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adopted the radios to stay in touch in car caravans, on the
beach, at the zoo, camping, and other places. They work
great. They are good to have around in an emergency as
many local emergency response units monitor FRS and
If you want maximum range and flexibility of
communications, definitely go for the GMRS license.
Otherwise, for just occasional use over short distances, FRS
If you are serious about GMRS and FRS, I suggest that
you get a copy of the FCC rules and regulations. You can
find these in a document called Part 95 of the Code of
Federal Regulations (CFR) 47. You can get a copy online
at www.gpo.gov. You can print it out in pdf form or order
a printed copy. GMRS is in Subpart A; FRS is in Subpart C;
and CB is in Subpart D.
GMRS and FRS Radios
GMRS and FRS radios are cheap and readily available
at stores or online. Some radios are GMRS or FRS only,
or could cover both. Some of the popular handheld
manufacturers are Cobra, Garmin, Midland, Motorola,
Olympia, and Uniden. Handhelds are usually sold in pairs.
Prices vary from about $30 to $80. Makers of GMRS
base stations and repeaters are BlackBox, Hytera, Icom,
Kenwood, Motorola, Olympia, and Vertex. Prices range up
to $1,000. Antennas are extra.
Typical handheld retail vendors are RadioShack, Best
Buy, Sam’s, Walmart, and some office supply stores. There
are others, and lots of online sources.
I recently bought a new pair of Cobra handhelds (see
Figure 1). They cover both FRS and GMRS channels, but
FRS users can only legally use channels 1 through 14. This
unit also has a weather radio inside that receives 10 of the
NOAA weather stations in the 162 MHz spectrum. This is
great for keeping track of bad weather. These Cobra units
use NiMH rechargeable cells but three standard alkaline
AA batteries can also be used.
Most of these radios have a feature called the
continuous tone coded squelch system (C TCSS) and/or
digital coded squelch (DCS). This capability lets you set
up a private link where the audio is muted (that’s squelch)
until you get a unique tone or digital code first from some
CTCSS uses one of 38 inaudible tones below 300
Hz to wake up the squelch if you get a call. Other
communications on the same channel will not be heard.
It’s the same with DCS where one of 83 digital codes is
used instead of a tone.
Interestingly, the promotional material for these units
says that the range is up to 23 miles. Don’t believe it unless
you are standing on a bare mountain top with a clear
path to the other unit 20+ miles away. Believe a mile or so
depending on the terrain.
Other Personal Communications
But that’s not all! You can still go with CB since radios
are still available. Check for activity in your area. If you
don’t mind fooling with the required larger antennas, range
can be much better than FRS.
Another possibility is the Radio Control (RC) service. If
you want to operate remotely controlled items like planes,
boats, cars, drones, or whatever, this is the service for you.
It uses digital coding that is not permitted with GMRS and
FRS. These devices operate in the 72-76 MHz range. No
license is needed.
The high class way to go is to get a ham license.
Amateur radio has been a personal communications
service and hobby for over 100 years. You can use a huge
range of frequencies and equipment technology including
digital, TV, satellite, and microwave.
A license exam consists of questions on rules and
regulations, operating procedures, electronic fundamentals,
radio communications theory, circuits, and equipment.
There are three classes: Technician, General, and Extra. This
is the license to aspire to.
If you are new to communications, I urge you to try
out one or more of the other services first as you learn
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FIGURE 1. The Cobra CTX385 GMRS/FRS handhelds. These
are typical of the types available.