(Continued from Part 2.)
Test All Antennas for Acceptable SWR
The antenna manufacturer of the Tram 1481 boosts an impressive gain on the VHF side of 8 dBi. Given the low power tests conducted, I found this figure plausible as 3.5 watts sent to the dual band Tram 1481 antenna mount only a few feet off the ground was easily received by a Baofeng UV5R on a J-pole located at a distance of 18.3 miles away LOS, and on the other side of a small mountain. The signal was reflect around the mountain. The SWR on low power at that frequency was 2:1 and the power loss through 30 feet of RG8x at the antenna was estimated to be about 1 watt, leave us with 2.5 watts delivered to the antenna. The ERP with 8 dBi of gain put the signal out the door at upwards of 9.6 watts. Wow! However impressive is this level of gain from an omni-directional VHF antenna, I am not impressed by the build quality.
While assembling and testing one for a friend, I found the SWR to be excessive and determined the antenna was faulty. The only correction possible was to modify it and turn it into a standard 1/4 wave ground plane. Also, the Tram 1481 is not easily tuned by the end user. I do not recommend inexpensive Chinese-built high-gain antennas, because I have found them to be unreliable straight out of the box. I’ve had to fix several. Those who do not test their antennas with an SWR meter would not know if they have purchased a faulty antenna, or the incorrect antenna for the band of their choice, a high gain type or not.
Just yesterday, I tested a brand new 1/4 wave antenna and found it to be way out of spec. Fortunately for the customer, it happened that the vendor had sent them the wrong antenna that happened to be tuned for MURS. And these are some of the frequencies that the same customer want to operate on. It was a happy accident and exactly what the customer needed, but it was not the antenna that they ordered. Most antennas available for sale are typically made for the Amateur bands. I often see this sort of mix-up and problems. Bottom line: Test all antennas!
CB/FRS/GMRS Common Handheld Transceivers and Mobiles
The survivalist, who is community-minded needs to own two or more radio types in order to participate within their small community of like-minded souls. Yes, the 2-Meter Ham band could be central, yet most people are not Hams, and will not own these radios. And we will need to standardize and use the frequencies that are useful for most participants. The inexpensive Baofeng UV5R that is now ubiquitous in some survivalist circles can cover most of the VHF/UHF spectrum, yet not CB.
The UV5R is unfamiliar and somewhat intimidating for the uninitiated and non-technical person. The UV5R is not a radio most can competently handle, and the user could push the wrong button, and become lost and unable to use it. I’ve seen many examples of this, even in licensed Technical Class Hams. It is mostly a training issue, yet they may not be interested in learning how to use a complicated radio. Under stress, those who are not well-versed in operating a complicated radio should choose a radio that is simple to operate. A programmer can set up the Baofeng to be somewhat foolproof, yet the user would then not be able to change channels, thereby negating some of the advantages of the very versatile Baofeng UV5R class of radios.
If the new user of the Baofeng UV5r, or similar radio, is in the habit of using the key lock after they have selected a different frequency, this reduces the chance that they would accidentally disable the radio in some random way. However, if during an emergency and under stress, this same person may not be able to adroitly operate this radio and successfully switch to an alternate frequency. Thus, it is better to use a platform that is ‘stupid simple’ to operate. Leave the complicated radios to those with the expertise. These persons can act a de facto Radio Telephone Operator (RTO), or ‘resident expert’.
In this day and age, FRS/GMRS radios are now more common than CB radios. Those homes without an external antenna, and only very low powered 1/2 watt FRS radios can be assisted by neighbors with equipment that has a longer range. If the transceiver has 22 channels then it has GMRS. To increase the range of early production FRS/GMRS radios, use the last 8 channels, 15 through 22 on the high power setting that may be as much as 2 watts. As is the case for the Midland’s GXT series, these can be 2 to 3 watts. The GXT1050 is rated by Midland at 2.8 watts as stated on the FCC website. Technically, this is a GMRS radio that should require a license, since it exceeds the 2-watt limit. So for now, this exists in a legal ‘gray area’. Current model FRS/GMRS take advantage of the new FCC rules that allow up to 2 watts on FRS 1-8, and 15-22. Hand-held transceivers that require a GMRS license to operate, transmit with more than 2 watts, and closer to 5 watts.
