this clear enough, or if you have questions like where to get study material for your ham license, just ask!

Cheers,

SI
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Re: Radio Comms- A Basic Primer

Postby SHMIV » Wed, 25 Dec 2013 03:57:46

I don't understand Side Band. My amplifier has
a switch to toggle between AM and SSB; from what I have read, an oscilloscope is required to gauge the power output in SSB mode. That just seems a bit complicated. I haven't touched an oscilloscope since high school, sure can't remember what to do with the fool things, no clue where to find one readily available, and don't rightly care to drop the bread on one.

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Re: Radio Comms- A Basic Primer

Postby SpanishInquisition » Wed, 25 Dec 2013 08:45:36

Ok...sideband...

By now most people have seen graphic equalizers in car sound systems, and maybe a spectrum display on them. Imagine that your AM signal looks like a bell curve with the high point being the exact frequency of the channel you are on. The energy of your signal is evenly distributed on both sides of the "carrier frequency", and rolls off the furtherf up and down the spectrum you get from center.

SSB is a trick of physics. The carrier and all the stuff on one side or the other of the center isn't generated, which allows the transmitter to put more power behind the signal that you want to send. Most hams use ssb for voice because this gets more range. It is roughly like tripling your AM power, but the reciever also has to be set up for ssb. Sideband signals sound sort of like Donald Duck on an AM reciever.

There is more technical stuff going on, but I think that puts it in a context that most peopleb will be familiar with. Did that cover it ok?

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Re: Radio Comms- A Basic Primer

Postby Reverenddel » Thu, 26 Dec 2013 12:46:57

I appreciate all the information! Thank you! :clap: :first:


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Re: Radio Comms- A Basic Primer

Postby SpanishInquisition » Thu, 26 Dec 2013 14:32:43

Glad you found it useful. If you have other questions, please feel free to ask. I will answer to the best of my ability.

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Re: Radio Comms- A Basic Primer

Postby SHMIV » Thu, 26 Dec 2013 16:38:39

Thanks, SI. That clarified it a little.

Do they make "build-your-own" kits for the ham bands? I'm much better with hands-on learning.

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Re: Radio Comms- A Basic Primer

Postby SpanishInquisition » Thu, 26 Dec 2013 17:41:17

SHMIV wrote:Thanks, SI. That clarified it a little.

Do they make "build-your-own" kits for the ham bands? I'm much better with hands-on learning.

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The Heathkit days are gone(... for now. there are rumors..). There are some kits by others out there still. Most of them are for Morse code and QRP (low power) work.

Note that most of the chunks of spectrum that use SSB voice are NOT places that the basic tech license will allow operation. That being said, the General test does, the study material can be had for free, and it is not uncommon to take (and pass) tech and general at the same time.

Here are a couple of notable kits:

Nice 75 meter band SSB Kit ($140 barebones):
http://www.qrpkits.com/survivor.html

Basic 75 meter band CW (Morse Code) QRP transciever kit ($40, not really any options to be had):
http://qrpme.com/?p=product&id=LST
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Re: Radio Comms- A Basic Primer

Postby jdonovan » Thu, 26 Dec 2013 20:04:26

SHMIV wrote:Do they make "build-your-own" kits for the ham bands? I'm much better with hands-on learning.


The days of roll your own ham gear is mostly coming to an end.

The electronics world is almost all surface mount components these days which are a major PITA to work with. I had several projects I wanted to take on, and discovered the costs of components was 25% more than getting an already built commercial unit delivered.

There are some small HF (< 30 MHz) single band kits that you can build, but almost all of them are usable for morse code only. I can't recall the last kit I saw for build your own that worked on SSB.


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Re: Radio Comms- A Basic Primer

Postby VACoastie » Sat, 28 Dec 2013 23:04:14

http://modernsurvivalonline.com/emergen ... nications/

Here's an article I found while browsing that gives a good decent rundown on communications and the different bands & modes of frequencies.

One mistake I found was on the VHF/U.S. Frequencies (maritime frequency range). No license is required to listen or talk on these frequencies. Ch. 16 (156.8 MHZ) is strictly for Hailing and Distress only, don't sit in the channel and chit-chat about where to eat. You'll be in violation of FCC Regulations and will be warned only once by the U.S. Coast Guard to shift your traffic. We monitor where signals are coming from and catch hoaxers quite a bit trying to play cute. Any other frequency is good to talk on. Typically channel 9 is used by recreation boaters or a few in the 70's are used. Radios which have a 5Hz power at 6 feet above ground can be heard ~20 miles give or take pending weather conditions and surroundings.

Just as an example of fines and punishments for utilizing any frequency in an inappropriate manner could include fines up to $250,000 and up to 5 years in prison.

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Re: Radio Comms- A Basic Primer

Postby Rualert » Wed, 08 Jan 2014 17:54:47

Don't forget one of my favorites as a tech class ham 440/70cm which in my experience has been great to use in tandem with 2M. My Ringo matches perfectly on my 2M rig, and my 440 / 70cm rig, so I only need the one antenna. If one were to install a dual band mobile or base, you can have it listen on the 440/70cm side, and broadcast on the 2M side, which in turn can be bounced off a local repeater for greater distance. When I lived down in Sarasota Fl I had a Ringo up about 60 feet with a 6 foot deep ground. On the 440 side I could hit the Miami repeater roughly 150 miles away, but this was very flat land, with the water table only maybe 2 feet down so I had a massive ground plane. A buddy an I had a dual band setup like the one mentioned above so we could carry the smaller 440 hand held, hit the mobile dual band, and talk on the local 2M repeater. this worked quite well since the higher frequency 440 radios would pass through buildings to the mobile unit better than the lower frequency handy.

