Author Topic: "Simple" Radio Go kit  (Read 9615 times)

Offline PrepperJim

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"Simple" Radio Go kit
« on: April 21, 2016, 07:10:41 PM »
I was contemplating a "simple" radio go bag today and started making a list. By simple, I only included a UHF/VHF HT, a scanner, shortwave radio, batteries, chargers (12v, usb, 110v), minimal antennas, some coax and a bag. There is no HF, no digital, and no expensive radios (except the scanner, which I already bought).

Even though I am a guy who readily swaps money for time (I am short on time, medium on money), everything added up quickly, and I am not even sure my list is complete. By the time I got done, I easily compiled >$1000. Take out the expensive scanner (which is a sunk cost because I have one), which I think is essential to comm operations, and it is still $600. I have not even touched HF, nor digital modes via a laptop/tablet (I could scrounge one or both) and FLDigi, nor a D-star HT/Mobile rig. Like I said, there is probably several things that I missed that will add another 20-30% ($200-$300). Goodness. This is an expensive proposition where the supporting accessories add up quickly.

I think what I will do is buy bits and pieces here and there while trying to scrounge things I already have (surely, I have a USB wall plug I can use) while looking for some cheaper accessory alternatives or base equipment alternatives (shortwave radio?). My birthday is coming. ;-) Christmas is coming.

Alternatively, I could just buy another gun and not talk to anyone.  ;D

This is my list. Shoot it down as necessary. ;-)

Radio -
Baofeng 82UV (includes base station) $33 (the HP version is another $30, not worth it)
Tecsun PL880 Portable Digital PLL Dual Conversion AM/FM, Longwave & Shortwave Radio with SSB (Single Side Band) Reception $169.99
Uniden BCD436HP (already have) $437 (I did not pay that, but that is the Amazon price)
Burner Cell Phone $20 (not fully researched, but in the ballpark)
Cell Phone minutes $60

Programming
USB Programming Cable for BaoFeng (have) $20.46

Power
Battery Eliminator $15.99
Battery AA Case $15.69
Batteries (8X2 = 16) Li long life 2X$13.99
BESTEK 75W DC 12V to 110V AC Power Inverter with 3.1A 2 USB Ports $16.99
XTAR VC4 Li-ion/Ni-MH Battery Charger Premium USB LCD Display Charger Compatible with Li-ion Battery and Ni-MH battery $25.70 (have)
Panasonic BK-3MCCA8BA Eneloop AA 2100 Cycle Ni-MH Pre-Charged Rechargeable Batteries (Pack of 8) 2X$21.28
Anker 20W 2-Port USB Wall Charger with Foldable Plug $19.99

Antenna + Adapter -
Kaito T-1 Radio antenna $9.95
RF coaxial coax adapter SMA female to BNC female $6.00
RF coaxial coax cable assembly BNC male to UHF female SO-239 SO239 6'' $6.50
Tram 1185 Amateur Dual-Band Magnet Antenna $22.99
Diamond (Original) RH77CA 144/440 MHz. Dual-Band High Gain Handheld Antenna BNC $29.95
Slim Jim Roll-up J-Pole $22.99
Coax 25 feet $20

Bag and Misc
Sling Pack $29.99 (don’t need, have old computer bag)
Paracord 100 FT $5.99

Offline Alan Georges

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Re: "Simple" Radio Go kit
« Reply #1 on: April 21, 2016, 08:10:55 PM »
Review at the SWLing Post puts the PL-660 (maybe) slightly ahead of the 880: http://swling.com/blog/2014/07/the-mega-shortwave-radio-review-of-the-pl-880-pl-660-ats-909x-and-icf-sw7600gr/  Main quote from the shoot-out review:
Quote
While it’s difficult to answer, I believe if I could only have one of these radios for travel…I would chose the Tecsun PL-660. I find it the best overall performer, and a true bargain at its price point.
If you're trying to squeezed down the cost, get a sliver 660 for $120 (that's $10 cheaper than the black version; but I will say that the black is more tacticool and that's got to count for something). Additionally, it comes with a wire extension antenna, so that's another $10 off for a net savings of $60 on just the shortwave radio alone.  Or even a CountyComm GP-5 SSB for a mere $75 might fit in your go-bag even better.

