2 Way Radio

Discussion in 'Communications' started by Dana, Oct 10, 2008.

  1. Dana

    Dana Member

    I am thinking about getting a pair of two way radios for emergency should our cell phones go out. I would prefer a AA powered 30 mile hand held 2 way. Who makes the best one or is there a better alternative? I am wanting to keep them in the car.
  2. bkt

    bkt Well-Known Member

    Beware the little hand-held Motorola (and other) radios boasting a 30 or 70 mile range. That is only in optimal line-of-sight conditions.

    If anyone can suggest a reasonably-portable standalone means to communicate over longer distances (I'd settle for five or 10 miles, reliable communication), please post!

  3. kc5fm

    kc5fm Emergency Manager

    Serious Communication

    Good Question, Dana.

    For Serious communication, please get your amateur radio license. Your friends at the American Radio Relay League can help you find a local class and club with members who are willing to mentor you through the process.

    Avoid the Family Radio System radios, unless you are on a network with your neighbors. This IS a good idea, if you can get your neighbors involved.

    Learn how to SMS on your cell phone. The data side of cellular service will be less congested than the voice side. Follow SAFE and WELL from the American Red Cross.

    Call 800-BE-READY or visit http://www.ready.gov for additional preparedness information.

    I hope this has been helpful.

    Please let me know if you need additional information.
  4. ktm

    ktm New Member

    Great post kc5fm, 73z n6obb
  5. Fetthunter

    Fetthunter Ready for Doomsday!

    We use Motorola Talkabout FRS radios on our farm. They have a range of several miles, which is enough for us. Having a radio assumes that there is someone on the other end with the same type of radio. A "30 mile" radio would be good to talk to your other family members across town, assuming they had the same kind/type of radio. For our needs (staying in contact around the farm without relying on cell phones), the FRS radios are just fine. I can imagine us using them in an emergency situation as well. They're quite handy, and inexpensive. They run on AA batteries, too. ;)
  6. 5artist5

    5artist5 Member

  7. ke4sky

    ke4sky ke4sky

    Portable radios for Personal Communications

    Cellular and PCS portable telephones may not "work" during an emergency. Their central offices and switching infrastructure aren't to enable everybody to use them at once. Design assumptions presume that only about 5 to 10% of users will use the system at one time. If everyone tries to use their phones, the system becomes "overloaded" and you will get a "system busy" or "no service available" message.

    The Family Radio Service or FRS has utility for short range communications, if you understand and accepts its significant limitations. The FCC created FRS as an unlicensed service for use by families and groups. FRS radios are readily available at discount stores such as Wal-Mart or Radio Shack for about $25. They are pocket-sized, use common AA or AAA batteries and have better audio quality than Citizen's Band or CB portables.

    FRS is reliable for only 1/2 to 3/4 mile under typical city conditions. Advertising claims of "range up to two miles," apply only if you are up high, in the clear without interfereing buildings, terrain or ground clutter. This is line-of-sight communication and FRS is a low-powered, short-range service. It works for much farther than you can yell and is cheaper than using your cell phone minutes within your neighborhod. Reliable communication of over a mile using FRS is the exception and not the rule. Think of FRS as a pocket-sized, half-mile wireless intercom, no more.

    Not everyone in your neighborhood will want or need FRS. Canvass your neighborhood and ask who already has one. Buy them for elderly, special needs, high risk populations and "block captains" in your Neighborhood Watch group.

    If your local emergency management agency uses CERT, Neighborhood Watch or RACES volunteers, they can monitor FRS Channel 1 to listen for people who need assistance. This channel is widely used as a "neighborhood calling" frequency during emergencies. Turn off any "privacy codes" and listen with "carrier squelch" only (explained later).

    The ability to monitor FRS1 to relay distress traffic to authorities may be vital if telephone service is interrupted for any reason. Residents living alone or with impaired mobility should consider FRS to maintain contact with a friend or neighbor within walking distance who is able to assist them in an emergency. Higher-end FRS radios are compatible with voice-actuated headsets, which ease use by persons having limited hand dexterity.

