Ever start a new job and have to learn the various terms and and words that are commonly used at work? I can remember many times feeling like I was learning another language altogether and wondering if I’d ever learn what it all means. But after awhile the new language becomes second nature and you realize that only when you see another new hire struggling to learn it.
Radio terminology is no different. Here’s a basic list of terms that should be known before planning or purchasing an radio-related emergency preps:
Hz, kHz, MHz, GHz
1,000,000,000 Hz = 1,000,000 kHz = 1000 MHz = 1GHz
The Hz means Hertz or “cycles per second” or “Frequency”. The prefix before Hz is the metric measurement. “k”=kilo, “M”= Mega, “G”=Giga. The prefix is used to eliminate as many of the zeros as possible. So instead of calling the 2 Meter 144,000 kHz we use 144 MHz. A more detailed explanation of frequency can be found with a search and if you have the time I’d recommend it.
Preppers NEED to know and understand these four abbreviations. Whether you’re programming a scanner or just comparing radio specs while shopping, you’ll see at least one of these.
What is a band? This is probably the question we hear the most. A “band” is just a group of frequencies. It could be any specific group of frequencies. For example, the 2 Meter Band means all of the frequencies contained in the Amateur Radio Two meter classification or 144-148 MHz.
“Band” can also be used to describe a vague collection of bands. The VHF Band is an example of this. The VHF band includes all of the frequencies between 30-300 MHz and includes the 2 Meter Band as well as many others.
Broadcast means to send a signal out without expecting to receive another signal back. TV, Shortwave, AM/FM Radio and Weather Radio are all examples of broadcasting. Most broadcasting requires some sort of FCC licensing. In a disaster situation, understanding when and where to hear broadcasts is extremely important. There could be several reasons to understand how to broadcast in a disaster situation also.
HF, VHF, UHF
- HF is the abbreviation for High Frequency. High Frequency includes all frequencies between 3 and 30 MHz. Today, HF contains mainly the Shortwave Band, CB or Citizen’s Band and some Amateur Radio bands.
- VHF is the abbreviation for Very High Frequency. VHF includes all frequencies between 30 and 300 MHz. VHF includes the MURS band, some Amateur Radio bands plus the Weather, Marine, Aircraft and FM Radio broadcast bands. These are the most commonly known VHF bands
- UHF is the abbreviation for Ultra High Frequency. UHF includes all frequencies between 300 and 3000 MHz. UHF includes the GMRS/FRS bands, some Amateur radio bands and most of the Police and Fire frequencies. Some satellite radio and broadcast TV stations also operate in the UHF band.
This one may be one of the most misunderstood yet most often purchased piece of emergency radio gear. Today, the term shortwave is most commonly used to describe HF broadcast radio. It’s history goes back to the discovery of radio and it’s worth reading. Wikipedia has a very good article.
A Shortwave Radio is popular piece of gear to buy for disaster preps but preppers should understand exactly what to expect from Shortwave Radio before purchasing one. We have an article explaining why it shouldn’t be at the top of your shopping list. You can read it here: “Shortwave Radio: Things you need to know before you buy”
Transmitter, Receiver, Transceiver
Here’s some terminology that could be used instead of the word “Radio”.
Transmitter: A radio designed to send only an outgoing signal. AM/FM radio and TV stations use transmitters.
Receiver: A radio set designed to receive only.
Transceiver: Yep, transmits and receives.
Keep in mind that Transceivers are designed to only transmit on certain bands. Manufacturers must adhere to the FCC regulations for each band and will block the transceiver from operating on frequencies outside of these designated bands. So when buying a transceiver you must know which frequencies you are able to access under FCC regulations.
AM, FM, WFM, NFM, SSB, LSB, USB, CW
All of these abbreviations are referring to specific modes that a transmitter, receiver or transceiver uses to send and/or receive a signal. Each of these modes would actually require a lengthy explanation that could be found with a simple online search. Preppers should understand that they are each different and what each abbreviation stands for. It’s also necessary to know which modes are commonly used in which bands. In a disaster situation it could be critical.
A Repeater does exactly what it’s name suggests. It receives a signal and repeats it. Repeaters are transceivers that can either extend the range of another radio and/or repeat the signal in another band.
Example one: One radio operator is located on the south side of a large city with a handheld transceiver and needs to contact another radio operator several miles north of the same city. The repeater’s input frequency and output frequencies are programmed into each of the transceivers.When one radio transmits a signal, the repeater receives it on the input frequency, amplifies it and retransmits the signal on it’s output frequency.
Example two: Same scenario except one transceiver is operating on the 2 meter band but the other transceiver is a 10 Meter base station. If the repeater had the capability, it could convert the 2 Meter signal to the 10 meter signal so the other station would receive it. This is called cross-banding.
Most preppers would only have access to repeaters on the Amateur Radio and GMRS bands. Some businesses use repeaters but the frequencies used aren’t normally available with common equipment.
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