This is an excellent post shamelessly copied from written in 2017:

All of the links should still work, Let us know if they don’t

Taking Another Look at Packet Radio

W4KYR (W4KYR) on June 12, 2017

In the late 1980’s through the mid 1990’s packet radio was all the rage. Amateur radio operators could send email to other hams across the state, across the country or even to other countries. Instead of texting with your phone, you did keyboard to keyboard text on the ham bands. You could browse bulletin boards, send and receive files and even pictures.

All this was done over radio without the benefit of the Internet or cell towers. In fact you didn’t even need to be anywhere near a cell tower and even need commercial power. You could run your entire packet radio station on 12 volts. You didn’t need a sophisticated computer; in fact you didn’t even need a PC!

So lets take a peek back at packet radio through this ten part series from the ‘Denver Radio Packet Class’ so can get a close up look at packet radio in action. These professionally done videotapes were shot in early 1992 at the very height of the ‘packet radio revolution’!

Go to

Now click ‘DRC Packet Radio Class’ and start with the first presentation.

But what about today? Don’t we have must faster means to communicate? Yes we do, we have HSMM-Broadband, ARDEN networks and PACTOR III which all can communicate much faster than packet. So why bother at all? After all, isn’t packet ‘old school’ and no one even makes packet modems today.

Not true, in fact packet modems or Terminal Node Controllers (TNC’s) are still being sold in 2017. There are several manufacturers that still produce them including Timewave, Coastal Works/MFJ and Kantronics. The TNC that is the “Gold standard” today seems to be the Kantronics KPC-3 Plus which sells for around $200.

All the online vendors sell new packet TNC’s. — If you don’t wish to be concerned with configuring the TNC. You can buy HT’s with built in packet modems. The Kenwood TH-D7/ag (built in the 1990’s) can often be found for less than $150 used on eBay. The Kenwood TH-D72 and the newer TH-D74 both have built in packet modems. Several of Kenwood’s mobile radios have built in TNCs.

So why bother with a TNC when you could use a sound card? There are advantages using a TNC instead of a sound card. If you have a TNC with a mailbox, you can set it up so it will receive mail to your TNC inbox without even requiring that you leave your computer on.

You can setup your packet station in the corner of your shack and leave it unattended and free up your computer for more important tasks. If your TNC is fairly sophisticated like the “Kantronics KPC-3 Plus”, you can set up your TNC to be an unattended and you can log in without a computer! There are videos that explain exactly how to do this.

So what about KISS modems like the Coastal works/MFJ 1270-X? The problem with KISS modems is that you have to use a program like AGWPE to access the KISS modem. Some find AGWPE a bit difficult to use. Other solutions are to use some other software based program with the KISS modem. But you can’t use simple terminal programs like Hyper-Terminal or PuTTY with a KISS modem. You have to use some kind of software.

Sure, Packet Radio is slow, so why use it when there are faster much means to communicate. Well the problem is cost; new Pactor modems cost $1500. Even used Pactor modems can cost more than the price of new basic HF rig!

So what about HSMM and ARDEN?

Sure, while they aren’t as expensive (under $200) they are restricted to line of sight. Unless one has a mountain or a tower at their disposal, you might be lucky to get 10 miles coverage. On the other hand, HF packet radio travels hundreds or thousands of miles depending on frequency.

Another issue is that HSMM and ARDEN is not widely used. I asked last year here on eHam how many are using HSMM or ARDEN in the Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky area. I didn’t get one response, which was surprising because Ohio has a large concentration of ham radio operators. There are more packet radio networks and stations in use today than those using HSMM or ARDEN.

Packet radio’s biggest appeal is it’s cost. It may cost you nothing to start your own packet radio station especially if you been a ham for some years. Chances are you may have everything at your disposal to put your own packet radio station on the air tonight. All you need is a computer (that old XP computer sitting in your basement will do fine, even that old Windows 98 computer sitting in the garage will do. Yes, even that ancient 35-year-old VIC-20 can do as well!).

You’ll need a 2-meter radio, that old Icom IC-2A sitting in your drawer or that HTX – 202 sitting in the closet will do just fine. You’ll need an antenna. You’ll also need a TNC, you can find perfectly functional used ones on eBay for $35 or less shipped! You’ll need a terminal program (FREE!). In Windows XP and going back to Windows 98, there is the free “Hyper-Terminal” utility.

Have a newer computer? No problem, you can use the free PuTTY program.

So who uses packet radio today? Winlink does for it’s VHF operations. Select Packet under the ‘RMS Map’ tab, then select the ‘RMS List’.

OK, so where do I go for more information about setting up my own packet radio station? Fortunately there are numerous free video tutorials, there are many .pdf tutorials and there are even FREE packet radio books as well.

K8BZ in Michigan produced 17 videos based just around the KPC-3 Plus and the program “Outpost Packet Message Manager”. Please go to YouTube and put “K8BZ Packet Radio Networks” in the search.

Or go to this direct link

Another good packet radio video source is from the “Commsprepper Channel”

Packet Radio – West Virginia’s DAREN Nightly Check In

How files and data can be transferred between vehicles with PCs, handheld radios (FT-60R & Wouxun) with the TNC-X packet radio controller/modem.

Retreat Packet Radio Node Online

Commsprepper main channel

What about HF packet?
‘Network 105’ on 20 meters is still popular.


Want a free book or two?

Here is a free complete ‘book’ of 18 chapters by Larry Kenney, WB9LOZ on packet radio written in 1988 and updated in the 1990’s.

Here is another free book is “A Primer For Packet Radio” and “A Handbook For The Advanced Packet Radio System Node Operator” by Buck Rogers.

In addition there are still very old DOS, Win 3.1 and Win 95 packet radio software out there on the ‘net. Among them is the classic “PaKet 6”, which runs in DOS.

The bottom line is that while today’s Internet and cell phone networks are great, fast and reliable. They can go down due to a local power outage, a bad snow or ice storm. And whether it be a hurricane or an earthquake, you can still send, store and forward email, text, send or receive emergency lists and view images of storm damage in and out of affected areas with packet radio.