    All FRS radios are compatible in operation. You may choose any one of 14"Channels" and talk to anyone within range using the same channel. Not all FRS radios have all 14 channels, but all have at least Channel 1. The idea is that if the power or telephones go out, everyone would turn on their radio to maintain a "listening watch" on Channel 1.

    Neighbors should check to ensure that anyone living alone is OK and that in families everyone is accounted for. Relay emergency calls down the line to someone in contact with the "outside world" through a working telephone, a phone patch via amateur radio or any other available communications.

    If your family group uses any channel other than Channel 1, let your local emergency management know so that CERT teams, police and fire can program it into their scanners. Schedule a regular weekly test, such as Sunday mornings at ten over coffee, to meet "on the air," check the radio, and make sure the batteries are OK. Become familiar with how your FRS radio works and determine your area of coverage.

    So-called "privacy codes" touted by the radio manufacturers and mass marketers do NOT make your conversation private! Continuous Tone Coded Squelch or CTCSS is used in amateur, business and public safety radios to enable multiple users to share the same channel without hearing each other. Anyone can turn the "privacy code" off enabling them to hear all traffic on the channel. CTCSS is used to reduce ambient noise when you monitor the radio all the time. It is not a scrambler. Don't discuss personal information you want to keep private on FRS!

    If FRS is to be of any use in an emergency everyone should DISABLE TONE SQUELCH and use carrier squelch only!

    If you ever need to use a 2-way radio in a real emergency, it is vital that you be clearly understood. Professional emergency responders use plain language, and you should do the same. Avoid "ten-codes" and jargon you hear on TV shows because these terms have different meanings in different areas and are easily misunderstood.

    To call someone, say the name of the person your want to call, followed by the words "THIS IS," then say your name and "OVER." For example:

    When Martha hears her name, it gets her attention. She may not know George, so when she hears the words "THIS IS" it alerts her to pay attention to who is calling her. When she hears "OVER" she knows that it is her turn to speak.

    Two-way radios are not "full-duplex" like a telephone. You cannot hear what someone else is saying when YOU are talking. Because only one person can talk at a time, it is more important to LISTEN on a 2-way radio than to talk! It's basic "radio etiquette" to establish contact and make sure that you have the other person's attention before just "blabbing away."

    If you hear someone calling you, acknowledge the call by identifying yourself and saying, "GO AHEAD." This lets the caller know that you heard them, and that you are ready to listen to what they have to say.

    When you want them to respond say "OVER." The word "OVER" leaves no doubt about whose turn it is to talk and avoids any confusion which results from two people speaking at once and nobody hearing the other. When your business is finished, the person who started the conversation should end it by saying their name and the word "OUT" which leaves no mistake that the contact has ended.

    Always release the push-to-talk (PTT) button whenever you stop talking. If you forget and keep it pushed down when trying to think of something to say, the radio continues to transmit a carrier, making your battery run down faster and making "dead air" so that nobody else can be heard. In the least sense, doing so is impolite. In an emergency, it could prevent someone with vital information from getting through. Leave a second or two between "hand-offs" to give others a chance to break in.

    Speak in short, simple phrases and toss the conversion back and forth with the word "OVER."

    Don't speak immediately when you press the PTT, but wait an instant. Most two-way radios take 100 to 300 milliseconds to change from receive to transmit, so if you speak as soon you "key up" it "clips" the first syllable, making it harder to understand. If that word doesn't make it, you will just have to say it again and run down your batteries faster.

    If you must use a 2-way radio to relay an emergency call to someone else who will make a telephone call for you, write the information down and collect your thoughts. The 911 operator will need the exact location, street name, house number and nearest cross street to the emergency. This is vital if a call being relayed is made from a location different from the emergency.

    E-911 systems trace incoming calls. It wastes precious response time if a unit is automatically dispatched to where the call is being made from, if it is far from the actual location of the emergency.

    Answer the call taker's questions as directly as possible, do not explain. If asked a question, just answer. If you think that additional information is vital, be brief and let the call taker ask for more detail.

    It doesn't help to talk louder on the radio in a noisy environment, even though it's may seem natural to speak louder when it is noisy around you. When you yell, the radio clips your voice, distorting voice audio so that it is less understandable.

    Speak ACROSS the microphone rather than into it because breath sounds also reduce intelligibility.

