Two-way radio communication has been available to the public for what seems like forever. Who hasn’t heard of CB radios, but who knew there are several other two-way radio options? How many people have heard about Family Radio Service (FRS), General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS), or the Extreme Radio Service (eXRS )? Have you ever considered using the marine VHF bands for land to water communications? Most of these are readily available and only one radio requires an easy to obtain FCC license.
Does your family need a two-way radio? There are few families that would not benefit from, or find an important use for a two-way radio. Have you ever been hiking or camping with your family and you and your kids become separated from each other? This is not the time to discover that your cell phone does not have a signal. How do you call and check on your kids to make sure they are safe? How do they call you when they need you? Having a couple of light weight, compact two-way radios isn’t such a bad idea. In fact, at times like this, it’s a necessity to insure the safety of your family.
Before we explore the different radio and service options available, let’s first consider some basics that apply to two-way radios and radio services. First, more power means greater distances. Therefore, a 1/2 watt radio won’t transmit as far or as well as a 5 watt radio. Second, the flatter the terrain or more direct the line of sight communication you have, the better the range and performance of the radio. Some radios can transmit 30 to 35 miles or more if the terrain is flat.
With these basics in mind, let’s consider the capabilities of the following services and radios to see what fits your needs:
(1) The CB (citizens band) radio is an option with both mobile and handheld styles that provide 40-channels and have an output of 4 watts. They are generally sold as an individual radio and you would need to buy one for each person. The CB radio tends to be a little larger and bulkier than the other radio options.
(2) It is common to find that a two-way radio covering the Family Radio Service (FRS) channels will cover the General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) channels as well. FRS radios have a maximum power of 1/2 watt, so you don’t want to roam too far from each other and hope to communicate. If you purchase a radio with both FRS and GMRS capability, you can operate on the FRS channels without a license, however, to operate on the GMRS channels you will need to obtain an FCC license, but not everyone in the family needs one. The FCC license is issued to facilitate the activities of an adult individual AND his or her immediate family members. Family members include a spouse, children, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces, and in-laws. One license can cover the whole family, but the licensee is responsible for everyone operating under their license and will need to insure all users follow the rules. GMRS radios operate in the UHF band so the radios are compact and light weight. The power of these radios is generally from 1 to 5 watts, and they are most often sold in pairs for about the price of one handheld CB radio.
(3) One of the latest and little known new services is the extreme radio service (eXRS) that uses new technology referred to as “Frequency Hopping Spread Spectrum” technology and operates in the 900 MHz band. The eXRS two-way radio boasts of being able to provide superior communications over a greater range when compared, under the same conditions, to the FRS and GMRS radios, plus they require no license like the GMRS does. When sold in pairs they are about the same price range as the FRS/GMRS two-way radios.
(4) Finally, the marine VHF band radios are another option. The FCC eliminated the individual licensing requirement for voluntary ships operating domestically which are not required by law to carry a radio. So your personal, non-commercial, watercraft is exempt from a licensing requirement. Portable, handheld versions are generally found in the power range of 1 to 5 watts. They are sold as individual radios like the CB handhelds. The Cost of these radios is higher than the others, but if you are a fisherman, there is a price you are willing to pay for your safety through communication. Not only are these radios capable of land to water communications, but land to land as well. This is often an overlooked capability of “marine” radios.
When making your final decision, one option that is well worth insisting upon that is available on each of these types of radios is a Weather Information or a Weather Alert channel. Whether you are at the soccer fields on the weekend, camping, hiking, or on the lake, it doesn’t cost any more to have a radio that can warn you of a weather emergency. Regardless of which radio you might be interested in, there are numerous options that each of these radios offer. You are sure to find one that will meet all your family’s needs.
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