Jan 29

Ham Radio, The Only Form of Communication After T-SHTF


We take communication for granted because if we want to talk to someone we have multiple ways of contacting them:  home phones, cell phones, email, and instant messaging.  We are used to instant gratification by calling or texting and pretty much getting an immediate response from virtually everyone on our contact list.  But after all the electronic infrastructure is gone, how will we get in contact with people?  Cell phones, landlines, and the internet will be useless.  However there are multiple radio options.  Which ones will be of the best use and which ones will be basically useless?

General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS), Family Radio Service (FRS) and Multi-Use Radio Service (MURS) use basic handheld radios that are available commercially with pre-programmed frequencies.  The person responsible for the GMRS radio must be licensed by the FCC, while FRS and MURS users do not require a license.  These are all basically high end walkie talkies.  The upside:  easy to use, inexpensive and requires no training.  The down side:  there are only 23 channels on GMRS, 14 on FRS and 5 on MURS and when all other forms of communications are unavailable they will be overloaded and basically useless.  Another drawback is that they are basically line of site communication only.  In other words, you will have to be very close to who you want to speak to for them to hear you.

Citizen Band (CB) is a step up from the previously mentioned radio communication possibilities.  CB radio is easy to use and requires no training or license.  CB allows communication on 40 pre-programmed frequencies.  Like the other radio options the major problem is with the limited number of frequencies, they will be overloaded.  Range is also limited to around 2 to 5 miles.

The GMRS, FRS, and MURS systems are only useful for small groups to communicate with each other while they are in proximity of each other.  They are not useful to communicate with other groups or people outside your immediate area.  CB radio falls in the same category.  Other forms of radio communications which are utilized by police, fire, EMS and military require outside equipment such as repeaters and infrastructure to operate properly.  In other words the radio is rather useless without the other equipment that you have no control over (or might not be able to acquire).

Amateur Radio (Ham) provides users with the most versatility when considering post SHTF communication scenarios.  The positive aspects of Ham radio are many:  there are no pre-programmed frequencies, a Ham operator can program the frequencies of their choice.  Sure in a functioning government you may only transmit on certain frequencies but after T-SHTF an experienced Ham operator may use any frequency they wish.  Other pros:  range is unlimited, many Ham operators contact people around the world and you can pick up weather channels and short wave frequencies.  The downside:  an FCC license is needed, users much pass a written test to prove they are worthy.  Additionally equipment is more expensive.

You may be thinking that you won’t need a license if T-SHTF, and that you’ll just buy a Ham radio and use it when the time comes.  You can do that but like other survival skills you need to practice in order to be proficient.  You will need experience in the use of the radio, building antennas, Morse Code and fine tuning of frequencies.  By getting an Amateur Radio License you can also network with other Hams and become familiar with “Best practices” in Ham operation.  Hams are well versed in making home made antennas that work better then commercial antennas and even building radios.  These are skills that can be learned but it does take time.

A Ham radio operator can function effectively without the use of any other equipment, even though operators do frequently use repeaters on a day to day basis.  Another great aspect of Ham radio is this: you can do more then use voice communication.  Morse Code is a common form of communication in Ham radio.  Also operators commonly utilize “packet radio”.  Packet radio allows transmission of photos, video, and text.  The text was the predecessor to email.  Yes indeed, Ham radio operators were using email before you were and all these forms of communications are available with just a radio.

Ham radios are versatile and can be base stations located in your home with high output power, mobile mounted in a vehicle with moderate output power, or portable small handheld radios with low power output that can be carried anywhere.

After T-SHTF communication will be difficult but needed.  Land lines, cell phones, email, instant messaging, and the internet will be lost but Ham Radio will still be there.  When natural disasters like Katrina or Sandy strike, Ham Radio is there to allow emergency personnel to communicate because the normal communications channels are lost.  When the government can’t communicate with each other during disaster, who do they call for help?  Amateur radio operators, because they know amateur radio is there and works when all other forms of communications fail.  That leads me to believe that after T-SHTF, Ham Radio will be the only form of communication available.

This post was contributed by JM, a certified Paramedic who is also a local EMS Coordinator.  Look for more posts from him in the future.  For more information on how to obtain a Ham Radio license check the ARRL Website for details.


