Selecting a radio

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So you want a radio but do not know the first thing about it. That is fine, everyone started out with no knowledge about radios. The most important thing to do is to think about how you are going to use it.


Propagation refers to the method that electromagnetic waves travel from one point to the other. Based on the frequency that the radio operates on and the type of antenna you use, you can control the propagation to some degree. When you select a radio, you should keep propagation in mind based on use.

Things to Consider

  • Most disasters result in the loss of electricity
    • Make sure that if it is battery powered/backup you can recharge the batteries
  • Think about size and weight
    • Larger radios generally perform better, get longer range
    • Smaller radios are easier to transport and use on foot
  • Think about terrain you will use it in
    • Some radios are submersible, meaning you can wade across a river without worry
    • Some radios are mil-spec dust/shock resistant
  • Don't pay for features you wont use
    • If there is a reasonable chance you will use a feature, it may be good to have, but do not pay for a long list of features you will never ever use. Spend your money on things you actually need instead.
    • Best way to learn to use your radio, is to use it regularly
    • Whatever radio you get, no matter how simple it may appear, requires some learning to properly understand its limitations
      • Does it transmit well in the forest?
      • Do you get interference in certain locations you plan to use?
      • Does your home base have properties that greatly inhibit performance?
      • Does it work "off grid" as expected?
      • Does it work better with a homebrew antenna?
      • There are many other questions, but each radio will operate differently in a specific terrain, you have to think about the terrain you plan on using the radio and make sure that it will work for you the way you need it to - before you need it.
  • Do you plan on doing data over the radio? (RTTY, packet radio, SSTV, Weather Images, etc.)
    • Do you have the appropriate connectors?
    • Do you have the software required?
      • Do you have a safe backup of the software in case the intraweb dies?
  • Research the specific radio before buying
    • Never ever rely on marketing information with radios. There are several sneaky things that radio manufacturers use to make their radios seem better.
    • Google for reviews, try to find people with that radio specifically. Do not rely on "if I can hear them they can hear me" because that does not answer how many transmissions you did not hear!
    • Some inexpensive radios perform well, some expensive ones perform poorly, price is not an indicator
    • Two important factors with a radio is selectivity and sensitivity
      • Selectivity - how well a radio can distinguish one signal from another
      • Sensitivity - how faint of a signal can be detected
      • Normally a highly sensitive radio loses some selectivity, you have to make a compromise or pay gobs of cash
  • Select an appropriate radio communication technology for the task you intend to accomplish
    • As a general rule, the higher the frequency (VHF, UHF, Microwave) the shorter the effective range, the lower the frequency (HF) the longer the range
      • CB Radio and Marine HF provide longer range coverage - good for multi-team coordination
      • FRS, GMRS, and similar provide shorter range coverage - good for intra-team comms
    • Long range transmit ability also means that many more people can hear you
      • Not everyone that hears you may be friendly
  • Make sure that you have a selectable power output on your radio
    • Transmit with the lowest power setting to establish communication
      • Saves batteries
      • Mitigates against your radio disclosing your location
      • Mitigates against distant foes hearing your communications
    • Low power devices like FRS do not require limiting power as they are already low

See also