SSB

All posts tagged SSB

I wanted a small CB radio with Single Side Band (SSB) that could be used for emergencies. The Galaxy DX 979 seemed to fit the bill. At a mere $140, there wasn’t much of a risk. I knew I was getting a cheap radio and did not have high expectations, only a few requirements: Small size, SSB, and perfectly legal. That means forty channels, AM, USB, LSB modes, with 4W max on AM and 12W on SSB (PEP). Not much, but you would be surprised (I was tonight) at how far you can reach with just a few watts, as much power as a small bicycle light bulb!

Most people know the Citizen Band through movies like “Smokey and The Bandit,” “Convoy” and others, mostly involving truckers. That is just one side of the coin. The other side are the operators trying to cover the greatest distance possible, and activity called “DX.”
 
CB has a good thing going for itself right now, that is the peak of solar cycle 24. Propagation is going to be very good for probably another couple years. Radio waves in the 11m (27Mhz) band do bounce off the ionosphere when conditions are right. SSB being excellent at receiving weak signals, you have a very good chance to skip pretty far.

The Galaxy is cheaply made (compared to a Yaesu HAM radio of similar price). The buttons on the front panel are “chromed” plastic and look cheesy. The whole radio looks and feels cheap. I even had a very hard time putting in the mounting bracket screws. I had to tighten them with a pair of pliers and was lucky not to strip any thread. Looking inside the box gave me the same feeling. I like the big meter and the fact that you can dim the blue LEDs.

I connected the transceiver to my Solarcon Max2000, a 24ft. antenna mounted about 15ft off the ground, surrounded by trees, and an Astron power supply. Good thinking from Galaxy for putting the microphone plug on the front panel by the way, which I plugged in, then turned the volume knob to ON. It worked! I shouldn’t be so negative, since I suspect that most CB radio manufacturers produce the same lever of “quality.” I tuned to 38LSB and listened, playing with the clarifier whenever I heard someone calling DX.

[tip]The clarifier is the knob that turns the “Donald Duck” voices you hear on SSB into something you can understand.[/tip]

If you are a safe cracker by trade, you won’t have any trouble with the clarifier on the 979. It takes that kind of finger dexterity to operate the darn thing. Before you have a caller “clarified,” he is usually done talking.. Aggravating.. The range on the clarifier is too broad. My old President Jackson has a much better clarifier, but of course, that radio has acquired a quasi legendary status in the CB world. With a little practice, you get better at it, but geez!

Compared to HAM transceivers, CBs are noisy… I plan on replacing a few diodes with Schottky Barrier Diodes, and replace an RF amp transistor with a 2sc2999, High Gain, Low Noise model. The procedure is described here; part are on the way (about $1.60!).

Update (May 27th): I made the modification tonight, replace Q17 with a 2sc2999, and Dl, D2, D30, D31 with 1N6263 Schottky Barrier Diodes. The radio does sound a bit quieter. For ten minutes and less than $2, I’d say it was worth it…

I remembered that I should check the SWR before transmitting, which was a perfect opportunity to test the inboard SWR meter. I also plugged in a Workman el-cheapo meter on the antenna output. They did not agree with each other! The Galaxy SWR meter barely moved while the workman showed 1:1.8! I tuned the antenna and got down to 1.6 (probably all those trees..). Oh well. Just keep an eye on the SWR warning LED.. It works (I had a short in one plug); the SWR meter also jumped up. It might not be the most sensitive SWR meter, but it will let you know when you risk frying your final transistors.

It was getting late and the band was dying down when I heard “476” calling. He did not say where he was from, but I could hear him very well, good audio and a signal of 7. I expected him to be within fifty miles of me. I asked him about his location and he said “Jamaica!” I had a low signal but good audio (mike gain turned all the way up). Not bad for a $140 piece of gear. The antenna is everything, mind you, and the IMax2000 did it’s part. The Galaxy… I hadn’t wasted my money..

The Galaxy DX 979 won’t win manufacturing quality contests. It does however work well. For the price, you can buy two and box one up in an ammo can for EMP protection. It is a small price for never being entirely cut off from the rest of the world.

