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Prepping with Ham Radio



how to use ham radio

In the aftermath of an earthquake, hurricane, tornado, tsunami, landslide or other natural disaster, or even an act of terrorism or some other catastrophic man-made event, communication plays a vital role in man’s survival.

Prepping With A HAM Radio

You may have secured your family in a safe area and your bug out bags have proved useful, but you are going to need contact with other survivors and of course help would be more than welcome.

Cellphones will not work when the cellphone facilities are torn down; the same is true with land-line phones. It would also be logical to assume that power lines are going to be down, as well as the internet in the affected area. This is where amateur or HAM radio comes in.

A HAM radio can run on a portable generator or even a car battery, and it doesn't depend on cell phone signals to be able to communicate with other users. The bottom line is that if you have a HAM radio, chances are high that you will be able to find and get help.

If you are new to the idea of HAM radios (as they have become obsolete since the advent of the cell phone and the internet), they made rescue operations during Hurricane Katrina and the Sichuan and Haiti earthquakes faster and more efficient. So you can imagine what one could do for you.

A Prepper’s First HAM Station

Being amateur radio operators and  a preppers, we tend to share a little more about HAM radio than most emergency preparedness pages.  Just search our site with the word “HAM” and you will find a plethora of articles on amateur radio, better yet, just click here.  We’ve noticed that there has been some confusion as to what types of equipment you need to talk to whom, and how far each radio can communicate.  This is to be expected from folks on the outside of the hobby looking in as things can get somewhat complicated.

The most popular HAM radio at the moment seems to be the Baofeng UV-5R.  Why?  Because it is the least expensive way to get into amateur radio.  For less than $35, you can have basic, local communications.  The Baofeng is what it is, a very inexpensive radio, and it has it’s limitations.   It isn’t much to do with the radio, more so the bands that it operates on.  We say 2 meters and 70 centimeters in HAMspeak.  What we are referring to are the frequencies on which it operates.  2 Meters and 70 centimeters, or 2M and 70cm, are what we call “line of sight” frequencies.  These frequencies are limited by the curvature of the earth and interference from trees, buildings, hills, etc. The Boafeng is great for communicating person to person but the real world range is limited to just a few miles in this configuration.  Baofeng’s are also limited by their output power.  At 5 watts or less, they don’t have a lot of “punch”.  While you will never talk through the earth, a little more power can overcome other forms of obstructions.

Contact with the outside world is made possible by amateur radio. This is why we recommend having a handheld in your bug out bag so that you can be ready whenever disaster strikes.

Investing in a communications station or radio base for your home would also be a wise decision as it is more powerful and has a longer reach compared to a handheld. Just remember to comply with the regulations and do a little studying to pass the test and get a license.

You can have all the necessary tools and skills to survive anything that comes your way and self-sufficiency may be your by-word, but communication through HAM radio will make you realize that when disaster strikes or when the EOTW comes, we still need each other to survive.

Want to pick up a personal HAM radio for your preps?

Check out this one for under $40.00!

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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on December 30, 2014, and has been updated for quality and relevancy.

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  1. Pthree3

    December 30, 2014 at 8:57 AM

    As a longtime HAM radio operator, I would ask that you be sure to emphasize in a more noteworthy manner that amateur radio operations require a FEDERAL LICENSE and to get that license you must pass a test, which teaches you the rules and regulations. Operating outside the rules and/or without a license can cause the FCC to show up at your home or in big fines. This is IMPORTANT for preppers to know! Thanks.

    • Tom

      December 30, 2014 at 11:25 AM

      It is true that you need a license to transmit. You do not need a license to listen though. Also, the exact license questions and answers are available on line making it easy for anyone to pass the tests. I think the record now is a 6 year old girl.

  2. Brian Doucette

    December 30, 2014 at 9:05 AM

    Not impressed with this article at all.

    First of all you should be stressing that you need to be licensed to operate a ham radio. Getting you FCC Amateur radio License takes hard work and dedication. Operating a ham radio without a license can get you some very large fines.

    Also your line “as they have become obsolete since the advent of the cell phone and the internet” is extremely inaccurate. At this time there are more licensed amateur radio operators in the united states then there ever have been.