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    • George on January 29, 2013 at 1:53 PM
    • Reply

    I’ve been in ham radio for over 40 years since a freshman in high school. This is easily the best article I’ve read that explains what the Amateur Radio Service is all about to those unfamiliar with it.

      • JM on January 29, 2013 at 4:57 PM
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      Thanks George. I have been around it for a long time, but only recently became a Technician. Mainly because of my prepping, and because I am a Paramedic and we use ham radio in emergency communications due to disaster. It is a “no brainer” that ham will be the only form of communication if T-SHTF.

      Glad you liked the article.

  1. Thank you for the HAM radio license link. I’ve been waiting for my hubs to get started by studying with a regular book, but the site you mentioned is awesome. I’m gonna get my license, too!

      • JM on January 29, 2013 at 4:59 PM
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      That’s great Yum Yucky. That will give you someone to practice with when you get your license. Good luck on your test.

    • JM on January 29, 2013 at 5:17 PM
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    Funny story about getting my Ham License. I was sitting in a room with five other people getting ready to test, and in walks a middle aged man who I could immediate tell had an ankle hosted on. After I noticed that, I looked him up and down from head to toe and noticed that he had a knife, some para cord, and a flashlight. I thought to myself, “he’s a prepper”. After we both finished our test, he struck up a conversation, he was checking me out and probably noticed the bulge in the small of by back. He said, I’m only getting a ham license for T-SHTF. I said, that I was right there with him. And the conversation went on from there like we had known each other for years.

    Moral of the story: you will meet a lot of preppers in Ham radio.

      • PJ on January 29, 2013 at 7:13 PM
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      Great story, thanks for sharing! How could you tell he had an ankle holster on? Just wondering…

      Funny how you meet people that way.


        • JM on January 29, 2013 at 9:29 PM
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        I saw the bulge that was present on his left ankle and not on his right ankle. He was wearing tennis shoe which made it a little easier. I’m a people watcher. It drives my wife nuts.

      • Bulge Inspector on August 31, 2014 at 8:58 AM
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      So after inspecting bulges, did you exchange SQL cards?

    • Norm Miller on January 29, 2013 at 5:20 PM
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    Good article !
    I hope a lot of non Hams read it.

    Norm kay zero kay you en.

    • Lux on January 29, 2013 at 8:00 PM
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    For People who are not ready to make the move to being a Ham, You may at least want to buy a short wave radio. That way you can hear what’s going on in different areas from people who are there and compare good eye witness information to what you can pick up from overseas broadcasts. After TSHTF shortwave will be my main form of information. Mine is stashed in the faraday cage. I am planning to get a back up.

      • PJ on January 29, 2013 at 8:06 PM
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      Good call Lux, any tips on good places to purchase a short wave radio?


        • JM on January 29, 2013 at 9:33 PM
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        I’ve had my eye on the Sony ICF-SW7600GR AM/FM Shortwave World Band on Amazon. $139, not a bad price.

          • Jeff on January 30, 2013 at 12:45 PM
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          Try to get a Shortwave receiver that can listen in to Single Sideband (SSB). Most HAMs use SSB to transmit and it is unintelligible unless your radio has that ability. Here is a good example of a radio with SSB <a


        • Lux on January 31, 2013 at 5:40 PM
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        My junky little sangean from the 80s still works fine. A few of my family members give me Frys Electronics gift cards for Birthdays & Holidays. I will be picking up one from there. It just has to have digital tuning to help log frequency and transmission times accurately.

    • ParaB on January 30, 2013 at 2:13 PM
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    JM, agree totally. Great article. I took my test about 6 months ago for the same reason. I figure you can never have enough “tools” in the “tool box”. However, I have not bought a radio yet. I was going to buy a dual band hand held for the mobility, but 5 watts wont get you real far. A mobil radio of 50 watts is better, but if your on your feet, no good. Now im thinking about getting a hand held, and putting a Mirage amp with an antenna in my truck, so I can do both. Unfortunately, my knowledge is limited. Please share your thoughts. Thank you.

