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Licensed Amateur "Ham" Radios vs CB and Unlicensed Radios

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posted on Oct, 18 2015 @ 12:29 PM
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There is a trend in the prepper community toward the use of Amateur "Ham" radios that require a license over the use citizens band radios and other unlicensed radios. After researching two way communications systems and making practical comparisons, I've come to the following conclusions.

Ham radios and Amateur licenses.

Admittedly there are advantages in having one of the three grades of Amateur radio operator licenses issued by the F.C.C. that allow the legal use of a range of frequencies and output power. With the F.C.C.'s mid-level "general" license, an Amateur radio operator can legally talk over many frequency bands that have different characteristics and uses. The clarity and greater range of radios that operate on different frequencies with higher output power offer a variety of uses that a survivalist or prepper would find more appealing than the unlicensed radios.

Today, the license exam is fairly simple, inexpensive and easier to pass than in the past. Generally, because of the time and expense of acquiring a license, the Amateur radio operators you will hear on the ham frequencies are more knowledgeable, polite, better behaved and quite serious about their use of two communications when compared to the average unlicensed radio operator. There are also many groups and organizations that support the ham radio community, but nothing except a few loose associations on the unlicensed bands.

All the perks of licensed ham radio operation seem really great when compared to CBs and other unlicensed radios, but every system has it's drawbacks for any particular purpose. In my opinion licensed operation is not only a more expensive and involved past time, but it is unnecessary for most survival prepping. Besides, there is no law that prevents anyone from monitoring the licensed bands without a license, so you can still hear what is being said on the regulated frequencies.

My main concern about getting a Ham radio "ticket" (license) and communicating on the licensed frequencies is that in a crisis the official licensed networks will be too busy to give anyone much personal attention. Whereas the unlicensed frequencies are perfect for dealing with personal issues outside of licensed operators and government authorities. Some of the advantages of using the unlicensed frequencies are as follows.

The main advantage with unlicensed CB, FRS, MURS, and WiFi frequencies is that you don't need a F.C.C. license for there use.

The unlicensed radios are good for local communications when keeping track of your personal situation in an emergency or crisis.

Being Incense free makes it accessible to everyone.

Added costs, a license costs time and money. The exam costs $15 to $20 to complete, you will need to study and may want to take classes to prepare for the exam.

License free radio operations make sure your private information does not end up on the F.C.C. list of operator licenses.

The F.C.C. does little to regulate the unlicensed frequencies compared to the licensed ones and most licensed operators are "radio snitches" ready to turn you in for the most minor offenses on the licensed frequencies.

Another consideration is that CBs and unlicensed radios are more available and in a lower price range than HAM radios. A new mobile CB with antenna ranges from the lowest prices of around $70 to $200 and are available online as well as in brick and mortar stores like Best Buy. The lowest priced Ham mobile radios cost around $250 new or used, without an antenna, and are mostly only available online that include additional shipping costs. The price of Ham antennas and other necessary equipment is also higher and an added cost to the basic setup.

In reality it is not necessary to have high cost Ham equipment and a license to communicate with the local licensed Amateur radio operators. Many Hams still talk on the CB when there is no action on the amateur bands so using a CB (esp. single side band units) can include you with an established local Ham network.

From what I have heard monitoring the different frequencies is that there are still many people using CBs in the U.S. as well as in many other countries. Although it is true that CBs are not as popular as they were back in the 1970s, today there are undoubtedly more CBers on the air in the U.S. than there are Ham radio operators. When traveling on the roads, you are far less likely to hear reports from other drivers on the Amateur frequencies compared to those on the CB.

Some disadvantages of CBs and other unlicensed radios.

Limited communications range is a problem on the unlicensed frequencies, but a network could relay messages at least 25 miles or more at a time. Not only that but the atmospheric conditions known as "skip" will allow CB communications all over the U.S., Canada, Mexico with Europe and the Pacific not out of the question when conditions are just right. It should be noted here that communicating on the CB for more than the allowed 155 mile range, or to other countries outside the U.S., is against F.C.C. regulations.