I'm sure there's more fat that can be sweated out of this comms bag.  You've got a good list going, and have though out a lot of the details.

Offline PrepperJim

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Re: "Simple" Radio Go kit
« Reply #2 on: April 21, 2016, 08:22:52 PM »
  Or even a CountyComm GP-5 SSB for a mere $75 might fit in your go-bag even better.

I'm sure there's more fat that can be sweated out of this comms bag.  You've got a good list going, and have though out a lot of the details.

I saw that County Comm radio on another blog and saved the link. It is smaller, has SSB and I almost bought it yesterday on a lark.

And, frankly, I don't give a crap about tacticool any longer. I am getting ready to move into my upper 40's, my hair is about gone, women or cops will never give this middle aged white guy a second look. Good thing my wife's eyes are about shot and I hide her glasses.

Gotta go. More later.



Offline jerseyboy

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Re: "Simple" Radio Go kit
« Reply #3 on: April 21, 2016, 09:07:21 PM »
Well I lost the post twice from falling asleep on my tablet :-[

If one is none and two are one, a Baofeng 888s may be a fair backup. 16 channels with CTCSS on 432 band.

Also, if you have the programming cable, you need something to program it with. An old laptop running off of a flash drive is pretty durable. Windows on the go if you like. Otherwise Linux.

You mention coax but not which connectors. You should plan some adapters as the best used for your antenna may be on someone else's radio

Jerseyboy

Offline Carl

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Re: "Simple" Radio Go kit
« Reply #4 on: April 22, 2016, 08:45:59 AM »
A Ham 'GO BOX" and your idea of a 'GO BAG' may be two different ideas.. A typical GO BOX is a complete emergency operating station for EMERGENCY and has provision for many power and antenna options...though most operators forget headphones to aide in their hearing and or private listening.

First...the UV82 Lithium Ion battery will charge from AC or 12 volts with the charge base , so the AA battery holder and extra AA cells is not a big advantage...though AA rechargeable ENELOOP cells are a good option in an AA holder..BUT 2 'factory batteries and the charge base will do great.NOTE that most emergency operators do not consider a hand held as a reliable/powerful enough radio and choose a 50 to 75 watt mobile with power supply/12 volt battery/and power inverter option ,as I use, for better power supply and output options.

The HI Gain HT antennas pale when compared to a slim jim or Tram 1185 ...so use the factory antenna till you set up one of the 'full size' options. A standard cigarette power cord will(get one that fits) operate the factory charge base well as the base contains the voltage regulation for battery charging,use factory batteries (ditch the other options,for now) My station has been 26 years in the making,so far...it is a growing process...rush in and pay a high price for stuff you don't need.
Attach inverter to auto...120 volt cord 100-200 feet to operating position...radio and other 120 volt power available...run auto every 2 to 3 hours for 15 minutes while taking a break and you are good to go again.

If you are not carrying a 'radio go kit' for operating in emergency comms ,you will not need all of the junk you want to carry.
Often you can use what you have and do OK,but when others welfare is involved ....you must equip beyond a HT and mag mount antenna.

So after rambling on ,I ask...what do you intend to use the 'GO KIT RADIO' for? Also ...my opinion...a short wave radio is of little use for local emergency work...though am AM/FM including SW is OK, shortwave stations can't provide you with much TIMELY local info as communications disruption is usually the major part of any emergency..phone and cell service are overwhelmed often on holidays and storm/emergency.

