We were curious when a colleague first recommended a radio that is growing in popularity among emergency responders. We did some research and bought one for ourselves at the local Ham Radio Outlet. The Wouxun Powerwerx KG-UV is tough, inexpensive, and compact radio that can handle many of the popular local emergency frequencies and can be powered by AA batteries. It is sold mainly as a 2 meter ham radio but has also obtained permission to operate on other frequencies.
The radio can be unlocked with a simple software download and programmed to the Marine Band channels, the NOAA Weather/All Hazards channels and regular FM radio. It will not receive AM radio, but our local county emergency AM station has a mirrored FM station.
You can also listen in on some local police, fire, ambulance stations, although many departments have migrated to encrypted 800MHZ radios. Most agencies do still maintain their old VHF/UHF radio systems and opt to use them when there is an emergency situation when there is need to accommodate volunteers and outside agencies.
Another major advantage is that even without a license you can transmit and receive on the FRS and GMRS channels. These are the channels used by the very popular family service walkie-talkies that are available at most sporting good stores. You can also take advantage of the MURS channels which are hardly used and have very few restrictions. So if you already have a few FRS or GMRS walkie-talkies around you can keep in touch with the whole family. Channel 1 on FRS and GMRS are also used as the main frequency of many emergency groups.
And then you have the arena where the big boys play. Most large emergency management and disaster recovery groups use dedicated groups of ham radio operators to communicate in an emergency. With the little Wouxun, you can listen in and stay informed of what is going on around you. Before the disaster, you should find and program in the frequencies used by your local SKYWARN, RACES, REACT, SATERN, ARES, SALVATION ARMY, ARRL, RED CROSS, CERT and Search and Rescue groups. You can always listen without a license, yet this might be just the exercise and radio to encourage yourself, your spouse or another family member to get that license. Most of these groups hold regular radio meetings and usually have an interesting speaker after the normal business is concluded. Many of these groups also continuously monitor their frequencies. If you have an actual personal emergency you are always allowed to key the mic and ask for help.
To top it all off, the Wouxun is equipped with a built in LED flashlight! It’s not amazingly bright, yet it provides enough light to read or find your keys in the dark. The radio retails for approximately $120. It can be found for less if you shop around. The price is higher than most AM radios, but it is a bargain compared to its competition. There are 3 models on the market: KG-UV1D, KG-UV2D, KG-UV3D. From all reports they are all the same internally just a few updates to the case over the years. Within these models though there are a few different frequency ranges available. We recommend the most popular in the USA, which transmits on 136-174 & 420-520 (VHF & high cut UHF) range. It’s also the version we chose. The next step is to purchase the programming cable and research all your local frequencies on your own. Or alternatively, you can accomplish the same goal the “preponomical” way and find a local member of one of the groups listed above that uses this radio who is willing to program it for you. The communications team members in these groups will understand exactly what you are looking for and are always happy to help.