    Use a natural speaking voice. The proper way to overcome loud ambient noise is to shield the microphone from the wind, point it away from the source of noise or wait until the noise passes. A hand-held microphone or boom-mike with headset may be convenient if you have limited mobility or need your hands free to use tools or equipment, and are speaking to someone nearby.

    Any portable transceiver is much less effective when worn on your belt, because the radio signal is absorbed your body. This is very noticeable with low power FRS. Unless you can see the person, house or car that you are talking to, hold the radio vertically, at face level, with its antenna in the clear.

    Range is reduced to less than half if you use the radio inside a metal vehicle or inside a steel reinforced building. If you have trouble communicating, pull safely off the road and step outside the vehicle away from the traffic flow to use the radio.

    In cold weather keep the radio warm inside a coat pocket or in your purse, NOT exposed on your belt. Adapters, which enable you to power the radio from your auto cigarette lighter plug, are useful for extended operation. If the radio will work with common AA batteries, you don't need to depend on household current to recharge.

    A FRS radio is NOT a substitute for a cellular telephone! It is prudent to have a cellular telephone available for personal emergency communications and to use it as long as it still "works." But, cellular telephones are not totally reliable under all emergency conditions. FRS, despite its significant performance limitations, provides an inexpensive short-range alternative for people who are willing to learn and practice to supplement their community preparedness.
  8. ke4sky

    ke4sky ke4sky

    FRS/GMRS Frequently Asked Questions

    Confusion is associated with common 22-channel hybrid FRS/GMRS radios.

    According to the FCC use of 22-channel hybrids on anything other than the low power 500mw FRS only channels 8-14 requires a license. The interstitial simplex channels 1-7 in these radios are shared with the General Mobile Radio Service and transmit at higher power on these radios, so their use requires a license. This effectively limits those using these hybrid radios who do not have a GMRS license to using FRS channels 8-14, because these are the only channels in which software defaults to low power upon transmit. Channels 15-22 are split frequency repeater "duplex" pairs only used in the GMRS, and repeater use requires a license.

    The Frequently Asked Questions http://www.fcc.gov/pshs/docs/clearinghouse/references/cert-frs-gmrs-faq.doc

    General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) Definition
    FCC R&R 95.1 [Definition of the GMRS]:
    "The General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS). (a) The GMRS is a land mobile radio service available to persons for short-distance two-way communications to facilitate the activities of licensees and their immediate family members. Each licensee manages a system consisting of one or more stations."

    FCC R&R 95.143: "Managing a GMRS system in an emergency.
    (a) The stations in a GMRS system must cease transmitting when the station operator of any station on the same channel is communicating an emergency message (concerning the immediate protection of property or the safety of someone's life).
    (b) If necessary to communicate an emergency message from a station in a GMRS system, the licensee may permit:

    (1) Anyone to be the station operator and
    (2) The station operator to communicate the emergency message to any radio station." Groups may not discourage authorized users others from sharing the frequency or interfere or preclude others from conducting useful personal or family communication. You may not "reserve" channels by busying-out channels through conducting public safety training activities, networks etc.. Such activity is inconsistent with the definition of the General Mobile Radio Service. GMRS licensees are required to share (FCC R&R 95.7)

    "As a CERT volunteer may I use a GMRS radio?"
    Yes, as long as you have a GMRS license.

    "I have been told that since I am a CERT volunteer I do not have to obtain a GMRS license to use my twenty-two channel GMRS/FRS hybrid radio. Is that true?" No. You must obtain a GMRS license to use a twenty-channel hybrid.

    FCC: "If you operate a radio that has been approved exclusively under the rules that apply to FRS, you are not required to have a license. FRS radios have a maximum power of ½ watt (500 milliwatt) effective radiated power and integral (non-detachable) antennas. If you operate a radio under the rules that apply to GMRS, you must have a GMRS license. GMRS radios generally transmit at higher power levels (1 to 5 watts is typical) and may have detachable antennas. The current fee for a new GMRS license is $85"

    "I was told that as long as I use the FRS channels on a twenty-two channel GMRS/FRS hybrid radio that I do not need a GMRS license. Is that true?"
    The FCC website clearly states that if a radio was approved/certified by the Commission as a GMRS radio then the operator requires a GMRS license to operate that radio. The presumption is that you will use all of the channels in the radio not just the FRS channels.