Are you a lone wolf operator, or part of an organized group ?...this greatly effects your capability.
« Last Edit: April 22, 2016, 08:53:57 AM by Carl »

Offline DonC

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Re: "Simple" Radio Go kit
« Reply #5 on: April 22, 2016, 09:15:25 AM »
I had the opportunity to see a go bag yesterday. It was a Yaesu 897 (this was just the radio the person had on hand). with a tape antenna mounted inside a molle bag, with a 12v 7ah battery. It was running 10 watts from the radio with a slim Jim antenna available for 2m/440. The entire setup weighed in at 8lbs. Extremely portable. Good for getting started in EMCOMMS, til you got a more reliable station setup.

My Go Box is not intended for EMCOMMS. My Go Box is intended for me to "PLAY" out in the woods, or in a field, on a camping trip. It will everything I'd want to just have a good time. A dual band mobile, an HF mobile, a power supply, batteries, charging station, laptop with digital rig, power inverter, headphones, LED lights, etc. It has "tri power" capabilities. 12v auto, 12v solar, 110v commercial. I found this device last night. I think it would be perfect for my Go Box set up. Although pricey, it does a lot. (see link).

http://www.westmountainradio.com/product_info.php?products_id=pg40s

I guess what I'm saying is, choose your situation and build for it. Use what you have. As long as it works, it should be a decent setup. So far, my go box radio was made from what I already had in the house. Sans the mobile HF rig.

Offline PrepperJim

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Re: "Simple" Radio Go kit
« Reply #6 on: April 22, 2016, 09:48:59 AM »
A Ham 'GO BOX" and your idea of a 'GO BAG' may be two different ideas..

So after rambling on ,I ask...what do you intend to use the 'GO KIT RADIO' for?

Ah yes. The "philosophy of use" question. I guess I should have covered that as well.

My POU is the need to depart my home on short notice for an undetermined time frame (72 hours), not including INCH (I'm never coming home). Think flood, hurricane, or other local/regional emergency.
Relocation may or may not be in my own vehicle with a mobile rig already installed. I would want something compact, reasonable weight and man portable that can supplement my 72 hour go bag and provide VHF/UHF capabilities (yes, low wattage) as well as the ability to listen to police, WX, and other broadcasts. Listening to radio from outside the region is a plus.

I've seen some of those emergency "Go Boxes" that must be moved using a dolly. That is too much both in terms of volume and weight. Yes, having 75 watt mobile plus associated gear plus HF plus associated gear would be ideal, but not the goal at this point.

Grab it and go.

Of course, the next level is a mobile 50 or 75 rig and all that entails. I am not ready to go full Yeasu 857.  ;D Maybe someday, not today.

Offline Smurf Hunter

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Re: "Simple" Radio Go kit
« Reply #7 on: April 22, 2016, 10:15:17 AM »
This is a great topic.

Knowing your "POU" is key.

As an active volunteer with an EMComm team, I need to be prepared to work with, or supply my own station(s) with particular requirements.
Depending on the mission, it could be directing cars at the county fair parking lot while holding an HT, or relaying winlink emails from a fire station after an earthquake.

As I gain more experience, I am becoming more familiar with the variety of things needed.  When you work as a team, bringing radio(s) is actually not the most important.  Having backup or contingency options for power, antennas, interface cables, and similar are far more important that just having another VHF radio.

As time permits, I've been building out my capabilities.  As an example, just this week I bought a $15 programming cable for my yaesu FR-2900r.  Sure, it wasn't hard to program, but now that CHIRP supports that radio, I downloaded all of our regional frequencies into MS Excel, and uploaded nearly congruent channel memories to all my baofengs AND mobile radios. 

