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Original Article on Pixie/Rockmite/49er
All Prepping 101 Communications
There is nothing worse than being cut off from your family. But as we move further and further apart from each other, and rely more and more on a single technology to even speak, the chances of being cut off have become overwhelmingly probable. That is why I have contributed several articles, and now some video, on off-grid long distance communications. This is a not a simple or terribly inexpensive topic, but it is more possible than you would think to speak to someone across the country (and sometimes across the world) using a small radio from your home.
If you are what you consider a serious prepper and for communications you purchased a handheld “Ham” radio, I’m sorry to say you got taken. As I have explained in prior articles, and in the video here, those radios are great for local communications on a whole bunch of frequencies, but they are useless for long distance. Most handhelds, including the cheap and common Boefeng UV-5V, transmit UHF and VHF signals. Neither of them will bounce around the globe like traditional “Ham Radio” signals in the HF range.
The problem with real Ham radios is that they are expensive if you want power and flexibility. Please check out my prior articles for some advice on 100 watt hybrid tube/solid state radios, and lower wattage multiband radios. In general it is tough to get under a $400-$500 investment, including the antenna for multiband.
That creates a seemingly insurmountable problem if you have kids spread out hundreds or even thousands of miles away. Assuming you can even get them to take the collapse seriously, the investment and learning curve are prohibitive. So I have been on the lookout for an answer, and though my answer isn’t perfect, it does work, and it is way better than nothing.
Some time ago I covered some Chinese electronics kit radios that are still available under $20. They only send and receive Morse Code, but they will reach out to 200+ miles reliably, at all times of the day. You need a $25 antenna, a $25-$50 Morse Code key, and a battery with a connector to power them, but even then you are way under $100 per location. Those kits are still quite a find.
This week I’d like to share with you an update. Since I wrote that article a guy named LiYou from China has taken several of those circuits and updated them with a Wifi chip. The radio, which is the same genuine Ham radio broadcasting on 7.023 megahertz, sends Morse Code from an Android phone and tablet ap. The Wifi broadcasts a network. You hook your phone to it, type your message, then the ap sends the translated Morse Code through the radio over the small private network.
As you might imagine, if everyone had these radios it would get pretty muddy pretty quick out there on 7.023, but the cool thing is that even now very few people have them, and I have yet to hear any spot on Morse Code broadcasts on that frequency at all. Post collapse the airwaves in general will be empty, which has even greater implications, but I’ll get to that.
Today, in the early stages of the unraveling of our civilization, using the 7.023 frequency for any communications at all requires a license. There is actually good reason for that, and I’m not the government bootlicker type as my regular readers know. The reason is that radio transmissions have a width, or thickness, to them. Otherwise everyone could just have their own frequency, like 7.023547382456847, and the next person could have .0000000001 less or more. Real radio can’t work like that, because even a tiny width Morse Code signal has 150 kilohertz of thickness to it. Voice signals take 1500-3000 kilohertz even at low fidelity, and an FM radio station can take several megahertz in width.
Therefore frequencies are extremely limited, and that is why the governments of all countries control who is allowed to use what when. In the US private companies rent the frequencies, so it is nothing short of miraculous that Ham Radio, also called Amatuer Radio, even exists.
The Ham bands are extremely narrow, and they come with all kinds of rules that you have to know before you can get your license. There are now phone aps to learn the test questions, and there are a number of online paid courses that you can take as well. About 1/10th of the material is useful for making contacts online. It is mostly just a bar to entry, because those bands are so small and so precious to the people who use them.
The nice thing is that the traditional Ham bands do work worldwide. It was an accident actually. The comparatively low frequency bands were considered inferior when the frequencies were originally divided up. It was later that radio operators learned about the skip that occurs in frequencies under 30 megahertz. The waves bounce off of a layer in the ionosphere, and each skip is roughly 2,700 miles. Multiple skips are very common during the night under periods of sunspot activity. From South Florida I get contacts from all over the country, and I’ve heard signals regularly from Europe, Japan, and even Australia.
As I have explained in my prior articles, there are dozens of antenna designs, but you do need a good antenna regardless of the power of your radio. The stations that you’ll hear from Italy generally are broadcasting at least 100 watts, if not the legal limit of 1,500 watts for Amatuer radios, and they generally use a large “Yagi” style antenna on a tower.
That makes our little 3 watt 49er and wire antenna seem lame, but you’d be surprised at how common worldwide contacts are with tiny rigs like this. A 1/2 wave dipole, like I have linked to above, hung about 1/4 wave above the ground, which for 7mhz is about 30 feet, is right up in the top of antenna designs. If you plan to use a few bands, I have found that a folded dipole, only slightly more expensive is extremely reliable for receiving worldwide contacts. Generally if you can hear them, they’ll be able to hear you.
In a future update I may get into switching crystals to access other bands, and other frequencies inside the 40 meter band. For the former you would need either other antenna lengths, or a multiband type of antenna. For the latter you could just use the same antenna. Of course after the collapse all the frequencies will be open without the license police, so you could put any crystal under 30mhz if you want it to bounce off of the ionosphere do a distant friend or family member. I have linked above to a guy who has bundles of common Ham frequencies, and he makes a board called the Pixie switch specifically designed to incorporate several crystals into these little radios. You can find dozens of other frequencies on Ebay, because many ICs and microprocessors also need them to stabilize certain signals within their circuits (including Arduino), so they are common.
The phone ap for these radios is currently only available for Android, but he is working towards a PC version soon, and possibly an IOS version the near future. As you can see from the video, these is a bug in the ap that freezes it, but this doesn’t seem to effect the useful function of sending a text string as Morse Code. You just have to kill and relaunch the ap after you use it each time. It also has a manual key built in if you want to dot dot dash dash yourself. I think the bottom panel is for decoding incoming Morse Code, but like all the other computer and phone decoders I have tried, it doesn’t work. You’ll have to practice writing down Morse Code message to decode after.
My goal in writing this column is to open up the possibilities. For me, that has meant envisioning the day that the lights go out for good, that the supermarket is stripped clean, and that our days of easy worldwide communication disappear forever. It is possible to be among those who are somewhat ready for the system to collapse, who can eat at least for a while, drink clean water, have lights and cooking, and who can contact family living far away who also have hopefully brought some foresight into the money they have today. You will remember this article, whether you took action or not, when that day arrives.
It may seem like all of these words and videos available today will be here tomorrow, but you should remember that the internet is not tangible. These words do not exist, as soon as I write them. They are ones and zeros on a hard drive. In order for you to read them, not only do our servers and your computer need electricity. There are also countless routers in between us, and hard communication lines that could be damaged by war or sabotage. And only a handful of companies control whether the internet is turned “on” or “off,” but few people understand this.
It is a fallacy that the internet will survive the collapse. The original design was specifically built for resiliency and decentralized control, but nobody at the time envisioned what the internet has become today. Take advantage of this resource, and that fact that I can experiment with low cost long distance communication, and share this experience with you, for free. This isn’t infotainment.
I understand not wanting your name on a list, especially one that can be accessed by anyone with an internet connection. However, if you don’t have a mentor that will help you, the best option to learn how to use the equipment most effectively is to get the licence and join a local club. Hams are very friendly when it comes to helping out newbies, and will be the fastest way to ramp up skills.
But if you don’t need to use the equipment “most effectively” people like Callum, and tons of Ebay sellers who sell stuff will be plenty of a platform to learn everything you need from a prepper perspective.