    From the FCC: "Before any station transmits on any channel authorized in the GMRS from any point within or over the territorial limits of any area where the FCC regulates radio services, the responsible party must obtain a license. The FCC usually grants GMRS system licenses for a five-year term. To apply for a GMRS system license, you may file online through the Universal Licensing System (ULS), or file FCC Form 605 manually. New filers can learn more about ULS in its getting started tutorials. See Fee Requirements for FCC Form 605 for current licensing fee information.

    “What are the benefits to obtaining a license? “The benefits are many.

    • You may use up to fifty-watts transmitter output power FCC R&R 95.135 on base stations and mobile units with home rooftop or vehicle rooftop antennas.

    • You may use up to five watts effective radiated power on FRS 1-7

    • You may have a Small Base Station FCC R&R 95.139on FRS 1-7. (Five watts ERP or less and antenna height not to exceed twenty feet.)

    • You may use radios with removable antennas. Such antennas are forbidden by FCC Rules on twenty-two channel hybrid radios because these include FRS frequencies eight through fourteen.

    • You may use radio repeater stations to increase your range.

    "Can my CERT group reserve a GMRS channel for our use in a specific area?" No. You have no specific right to a channel. You are required to share this resource with other users just like everyone else does.

    "What is the most efficient way to use my radios before, during, and after an emergency?" Plan ahead, use appropriate identifiers (tactical call signs, first names) so you know who is who, agree on a communications protocol and relay mechanism for your neighborhood. Get your local Amateur Radio Service operators and GMRS licensees involved in the planning! Be polite, listen before transmitting, and communicate quickly and precisely so that others can also use the channels. Use your FRS radios to stay in touch with your children as they play and encourage your neighbors to do the same. Always listen carefully before transmitting. Never yell or shout into a radio. Avoid the use of call tones.

    "What is the best way for me to get communications for my group?” Don't reinvent the wheel and “KISS." Hopefully your group sponsor has a committed leader with disaster planning experience, knowledge of communication systems, the ability to manage resources and supervise volunteers to accomplish their mission. Leadership makes all the difference in disaster planning. The biggest mistake any jurisdiction can make is allowing poor leadership to Balkanize critical communications resources.

    Setting up competing communications groups is not productive. Setting up neighborhood communications plans IS productive; however, you need to use existing resources effectively. Plan a very-local method of communicating between your neighborhoods. Do it wisely and work within the FCC Rules.
    Last edited: Oct 24, 2008
  9. DuckA

    DuckA Member

    One thing to consider about these radios in an emergency situation is that anyone on the same channel can hear you. I was on a voice intercept team while I was in the Army. We obtained better info during training using these radios than we did with our intercept equipment. The reason? The official comms were encrypted, the hand-held radios were not.

    If things really go tits up, you're going to have people that are doing everything they can do to take advantage of others. They can get another radio, put it on scan, and sit outside of your area and get tons of useful info. For that reason, I would suggest getting a radio that has as little range as you can get away with and use it as little as possible.
  10. ke4sky

    ke4sky ke4sky

    Analog voice vs. digital modes

    That's one of of the reasons our Auxiliary Communications Service uses file compressed TCI/IP at 9600 baud over the air on UHF for things like shelter logs, casualty lists, logistics and resource management. Kenwood TMD700A digital radios are located in each fire station at the watch desk and are manned by ACS volunteers as a backup to our public safety radio system. An IRLP gateway enables the hams to dump into an ACS mailbox in WebEOC at the command fire station if the PTSN or public safety radio system would go down. This mailbox outside the county's main firewall is monitored by the ESF-2 Communications Network Support Tech on duty for authentication, routing and distribution into the secure internal WebEOC system. Type III ACS operators are also trained to use the public safety data console l and digital voice public safety radios in the fire stations.

    FM voice on amateur radio is used only for alerting and confirmation of traffic receipt. All the operational traffic is sent digitally, similar to MT63 you may have used in the Army.
  11. StanW

    StanW New Member



    CERT Radio Training Course

    Our CERT radio training course is now co-hosted at the FCC's Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau Clearing House.

