Editor’s note: Since this article was written, World Gone Silent has ceased operations. While the specific kits detailed below are no longer available, many of the components are and the insight and advice provided by company owner Chandler Friedman remains as valuable today as it was when the article was originally published. Links to kit components have been added where possible.
World Gone Silent radio kits are one of the kinds of backup comms systems you’ll have to rely on when the comms infrastructure goes down. A kit like this won’t be a radical departure for amateur radio operators, as they depend on repeaters for much of their local communications. By taking advantage of a repeater’s higher power output and more effective antenna system, any station within range—be it a portable Handie Talkie (HT), base or mobile station—can enjoy reliable communication far beyond what it would normally be capable of on its own. A repeater listens for, and re-transmits, signals from radios that have been configured to access it, and its antenna is usually mounted very high above the ground, giving it the ability to reach over terrain that would normally prevent stations from talking to one another at ground level.
Metropolitan areas usually have multiple repeaters that provide coverage on the 2 meter VHF (144 MHz) and 70 centimeter UHF (440 MHz) ham bands. Repeaters use coordinated frequencies to prevent interference when operating within the same band. Sometimes, additional settings are used to reduce interference from repeaters in adjacent towns that operate on the same frequency. To access a repeater, pertinent information, such as frequency and access code, must be programmed into the user’s radio. This information is available in printed directories and online sources. However, without good instruction or practice, information can be frustratingly difficult to program into a radio.
WHEN THE LIGHTS GO OUT
In an emergency situation, communicating with your friends and family could depend on amateur radio. Having access to repeaters, many of which have backup power to keep them on the air in grid-down conditions, can allow you to keep in touch when all other means have failed.
“In an emergency situation, communicating with your friends and family could depend on amateur radio.”
Chandler Friedman understands this. In his experience with ham radio, and as an emergency coordinator in Atlanta, Georgia, he recognized the need for a kit that would enable anyone—regardless of his or her technical ability—to quickly get on the air. He started putting together the necessary gear and created a deluxe kit that would do just that… and founded World Gone Silent, LLC. Since the introduction of its first basic kits, World Gone Silent has expanded its lineup to include an advanced, yet easy to deploy, repeater kit.
At our request, Friedman sent American Survival Guide two kits to review: the Ham Radio Individual Kit and the WGS Repeater Pack. These kits represent the basic and most advanced products World Gone Silent offers at the time of this writing.
TESTING WORLD GONE SILENT’S DISASTER RADIO KITS
We put the kits to the test, examining the ease of setup and operation, as well as the feasibility of use in an emergency or disaster scenario. For our tests, we chose subjects who had no experience programming a radio and no understanding of what a radio repeater is or does. We just gave them the kit and said, “Go!” The Ham Radio Individual Kit is intended to provide one person with the ability to communicate with others directly or through local repeaters. With the kit in hand, along with the information for a local repeater, we watched to see how
they would perform.
The Ham Radio Individual Kit consists of:
❰ One quality-tested Handie Talkie (BaoFeng UV-5RA)(since updated to the BF-F8HP), along with the original accessories, rechargeable battery,
charging station and manufacturer’s operating manual
❰ Quality-tested computer programming cable
❰ Antenna upgrade and AAA battery case
❰ World Gone Silent’s Quick-Start Manual
❰ Subscription to Ham Test Online
❰ A discrete, military-style backpack
Following the instructions in the World Gone Silent manual, our testers were able to quickly program the repeater information into the HT and successfully access the repeater. As far as performance is concerned, solid contact was established with other hams on a repeater more than 20 miles away.
This kit is intended for those who know little about radio communications. Nevertheless, with all necessary items at hand, our testers were on the air in just a few minutes. Keep in mind that transmitting on amateur radio frequencies does require a license (except under certain circumstances), and to get the most out of these kits,
it is necessary to be licensed.
To quote Friedman, “It’s important to me that people get licensed, which is why all my starter kits include a subscription to Ham Test Online. Not only is getting licensed responsible, but I believe that a radio, like a firearm, is useless if you don’t understand how it works.”
The Ham Radio Individual Kit weighs in at about 3 pounds, and there is room in the backpack for additional gear. Its advertised MSRP is $219. The HT in this kit can also be programmed to work with the WGS Repeater
Pack, which we tested next. The WGS Repeater Pack comes in a larger backpack that contains:
❰ A preconfigured and tested transceiver for use as a repeater, along with all the original accessories and the manufacturer’s operating manual
❰ Rechargeable battery and AC-powered charger; post-type battery clamps
❰ Roll-up antenna and coaxial cable
❰ 100 feet of paracord on a line holder with a high-visibility, weighted pouch
❰ Four Handie Talkies (the same model as is included in the Ham Radio Individual Kit), along with all original accessories, manuals and one computer programming cable. (Note that the use of the computer programming cable requires programming software, such as CHIRP, which is not included in this pack but is available for free download.)