Off topic - one minor quirk with the FT-2900 and chirp, when you import a CSV file it defaults the "HIGH" power (75 watts) for all stations.  I prefer to default to LOW, and will tap the power level button as needed.  I could not figure out a workaround, so I paid my 10 year old $1.00 to scroll down, and update 96 rows to "LOW".  :)

Offline PrepperJim

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Re: "Simple" Radio Go kit
« Reply #8 on: April 22, 2016, 12:40:20 PM »
I had the opportunity to see a go bag yesterday. It was a Yaesu 897 (this was just the radio the person had on hand). with a tape antenna mounted inside a molle bag, with a 12v 7ah battery. It was running 10 watts from the radio with a slim Jim antenna available for 2m/440. The entire setup weighed in at 8lbs. Extremely portable. Good for getting started in EMCOMMS, til you got a more reliable station setup.



Hmmm...8 lbs is not bad.

Yeah, I forgot to mention having a fold-up solar panel (already have) to charge the AA batteries if necessary via USB.
 
I am a little unclear how to charge the radio batteries directly from a 12V cigarette lighter into the base. The battery charges at 10 V and I thought the voltage and amp regulators were in the wall plug portion, not the base. Of course, I could be entirely wrong and the transformer is in the base. 

Offline Smurf Hunter

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Re: "Simple" Radio Go kit
« Reply #9 on: April 22, 2016, 12:53:05 PM »
Hmmm...8 lbs is not bad.

Yeah, I forgot to mention having a fold-up solar panel (already have) to charge the AA batteries if necessary via USB.
 
I am a little unclear how to charge the radio batteries directly from a 12V cigarette lighter into the base. The battery charges at 10 V and I thought the voltage and amp regulators were in the wall plug portion, not the base. Of course, I could be entirely wrong and the transformer is in the base.

Hypothetically, if you had an HT with unlimited battery, and had a really solid antenna for it - how would you use it?

What I'm getting at is duty cycle.  If this is for 72 hours, and you're mainly listening for 8 hours a day, you might be ok with just a spare HT battery or two.
Also, consider an ear piece, as that can take less power than using a built-in speaker. 

I see guys with lithium battery banks that they carry 15 feet from their vehicle to a picnic table.  If that's all they ever do, they could have bought more amp hours using conventional deep cycle SLA.

Go out operate.  Note your short comings, improve and repeat.  You have to go out and do this stuff to learn what will work.

Offline PrepperJim

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Re: "Simple" Radio Go kit
« Reply #10 on: April 22, 2016, 01:39:06 PM »
I will add the ear piece plus the programming manual. ;-)

I guess what I am envisioning trying to make ham contacts in the area I am driving and back into the affected zone to find out what is going on in my town or neighborhood.

Back after Ike, there was one lady who stayed in the neighborhood and rode out the storm. Brave considering that Ike was a powerful storm that was projected to go right over my house at Cat 3 or 4 power, but lost steam right off shore. Anyway, she went around to each house after the hurricane struck to check on them. She gave updates on the neighborhood bulletin board.  Even though the power was off, she was still able to connect to the Internet via phone.

Yes, I realize that if I was more than X miles away and the internet/repeaters were down, that I would have no chance on UHF/VHF. It is an imperfect solution.

Offline PrepperJim

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Re: "Simple" Radio Go kit
« Reply #11 on: April 22, 2016, 02:04:18 PM »

I am a little unclear how to charge the radio batteries directly from a 12V cigarette lighter into the base. The battery charges at 10 V and I thought the voltage and amp regulators were in the wall plug portion, not the base. Of course, I could be entirely wrong and the transformer is in the base.

I will check the charger voltage when I get home.

Offline PrepperJim

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Re: "Simple" Radio Go kit
« Reply #12 on: April 22, 2016, 04:07:49 PM »
I will check the charger voltage when I get home.

The voltage at the plug that connects to the base is 10V. So, in order to charge the battery using 12v, I would need some sort of DC/DC step-down transformer. One exists, but I would rather do 12V DC to 110v AC and plug the 110v wall plug into that. Yes, there are losses, but I really am not that concerned with that.

Offline Cedar

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Re: "Simple" Radio Go kit
« Reply #13 on: April 22, 2016, 04:35:32 PM »
.

