Those of us fortunate enough to have grown up in much of the latter half of the 20th century spent some of our formative years in front of a television set watching movies about police, soldiers, or truckers who used two way radios to communicate. The citizen’s band or CB radio became popular with truck drivers and introduced an entire lexicon for an industry. We all wanted to be Snowman or Bandit in that old truck or John and Ponch riding scout on motorcycles for the California Highway Patrol. If you ever wonder where the band Seven Mary Three got its name, it’s from the radio call signs of the two officers on CHiP’s Patrol!
There is no doubt that communications technology is advancing daily, but there’s still plenty of benefit to having access to some version of a two way radio to keep in contact with others. For other information about powering and using different methods of communication take a look at my Communications Category.
Types of Two Way Radios For Preppers
Just as wired communications range from two tin cans with a string between them to fiber optic cables transmitting our voices as light signals, There are multiple levels of radio communication.
Radio waves are part of the electromagnetic spectrum along with microwaves, infrared, visible light, ultraviolet, x-rays and gamma-rays. Radio frequencies make up a very small part of the entire spectrum but still have several subsets within their assigned frequencies. Common acronyms heard in radio discussions are VHF (very high frequency) and UHF (ultra high frequency). Frequency is determined by the speed and wave length of a signal and broadcasting on different frequencies allows for lots of traffic without interruption of other channels. Without getting into all of the exact details of how radios work, we can still make great use of them for prepping purposes.
Citizen’s Band Radio For Preppers
As I mentioned in the introduction of this post, the CB radio talked its way into the hearts of America as movies about truck drivers and their antics filled the screens starting in the early 1970’s. The language of the CB radio included things such as 10-codes. We learned to say “10-4” to acknowledge or agree without even thinking about it. Other phrases such as “good buddy” are likely to get a less approving response from truckers these days though so don’t assume that it’s the thing to say just because you saw in on television.
The benefit of citizen’s band radio is the simplicity and availability. Every truck stop I have ever stepped into has had a section of the store dedicated to radios and accessories. While the sky is the limit where complexity is concerned, a basic CB radio, and antenna, and a coaxial cable to connect them are all we need to communicate from our home or vehicles. The allotted frequencies for CB radio limits it to 40 channels, however some radios have the ability to switch to upper or lower side bands to make use of the gaps in between the 40 standard frequencies. This can make communications a bit crowded in some areas where there is a lot of radio traffic, so be prepared to change channels often and make sure you have a plan to communicate these changes with your group. Another limiting factor for CB radios is the distance that they can transmit. Tuning a radio and antenna can help us communicate further, but longer distance CB communication requires everyone have an equally well tuned system. Most stock CB radios are limited to output wattage, but a quality CB shop will usually make minor modifications to improve the performance, often for free if you purchase the radio from them.
A few other basics for CB users. Channel 19 is where you will find most of the truckers communicating so it can be helpful to monitor for traffic and law enforcement information. Channel 9 is designated as an emergency channel, but who monitors it and how well it is monitored is uncertain. If cellular and satellite communications begin to fail, I’m sure that there will be many agencies that are forced to return to channel 9 monitoring, but I wouldn’t depend on it in normal circumstances.
If you are looking for a quality CB radio, click on the picture below. Cobra electronics has been one of the most well known CB radio manufacturers for decades.
Family Radio Service Bands For Preppers
Due to the popularity of CB radios in the 70’s and 80’s, there was much more traffic in the lower radio frequencies. This began to cause a crowding issue between CB radios and walkie talkies/two way radios, (not to be confused with hand held CB Radios). According to midlandusa.com, Radio Shack played a huge part in convincing the FCC that there needed to be a defined area on the radio frequency spectrum for recreational use. This lead to the Family Radio Service (FRS) bands between 462 and 467 mhz. Most of the units available in this market are walkie talkies such as the ones used by hunters on a regular basis. They are generally inexpensive and easy to use, however they have limited range due to the low wattage output. For communications with those in relatively close to us, these radios are a good option. Higher quality and more complicated programable radios can use these channels and have the accessories and support to connect with powered hearing protection and microphone options that make them great for hands free communication that comes in handy when conducting security patrols with a team. Click on the picture below for some basic FRS two way radios.
Within the FRS band of channels is another higher powered option. The General Mobile Radio Service or GMRS. GMRS radios can operate on the FRS channels as well as additional bands within the FRS spectrum and are much more powerful. Because of the higher wattage and larger broadcast area, The FCC requires licensing for GMRS operators, however, the FCC rarely gets involved in the area of civilian two way radio communications on FRS bands unless there are complaints of misuse or abuse of the system. I would recommend that everyone in your group be mindful of the potential of FCC intervention. While there is no current push to crack down on FRS transmissions, political climates have brought governments to use any means available to regulate or pressure individuals throughout history. Suppressing communications is a very effective method of disrupting any organized group and if the regulatory system can help do that, all the better for a corrupt government. Click on the picture below for a GMRS setup.
HAM Radio Bands For Preppers
One of the best communications devices for us as preppers is Amateur Radio, or Ham Radio as it’s commonly known. This is an area in which I have yet to venture, but my research shows that Amateur Radio has the ability to transmit hundreds of miles and even into space. There are also many Ham Radio operators that are still active in communicating as a hobby and many groups and associations that support the use of amateur radio. Because of the high wattage and broadcast area that these radios are capable of, they also require a license, however these are taken much more seriously by other operators as well as the FCC. Broadcasting on these bands without a license and legitimate call sign will definitely attract attention so its best to learn the proper protocols before considering this communications option. I’m not knowledgeable enough yet to recommend a specific radio, however clicking the picture below will get you to a book that should help explain more of the basics than I am familiar with. I’ll be adding to my library as well.
OPSEC When Using Two Way Radios
Operational Security (OPSEC) is of dire importance in serious preparedness events. With the potential for widespread unrest after major disasters or political shifts and uprisings, we want to keep our personal and group plans and our resources out of the eyes and ears of others. We easily forget about OPSEC when seeing police and military personnel rattling off details about positions and movements over a radio or field phone, but we have to stop and remember that some of what we see is Hollywood’s portrayal of events, not necessarily reality. We also should note that the military is often using some form of encrypted radio communication that limits the chances of anyone without the same encryption software being able to decipher the communication. It pays dividends in security to remember that we are easily eavesdropped upon by others even when on our cell phones, but it takes zero advanced technology to listen in on an unencrypted two way radio conversation. The United States realized this and enlisted the Navajo Code Talkers during World War II to keep the Japanese from breaking their radio code and thwarting the U.S. attacks. To maintain some form of secrecy, I recommend that you and your group or team consider setting up some form of code. The book I currently recommend as a source of information for subversion is pictured below. While it might not directly give the answers we are looking for pertaining to coded communication among other handy skills for preppers, it has a detailed list of sources to find exactly the information we need. Click the picture to get a copy.
Disclosure: I am an Amazon affiliate and may make money from qualified purchases.