❰ Nylon belt pouch and AAA battery case for each HT
❰ World Gone Silent’s Repeater Kit Quick-Start Manual
The subjects chosen for this test were not only non-hams; they were also a brother-and-sister team, both in their early teens. They grabbed the kit and went off to set up a temporary repeater station. The heart of the WGS Repeater Pack is the very capable Yaesu FT-8900R, a quad-band FM transceiver (covering the 10, 6 and 2 meter and 70 centimeter ham bands) with cross-band repeat capability.
As shipped from World Gone Silent, it is configured to operate as a repeater using the 2 meter VHF and 70 centimeter UHF bands. With pre-programmed channels already stored in memory, pressing a couple of buttons is all that is required to start the repeater function. All original radio functions work and can be accessed by following the directions in the manufacturer’s operating manual.
The WGS Repeater Pack includes a 12-volt, 7 Ampere-hour (Ah), sealed lead acid (SLA) battery for use in the field. SLA batteries are spill proof and can be stored, transported and used in any position. All electrical connections are equipped with color-coded connectors for quick, foolproof setup.
Radios need power and can consume it at a high rate. Having adequate power available means carrying it with you. And even though batteries might be rechargeable, you usually won’t find an outlet on the side of a tree. World Gone Silent includes an extra battery case with each Handie Talkie, allowing use of regular dry-cell batteries to keep your radio on the air.
Be sure to put extra sets of batteries in your backpack to extend your operational time. For prolonged periods, or just for economy, World Gone Silent offers a solar power kit for rechargeable AA and AAA batteries suitable for use with HTs. The WGS Repeater Pack includes a 7 Ah, 12-volt battery and a battery charger.
Although this battery can power the repeater for quite a while, heavy repeater usage will run it down fairly quickly. For longer duration, additional batteries might be required. A solar charging system capable of supplying sufficient output will charge the battery during daylight hours. The kit also includes a set of battery post clamps that have the same color-coded connectors as the battery and radio power cable. This allows a vehicle’s charging system to recharge the battery. Alternatively, the radio can be powered directly from the vehicle’s battery.
“In the case of the WGS Repeater Pack, rapid deployment of an effective repeater station is so easy that inexperienced children can do it.”
Friedman selected the perfect antenna for this kit: The convenient, roll-up J-Pole antenna is used extensively by amateurs for emergency communications because it is lightweight, durable and takes up very little space in the pack. Using the weighted pouch tied to the paracord, it was easy to toss the line over a tree branch and hoist the antenna into the air; and there was ample coax to get it high enough to be effective.
The BaoFeng UV-5RA HTs are programmed with the same frequencies as those in the repeater. Simply select the same channel numbers, and you’re ready to go. Working as a team, and following the steps in the World Gone Silent Repeater Kit manual, the youngsters had the repeater deployed and ready in fewer than 20 minutes.
Testing confirmed that it worked with all four HTs. The repeater performed quite well; radio communications were solid—well beyond what was possible using the Radio Individual Kit does just that. And in the case of the WGS Repeater Pack, rapid deployment of an effective repeater station is so easy that inexperienced children can do it. The kits we tested performed as advertised, and they allowed non-radio-savvy people to quickly get on the air.
The Ham Radio Individual Kit could be stashed in the trunk of the car for a college student or commuting spouse, along with a list of repeaters thrown in a backpack. The WGS Repeater Pack could be stored in a closet, storm shelter or bug-out cabin. Just about any situation requiring reliable communications can be addressed with these kits.
This kit is intended for those who know little about radio communications.
- Military-style backpack
- Pre-programmed radio
- Battery case
- Programming cable
- Upgraded antenna
- Earpiece kit
- Military-style pack
- Includes four individual radios with accessories
- Programming cable
- Quad-band FM transceiver
World Gone Silent equips its kits with quality gear. However, perhaps the most valuable component is the Quick-Start Manual, created and copyrighted by Chandler Friedman. When our testers relied solely on the manufacturer’s documentation, they became confused, but with the quick-start manual, Friedman’s expert guidance led them step by step to success every time. At first glance, these kits might seem expensive, but the results we observed proved that the prices were completely reasonable for this disaster radio kit.
While no support was needed during our test, we did contact World Gone Silent using the information listed in the manual and received prompt attention directly from Friedman.
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the February 2017 print issue of American Survival Guide.