Just another way to bounce your signal around. Don't forget the FCC just opened up more spectrum for Tech class license holders, and even added in some 10M space on the low end, and some of the very high frequency stuff at the other end. One last tidbit, I also noticed they dropped the Morse code requirement even for the general class. I think they should have left it, but I guess they felt like not too many people use it any more, so why force it?

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Re: Radio Comms- A Basic Primer

Postby jdonovan » Wed, 08 Jan 2014 18:37:09

Rualert wrote: I also noticed they dropped the Morse code requirement even for the general class. I think they should have left it, but I guess they felt like not too many people use it any more, so why force it?


just noticed? Morse has been gone since 2007 for generals and above, and tech's have been no-code for many years before that. WRC 2003 dropped the HF code requirement, so it was up to each country to choose to implement or not the change.

Given all the trash on 75m, we should just make the phone area a data modes only area and send them all back to 11m where they belong. :hysterical:

I no more think that we should be testing hams for morse code proficiency than we should be testing apllicants for computer skills, or soldering for that matter. We've got enough trouble recruiting new hams, if we are not careful we are just a few generations from loosing a lot of spectrum we have.


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Re: Radio Comms- A Basic Primer

Postby SHMIV » Wed, 08 Jan 2014 21:26:25

I was never too interested in learning Morse Code, although I can see value in many folks being familiar with it now.

The thing to do is to teach the newbies in a ham club, I suppose. Teach by practical application. Have small, simple conversations in Morse Code, then build the complexity.

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Re: Radio Comms- A Basic Primer

Postby vaeevictiss » Wed, 08 Jan 2014 22:07:37

Another good course is the GROL. we got it for our job even though we don't do anything with that stuff lol. We design, maintain, and install radio networks for all domestic DoS field offices and all American embassies and consulates. The HF program is pretty dead and the ones that we do have are all old Motorola Micom units no one wants to use. All of our systems are UHF or VHF.

As far as local frequencies, everything is public and legal to monitor as long as you do not transmit. Anything sensitive will be encrypted anyway.

I actually keep an xts3000 with all the local and noaa freqs. Basically an expensive scanner lol.

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Re: Radio Comms- A Basic Primer

Postby bryanrheem » Wed, 19 Mar 2014 22:49:41

Would love to get into this world and get my HAM tech license. Where can I find the study materials online and the best way to locate a local club?


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Re: Radio Comms- A Basic Primer

Postby SpanishInquisition » Thu, 20 Mar 2014 01:21:15

Plenty of free study guides out there. More info when I am on my pc and not this crappy phone.

Tests are usually coordinated by local clubs. Google your city or county and "amateur radio", or maybe sybstitute the closest larger city for your locale.

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Re: Radio Comms- A Basic Primer

Postby jdonovan » Thu, 20 Mar 2014 06:21:29

bryanrheem wrote: Where can I find the study materials online


http://bit.ly/1eoU23P

Try _JUST_ a little bit of effort on your own first. :clap:


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Re: Radio Comms- A Basic Primer

Postby bryanrheem » Thu, 20 Mar 2014 10:59:56

jdonovan,

I completely and wholeheartedly agree with effort on my end. I did google it and research it, but being a COMPLETE HAM newbie, I want to make sure I'm going about it the best way… which IMHO is guided by people who know what they're talking about.

I'm a firm believer that everything you read on the inter webs is true, but since SI graciously offered, I figured I would take him up on it! :friends:


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Re: Radio Comms- A Basic Primer

Postby jdonovan » Thu, 20 Mar 2014 12:28:21



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Re: Radio Comms- A Basic Primer

Postby bryanrheem » Wed, 26 Mar 2014 13:10:55

Thanks jdonovan!

I'm currently looking at http://www.hamradiolicenseexam.com

Don't know how people feel about online exams?


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Re: Radio Comms- A Basic Primer

Postby SpanishInquisition » Wed, 26 Mar 2014 20:40:03

As far as practice tests go, just make sure you've got the most recent question pools. The FCC actually publishes the test questions and answers, so it's darn near an open book test.

That's not to say you shouldn't learn more than the answers to the test questions, though!

The one I used to study for my exams was an offline version available at:
http://www.shenware.com/ar01.html

While shenware's name may make you think they are local, they are actually located in the nation's oldest city. :)

Here's another place to look for information:
http://www.ar15.com/forums/t_10_22/6464 ... tions.html

Prospective hams may also be interested in the video podcast "Ham Nation", over o nthe TWiT network:
http://twit.tv/show/ham-nation/139

Live at 9:00 wed nights and available for on demand viewing as well. Many topics are covered!


My apologies for not paying more close attention to this topic. I'll try to do better.
Last edited by SpanishInquisition on Wed, 26 Mar 2014 20:49:50, edited 1 time in total.
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