To my knowledge, the Baofeng BF-88a is one of the lowest-cost FRS radios that comes programmed with 14 FRS channels. It can be purchased for a low unit cost of only $11 each, and includes the usual and necessary accessories needed. It is also a very simple-to-operate transceiver modeled after business-grade transceivers that use knobs to change frequencies and the volume, instead of a menu-driven method. These are almost as foolproof as it gets. The audio is exceptional, yet the build quality is reflected in the price. These and other FRS/GMRS radios are a good addition for around the house and for nearby neighbors. Retevis is another brand that is competitively priced, as well. There are others. Short-range communications are preferable over longer-range choices such are the Baofeng UV5Rs that have low power settings of only one to two watts whereas the BF-88a is limited to just 1/2 watt.
UHF frequencies also tend to be limited in range by our dense pine tree forests. The Baofeng UV5R can transmit on GMRS frequencies with 1 or 4 watts. This, and similar-in-class radios can be made simple to use by engaging the key lock function, however, the neophyte user is unable to switch to an alternative frequency. The BF-88a and other such radios in this class do allow the user to switch to an alternate frequency to avoid interference with the neighbors and to avoid an “open mic” (or jamming) on the channel.
Christmas of 1968, my brother and I got our first set of Midland handhelds. The Midland GXT series is a full featured line that offers a base model starting at $22 per radio to around $65 each for their full-featured GXT1050 that is water resistant. The 10 call signals can be used as a built-in brevity code, and ‘SOS’ feature is helpful as an energy alert. There are a few other advantages that this radio offers.
An important accessory supplied with the new Midland GXT1050 is the 12vdc power supply for its charging station. This accessory sets these radio apart from most handhelds offered. The target market for the GXT1050 is hunters who would be at a remote deer camp. They have a camo pattern similar to Mossy Oak. Midland has been an innovator for decades. The vibrating alert feature is particularly helpful for hunters, and those who would wish to be as quiet as possible in an OP without having to wearing the ear bud/microphone that denies one of the use of one ear. The ‘silent operation’ mode causes the receiving radio to vibrate when the Push to Talk is pressed on the transmitting radio. This allows the user to turn down the volume to a minimum. To replace the ear/microphone that comes with the radios, I use a Kenwood connector and good quality ‘secret service’ earbud with a very nice push-to-talk microphone on the GXT950.
The Midland GTX950 was discontinued, but in no way is it obsolete. Quite the contrary, it is the last model to have the scramble feature. These are good quality radios, and the price is appropriate and reasonable. This is a good choice if someone can operate a complicated menu-driven platform.
Replacement batteries for these Midland radios are available. I recently purchased six batteries for a now nearly vintage set of Midland GXT950s purchased in 2008 for a price of only $4.50 each for an improved in capacity 1000maH Nickel Cadmium battery. The current GXT1050 is nearly the same radio, but has been stripped of the scramble feature and excessive wattage by the FCC. The GXT950 could transmit with up to 5.5 watts that made it technically a GMRS radio, and not a FRS radio. And a scramble feature is not permitted on GMRS. The GXT950 model was discontinued after a considerable fight with the FCC.
The GXT1050 transmits with a maximum of 2.8 watts, still a tad over the limit of 2 watts. The advantage of very low-power UHF with voice inversion (scramble) is a low-tech, yet stealthy option that improves COMSEC at least for its operational setting. There are radios with scramble are still out there, yet as they are now 15 years old, their rechargeable batteries are likely no longer operational. Shop for the GTX800 to GTX950 on eBay if the scramble feature is desired.
(To be continued tomorrow, in Part 4.)