Plunging into the world of two-way radio communications and monitoring can
seem daunting for newbie preppers. It is a technical field that has more
than its share of jargon and acronyms. I suggest that you team up with someone
that is a licensed amateur “ham” operator, and have them walk
you through the basics of the frequency bands, radio wave propagation, the
various equipment, and the legalities. Yes, there are plenty of legalities.
A ham who mentors new hams is called an “Elmer”. You can find an Elmer through your local ham radio cub. They are almost always very willing to help, and quite generous with their time.
The radio band designations can be confusing to folks who are newcomers to the short wave listening and amateur radio worlds.
One major source of confusion for newbies is hearing hams mentioning things like “…on the 40 meter band, or “I was talking on 2 meters.” So here is a link for a useful band allocation chart from the ARRL that will put the band designations in an easy to grasp graphic format.
I highly recommend that all SurvivalBlog readers at the very minimum buy themselves a short wave radio and a multi-band police scanner, and become familiar with their use. In a "When The Schumer Hits The Fan" (WTSHTF) situation, hard wire telephone, cellular phone, AM and FM commercial radio, the Internet, and television may be essentially unavailable. Read: Off the air. Most radio and TV stations only have enough fuel to run their backup generators for few days. Ditto for the telephone company Central Offices (COs.) After that, there will be an acute information vacuum. You may find yourself listening to overseas short wave broadcasters for your daily news, and to your police scanner for updates on the local situation--to keep track of the whereabouts of looter gangs. Be sure to buy a CB radio and few walkie talkies so that you can coordinate security with your neighbors. (The CB, FRS, and MURS bands do not require any license in the U.S.)
My favorite band for walkie-talkies is the Multi Use Radio Service (MURS) band, since most MURS radios can be programmed to operate in the 2 Meter band, and because they have much better range than FRS radios. But like FRS, they are unregulated in most private use. (No license required!) It is also important to note that the CB channels, FRS channels, and 2 Meter band frequencies will likely be very crowded WTSHTF, particularly in the suburbs, but the less well-known and less populated MURS frequencies will probably be largely available at any given time.
Once you've mastered short-range communications and public service band monitoring, the next step is to join your local Amateur Radio Relay League (ARRL) affiliate club and study to get your amateur license. Someday you may be very glad that you did!
General Advice on Disaster Communications and Monitoring
Your first receiver should probably be a compact portable general coverage AM/FM/Weather Band/CB/Shortwave receiver. There are several brands on the market, most notably Grundig, Sangean, and Sony. I consider the Sony ICF-SW-7600GR receiver among the most durable portable general coverage receivers for the money. It is about the size of a paperback book. I've had one (actually mine is an earlier "pre-G suffix" model) since 1992 and even with very regular use it still works great. In my experience, the secrets to making them last are to buy a couple of spare hand-reel antennas (the most fragile part), show care in putting stress on the headphone jack and power cable connections, and to always carry the radio and accessories in a sturdy well-padded case. (Preferably a waterproof case. I found that a small Pelican brand case with "pluck and chuck" gray foam inserts proved ideal for my needs.)
One low cost alternative to buying Pelican cases is to cut closed-cell foam inserts to fit inside a .30 caliber or .50 caliber United States Government Issue (USGI) ammo can. SurvivalBlog reader MurrDoc calls GI ammo cans "The poor man's Pelican Case." These steel cans are very sturdy, inexpensive (under $10 each, at gun shows), and they also provide limited protection from nuclear EMP effects. (They would make near-perfect Faraday cages if you removed the rubber gasket and replaced it with Electromagnetic Interference (EMI) gasket wire mesh, but then of course the can would no longer be waterproof. Sorry, There Ain't No Such Thing as a Free Lunch.)
Your first transceivers should probably be a pair of MURS
walkie-talkies, such as those sold by MURS
Radios.(One of our loyal advertisers.)
Next on your list should be a SSB-capable CB radio, such as the time-proven Cobra 148 GTL (BTW, this model is also readily adaptable for "freeband" frequency range modification.)
Then, before moving on to sophisticated ham gear, your next purchase should probably be a pair of military surplus field telephones, for coordinating retreat security.
Welcome to the world of communications and monitoring. I hope that you find the dozens of articles on these subjects in the SurvivalBlog Archives useful.