    The training here is FRS oriented here for the simple fact that most CERT team members are not going to be licensed amateurs but still need to know how to effectively use FRS radios for communications within their CERT team.

    Our training does discusses the use of, and differences between Amateur Radio Service (ARS) and the General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) in Part II. This is used as a way of tying CERT teams back to their Incident Command Post, EOC or Public Safety Answering Point using existing REACT and Red Cross GMRS repeaters, or amateur radio repeater networks.

    Using REACT groups and amateur radio clubs to offer this training to your CERT teams is a great way to encourage some who show an interest in communications to become licensed in either Amateur Radio or the GMRS.

    The General Mobile Radio Service is an FCC Licensed Service for personal and business use by immediate family members. The license, is good for 5 years costs $85, and no test is required. The benefits of licensing are:

    • You may use up to fifty-watts transmitter output power (FCC R&R 95.135) on base stations and mobile units with home rooftop or vehicle rooftop antennas.

    • You may use up to five watts effective radiated power on FRS channels 1-7

    • You may have a Small Base Station (FCC R&R 95.139) on FRS 1-7. (Five watts ERP or less and antenna height not to exceed twenty feet.)

    • You may use radios with removable antennas. Such antennas are forbidden by FCC Rules on twenty-two channel FRS/GMRS "hybrid" radios because these include FRS frequencies eight through fourteen.

    • You may use radio repeater stations to increase your range.

    GMRS uses commercial grade Part 95 radios which are certified for Landmobile use. FRS channels 1 through 7 are shared with GMRS. FRS and GMRS may legally talk to each other on the shared simplex channels.

    In our county CERT members who complete the radio course and obtain either a GMRS or Amateur Radio Service license are issued portable radios for the service in which they are licensed by the county. Then they can function as the designated "Radio Operator" for their team using either amateur radio and GMRS repeater networks or simplex frequencies, depending upon their class of license.

    Stan - Oro Valley, AZ Citizen Corp Councel - and Storm Ready
    Last edited: Oct 25, 2008
  12. DuckA

    DuckA Member

    That's a little outside the realm of the average dude using a radio. The average person isn't going to have all of that equipment. What I was getting at involves just some guy blabbing away over a Motorola that he bought at Walmart.
  13. madrabbitt

    madrabbitt New Member

    This is where i point out, that in a urban or even suburban environment, even gmrs radios with the max power output, is worthless past even a few miles.

    Heck, even at 25 watts, and a good external antenna, i cant get more then 10 miles out of GMRS units
  14. madrabbitt

    madrabbitt New Member


    Thats one of the best posts on the subject i've seen in a while. Nice job.
  15. kc5fm

    kc5fm Emergency Manager


    My post was not clearly stated, apparently. I apologize for that.

    FRS won't do you much good, if no one else is on it.

    The National Standard is to use Channel One, non-encoded, plain text during disasters.

    If your neighborhood watch party, area group, friends, neighbors, etc. are not going to USE FRS within or without the National plan, FRS is useless.

    Then again, CB, amateur radio, cellphone, smoke signals, etc. are all useless, if no one communicates back. :)
  16. XJ Monk

    XJ Monk Tool Thrower

    How about MURS radios? I am not sure about the licencing or if any licence is required but it has to have way better range over FRS radios.
    As things are nowadays very few will be dedicated enough to study to become Ham operators.
    I did not see any reference to MURS in this thread tho I may have missed it.
  17. ke4sky

    ke4sky ke4sky

    Murs faq

    This is a good source of info on MURS

    MURS: Frequently Asked Questions

    20. What kind of range can I get from a MURS radio?

    At the 150 MHz frequencies of MURS, communication range is dependent on antenna height relative to the surrounding environment. Range between two handheld MURS radios will vary, but should be between a half mile to perhaps several miles in open terrain if there are no obstacles. If are using MURS from inside a vehicle without an external antenna , the range will be much less.

    An advantage of MURS over FRS is that you may connect an external antenna to your radio. Using an antenna mounted on the vehicle roof to communicate with another similar unit, you could reasonably expect reliable communication car-to-car for several miles in flat, open terrain, and possibly up to ten miles or more if hilltopping improves your line of sight.