      • JM on January 30, 2013 at 2:56 PM
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      There are pros and cons to both, like you said, but a handheld may prove more versatile then a mobile. Now, in a perfect world you would have a base station in your house, a mobile in your car, and a handheld on your person. But, If I could only have one, I think I would take the handheld. And, here is why: I can take a handheld everywhere. With handhelds, you have a rechargeable battery, and many of them you can get a battery pack that takes AA or AAA batteries (a must as far as I’m concerned), so you don’t have to have electricity. Yes 5 watts is low, but you can build or buy portable antennas that will make that 5 watt held held a lot more versatile. Remember, the antenna will make the biggest difference.

      As for the radio, I always say, “buy the best you can afford”. I am personally partial to Yaesu radios. They are a proven, high quality, and reliable radio company. For handhelds, I like the VX-8-DR. It is a quad band (2m, 6m, 10m 1.25m, and 70cm), and is the best as it gets in a handheld. Duel band is fine, and to be honest, duel band is going to do most of what you want to do with 70cm and 2m.

      • PJ on January 30, 2013 at 8:44 PM
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      I knew this article would be a hit but it has exceeded my expectations! Many thanks to JM for providing it. You guys are seriously inspiring me to jump on this HAM bandwagon in short order.

        • JM on January 30, 2013 at 11:11 PM
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        Try it, all the cool kids are doing it.

      • Isaac on March 23, 2013 at 10:57 PM
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      Don’t overlook Baofeng radios. Yes a Yaesu is a darn good radio but for the price you could buy 6 baofengs and have 5 for spares, or give them away as stocking-stuffers. The 5 watt Baofeng UV-5R regularly goes for about 45 bucks on ebay. I have one matched up to a used radio-shack 30 watt amp i got for 20 bucks on ebay. I have a homemade 2 meter slim-jim antenna mounted on my jeep that cost me about 10 bucks to make and with this setup gets me 15-20 miles minimum for under 80 bucks or so.

      Remember, Preppers don’t have to worry about brand-names. Use what works.

        • PJ on March 24, 2013 at 4:37 PM
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        Good point, functionality doesn’t always come with a brand name or the highest price tag. Thanks for the comment.

  2. Good job continuing to get the word out about ham radio. Easily the best SHTF communication method out there.

    • JM on January 30, 2013 at 11:16 PM
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    For anyone interested in obtaining a ham license, all that is needed is to buy a study manual and study. The entire test bank is printed in the manual so that you don’t go into the test blind. After you feel that you are prepared, find a ham exam in your area, normally administered by a local ham club, and schedule to attend a test. The cost is $15 to test. Good luck.

    Ham Radio License Manual: http://www.amazon.com/Ham-Radio-License-Manual-Arrl/dp/0872590976/ref=cm_lmf_tit_7

  3. Another HAM op chiming in. I think CB radio has mostly fallen out of use since the advent of cell phones. I drive for days in my area without hearing anyone on CH 19. I plan to leverage my HAM rigs and CB to communicate in our area post-shtf.

      • PJ on February 5, 2013 at 2:02 PM
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      Technology certainly does drive the way we communicate. I once heard there is more technology in an iPhone than there was on the Apollo 11 spacecraft which took men to the moon. This HAM post certainly has me intrigued, I’m considering studying up for my license.

    • Jeremy on February 5, 2013 at 7:01 PM
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    The town I live in will not let me put up a tower for an antian. So I have a CB with a 102″ wipe monted to the roof works ok.

    • N5UP on June 20, 2013 at 10:03 PM
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    We hams have been prepping for T-SHTF for decades, once a year in the summer. Off-grid communications around the world. We call it “Field Day”. And one of these days we’re going to have a field day with this stuff LOL

  4. Excellent article!

    But, even though HAM radio is an excellent method of SHTF communications, it certainly won’t be the only method–contrary to what my fellow HAM operators want people to think 🙂

    Most people simply don’t have a HAM license or HAM radios! But there are plenty of CB radios out there. So, for survivalist communications,
    using CB SSB survivalist freeband radios is probably going to be the most probable situation, especially if it is TEOTWAWKI. CB SSB radios go much further than normal CB radios.

    HAM preppers would do well to start planning for being able to communicate to/from CB radios, and in many cases, this means modifying their ham radio transceiver to operate on 27 MHz in case of SHTF emergencies (MARS/CAP mod).

