My buddy JB asked a dandy question in an email earlier this week:

“What cables (and other stuff) are needed to hook up a ham radio system to a router or computer in case we get Venezuela’ d? As you know I have the hams and the generators but am not certain what buyable cables or accessories I may need to get now-a-days …”

Maintaining the “information high ground” is a dandy topic which we can divide into a whole series of actions.  Let me run through the shopping lists with you.

What is Your NEED?

The first thing to look at is your actual need.  That is, if you are in a country that has been “Venezuela’d” what would you really like to know?

For sure, you’d want to know what the local threat picture is and honestly, the Internet is a poor choice for any kind of info since there is so much crap on it and we all know that the script-kiddies and spoofers and re-tweeters are driving the national dialog into the ditch.

Therefore, when the SHTF, we will plan on spending 99% of our time just listening (and keeping the NVG warmed up and ready.)  (OK, and maybe some lead-throwers at hand; ahem…)

We figure to offer our neighbors incredible value because we have done a “survey” of where critical traffic will be.  Let’s start with a good scanner.  We have an old Icom R-100.  It’s an OK radio, but as usual, the eHam review is spot-on.  That’s because the memory back-up battery isn’t too hard to replace, but the odd-sized CPU battery is more difficult.

Leaving that aside, however, the radio doesn’t have a computer programming port, at least so far as I’ve been able to find yet.

For our “programmable” needs, we use a Kenwood TH-F6A which can be programmed.  The cable is $17 off Amazon (from third-party sellers).

What do you want to listen to?  Ah… lots of stuff:

  • Because the TH-F6A has a general coverage receiver, you can pop in the radio channels that “bad people” would be using.  This would include:
    • The CB channels
    • The GMRS channels
    • Marine channels
    • and “official sources” like the NOAA weather (“All Hazards Radio” they call it.
    • Not to mention the local sheriffs, police, medics and so forth.

Now, there’s one more tweak and that’s in major cities where most of the police, fire, and medical dispatch is on “trunking radios” so here – if you’re serious about the information “high ground” you will need to pop for a good “trunking scanner” and then get all your local information popped into memory.

Like the Kenwood, opt for a scanner that is computer programmable and which can hear what you want.

Police, fire, sheriffs, and the medic units will give you some idea of what’s going on.  We also have other goodies in the monitoring such as state patrol and highway department  In SoCal, I would add DWP (department of water and power) because water supplies are a potential “high ground” target for revolutionaries, anarchists and yada, yada…

Now That We Have “Ears On…”

We can sit back and figure out who is really worth communicating with during an “actual emergency.”

We can look at this in as a simple “ranging issue.”

If we don’t have a hard-copy of our EMT handbook and we need to have that chapter on gunshot wounds, the first place to start is by asking around among neighbors.  IF you find a neighbor who is not only prepared, but also tech-savvy, the easiest want to move files around is via Bluetooth to Bluetooth connections.

You can find instructions on how to do that over at the website here.  If you are a Windows machine, try the MSFT page here.  Just remember a couple of things:  If the real internet is down, is  picking up a phone and moving files around really the “highest and best use of your time?

Ranging our further will involve the use of three pieces of equipment (I know, at last!  George gets to JB’s question).  That’s hardware and one piece of software.

Starting you’ll need a working computer, preferably a laptop and a charging source for it like some solar panels and proper connections so you can get it to boot.  Sometime, just for grins, turn off your WiFi and make sure you can still boot.  Because some (stingy, screw the public) companies actually require an internet connection to either a) boot up or b) require web-based resources in order to store or share documents.  We assume you have figured out that in event of a Net Hard-Down condition on the web, your detailed prepping plans stored as Google Docs will be about as useful as if they were on the moon, right?  No internet, no “survival library…”

Reminder:  Books don’t need batteries!

OK, got the working computer?  Next thing you will need is a TNC, or  terminal node controller.  This is the box that takes the data from your computer screen and turns it into “useful audio” for the radio to use.  Receiving, it turns radio sounds into digital-edibles for your computer.

The most popular TNC out there presently is probably the Tigertronic SignaLink.  (Yes, I’ve been using one for years and they are great!)

The box itself is pretty straight-forward but may involve setting some internal jumper wires.

Key Point:  Local SHTF communications will be on VHF and UHF ham frequencies, so you will want to get involved in your local ham club well in advance so that you get a sense of how to use VHF/UHF Packet Radio.  If you have an entry-level handheld radio, that will work, but make sure you get the SignaLink with the right cable set-up.  For the handheld (VHF-UHF line-of sight planning) it might be something liker the Tigertronics SLUSBHTW SignaLink USB for Baofeng, Kenwood, and Wouxun HTs with Standard Kenwood K1 Type Mic/Speaker Plug.

