Upgrading Comms – Retevis RT97

Retevis RT 97 Repeater

We had some pretty significant storms this last week, which left tens of thousands without power for days. The storms came up suddenly, with no notice. It got me back to thinking about comms.

In trying times, we need to stay connected to each other, as this piece of tactical wisdom tells us:

Not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Hebrews 10:25

Radio communications is really the only way in which you will stay connected to the world after a major event that results in a Without Rule of Law situation. Having some skills in this area will help. Your team needs a dedicated HF radio technician, preferably a licensed Ham, if for no other reason than to keep the Sad Hams off your back. Our friends at S2 Underground did a great video today on HF radio.

Sad Hams

This article, however, is about your relatively short-range tactical communications. While you’ll need a comms guy to communicate with the rest of the world, the VAST majority of your communications on a day-to-day basis will be short-range tactical communications using VHF or UHF. I know, Sad Hams, you envision resurrecting the BitCoin exchanges with 4 million LoRa antennas spaced a thousand meters apart, which will turn the Sun back on (or off, depending on who you ask) by making long range radio contacts, but reality must intrude.

I can’t restore humanity using my HF rig and my digital mode prowess if I let Leroy Jenkins and his band of ne’er-do-wells kill everyone in my compound because we were all counting our BitCoin in the radio shack. I will need to get out and patrol, as well as maintain local security, both of which will require short-to-medium range communications.

The problem we have is that handheld radios can only get you so much range. To combat this, I have a man-pack radio from TWAY RDIO that has an internal battery. It’s 25 watts with a large antenna and I can rig a jungle antenna for more range, but that only increases MY range, and only between 2 points. I can still only talk back to the base station, and someone on the other side of the compound may not hear me and definitely can’t reach me.

Enter the Retevis RT 97. It’s a small repeater and it is available in both VHF and UHF models. For my group’s use, we chose the GMRS version. It is user-programmable with a simple interface and provided cable. The repeater has 16 channels and a duplexer, so that you only need a single antenna. The antenna that is available from Retevis is adjustable based on frequency. It is only 10 watts, but there is an amplifier available that will double that.

The repeater is in a waterproof-sealed hard case with an LED display. While it has 16 channels, obviously, only one can be used at a time. I recommend having a “repeater frequency of the day” which will allow you to make the job of anyone listening in a little harder (I know hams, but ANTIFA guys aren’t as skilled or patient as you).

The great thing about this is that it is so small and light, that it is portable. It comes with a standard power cable and a vehicle power cable, but no battery. You can directly wire it to batteries that you may have or you can run it off solar panels.

For my purposes, in the current world, it will be running in a vehicle when we conduct protection operations or intelligence gathering. One of the biggest issues we’ve had at protests is radio range in congested downtown areas. I parked a car on the top the floor of a parking ramp and ran the repeater off of a roof mount antenna and vehicle power and got our range out to 3 miles, which actually gives you a 6 mile circle of coverage. That’s great in a city downtown area, especially Detroit.

From a WROL situation, we tested the repeater at our “Northern Forward Operating Base”. Where we normally had 2-3 miles of radio-to-radio direct communication, we were hitting the RT97 at 4-5 miles, which will give you an 8-10 mile circle. That’s more than sufficient for local security operations.

One use I envision is right out of TW-03, Defensive Operations. You’ve got to run a vehicle package into the local town to get some food to the market and gather some supplies through barter, but you have issues with radio coverage in the downtown area. Equipping one vehicle with an RT97 will solve that problem for your team.

Another use is if you pair it with either a battery or a solar panel (or both). If you have a patrol that needs to push further out, they can put the carry the repeater out, put it in place, concealing it and the antenna halfway to their objective, and then be able to still communicate with your base.

The biggest drawbacks to the RT 97 are the low power at 10 watts, and no internal battery. I realize that a battery takes space, but it would have really sealed the deal on the unit.

Since we’re talking about comms, I recently finished Don Shift’s “Basic SHTF Radio”. It’s an outstanding guide for non-hams trying to get ready (hear that hams, you won’t like it). Don takes a complex topic and makes it simple. It’s a handy guide full of useful information. The only complaint I have with it is that Don doesn’t mention this OUTSTANDING blog site until page 85, but hey, at least he did.

Go buy a copy. I even gave you an easy affiliate link to find. Yes, this site uses affiliate links, and the FTC requires me to remind you of that because they think you won’t figure it out on your own. They’re so much smarter than us.

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t point out the fantastic gear that SLNT has on the market to protect your privacy and COMSEC. In addition to Faraday devices, they have kits to make your own and camera blocking sitckers. That’s handy since wrong think is now a federal crime.

Learn to get connected and learn to keep secure.

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Donation – August 2022

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Published by JD

I am the author of the Tactical Wisdom Series. I am a personal protection specialist and a veteran of the US Marine Corps. I conduct preparedness and self-defense training.

9 thoughts on “Upgrading Comms – Retevis RT97

  1. I can see the digital version (DMR) being of use but @ $650.00, it’s a bit steep and unless everyone in your group has DMR HT’s is a moot point really. At $400.00 this GMRS repeater gives me the same 10W output that the TYT TH-UV8000D (https://a.co/d/eLrZZEN) does and has a battery included and a battery eliminator is available for < $75.00. Plus it works on non-GMRS channels.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. True, but doesn’t it do the exact same thing as far as extending your range?

        Also makes it harder to capture CTSS and be able to interfere with your signals.

        And at 1/4th the cost and with its own battery and works with any 12VDC source with the battery eliminator.

        And a smaller footprint. If your group standardizes in the TYT, everyone in your group has a radio that can be used as a repeater at any time. Even linking two or more together to extend range as you move away from base.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Not really the same, but it is a nice radio. Because UHF and VHF have different propagation attributes, you might not always get a range increase using cross-band.

        But it is a good tool.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Just got my amatuer radio license last year. I haven’t come across a sad ham yet. Most of the older gents in the local amateur radio club are very helpful in teaching the radio arts, especially with propagation. I did the research and taught myself how to use my computer to communicate through the radio on HF. This is also a good tool if communications break down to get supplies from a plentiful area to one experience a shortage. Good article. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I also live in North Idaho. Amateur radio enthusiasts and people who live here in general tend to be more live and let live. However, many new people from other areas are moving in and things are changing and not for the better. I need to put up a sign that says, “sad hams won’t like living here.”

        Liked by 1 person

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