    Here is a Survivalist SHTF Communications Frequency List.

      • PJ on July 7, 2013 at 8:41 PM
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      Great information, thanks for taking the time to share.

    • Craig on January 6, 2014 at 2:41 AM
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    As a ham of over 32 years, I don’t have any problem with folks that think of CB radio (with or without SSB) as a way to communicate – just make sure you understand the limitations.

    CB frequencies are on 11 meters and exhibit many of the same frequency characteristics as the ham 10 and 12 meter bands, but the problem with all hf bands (including 11 meters) is that if you can’t control where your signal is going you can’t reliably communicate to those you need to talk to, whereas ham operators can by changing bands..

    On CB, you might want to talk to your friends across town, but because of skip, your signal is coming down 1,500 miles away instead. I may be having the same issue with my 10 or 12 meter contacts, but I can change bands to alter my signal path (depending on conditions), where CB operators can’t.

    I’m not knocking CB (and I use it as well), I’m just saying that if you want to reliably be able to communicate at various distances you can’t count on any one band to do that.

    Hams with a General Class or higher license have voice privileges on multiple hf bands, including 10, 12, 15, 17, 20, 30, 40, 60, 80, and 160 meters – all of which behave differently depending on band conditions.

    So one day I might use 80 meters to work a station 200 miles away, and the next day I might use 60 or 160 meters. CB operators are stuck on the same band, including “freebanders”, which means their signals are going all over the place with no control. Adding power may just make the problem worse, as now your stronger signal is even more likely to skip or bounce, perhaps even more than once.

    Even those with a Technician (beginners) ham radio license have access to multiple bands like 2m, 1.25m, 70cm, and more, and with around 22,000 U.S. based repeaters (according to the ARRL website), there’s hardly a place in the U.S. not within range of somebody’s repeater.

    Plus they can use IRLP, EchoLink, D-Star (and other modes) to communicate with others around the world with “just” a 5 watt handheld radio (HT). We are constantly demoing IRLP during various Prepper shows using my 5 watt handheld on stage (or here at the office), talking to various hams all across the country with an antenna about 6″ long.

    Plus there’s no longer testing for morse code (cw) on any license class, so we have 5 and 6 year old kids getting their Tech licenses now.

    I encourage folks to use radio to communicate, and any radio (of any type) is better than no radio at all, but with ham radio licenses now being so easy to get I really encourage anyone serious about being able to “reliably communicate” to look into getting their ham radio license.

    Craig – N7LB
    Founder of RF Gear 2 Go and PrepperComm
    (Look for the launch of the websites coming soon)

    • Carl on February 23, 2014 at 12:55 AM
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    I’m a Ham and I’ll use the following antennas:

    Yes you can build yours but some time it’s better to go with the quality stuff specially when it’s build in the USA!

    I go around a lot of different park and I rarely see anyone doing radio anymore! Yes people will try some handheld to play around the house or at work but very few people really know how to use those things.

    • kurt on April 22, 2014 at 1:19 PM
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    I just got my license a few months ago and haven’t transmitted on the air yet.I have older tube transceiver and transmitter which I bought for the EMP factor. I’m figuring out receiver but haven’t tackled the transmitter yet

    Been using the computer program [Just Learn Morse Code] which is a free download program that works really well compared to some of the others that I have tried,[FYI if you are married and want to stay that way head phones are a must]
    I’m up to 13 WPM on the good days and because of my lack of typing skill probably won’t go much higher.
    By the way I will turn 62 in a couple of weeks and convince that it would have been a lot easier at 22 then 62 but it can be done.

    We live in a rural area in southern Oregon so most of the information that I get is off of the internet, It would be nice if there was and Elmer in the neighborhood but there is not. That’s is why post like these are so important.