AM broadcasts on the citizens band are subject to more interference and not as clear FM broadcasts on higher frequencies. However, these limitations can be over come with different antenna setups combined with the use of higher frequency FM bands on the FRS and MURS radios.

Licensed Amateur radio operations include services not allowed on the citizens band. Such services include encrypted transmissions including digital data and the use of Morse code. Repeater stations that increase transmit range and radio to phone connections are also only allowed with a license.

However, the MURS VHF frequencies allows digital encryption and Morse code not to mention that a phone connection does no good if the phone lines are down. If the WiFi frequencies are considered, a "meshnet" wireless network can be created and serve the purpose of transmitting digital encryption as well as serve as an internet phone service. The WiFi frequencies are allowed only one watt output and so each unit in the network could only hope to have a two mile range with the best equipment and a directional antenna. This is not a problem considering that the network's range is out to the farthest unit that acts like a small repeater station.

In my opinion, with the low cost availability of CB equipment, both new and used, a CB network will undoubtedly arise from all the old units in storage when other common forms of communication have a blackout. Even with no communications problems, there are still enough truck drivers and other people using the CB to be useful right now on a road trip, so there is a loose network already. Also, there are enough old units gathering dust, repair parts should be available from defunct radios to make servicing possible even when the supply chain is disrupted.

Finally, there is the political aspect that "If you don't use it, you lose it". It is (apparent to me at least) that the wireless digital communication corporations, cell phones companies and government interests in air wave uses, have pushed the general public off the air in many other countries. So if we don't use the unlicensed frequencies and let our government know we want to keep using them, there use could become outlawed here like they have been in other countries where they were once legal to use.

For more information on creating an unlicensed two way network please visit the MCBRN website.

Michigan CB Radio Network




posted on Oct, 18 2015 @ 01:25 PM
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originally posted by: MichiganSwampBuck
The lowest priced Ham mobile radios cost around $250 new or used

That is a very inaccurate, and clearly biased disinformative reporting of the cost of Ham radios.

Anyone that spends a few minutes shopping for mobile Ham car radios will see the prices start at around $120 new. Cheaper if bought used or open-box.

The cost of handheld Ham radios start at around $30 for dual-band two-way handhelds. Yes, the cost can get into the $300-$400 range on handhelds when you start getting into tri-band and quad-band models.

Same goes for mobile car radios. They can be expensive. But there are plenty of options that are inexpensive for the amateur, or someone looking to have an emergency two-way standing by that can get the range that could be needed in a life for death situation.




originally posted by: MichiganSwampBuck
The F.C.C. does little to regulate the unlicensed frequencies compared to the licensed ones and most licensed operators are "radio snitches" ready to turn you in for the most minor offenses on the licensed frequencies.

I know for a fact and from experience that this is also not true. Most amateur radio operators are always happy to help a newcomer or those inexperienced.

Of course if someone is knowingly using the amateur radio frequencies illegally and continuously after being informed of such, then yes, they can easily be tracked down and be reported.


Having said that, if someone is having a true emergency and calls out for help on the amateur radio bands, the chances of being fined by the FCC are virtually non-existent.

Same goes for a real SHTF scenario. It is understood by most amateur radio operators that unlicensed people will at some time likely need to use the amateur frequencies for real emergencies. Those are times that the FCC won't bother with fining people either.

The only real difference between Ham and CB is that with CB radios, you can only transmit locally. With Ham radios, you can transmit across the country and around the world to other countries. That's where the license (and regulation) comes into play.

It's no different than flying your drone around in your backyard. But if you want to fly it outside of your local property, you're going to soon need to register it and abide by airspace regulations.



posted on Oct, 18 2015 @ 01:36 PM
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The biggest issue here is RANGE. A CB radio has a very short range. HAM radios, on the other hand, can let you talk around the world on the correct frequencies. In a crisis situation I doubt anyone will be concerned about whether you actually have a HAM license, but the radios themselves are vastly different.

All you need to do for a CB radio is press a button and talk. No brains required. A HAM radio operator, however, has the skills and knowledge to know how a radio works and what to do to fix one. The knowledge required of a HAM operator is vastly more than that of a CB jockey, which is next to none.