    • David Kennedy

      December 30, 2014 at 3:39 PM

      Let me see… The SHTF and the government has collapsed, mauraders roam the streets and your best friend neighbor just ate your dog and you still think anyone will care about your rules and if you’re licensed… Please tell me you are not serious! Cheeze!

    • Arnie

      December 31, 2014 at 8:12 AM

      In an emergency, of the magnitude implied, who is there to enforce licence rules??? or better yet who will care??/

      • SnitchInTime

        January 2, 2015 at 9:57 PM

        You will need to become proficient and learn he use and limitations of your equipment. You must have a license to do this during the good times. Amateur operators jealously guard their frequencies so if you pop up chatting on ham frequencies wirhout a license you will be handed over to he FCC who will fine you and confiscate all commo gear in your possession. The goal is to have the gear when the evil day arrives, not to flaunt your patriot movement aversion to licensing. Just get the license and have a good time learning all you can.

  3. Patrick

    December 30, 2014 at 9:08 AM

    Great survival topic! I do wish more information was provided on the license requirements. True that when TSHF, no one will be checking for licenses… But right now is the time to earn those licenses so that good communication practices can be learned and applied. Poor communications can become interference that hinder rather than help in an emergency. I recommend contacting the ARRL ( for information about classes in your area. Ham radio is far from obsolete and there are active clubs in many area. Many hams stand ready to help every one earn their license.

    • Jeff Wimmer

      December 30, 2014 at 10:41 AM

      Everything you need to know to get licensed by the FCC is on the ARRL (Amateur Radio Relay League) website,

      I would recommend any serious prepper study, get licensed, and practice getting involved in local clubs so you’re not fumbling around to figure out how to operate your new found $35 radio AFTER the SHTF….

      As Patrick said above, there are most likely clubs in your area where Hams meet, and if you’re serious about the subject, they’ll be more than happy to help you out with both study (some clubs have classes), what equipment will fit your budget, antenna design and advice, etc.

    • Paul

      December 30, 2014 at 4:30 PM

      you can go to one of the online sites like or the ARRL.COM either one will have the info that you need they even have online practice tests that you can study for.

    • KB5YKE

      January 5, 2015 at 11:26 AM

      There are 5 levels of Ham licenses. It is no longer necessary to learn morse code to get any license. The questions are readily available and local ham clubs often administer the tests on a Saturday. I got my no code Technician license over 20 years ago. It was falling-off-a-log easy. License is good for 10 years and you renew by email with no additional testing. Get the license, even if you never need it. It’s fun to listen and talk.

  4. John Kevany

    December 30, 2014 at 9:32 AM

    A good source for amateur radio is Popular Communications.

  5. Dan

    December 30, 2014 at 9:43 AM

    I agree with the comments on getting properly licensed. In conjunction with that, I feel it is important to become very familiar with using the equipment safely and properly (so you don’t operate on a frequency that is not intended for your currently connected antenna, for example). Learning how to use the equipment is of vital importance. The Baofeng HT is a pain in the butt to program, and that’s coming from someone with years of playing with radios. I’ve seen new hams that show up to help with an event but are unable to program a simplex frequency in a fairly simple radio. The ones with the complex ChEnglish are tough to do without a computer. Learning what bands are better at day or night, what groups or nets would be useful, being familiar with YOUR equipment so you can change things on the fly…. it all takes practice and effort – BUT IT IS SO WORTH IT! For those not so inclined to get licensed, check out the AM/FM/SW/Ham receiver at CountyComm – just Google it. For $75, you can get a lot of info across the spectrum. Just a thought….. thanks for the effort to help others explore other important (and ignored) facets of prepping. 73

  6. Johnny Robinson

    December 30, 2014 at 9:46 AM

    KCZero-KED here…

    Good article, but….

    FCC requires licensure for use of ham radio frequencies, except those entities operating ‘primary’ where we are ‘secondary’ users (a concept discussed in detail in the course of the ham training sessions) and it is very helpful to get educated in the proper use of ham radio BEFORE anything happens.

    Anyone can buy and listen only to any ham radio frequency, but there are severe fines for talking without proper authorization, aka, a ham license, if you do…the only exception is using a working ham unit in a bonafide emergency with no other means of communication available.

    What is good, though, about become ‘licensed’ is entering into a world of fellow ham enthusiast and learning such things as building your own antennae, with not much more than a long piece of wire with a couple of insulators at the end!