    A question for you guys that been around for a while, is the QRP [ Super Rock Mite kit] worth the time or would this just be a cool factor for show tell of my get home bag?
    Again thank for taking the time to post and someday maybe we can chat on SSB.
    God Bless

    • VK on April 23, 2014 at 9:37 AM
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    Thanks, just bought one of the last IC-7000 + AH-4 tuners and flat top with a Standard lic on advice from your article…


      • PJ on April 25, 2014 at 10:01 PM
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      Glad the article could be of assistance! Good luck

    • l on May 8, 2014 at 7:38 PM
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    where can a find a copy of where it is written in the patriot act that home owner associations cannot, not allow you to put up a ham radio antenna if you are a licensed ham radio operator.
    I had it once and cannot locate it again.
    As many of you stated it I the last point of contact in an emergeny.

    • Dax Hunter on July 23, 2015 at 3:30 PM
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    I just ordered a book off Amazon called Ham Radio Go Bag by Max Cooper. It looks like a useful book. I’ve read a couple of this authors other books and they were great. I’m looking forward to this one. Just wanted to pass this along.


    • Paul on February 24, 2016 at 5:34 AM
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    I have been a Ham since 1991 and lived thru Many ice storms and earthquakes and power outages always with ham radio as the only back up comms. some times for days or weeks at a time Ham radio always works as the operator has control of his own power supply (battery, generator, solar, or wind ) the gain antenna is the most effective way to improve signal strength of HT’s. I was a local EC for ARES for many years and am now involved in the local CERT group. Emergency comms are what ham radio is already for ,it always works and Close area comms via NVISW’s is as good a reliable method as it always works. Google NIVS for more info. I have done 48 years public service Fire ,Rescue ,Ambulance, and 20 years as a nurse so the need to prep and be prepared has been instilled in me from birth parents and grandparents were self-sufficient.

    • Mykel Hawke on June 8, 2016 at 5:27 PM
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    Ham Radio for Preppers by Kent Hertz is great resource for those looking to improve their comms.


    • charlie on August 26, 2016 at 1:27 PM
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    what brand and what model is the best all band receiver transmitter to buy for a base unit and a portable? all of this new stuff, do you still have to tune the unit to the antenna. if you buy cheap you get cheap and i do not believe in cheap. you get what you pay for. do you need a ham licenses to buy one? Just for shtf just to have not to use until emergency, shtf type instance, stored in my faraday cage. how effective would a diepole be, and would a nominal whip be ok or a long whip be for a stationary position and the short for portable. i know a full wave would be best for stationary but take to long to move or change the direction of it. i was a field radio repairman in vietnam. i was number one in my class of 493 at ft gordon. just never had time to pursue it. to busy working and trying to survive. i am also a highly decorated combat veteran. i will appreciate what ever info you can help with..

    • WA4STO on September 2, 2016 at 10:39 AM
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    Charlie – I’d like to tackle some, but not all, of your questions if I may.

    First, there is no “best” radios to buy. I’ve had dozens and dozens of them over the years, and my wife just bought me a spectacular new one the week before Christmas last.

    Still, none of them were the best. The fancy new one will likely be the first to fry when the tiniest of EMP surges nails it.

    What to do? What to do? Well, after all these years, I’m finally determined to build my own. Tubes only. Not a single transistor or integrated circuit. First the receiver, then the transmitter and finally the amplifier.

    Your next question is about tuning the unit to the antenna. You have to do that if your transmitter will be used on more than one very narrow set of frequencies. In my case, I won’t have a tuner, nor will I need to “tune” the radio. Why? Because my antenna will be cut for the exact same frequency that I will be using. Bingo/presto, no tuning required, as long as I cut that wire exactly right.

    Let me stop here and see if you get this and wish to to continue on.


    Luck, WA4STO

  5. Excellent article! I agree that Ham is going to be your best bet when the SHTF, but I also think it’s important to have MURS and GMRS handy, so you can communicate with others that haven’t made the leap yet (like most family members of hams probably). I’ve been selling emergency two-way radios that can do all of these bands, some for your average family member or jr. preppers, and some for seasoned hams. While they are built in China, they are designed and supported in the US and have a way better build quality (and audio) than the crappy Baofeng radios (not much better than bubble-pack IMO) that all the preppers seem to recommend. They are also all FCC certified (one of them for both MURS & GMRS!). My ultimate goal is to bring people to my site for the GMRS/MURS radios, but eventually get them interested in amateur radio and convert them all to Hams (the more the merrier, I think). 🙂

    Cheers de K6LED!

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