How the Project Began
Why add one more ham radio to the market? And why one that encodes and decodes Morse? It’s just one more product in the amateur radio market, isn’t it?
About seven years ago I saw the Inland Northwest Preppers training members to use handheld UHF/VHF radios that operate off the repeater on Hoodoo Mountain. It’s a plan, great as long as long as the repeater is in service. Later I found that the Bonner County Amateur Radio Club (BCARC) was doing the same. They had been maintaining a few repeaters, but only Hoodoo was working. The gaps in the plan soon became obvious to me: the limitations of handhelds, problems of repeaters, the challenge of Morse code and FCC regulations.
Any HF Alternatives to Handhelds?
Like all repeaters everywhere, Hoodoo sometimes breaks down. Communications break down. And when the snow is deep, for months at a time no one can get up on the mountain to fix it. That’s a problem because all these guys (and gals) want to be prepared for a SHTF event, natural or manmade. Hoodoo keeps them in touch with the world around us. When its repeater network is functioning, they can cover a fairly large area, and of course, when the internet is up, it connects to the entire planet. Seeing that they’d need that capacity in a predicament, it might not be there when they needed it, and that bothered me.
And that wasn’t all.
FCC Regulation Limitations on HF
Another layer of complication is FCC rules. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), for some time now, has restricted entry-level hams from the preferable frequencies, the high frequency (HF) ones they would seek in a SHTF event—inaccessible to them unless they learn Morse code. In a disaster it’s an unenviable plight to imagine. Most of the hams we’re talking about hold only a Technician class license, entry level, which limits their operations to certain frequencies. Plus, they have not learned Morse code.
Preppers commonly study just enough to get the Technician class license. It’s their goal. They are not usually all that interested in ham radio per se or going further. Their license is a means to a specific end: to be able to operate the UHF/VHF handheld and talk via the repeater. It’s many hours extra of studying more specialized concepts for a higher-level license. Alternatively, learning Morse code would add even more time and effort. The HF bands that would perform so much better for preppers call for a load of work. Piling on that sort of requirement just isn’t going to fly.
But let’s say a prepper did learn Morse code. Practically speaking, he would have to become adept enough to key in and be able to copy at a reasonable speed, at least ten to fifteen words a minute. That’s the lower end of most Morse code traffic. It takes a lot of practice to become that skillful.
That’s quite a few obstacles to successful prepping right there. Here’s another tough one: the handhelds don’t work on HF and there aren’t any decent HF transceivers available for $35 like the VHF/UHF handhelds from China. So that adds another issue: cost.
Summing it up so far, we do not have products at hand that enable a Technician class licensee to access the HF bands without becoming well-versed in Morse code sending and receiving, as well as in abbreviations, operating methods and so on.
HF Versus Line-of-sight
VHF/UHF radios are basically line-of-sight. They do go through some trees and some walls, but that reduces the signal strength significantly. Thus, a mountaintop repeater or the top of a city’s tallest building is the obvious solution. In this case, other than your car roof or window, or the wall or window of your home, or a few trees, signs, or whatever is right near you, you are likely to be in approximate line of sight with the repeater. As long as enough signal gets through the obstacles in the way, your handheld can make contact. Even better with a small antenna on the roof of the car, or your house.
Not so HF. Line-of-sight isn’t necessary. Signals in that range propagate by bouncing off the ionosphere and can reach long distances. Repeaters not required.
What If Repeaters Are Down?
Using the rigs at hand today, as long as the repeater and its network are up and running, you are connected! But then you have to address the primary requirement you started with: a means of communication if the SHTF event occurs and line-of-sight isn’t going to get you to the help you are looking for. What if someone is trying to reach you? Will that repeater still be on the air? Will you still be connected to the world?
In a word, unlikely. Maybe for a short time, from batteries. Maybe the repeater has solar panels. But if the sun is covered by clouds, and too many users have been hitting it, it may be out of power. Or…on and on. Too much snow on the mountains. Equipment breakdown. The list of what-ifs is a long one.
The Bottom Line
How willing are you to depend on external infrastructure for your communication needs in an emergency communications event? That equipment can be affected by wildfires, hurricanes, floods, solar flares, EMP attack and other misfortunes, including equipment failure. You’d want your prepping to be effective, not dependent on line-of-sight or the repeater system, right?
We took a hard look at all the angles and determined to find a solution. We put together a team of about eight guys from across the country. They responded to an email I sent to the prepper group and plugged into the project. Thus the work began around October of 2017, and over the next few years, a revolutionary, innovative transceiver began to materialize, something never seen before.
As we had hoped, it addressed all our concerns: a way for entry-level hams to get through in hard times.
PreppComm’s leading-edge decoder/encoder addresses numerous impediments to connecting in a disaster. It uses the ionosphere, delivers Morse code to the Tech licensee and turns an everyday keyboard into a Morse code encoder. It eve3n plugs into an existing station to provide code capability for any ham! It’s the little transceiver that could.
Texting Morse code and Getting It in English!
We’ve introduced this novel radio to the market—the DMX-40 Morse Code Decoder and Encoder Transceiver. This unit empowers Technician class licensees to utilize the 40 meter HF band for communications by doing all of the translation from and to Morse code. You type your message on the keyboard, the transceiver captures it and converts to code for sending to operators who are operating CW. When they respond in Morse code, the transceiver decodes the message to English on the display. What Technician isn’t going to love that? And if so inclined, learn CW by this method.
It’s like texting on your phone, only over the air, with additional features such as digital tuning and automatic station ID. This transceiver is completely self-contained and operates off of a 12V supply, or a 5V supply with a 5V to 12V converter cable. Available alone or as part of a GO Bag, it comes with everything you need to set up a portable station, including solar panels, battery bank, antenna, and more.
No more waiting. Finally, you have a solution to the grid-down comms problem for preppers!