Offline Greekman

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Re: "Simple" Radio Go kit
« Reply #14 on: April 23, 2016, 11:02:22 AM »
I noticed 2 details in your kits.

1. though i could not understand what your NOn rechargable batteries are, i suggest trying them both out.
I had an epiphany and checked thr battery case for my Baofeng with various battery chemistries.
will work with rechargables but alkalines and lithium are overvoltaged and the radio will refused to transmit.
So you need to add at least a dummy AA battery.
more here: https://survivalcomms.wordpress.com/2016/04/03/the-aa-batteries-and-your-radio/

VC4 charger.
I know you already have it but you are gaining nothing by the 4 bays compared to the VC2.
Because the charger will charge with 0.5A ONLY with 4 batteries.
If you are to upgrade you can spare some weight with a better 2-slot charger.
more: http://www.candlepowerforums.com/vb/showthread.php?400085-Test-Review-of-Charger-Xtar-VC4

Offline PrepperJim

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Re: "Simple" Radio Go kit
« Reply #15 on: April 24, 2016, 03:21:34 PM »
I noticed 2 details in your kits.

1. though i could not understand what your NOn rechargable batteries are, i suggest trying them both out.
I had an epiphany and checked thr battery case for my Baofeng with various battery chemistries.
will work with rechargables but alkalines and lithium are overvoltaged and the radio will refused to transmit.
So you need to add at least a dummy AA battery.
more here: https://survivalcomms.wordpress.com/2016/04/03/the-aa-batteries-and-your-radio/

VC4 charger.
I know you already have it but you are gaining nothing by the 4 bays compared to the VC2.
Because the charger will charge with 0.5A ONLY with 4 batteries.
If you are to upgrade you can spare some weight with a better 2-slot charger.
more: http://www.candlepowerforums.com/vb/showthread.php?400085-Test-Review-of-Charger-Xtar-VC4

The Baofeng AA pack came with a dummy battery. I am still unclear if the radio will transmit with six rechargeable batteries. I suppose the best way to find out is to try it. Funny that. ;-) (tried it, it transmits with six rechargeables).  But, I will say that the battery pack is pretty flimsy. The first time I opened it, a piece came flying out. 

For the VC4 charger, indeed that is strange that four batteries charge at 0.5 amps. I am charging just two and it is only doing 0.5 amps.


Offline Greekman

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Re: "Simple" Radio Go kit
« Reply #16 on: April 25, 2016, 04:52:33 AM »
On the Baofng, did you notice the table on my blog article? The baofeng powers down with alkalines and lithums

regarding chargers It is the norm.... the companies want to offer x4 charging, but thye do not want to got o the 4x power supply for it.
On the VC4...what slots are you using? Sometimes using slots 2&3 will set some chargers at half power.

Offline Carl

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Re: "Simple" Radio Go kit
« Reply #17 on: April 25, 2016, 06:05:00 AM »
1/2 amp charge current is about the limit without undue stress and heat damage to AA cells and
Lithium Ion chargers without thermal control SHOULD limit to below 1/2 amp for the same reason...plus the fire hazard.

Offline Carl

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Re: "Simple" Radio Go kit
« Reply #18 on: April 25, 2016, 06:27:36 AM »
Back to SUBJECT,for a 'simple' go kit...PRIORITIZE you resources and discover ,in use,what you really NEED or DESIRE to carry...
SIMPLIFY YOUR KIT. Do you really plan to operate all of that gear,at once? Your HT can receive FM stations and does a fair duty as a scanner. I have a bit of gear,and often must tell new visitors that it won't happen over-night...my radio gear has been collected over 45 years of enjoying the hobby. A "KIT" is a live/growing thing that changes in both DUTY and content often, carry your gear from home....don't just have a collected kit that sits around unused...while some people do this ,rarely do the USE and have needed skills to make use of their kit.

