I’ve been getting back into the ham radio hobby because of my belief that off-grid communications capability will be needed in the rough times ahead.
The good news for the ham recruit is that all that’s required these days is to learn enough basic electronics to pass a test and some radio operation rules. Morse code is no longer a requirement for any level of the Amateur Radio Service “ham” license.
If you still have some cash, new equipment has some great features and is easy to get on the air. Used equipment can be purchased cheap on eBay or Craig’s List, but there may be some challenges getting it to work. Or you can go crazy and assemble your own lightsaber, I mean, radio gear. I’ve got even more ambitious kit building planned.
What you won’t be doing with new, used or homebrew equipment is paying a monthly bill to some telco or cable company for the privilege of using the public airwaves. A comforting thought if you’re concerned about the devaluation of currency, further job losses, business bankruptcies or other economic disasters.
I hooked up a QRP Mini-Watt board to connectors drilled into the back of a Bumble Bee tuna can last night. It’s a transceiver, thus it can send and receive Morse code signals as designed. The 40-meter band it’s on reaches up to 500 miles during the day and extends worldwide at night. It runs off a 9-volt battery. Here’s an mp3 of one minute of audio received on the 7.030 MHz frequency the tuna can is tuned into.
The audio is actually coming from the tuna can circuit via the ear bud output, not another receiver! (The catch is that instead of the rubber duck antenna shown as a dummy load to test things indoors, the antenna for the audio recording, and for communications use generally, is more than 25 feet of random wire outside, connected to a grounded MFJ-904H travel tuner. The tuna is tuned, man!)
Wait a minute. Didn’t I just say that Morse isn’t used anymore? Nope. Morse is more popular than ever, it’s just that the FCC doesn’t test licensees as a requirement now. It’s still one of the allowed digital modes in the amateur radio spectrum.
Don’t worry, there’s plenty of handheld, mobile and base station FM voice gear on VHF and UHF, as well as SSB voice on shortwave, computer modes that don’t need the Internet and even television.
We’re likely to see extended water and power outages in the near future for a number of political and economic reasons, a few of which are described in my personal blog post, “Power and Water,” with links about each point linking to major news source headlines.
Not covered in that post is the continuing drought threatening water supplies and hydroelectric power generation, or short term disruptions due to earthquakes, floods and other natural disasters. With more subscribers relying on Internet based phone service and cell phones, most people will be out of touch if the power goes out for an extended period.
You can try to use CB (11-meters), FRS (UHF) walkie talkies or those 49 MHz models for kids if you just won’t get a ham license. Or you can be prepared as a fully trained Jedi, er I mean, licensed ham operator and actually find competent help within range when you need it.