Since I am on a radio kick (funny how old hobbies resurface..), I decided to dig my old CB radio from storage. I bought it around 1989-90, and hadn’t turned it on since. I was worried it would go up in smoke when I turned it on, but to my surprise, it worked. I hooked up a 3ft. balcony antenna to it and heard… Nothing but static. Maybe it had not aged so well after all. In radio, the antenna is everything. My little three footer wasn’t going to provide stellar performance. Unless I could get it high enough. I ended-up on my deck, swinging a wrench attached to a nylon string, aiming for a promising branch above the roof. Five minutes later, I was listening to stations from Mexico, Costa Rica, and New Mexico. That was of course using Single Side Band (LSB or USB). There is nothing left for me on the regular AM band. At least on SSB, you hear much less obscenities, and conversations are more “professional.” A CB with SSB modes thus is a good choice for emergency communications (yes, I changed my mind..).

Anyone around Sarasota wanting to chat on SSB, post in the comments below!

As far as radios go, I would suggest that you stay away from “export” models, which have more channels and power than legally allowed. Not only could you get in trouble with the FCC, but you could also create interferences on other legitimate stations or electronic devices nearby. You don’t need more than the legal 12 watts SSB to reach stations thousands of miles away. Forty channels isn’t much, that is true, but I would rather operate legally with these limitations than face a fine I probably can’t afford.

We are now at the peak of solar activity, which creates ideal propagation conditions. We will probably get decent propagation for the next couple years. The solar cycle lasts eleven years. It was at it’s peak in 1980 when I bought my first CB, and again in 1990 when I bought my second one. It is peaking again right now, isn’t that convenient! You can still make long distance contacts during low activity, but it doesn’t happen as often…

Here are the current conditions (look at 11m for CB):



 
My choice of “newest” radio is the Galaxy DX 979.
Galaxy DX 979

Galaxy DX 979


It is a legal radio, CB of course, so you can use it without any license. I’d like to replace my “shorty” antenna by a Solarcon Imax 2000 (24 feet long), but that will have to wait. Like I said, the antenna is everything. For situations like camping or temporary base operation, I would get a “Double Bazooka” wire antenna. For a car, the K-40 is a proven design, and you don’t have to drill a hole in your roof! Don’t forget to get an SWR meter to tune your antenna (if your radio doesn’t have one built-in) or you could fry your transmitter.

A good channel to listen to is 38 LSB, here is a video of an operator making contact from PA to NC:



 
My old transceiver will be mothballed in a Faraday cage, waiting for an EMP Doomsday that may never come. If it did happen, information would be worth it’s weight in gold !? ;-). A good battery and a 12v solar panel would provide power. With all electromagnetic interferences gone, the radio frequencies would be very quiet, but for the few prepared individuals still on the air with working transmitters.

I clearly remember twenty years ago, or ten, even five. I did not then have any of the concerns I have today. The future was bright with no clouds on the horizon here in the United States. I don’t think the world is going to end this December twenty first, or next year for that matter. The Mayan who wrote his calendar must have been tired that night, and his wife was complaining about how much time he spent on it, so he probably just thought it went far enough and left it at that.. I am no doomsday preacher.

There is a certain unease among us however. The media is broadcasting multiple disaster and prepping shows. The economy isn’t going better. Five years ago, I had five ounces of gold, bought for less than $1500. Today, those coins would be worth close to $10,000. Only five years later! I am still hitting myself on the head for selling them before the increase. We may wonder why the value of the dollar hasn’t gone down by a factor of six or seven. The government is trampling on the constitution. One only has to watch foreign agencies news, not the dog-and-pony show we have here, to start worrying. Watching CSPAN can be more entertaining than “Doomsday Preppers,” and certainly scarier. Five years ago, there were few signs of trouble, none before September 2001.

So, you have a bit of food and water stored for rainy days, a generator with a few gallons of gas, your bug-out bag, and a .22 with a case of ammo. Will you be missing anything when disaster strikes? Yes, information. With the power down, no cell phones, land lines or Internet, you might be in total darkness has to what caused the blackout. Should you stay put? Is it safe? If you need to leave, where should you go and what route is the safest? If you happen to be away from your family, how do you get in touch with them? Where are they? Are they all right? Information in a disaster situation is crucial to you and your family’s survival.