    I doubt if there are many FCC administrators hunting down ham violators in a true, nationwide, SHTF scenario, though!

  7. MW

    December 30, 2014 at 9:49 AM

    I’m currently studying for a ham radio license. I’ve wanted to get into this hobby since the 1960’s. It’s easier than ever, since the Morse Code requirements have been eliminated. Keep in mind, there are three classes of licenses, Technician, General & Extra. Pick-up information at the American Radio Relay League website ( You may purchase manuals there with all the exam questions and handbooks on radio science/engineering. Also, is a great free web site for exam preparation. No background in electronics is required. However, if you’ve taken courses in math and physics or have an electronics background, you should have no problem getting all three licenses with about 80-90 hours of study. I might want to add that it would also be helpful to learn Morse Code and communicate via CW or carrier wave. Your manuals and fellow hams will give you some great reasons why!

    • Tom

      December 30, 2014 at 11:35 AM

      I gave a Technician license study book to a 15 year old nephew on a Monday evening. He found a practice site on the internet also. He took his test 6 days later at a local library and scored 90%. The first level is mostly common sense.

      Go to for practice tests.

  8. Chris Fox

    December 30, 2014 at 9:53 AM

    Many folks overlook a good solid communication plan. Allot of things are beaten to death, but without a communication plan …. you are ALONE.

    Chris NI4L

  9. Tanya

    December 30, 2014 at 9:55 AM

    Understanding that a license is mandatory we r alking about a limited range for what he is talking about and in an emergency ie stuck under a building or such. I don’t care about licensing I want out. I agree as a prior licensed HAM operator the necessity of it being licensed. I also know that if I had to bang out morse code on a wall or pipe or even a handheld for people to rescue me I would do so without a license. It does need to be mentioned in articles discussing it but in a real life disaster for me to be rescued it wouldn’t matter to me.

  10. Johnny Robinson

    December 30, 2014 at 10:05 AM

    Apology…wrong call letters!

    KDZero-KED; I keep wanting to use my OLD call sign, KCZero-AOC…and usually mix the two when I use it!

    My old ballcap still has KC0-AOC on it!

  11. Donald Yates

    December 30, 2014 at 10:19 AM

    Another quick note, you will be assigned a call sign when and if you pass the test for a license, if you do not have a call sign you will find it very hard to get a licensed ham to respond to your call for assistance.


    • Donald Yates

      December 30, 2014 at 10:25 AM

      I failed to add if your call is for anything other than assistance, a licensed ham probably will not talk to you.

  12. Alan Mark

    December 30, 2014 at 10:52 AM

    As a long term HAM , I can attest that the use of Amateur Radio works in Natural Disasters. I lived in SoCA most of my life and I know that HAMS played a critical role in just about every Earthquake, Wildfire , Flood or other incident over the years. The Red Cross offers FREE Ham Radio Licensing Classes ( They have probably the biggest Disaster Response network in the country), and many Police Depts. have HAM groups that are affiliated with them, too. Also, the ARRL (American Radio Relay League)[] can give you information on Licensing Classes around the country. There is no longer a Morse Code requirement to be licensed, so its just electronics theory, frequencies allowed per license category, etc. Good Luck!

  13. JP Markle

    December 30, 2014 at 10:53 AM

    I would suggest a little research before your next article. First off, HAM radio would indicate that it’s some type of abbreviation, it’s not, it’s a nickname, so, it should be Ham, unlike RTTY, which you didn’t mention along with CW and several others. VHF bands are not limited to line of sight. Natural occurrences such as ducting can cause even low power (QRP) singles to travel hundreds of miles, and repeater systems (man made, since you don’t research) can do the same in a large radius. As was stated by several other people, you also fail to mention that the licenses are issued by the Federal Government through the FCC. I can only hope that you were adequately paid for your mindless drivel by BaoFeng, the manufacturer. Their attention to quality makes them the Yugo of Amateur Radio gear.

