What is a Software Defined Radio and why should Preppers have one?

Hello my friend and welcome back! In today’s post we are going to look at Software Defined Radio: What it is and why it is important for Preppers to have at least one.  Grab yourself a cup of coffee and have a seat while we visit.

A ham radio friend of mine recently got me interested in Software Defined Radios (SDR). I must admit that I was a little leery at first, but after thinking about it for a while, and trying it out, I can see what all of the excitement is about.  Let me back up a little and explain exactly what SDR is and how it works.

SDR is a radio that can span a large section of the frequency spectrum and runs on your computer. Once it is installed, it does not require the internet to operate which is a good thing in the case where the internet might not be working at all.  It normally has a USB dongle that plugs into your computer that contains a little hardware and a way to connect an antenna to the dongle itself.  The beauty of it is that it is so small and easy to carry and using the software for it (which is free download on the internet in most cases) you can be up and running in just a few minutes.  Now I won’t lie to you, it will take a little practice to get good at using it, but it will open up a whole world of communications to you.  As we all know, in an Emergency, information is always king!

Most SDRs don’t have the ability to transmit, so you don’t need a license to use it. Oh there are a few out there that can transmit, but since I have had no dealings with them, they will not be covered in this post.   Now for the question that is on your mind… How much do they cost?  Well I’m happy to say that they start around $19.99 and go up to the hundreds of dollars.  The thing is you can get one for about $25 that even includes an antenna for it.  How is that for being frugal?   If you just need to be able to listen to what is going on in the world around you whether it is air traffic control, public safety radio, ADSB, AIS, ACARS, trunked radio, P25 digital voice, POCSAG, weather balloons, APRS, NOAA APT weather satellites, radio astronomy, meteor scatter monitoring, or DAB, it is a great investment.  Depending on the antenna you use, you could potentially listen to radio communications from all over the world for under $50 dollars. Compare that to other types of radios that can cost thousands of dollars and you should start to see the value of having an SDR.

The only drawback is that it requires a computer to work. In the event of an EMP, most computers and radios will immediately become useless.  However if you were to keep a small laptop and an SDR in an EMP proof cage (Faraday Cage) and it survives, then you would have something that would be worth its weight in gold and potentially could save your life.  Not sure what frequencies to listen to?  Not a problem with an SDR.  Most software for SDR radios has what is called a waterfall graph on them.  This shows you what frequencies close to you that are showing radio traffic.  To listen to one, just click on the graph where the signal shows up and bingo, there you are!  Some of these radios have a frequency range of 1 KHZ all the way up to 3 GHz which is pretty much all of the usable frequencies that you could possibly need.  Considering the price, I personally feel they are a great investment.  Let me also add a word of warning that you need to do your homework and get a good one that will cover all of the frequencies and types of communications.  I know one person that just went out and bought a cheap one without doing his homework.  It turned out that the one he purchased only picked up Japanese HD TV stations.  Not very useful in the overall scope of things however.  Here is a link to one that I like and think is very affordable.  Do a little research and you will be fine and well on your way to having a backup comms solution for very little money.  Well I guess that is it for today and I hope you have enjoyed todays post.  Until next time, stay safe, stay strong and stay prepared!

-The Sargent-

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