I bought my first radio in 1980. It was a forty-channel CB. Back then, conversations were interesting and civil on the 11m band (27Mhz). You could talk to your neighbors, make new friends. People were helping each others. Truckers used them to inquire about road conditions and get directions in unfamiliar towns. Sure, we had some jerks, but the Citizen Band was self-policing. Ten years later it had changed dramatically. I worked one winter as a security guard, and wanted something to keep me awake at night on the job. So, I installed a 200+ channels CB radio in my car. There was still some good conversations going on, but mostly, CB had become pretty lame. I did manage to make a contact across the Atlantic once, using SSB (single Side Band), but usually, range was around ten miles.

A CB radio (AM) today is a poor choice of emergency communication in the U.S. Range is typically only a few miles and forty channels get crowded very fast. Radios are cheap however, and it is certainly better than nothing. “CBers” are no longer organized in clubs. Base stations are rare these days. Even truckers have replaced their CBs by cell phones and computers. The level of the conversations is rather low; you might not want your children to play with a CB radio… It is unfortunate, but the Citizen Band has become the black sheep of the radio world. One exception which could make CB a good choice is if you buy an SSB mode radio. Single Side Band is comprised of USB (upper) and LSB (lower) side bands. These modes offer more range, and even “skips” on the ionosphere, for very long range communications. Conversations on SSB are definitely more civil than on AM. Even with the legal 12W maximum power, you can reach stations thousands of miles away.

You probably own at least a pair of FRS (Family Radio Service) handheld radios. They are very limited in range, two to three miles typically. Do not believe the advertised ranges of twenty or more miles. That may work over water with perfect conditions, but don’t count on it. GMRS has slightly more range, but requires a license (no exam). They are useful to keep track of kids and family members within a small perimeter. Given their prices, you should get a couple pairs. Handhelds would be very useful for a neighborhood patrol, though anyone can listen in. There are better options, but in a pinch FRS can be a good thing to have.

There is no radio solution available to the public without a license that will provide you with enough range to contact anyone beyond line-of-sight. While receiving is important, and having a good short-wave receiver is a must, you still might need to call for help or inquire about a situation, or just contact a distant family member. The solution: HAM radio. Licenses require an exam, but it is easy to get started with a Technician license. It will only cost you a bit of study time and $15.

Now, a bit of technical information is needed. Transceivers (transmitter/receiver) are basically of two types, those that can broadcast beyond line-of-sight (thousands of miles) and those that usually can’t. It all depends on frequency. 6 meter wavelength and shorter are very good for local and medium range communications, from a few miles to around 200 miles. Longer wavelengths, up to 160 meters can bounce off the ionosphere around the earth. 6 meters is smack in the middle. Sometimes it will bounce, and sometimes not, but it does it all, hence it’s nickname, “the magic band.” The most common is the 2m band. As a “prepper,” I am mostly interested in the 2m and 10m bands, with my eyes on 6m. Longer than 10m, and you run into antenna length problems. Antennas become very long, and need to be strung horizontally between poles or trees. Not very discreet or practical in a survival situation, though possible with a bit of ingenuity. The basic technician license allows you to transmit on 10m and above 30Mhz, which includes the “magic” 6m band, 2m and 70cm.

By becoming a licensed HAM operator, you also become a valuable member of your community who can provide information when every other means are down. You would be the first to know what’s going on.

For anyone wanting to buy a do-it-all radio, I would suggest looking at the Yaesu FT-817ND. It is a small portable, multi-band transceiver which runs on batteries or external power. As far as handhelds, look into a couple 2m units like the Yaesu FT-270R for local traffic. Those are though and waterproof down to three feet for thirty minutes! At around $135, they are a bargain. I own one and I am very happy with it. You don’t need a license to buy them, but you can’t legally transmit, though anyone can legally use any radio in the United States for a life-or-death emergency. You would be missing out though by not getting a license, being it so easy and cheap, and get to know your fellow local radio operators.

As a prepper, you should have a spare and store it inside a grounded metal box for EMP protection (MUST READ article!). Make sure the radio is inside a dry cardboard box inside the metal one, and none of it’s parts touches the metal. Surplus military ammo cans are great for that purpose. I would also include a solar charger.

A radio is as important as your Coleman stove or rifle. You might not want to get into local HAM conversations, or even long distance contacts, but when you need potentially life-saving information, you will be glad you have one stored in that ammo can in the garage and that you know how to set it up and use it…