  14. Michael J. Bisbano, Sr KB1TPX

    December 30, 2014 at 10:54 AM

    While the Baofeng is a decent little radio it does have it’s limitations as you stated. Actually, in a situation such as “preppers” are preparing for, the 2 meter or 440 bands, being line of sight would be more limited than you seem to realize.
    Being “line of sight” radios, Amateur Radio Operators on 2 or 440 meters rely on Repeaters to get out any farther than a few miles. In fact, pretty much nobody uses SSB (Single Side Band or no repeater) to make contacts. So when the power goes out, most repeaters will go down, unless they have a back-up power system, such as a generator, Solar Panels, Windmill, etc.
    Also, people should know that one must be licensed to communicate on Ham bands. I’m pretty sure that the government (FCC) will still be controlling the frequencies, unless there is a total disaster, wiping everything out.
    It should be pointed out too, that Amateur Radio is not like Citizen’s Band, which is like a public telephone, where one can say anything they want at any time with no rules.
    I don’t know if the writer of this article is a licensed operator, or not, but if you look into getting a Ham license, you will see that it is no walk in the park. Mike KB1TPX

  15. k5ric

    December 30, 2014 at 11:26 AM

    Having a ham radio and also having a license is only a start, if you don’t use the radio on a regular basis you can not get the maximum use of the short and long range capability that ham radio can provide. On the short wave bands (worldwide coverage) you will use Signal Side Band and it takes a trained ear to copy a weak signal on SSB. On the short range bands you normally will use FM and that has great clarity and not much special training is needed to use it. But when the SHTF you may need to know how to build and set up broken antenna system and improvised power systems as well as operate the radios. Easy to get your license but go for the General Class so you can operate on the Short wave bands (High Frequency or HF) The General class license gives you access to every US ham band and thus world wide bands as well as short range bands. de k5ric

  16. Tom

    December 30, 2014 at 11:36 AM

    If you want an on line practice test go to
    You will find the actual test questions with the actual answers in the exact form you will see them on the tests.

  17. Jerry Palmer

    December 30, 2014 at 12:29 PM

    Interesting read, however, it doesn’t cover half of needs to be considered in operating amateur radio in and after a disaster. Look how long it took reliable communications to come out of the Gulf Coast after Katrina! Having a radio doesn’t just magically turn one into a communicator, but with proper training and drills and exercises will help “licensed” amateurs become real good communicators when the SHTF. My call sign is N3KRX, and I’ve been mentoring and teaching emergency communication(emcomm)classes for a number of years now. Being a fairly new ham (I’m not in QCWA yet, but close) I still learn with every class I teach or mentor. But as a recent drill revealed, not participating more fully into the hobby leaves gaps in knowledge and skills that come in handy in time of need, like what frequency for what time of day, the right radio for the operator, antennas that insure reliable communication, things that only having fun with the hobby will bring out. Also participating in the hobby yields bundles of little items such as extra wire for an emergency antenna when the primary gets blown down or that extra battery or power used when camping or on “field day” or learning the joys (?) of operating QRP, which would be very handy in a disaster. is the place to start, and then looking up the local amateur radio club and their local emcomm group, being that group be an ARES team or RACES.
    Ham radio is a great way to make friends, occupy time, and learn a skill that will come in handy if there is a disaster.

  18. John David Smith

    December 30, 2014 at 12:35 PM

    Familiarize your self with emp as it will ruin electronic devices. i.e. use of faraday gages for protection. Of electronic devices.
    J.D. Smith N4VIL. Becomining a ham Should be high on your list of prepping to do’s It’s not that hard. and you don’t have to learn morse code now. but it is a good thing to learn! alternative comms will be very valuable if the grid goes down!

    • Walter Scott

      December 30, 2014 at 3:25 PM

      Don’t you mean Faraday shield? I’m not familiar with a Faraday gauge.

      W. Scott W5HOQ

      • Paul

        December 30, 2014 at 4:35 PM

        I think he meant a Faraday cage.

  19. Walter Scott

    December 30, 2014 at 3:20 PM

    While I am a ham radio operator and agree with what you stated, I think you should also address CB radio. No test is required and only a 3rd class license is required. The license only requires you fill out a FCC form and send it in. It is as good or better than 2M or 70 cm. as it has a longer range. I bought a brand new one in a garage sale for $10

    • Paul

      December 30, 2014 at 5:10 PM

      With 2 meter and 70 cm there are a great many repeaters that can be used. My local repeater is good for the area where I am all the way to Vegas, that is on 2 meter on 70 cm there is the Win That goes all over the US and beyond.