Not everything can be reduced to dollars and cents. I'm reminded of the old adage: "Good, fast, cheap: Pick any two." If you restrict yourself to a CB radio because they are cheap and require no expertise, you get what you paid for.

Schuyler
KZ7B
"Extra" Class



posted on Oct, 18 2015 @ 01:37 PM
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originally posted by: MichiganSwampBuck

My main concern about getting a Ham radio "ticket" (license) and communicating on the licensed frequencies is that in a crisis the official licensed networks will be too busy to give anyone much personal attention. Whereas the unlicensed frequencies are perfect for dealing with personal issues outside of licensed operators and government authorities.
Michigan CB Radio Network



This seems a little paranoid to me. You'll still be able to talk to whoever you need to talk to and there's nothing to fear from licensed hams.

This is really a no-brainer. If you're talking about an actual S*** hits the fan situation you want short wave radio. You'll have a global network of dedicated amateurs who are organized for just such communications in an emergency. As noted, CB has only a limited range. I don't know what situation you're prepping for but in an emergency so dire that radio is the only way to communicate the government will hardly be enforcing unlicensed use of shortwave radios.



posted on Oct, 18 2015 @ 02:32 PM
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To those posters who seem to think that unlicensed use of the amateur bands will get a free pass in an emergency, I'd like to think that would be true, otherwise you'd need the ticket to use the ham radios for personal use. Even with that you need to follow procedures or you will get in trouble, esp. if the dedicated ham operators are out there working it harder in a SHTF scenario.

As for range, I can talk to other CB base stations to about 30 miles away with a cheap 1/2 wave antenna about half as high up as is legal (ie. about 30 ft high). On side band my range is even better. I doubt that I will need more range than that. I can talk to the drivers on the local interstate for about 20 miles in each direction. I can talk to my mobile at least 15 miles in any direction from the base so all trips to the local towns are covered.

As far as pricing, I'm not talking bargain basement sales or used under the table sales, I'm speaking in general. Plus, who will be able to bargain hunt in a communications blackout? The unlicensed radios are far more available to the average Joe Prepper, esp. after things go south. Over all, unlicensed equipment will serve it's purpose in a number of scenarios without signing up with Uncle Charlie.

Many people won't be interested in getting an amateur license, but they may be interested in two ways they can use and practice with without one.
edit on 18-10-2015 by MichiganSwampBuck because: added extra comment



posted on Oct, 18 2015 @ 03:08 PM
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originally posted by: schuyler
Schuyler
KZ7B
"Extra" Class


Your call sign was enough for me to know a lot of information about you. I wouldn't be "broadcasting" it myself. All one needs to do is a search on the Universal Licensing System on the F.C.C. website.

I see you got a vanity call sign about ten years ago. Your actual address and real name are there too. Too much information available in my opinion. If it was that easy for me, it's that easy for everybody who cares to look.

I'll delete your call sign from this reply if you want me too.

ETA: A quick Google search of your name and address brought up a whole lot more information including phone numbers and an email address. If I were interested in you, I've got a great start from your call sign.


edit on 18-10-2015 by MichiganSwampBuck because: added extra comment

edit on 18-10-2015 by MichiganSwampBuck because: more info

edit on 18-10-2015 by MichiganSwampBuck because: typo



posted on Oct, 18 2015 @ 03:31 PM
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It sure is funny how the range of a CB is an issue. Right now I'm monitoring the lower side band of Channel 37 and I'm listening to a guy in south Texas near the Gulf of Mexico. His signal is quite loud actually.



posted on Oct, 18 2015 @ 03:31 PM
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a reply to: MichiganSwampBuck

Why are you looking up his personal info and posting about it here?



posted on Oct, 18 2015 @ 03:32 PM
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originally posted by: MichiganSwampBuck
To those posters who seem to think that unlicensed use of the amateur bands will get a free pass in an emergency, I'd like to think that would be true, otherwise you'd need the ticket to use the ham radios for personal use. Even with that you need to follow procedures or you will get in trouble, esp. if the dedicated ham operators are out there working it harder in a SHTF scenario.