I have ONE VHF radio I use,the FT 2900 Yaesu....but I own about 6 of them. I also have several HF rigs,I leave at home because I find little utility for emergency work as propagation is a fickle beast...though for a large scale emergency...I would prep with NVIS for local comms.You will find you leave more and more of your KIT behind as you discover the capabilities,or lack of,over time.

Offline PrepperJim

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Re: "Simple" Radio Go kit
« Reply #19 on: April 25, 2016, 09:42:19 AM »
carry your gear from home....don't just have a collected kit that sits around unused...while some people do this ,rarely do the USE and have needed skills to make use of their kit.


I carry and use the basic kit daily. It consists of:

Baofeng
Pigtail adaptor SMA Female / SO239 (yes, I need to use a BNC for the frequent connect/disconnect from Tram antenna)
Battery Eliminator
Original antenna
Original charged battery
Scanner
Pen
Note cards for writing down call signs

I found an old Walkman carry bag and everything fits with room to spare.  It is not tall enough to fit the scanner + antenna, but if I disconnect the antenna, it can fit. I should throw in some AA batteries for the scanner as they only last one or two days of heavy use.

I guess I consider this my EDC Comm pack. Of course, it will change when I get the 880H installed.   


Offline Carl

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Re: "Simple" Radio Go kit
« Reply #20 on: April 25, 2016, 07:22:13 PM »
You are off to a good start PJ..

Offline Sailor

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Re: "Simple" Radio Go kit
« Reply #21 on: April 27, 2016, 10:29:11 AM »
My 857d, with a break down mag loop antenna and rollup jpole packs really easy and does everything I could want it too from psk, to winmor to local repeaters to rag chewing. 

As always the kit is constantly changing with new gear getting tested in and out.  Subbed in the 817 and found out that with the mag loop I could not reliably use winmor on 40m, will test some more efficient antennas  with this tiny all band wonder. 

Offline Smurf Hunter

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Re: "Simple" Radio Go kit
« Reply #22 on: April 27, 2016, 10:48:49 AM »
My 857d, with a break down mag loop antenna and rollup jpole packs really easy and does everything I could want it too from psk, to winmor to local repeaters to rag chewing. 

As always the kit is constantly changing with new gear getting tested in and out.  Subbed in the 817 and found out that with the mag loop I could not reliably use winmor on 40m, will test some more efficient antennas  with this tiny all band wonder.

For winmor field use, I prefer NVIS.  I've had reasonable success using an inverted V dipole setup on a mast. 
I see some scenarios where local packet stations are offline, but I want to communicate closer than the typical HF skip zone.

Offline Carl

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Re: "Simple" Radio Go kit
« Reply #23 on: April 27, 2016, 07:10:49 PM »
1 QRP (low power) is for FUN...you NEED more power and better antennas when you ,or others,depend on your radio.
2  HF and VHF have two different 'job descriptions' and are better done with TWO separate radios.

Optimize antennas for effectiveness,not cute ,small package ,appear ,there is a place for small antennas ///my antenna...a roll of wire does fit in my pocket and performs beyond any portable antenna I ever used..

forgive my ramble,try to accept some of what I know from years of radio

Offline PrepperJim

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Re: "Simple" Radio Go kit
« Reply #24 on: April 27, 2016, 09:03:26 PM »
a roll of wire does fit in my pocket and performs beyond any portable antenna I ever used..

forgive my ramble,try to accept some of what I know from years of radio

What I know resides on in a thimble. 

However, I'd pay for a picture of Carl's pocket contents...with Bitcoins of course.

Seriously. Exactly how much antenna wire can one carry in a pocket, actually deploy as antenna and then successfully use to make a long-range contact? I am not being a smart ass. Really, I am not.

Offline Carl

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Re: "Simple" Radio Go kit
« Reply #25 on: April 28, 2016, 02:45:26 AM »
What I know resides on in a thimble. 

However, I'd pay for a picture of Carl's pocket contents...with Bitcoins of course.