  20. Ken

    December 30, 2014 at 3:38 PM

    Since when has HAM radio become “obsolete” ? Many have pointed out the hoops we Hams must jump thru in order to obtain our licenses and privileges. But just anybody can walk in and get set up with cell phone service. When that service, or the Internet or land lines fail, Ham radio operators will always be there to provide vital communication services, all without compensation. Please go back, do some real research and then re-write your article!

  21. Paul

    December 30, 2014 at 4:27 PM

    Cq CQ CQ this is kd6vkj calling CQ.
    Yes I use ham radio often, I prefer the 20 meter band but I also use the 40 meter band on occasion, the 2 meter band all the time.
    Ham radio can be a ton of fun, I was there when Japan had the 9.1 back a few years ago It was amazing that the other person still had a ham shack after that shaker. Ham radio is more useful than most people will ever know. When there is a disaster the cell towers are programmed to shut for all but emergency use, so those nice fancy cell phones will just be expensive paper weights, just throw them on the desk or in the drawer. ham radio is very much worth getting I have had my license for more than 20 years now and am a general class holder. The radios come in many sizes and types, anything from 1 small 5 watts output up to a massive 400 watts output, the amps range from around 600 all the way up 1,500 or more. To be sure YOU DO NEED A LICENSE TO TRANSMIT ON THE HAM BANDS IF you get caught without a license you can find your self in some very hot water. The license is easy enough to get all you need to do is take a test which a 6 year old can pass. Have fun and catch you the air.


  22. Marvin Ysle

    December 30, 2014 at 5:12 PM

    Good article! I am a ham operator call sign is N1CDR. We are the best in what we do. For several years I was the head of the state of Massachusetts disaster amateur radio group located in the bunker in Framingham Ma with all the state disaster groups, state police, fema, etc. we performed disaster execises every month

  23. sandy

    December 30, 2014 at 5:36 PM

    This model can be a bit tricky to program.

  24. Leonard

    December 30, 2014 at 6:11 PM

    FIRST, LAST, and ALWAYS . . . you must have an amateur radio license to use HAM radio. And your license must cover the bands on which you operate your radio.
    Failure to hold the appropriate license when operating can result in serious consequences: forfeiture of equipment, fines (up to $1,000 a day of operation) and in certain circumstances prison.

    DO NOT operate if you have not received a license from the FCC. This license can be obtained by passing a test on: FCC rules and regulations governing Amateur Radio, Operating practices, and Electronic theory.

  25. WO1stclss

    December 31, 2014 at 4:42 AM

    Ham radio is an excellent form of communications when disaster hits. Yes you do need a license but it is not hard to get. If you have a scanner you can receive the club nets in your area. There you can find when a club is giving an exam. The FCC doesn’t give exams anymore so a club will give exams. Once you get your call sign you can transmit. I don’t think its legal for a Ham to communicate with anyone who doesn’t have a license. A couple of thoughts though. If it gets bad and all comms are down. You have to be careful with radio traffic. The man has lots of very good direction finding equipment (paid for by tax dollars) that can find the location of your transmitter. 11 meter radios (CB) are probably the best since they can be had for almost nothing. One other thing. because morse code is considered obsolete not too many people know the code. Its very secure since the code reader apps wont work when cell phones do down. The code isn’t hard to learn. It just takes practice.

  26. Milton Burgess

    December 31, 2014 at 8:51 AM

    I already have an Extra Class ticket and I am A License Examiner

  27. Dr. K

    December 31, 2014 at 4:55 PM

    Let me see… the economy has crashed, the government is in shambles, marauders and looters roam the streets. To top it off there is no police, no fire department, no ambulance, or other emergency services, AND your neighbor and best friend just ate your dog. Now tell me that anyone is going to worry about a HAM license! This is ludicrous when the very survival of your family hangs in the balance….

  28. Crystal Wooten

    December 31, 2014 at 8:22 PM

    I would like to buy good ham radios for my back pack and home. I think I want a better one than the $40. I would like to make sure I can get out in time of crisis and not be limited to a few blocks.

    Please email I am new to hams.

    • Crystal Wooten

      December 31, 2014 at 8:24 PM

      Yes I know I will need to take test for L.