Many people won't be interested in getting an amateur license, but they may be interested in two ways they can use and practice with without one.


Let me reiterate. In a true SHTF scenario NOBODY is going to "get into trouble" for using an "unauthorized" frequency. Indeed, there are provisions in the law itself that make exceptions for "emergency" use. You need to get over that idea and stop spreading it as truth. It's not going to happen. Secondly, HAM radio operators are not out there trying to enforce the rules and be snitches, as you suggest. Third, about the only useful thing you are saying is that people can use CB radios in an emergency. It's kind of a no-brainer. Fourth, I don't see why anyone should take your posts as authoritative information on HAM radio since you don't have a HAM license yourself. Your characterization of HAM radio operators is negative for no good reason.

Fifth, thank you so much for being so concerned about my well-being in listing my HAM radio call sign. I did that to show you and others that as an Extra Class HAM (the highest designation and level of license available) I MIGHT know what I was talking about. It's public information and available to anyone. If someone were to use that information to visit me for some sort of negative reason, well, I also have a License to Carry a Concealed Firearm. That's public information, too. I am not concerned.

My concern here is that you appear to be giving out misleading information and you appear to be very negative about HAM radio. Your message that anyone can buy and use a cheap CB radio is homage to Captain Obvious and not a particularly noteworthy contribution. In a true SHTF scenario anyone can use any radio they have access to without fear of any negative official consequences. To imply otherwise is not only not true, it's a disservice to people interested.



posted on Oct, 18 2015 @ 03:39 PM
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After seeing your information, your credentials are quite impressive Schuyler. You are quite correct that I have an attitude with the elitist crowd on the licensed frequencies. Believe me when I say that I would never use such information to mess with anybody, be they armed or not.

Regardless, you Ham guys disregard the unlicensed frequencies that do have their uses and advantages in many scenarios. With your knowledge you should know that this is true.



posted on Oct, 18 2015 @ 03:41 PM
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originally posted by: MichiganSwampBuck


As for range, I can talk to other CB base stations to about 30 miles away with a cheap 1/2 wave antenna about half as high up as is legal (ie. about 30 ft high). On side band my range is even better. I doubt that I will need more range than that..


In the event of a national or global crisis so severe that radio is your only communication option do you want to be limited to 30 miles around you out in Michigan or do you want to be able to talk to and hear from people in New York, California, Europe, etc.? Ham operators are also going to generally be a lot smarter; more on top of things; more valuable to be in touch with and more likely to stay on the air than someone with a CB (just an assumption on my part admittedly.) As far as price, why skimp when you're talking about getting ready for TEOTWAWKI?



posted on Oct, 18 2015 @ 03:48 PM
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Great info in this thread!



posted on Oct, 18 2015 @ 04:37 PM
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DelMarvel,

I don't see how talking all over the nation or esp. the planet, will help me in any situation I might find in my local area. Still, if I need to talk to the local Ham radios around here, they can often be found on the side band of the CB. Yes, the Ham operators can be helpful if they want to be, basically they're just like anyone else.

As I said earlier, you can listen to any frequency you want for information, license free. I don't see how that has any bearing on wanting to talk to local stations or how a distant station could be helpful.



posted on Oct, 18 2015 @ 04:42 PM
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originally posted by: DelMarvel
a reply to: MichiganSwampBuck

Why are you looking up his personal info and posting about it here?