Seriously. Exactly how much antenna wire can one carry in a pocket, actually deploy as antenna and then successfully use to make a long-range contact? I am not being a smart ass. Really, I am not.

I have,in the past used 35 feet of wire as antenna and 17 feet of wire as counterpoise  that was part of a dollar store package of speaker wire  and worked 44 states and 57 countries during a weekend contest with just a manual tuner ,50 watt radio and laptop for recording.

My home antennas are what I made from a 'garbage day 'extension cord from a garbage pile.I BELIEVE in basics...not aluminum "YARD ART" that so many call antennas...a few dollars of wire will replace hundreds of dollars of commercial aluminum and be fast to deploy and not obscure the view of the neighbors.

You too can do radio. I prefer a basic antenna with years of proven ability.I embrace 'labor saving' devices like a PC for logging and automatic antenna matcher/tuner...but a simple wire antenna is the best for performance and ease of deployment VS co$t.

http://thesurvivalpodcast.com/forum/index.php?topic=49809.0
« Last Edit: April 28, 2016, 02:56:13 AM by Carl »

Offline PrepperJim

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Re: "Simple" Radio Go kit
« Reply #26 on: April 28, 2016, 06:20:44 PM »
Just so I understand, coax cable attaches to a balun. The 30 foot antenna wire attaches to the center wire and the 17 1/2 foot counterpoise wire attaches to the ground portion of the coax (the braided outer core?). 

Now, does the 30 ft antenna wire have to be vertical and nearly straight? Can it be nearly vertical and then "droop." Or does it matter. I have a couple large pecan trees and I could probably throw over the top of a limb and get nearly vertical. What about touching the house or other structure? What about throwing it over a tree limb and then wrapping it around the tree once or twice and then attaching the coax and balun at the bottom.

I also have an 8 ft wood privacy fence in the side yard that is pretty long (I don't know how long until I measure it) . I am thinking I could run a horizontal wire antenna along that. Would I want to do a dipole or end-fed on that (or something else entirely)?

I guess since I am thinking about the antenna before I am thinking about the a radio purchase, I guess that says something. But since I am thinking about an antenna and radio instead of studying for my general licence, I still have a horse-before-the-cart issue. Radios are much more fun than studying. ;-)

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Re: "Simple" Radio Go kit
« Reply #27 on: April 28, 2016, 07:26:19 PM »
Just so I understand, coax cable attaches to a balun. The 30 foot antenna wire attaches to the center wire and the 17 1/2 foot counterpoise wire attaches to the ground portion of the coax (the braided outer core?). 

Now, does the 30 ft antenna wire have to be vertical and nearly straight? Can it be nearly vertical and then "droop." Or does it matter. I have a couple large pecan trees and I could probably throw over the top of a limb and get nearly vertical. What about touching the house or other structure? What about throwing it over a tree limb and then wrapping it around the tree once or twice and then attaching the coax and balun at the bottom.

I also have an 8 ft wood privacy fence in the side yard that is pretty long (I don't know how long until I measure it) . I am thinking I could run a horizontal wire antenna along that. Would I want to do a dipole or end-fed on that (or something else entirely)?

I guess since I am thinking about the antenna before I am thinking about the a radio purchase, I guess that says something. But since I am thinking about an antenna and radio instead of studying for my general licence, I still have a horse-before-the-cart issue. Radios are much more fun than studying. ;-)

I have used it from 6 to 40 meters...with or without coax (balun connects directly to auto-tuner) I have also used it horizontal,or vertical,or sloping...and even just tossed on the lawn..it works fine for most easy up portable work..For home ...or full all band use I suggest the W3EDP discussed some in another thread..

The W3EDP as it developed from my shorter version

http://thesurvivalpodcast.com/forum/index.php?topic=53436.0

Random wire length:

http://thesurvivalpodcast.com/forum/index.php?topic=55525.0

and some here:

http://thesurvivalpodcast.com/forum/index.php?topic=49809.0

any questions answered..