    Using a base station-type antenna elevated 20 feet above ground you should be able to communicate with a vehicular MURS unit over a range of three to perhaps ten miles, depending upon line of sight and your radio horizon. From that same base, you might get two to six miles communicating with a MURS handheld radio.

    Base-to-base station communications should be possible over at least several miles, perhaps up to twenty miles or more on a clear channel if stations are up high on a hill and in the clear. However, this kind of operation is not consistent with the traditional use of these frequencies for short-range base-to-mobile and mobile-to-mobile communications.

    There are other factors that affect communications range. An especially important consideration is channel occupancy. In most urban areas, some MURS frequencies (especially the two MURS 154 MHz frequencies) are already heavily populated with handheld and mobile operations, and (on some channels) base stations as well.
  18. AgentFlounder

    AgentFlounder fan of analysis

    MURS is only 2 watt it looks like. That's not much. At that rate I would think CB would be preferable since it is so ubiquitous. If everyone in the party uses a good antenna (K40, Wilson, Firestik, etc) on a good steel ground plane and you get some pretty impressive distances for line of sight comm. Select single side band radios for all in the party and you get even better range. That's pretty tough to beat. Handhelds are bulky so that is potentially a big downside, but the really good ones ($150) do have decent range.

    It seems to me the real way to go for emergency comm is amateur radio. No simplex radio can really beat use of repeaters. Many amateur repeaters are set up to support emergencies since ham operators often volunteer to aid with communication during emergencies via ARES -- Amateur Radio Emergency Service. A 2m (144-148MHz) mobile radio will typically have in the ballpark of 50W of power. Handhelds vary but are relatively compact and powerful. With repeaters you really don't need a bunch of power, but it helps if you're communicating simplex (what CB and FRS do)

    When repeaters are linked together you talk across a wide range. The Colorado Connection repeaters let me talk across much of the western part of the state. Note too that that this is vastly different from lower frequency skip which occurs at night and you never quite know who you will reach.
  19. endurance

    endurance Well-Known Member

    There's simply no handheld radio that I know of that can reach 30 miles without a repeater. With a repeater, you can do amazing things (i.e. with our forest service radios we had 2.5 watt handhelds and could communicate with the forest office over 75 miles away because we had a 300 watt repeater to relay off of). While there are hundreds of repeaters (probably thousands) operated by private Ham radio clubs, I'm not sure how reliable they will be in an emergency. It probably depends on the nature and scope of the emergency. Many are grid-tied, but some are solar. In any case, getting a Ham license would be the first step if you're serious about comms.

    Typically you can get about 1 mile per watt. Most handhelds are .5-2.5 watts, with some up to 5 watts. Most car-mounted radios (like emergency services use) are 25-35 watts, but they almost always use a repeater giving them essentially unlimited range except in the most rugged terrain. The one exception that's readily available is Single Side Band (SSB) CB radios. I used to have a SSB radio and it would stretch 7-10 miles somewhat reliably, and if the atmosphere was really stable, 15 miles wasn't unheard of. This was on a car mounted radio that put out only 5 watts. It didn't take a license (or if it did, it was basically just like filling out a registration form) and the cost was reasonable. No, it wasn't handheld, but without getting seriously into it, SSB might be your best answer.
  20. ke4sky

    ke4sky ke4sky

    Amateur Radio Still the Best Bang for the Buck

    For an affordable backpack emergency radio the Yaesu FT-817 is pretty hard to beat. It is little larger than a heldheld, 5 watts, with UHF, VHF and HF all in one box. Does all modes, CW, SSB, FM, simplex and repeaters. If you use a efficient antenna on HF which is resonant on your working frequency, and you set up the antenna to optimize its radiation pattern for the band in use and current operating conditions you can make coast-to-coast and intercontinental contacts on 5 watts. You might learn to use propagation software and learn to work the "gray line." Learn which parts of the world a particular band is open to at a given time. Listen to beacons and utliity stations to check current band conditions for a given band. This is what ham radio is all about and the general knowledge you acquire in studying for the test helps you become a more effective operator.