Obviously Schuyler doesn't care if he give it out to begin with, besides, he said so himself. It's not like I really posted anything but the fact it was easy to find if you wanted it. It's an example of why you may not want an operators license to begin with, it's certainly one of the reasons I don't want one. But if you want to be legal and not some outlaw pirate "freebander" then sign up and get listed like he did.



posted on Oct, 18 2015 @ 04:51 PM
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Actually you could get any number of licenses, some don't require the exam if you are a business or organization. Some licenses are temporary use as well. I suppose your personal info could be hidden by such licensed approaches. Above all else, I'm not advocating the illegal use of any radio frequency, that's why I advocate the unlicensed approach.
edit on 18-10-2015 by MichiganSwampBuck because: typo



posted on Oct, 18 2015 @ 10:34 PM
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a reply to: MichiganSwampBuck

I can see advantages to both, really. Back in the day, the parents had a base station and mobile ones, and we all talked on them. Fun stuff, really. My dad knew a lot about the HAM stuff, too, and I think had one at one time. Both are pretty cool. If I was going to invest, I'd likely do both, just for the versatility.



posted on Oct, 18 2015 @ 10:47 PM
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Why NOT take the test? Isn't all information valuable? You get the added benefit of meeting and networking with other people that might be useful in an emergency. I've tossed the idea around myself. I've studied the required material and the basic test is pretty straight forward and easy.

Check Amazon, you can get a PAIR of inexpensive two-way HAM radios for under $150. Sure, they're not the greatest, but they're portable. You can get a Baofeng UV5RA for less than $50:



I'd want HAM, CB and public (FRS) radios in an emergency. Why not?



posted on Oct, 19 2015 @ 12:08 PM
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originally posted by: MichiganSwampBuck
It sure is funny how the range of a CB is an issue. Right now I'm monitoring the lower side band of Channel 37 and I'm listening to a guy in south Texas near the Gulf of Mexico. His signal is quite loud actually.


I will have to agree as with the right antenna i use to talk from the calif desert to the east coast japan and Australia.



posted on Oct, 19 2015 @ 01:00 PM
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originally posted by: MystikMushroom
Check Amazon, you can get a PAIR of inexpensive two-way HAM radios for under $150. Sure, they're not the greatest, but they're portable.

One thing to keep in mind with those radios -- they're for the 2-meter band, which is all but useless if the repeaters (SHTF) are down. You must be line-of-sight, or very close to it, for reliable communications on the 2-meter band.

Your best SHTF rig is a multi-band short wave unit, with a dipole (or inverted-V you can adjust) for the 40-meter band, and an impedance matcher (so you can get good performance on other bands). Yes, it's going to cost more, but you can talk across the globe on 40-20 meters, talk across states on 15 meters, and talk locally on 10 meters. All with one rig.


My experience:

I was a team leader for my ham club where we simulated SHTF scenarios with the AARL Field Days. An extendable wooden ladder held my rotating 40-meter inverted-V that I used on 80, 40, 20, and 15 meters with an impedance matcher I built myself (and balun on the antenna). The goal was to improvise, in the field, effective communications during a simulated crisis... then thousands of clubs across the country competed with each other. We won our region, and came in 8th nationally.

We also did "rabbit hunts" with improvised directional 2-meter antennas to simulate finding someone in distress in a SHTF situation. The rabbit would regularly broadcast their distress, but no location data. Several teams competed to find the rabbit the quickest. I usually was first or second with my three-emelent quad antenna, made from coper plumbing tubing. But I also put that at the top of the wooden ladder, because the signal was nearly undetectable at ground-level unless we were very close.



posted on Oct, 19 2015 @ 02:00 PM
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Your best SHTF rig is a multi-band short wave unit, with a dipole (or inverted-V you can adjust) for the 40-meter band, and an impedance matcher (so you can get good performance on other bands). Yes, it's going to cost more, but you can talk across the globe on 40-20 meters, talk across states on 15 meters, and talk locally on 10 meters. All with one rig.


This man speaks the truth, and the thing is, if you're just a "10-4 good buddy" CB user, you won't even understand what he is talking about. THAT'S the advantage of being a licensed HAM. OP's attitude is kind of like someone saying there's no reason to go to all the trouble and expense to get certified as an EMT because you can take a first aid course from the "Y" for free. And he continues to spout the nonsense that HAM radio operators are elitists and somehow antagonistic to everyone else. It's kind of like saying a doctor is elitist because he doesn't trust a bricklayer to do surgery.

If you want accurate information about HAM radio, you don't get it from someone who is antagonistic to the field and is not one himself.

And for the record, I don't know a HAM radio operator who does not also have a CB radio.



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