A major difference between VHF/UHF ham radio and low-band (HF- 1.8 to 30 MHz) is two-fold:  Low band transceivers eat more power (typically 20 amps on voice peaks or about 10-Amps on digital modes).  And while VHF/UHF is faster (typically 1200-2400 baud) speeds on the low-bands is much slower.  About 60 words per minute to put it into a typing speed equivalent.

In digital modes, you can’t be interrupted during transmit session.  So don’t get “windy” – keep it short, to the point, and useful.

If you have one of the “DC to daylight” radios, like a Kenwood TS-2000, the right TNC might be the SLUSB13K SIGNALINK USB for Kenwood 13-PIN DIN.

When setting up a transmitter for data operation, there are two major trip-wires.  The first is that people habitually try to get too much power out of their radios on HF (low-band) data.  When you shove data-audio (from the TNC) into the radio, it’s effectively a “key down carrier” which means no way will you get 100-watts output.  Adjust the output for 20-watts, maybe 40 (depending on radio  data ratings) and call it good.

High transmit power is unlikely to punch through noticeably better at 50 watts than 40, for example.  Distortion on transmit will make your “pushed” signal unreadable.

Why worry about the slower HF (low-band) data?  Because that gets you real world-wide coverage.  You will be able to not only chit-chat with hams around the world, but you will also be able to copy pictures using slow-scan television (SSTV).  Having done a bit of SSTV, try listening around 14.225 Mhz for a warbling sound and select software to decode it.

Software Selection Matters

How much money (and what operating system are you on?) determines how you go.  On the inexpensive side of software, there are a couple to consider:  DXZone has a good write-up on HamScope over here.  Downside:  Doesn’t include Slow-scan decoding.

Dave, W1HJK has an amazing package called FLDigi and you can download it from SourceForge here.  Didn’t see slow-scan, though.

If money is no object, the Windows program we have used for years is Ham Radio Deluxe.  This one not only gives you virtually all the major modes, but you can do things like plug in contest logging (if you’re into that sort of thing) and a lot more.

Which Modes?

One VHF,, simple packet is the standard. TAPR – the Tucson Amateur Packet Radio (corporation) has a marvelous short-course in digital modes over here.  Tons of info – print off for after the SHTF use.

On HF it depends what you’re looking to accomplish.  I would begin getting my feet went on a mode called PSK-31 and the place to begin “copying” that is a few Khz either size of 14.070 MHz in your receiver’s upper sideband (USB) mode.  The TNC and the software will do the rest..

Since most of the software packages now include pretty-good Morse decoders, you can listen to the lower 25-50 KHz of any (open) HF ham band and read what those of us who are “direct digital”  (which is what high-speed Morse is) are up to.  Remember, learning Morse code is NOT required for a ham license, but if you don’t want to spend money on computers, TNC’s and cables, remember there are some “old-timers” around (like moi…) who don’t really need to mess with all that hardware.

No, I’m not selling Morse code but it’s another useful survival skill – like reading light signals at night and so forth, but let’s save that for another time.


When receiving, the signal path is:

Antenna –>  Receiver –> TNC ->> Computer –> Software display.

On transmit, the path is Software –> Computer –> TNC –> Transmitter –> Antenna.

That plus a little practice and you can chat with that fellow in Brazil or Croatia who may have word on local conditions in their part of the world.

LAST NOTE:  Again, here is some additional useful stuff that “useless prepping sites” don’t bother with explaining well (they’d much rather sell “tactical” crap, lol…

When a nuclear weapon is used, it creates huge amounts of ionization in addition to the (more or less line of sight and low-frequency propagating) EMP effects.

The Defense Technical Information Center has a short (27 pages) read “Nuclear Blackout of Tactical Communications” that is available as a .PDF here. No point planning to do much communicating during the first day or week after big nukes get in play.  Besides, you’ll want to focus on your directly downloaded weather data from the 137.5 MHz polar orbiting weather satellites, right?

The best software we’ve tested *(to date) was WXtoImg but the developer apparently shelved it, so while it’s still available, head over to website and grab a copy along with the upgrade key.  Plenty of info on the web on copying the twice daily polar orbiting birds.

There…comms are in order, bring on the End of the World…after a nap, of course…

Write when you get rich, (AC7X)