  29. Tom H

    January 1, 2015 at 12:10 AM

    You lost me when you stated, “as they have become obsolete since the advent of the cell phone and the internet”. Highly inaccurate, which makes me question the rest of your article. A little research before making such statements is highly recommended.

    Being a licensed amateur (Ham) radio operator for almost 40 years, I can tell you there are more licensed hams in the U.S. now than any time in history, and ham radio bands are quite busy.

    Some think they will just pick up a radio and know how to use it in an emergency, but I liken it to another tool, a rifle. Would you buy a new rifle and throw it in the back of a closet thinking you would learn to shoot it when an emergency happens? I sure hope not! Most would shoot it, sight it in, learn how to operate it, clear problems that may arise, clean, lubricate and maintain it, often practice with it, etc.

    Ham radio is very similar. If you don’t practice, learn it’s capabilities and shortcomings, understand how to build antennas for longer range, learn how to detect a problem and what to do if there is a problem, learn how to maintain it, and understand proper operation, you may not have time to figure all of this in an emergency. There is no substitute for experience! Get your license, use your radio, meet other hams in your area, build those relationships so you know them and they know you. Learn how to build antennas to increase your range. Learn what frequencies you can use and what ones to avoid. Learn the capabilities or your equipment. If you start talking on a police or fire frequency or government frequency, which many of the new cheap radios cover, you could get yourself in a LOT of trouble. Think possible fines of $10,000 or more and/or jail time!

    The FCC has recently fined ham radio operators for talking with unlicensed hams on the ham bands, so don’t expect hams to talk with you if you try getting on without a license. Hams WILL check to see that your call sign is valid.

    According to the FCC, anyone can use a radio in the event of serious emergency involving life or death, or property damage. But, if you don’t know how to use the radio, or know how to communicate your situation, it can become a useless piece of junk.

    Get your license. Study online or find a class near you, and when you get your license, learn how to use your equipment. Meet other hams in your area. They could be a lifeline in an emergency situation. Don’t let a easy 35-question test keep you from being prepared!

  30. Gail Feddern

    January 1, 2015 at 9:57 PM

    To escape impending hurricanes my husband and I convoyed up the state, each towing a boat. We kept in touch via GMRS radios. No licenses required–just fill out the cards that came with them and send them into FCC. The range is very limited, but it works great to co-ordinate a trip! We bought a set of two handhelds for less than $50 at K-mart.

  31. Richard Quintana

    January 2, 2015 at 7:29 AM

    The fellow telling us the need for license and must pass a test, is great so we all know he did. But if the shit hits the fan so to speak,
    I do not care what the FCC needs. I care what my family needs. If the country is in turmoil, is the FCC really going to be spending time looking for users of shortwave without license.
    Doc Quintana
    Vietnam Vet

  32. david weinstock

    January 3, 2015 at 2:51 PM

    I do not think your article will turn out good hams. You need a better description of the hobby. It is a great lifetime hobby with many facets. I have been a licensed ham for 83 years (99 yrs old and hope to reach 100 in several more months. How about making friends in as many as 300 countries or joining ham groups using tv communication and many other types. Serving in disasters is expected and always carried out by hams and many heroic deed have been done all without any compensation. There is now better hobby than Ham radio snd many hams are engineers,doctors,inventors, even an astronaut – all professions and trades. Aint no gooder hobby. Dave W4KD info on qrz

  33. Stephen

    January 3, 2015 at 8:18 PM

    Your artical on using HAM Radio doesn’t mention the licensing requiremets that go along with Amateur Radio. HAM Radio is still going strong after 100 years with satellite communication, MESH networing, internet tunnel sites, digital communication techinques and the disaster recovery efforts with Hurrican Irene and Superstorm Sandy in the metropolitan area. Most townships rely on Amateur Radio for communications in coordinating parades, 5K runs, marathons, fireworks displays and OEM disaster drills.

  34. Robert Blackler

    January 5, 2015 at 12:45 AM

    a ham license will allow to use other bands in the general class and higher, vhf hf uhf lf bands, more than radio will be needed there you would use that proper radio for the range you need at the time

  35. Jon Kreski - AB9NN

    January 7, 2015 at 6:47 PM

    Great points. A handheld radio is good, but also consider a roll-up wire J-Pole antenna that you can toss over a door or into a tree and get substantially better distance and signal quality from the hand held radio!

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