If you are a emergency volunteer in a disaster area, or even a family camping, then reliable communications is needed over an area that might not have modern conveniences like cellphones.
This page is a quick start of options for direct communication.
Styles of Radios
There are three physical styles of radios.
- Handheld Radio – otherwise known as a Handy-Talky or “Walky-Talky”. Uses a battery to be very portable. Maximum output up to 10 watts. These radios have a limited range.
- Mobile Radio – these are made to run in a vehicle or standalone using a 12 volt battery. Maximum output can be 100 watts to gain distance.
- Base Radio – These are to be used in a home or office and are made to run off of 110 volt AC power. Mobile radios can also be used as a base station, but they need an additional AC-to-DC power converter with adequate amperage that provides clean power. Base stations can be 100 to 1500 watts.
Types of Radios
There are a variety of radios that utilize different radio frequencies. The FCC has set aside different frequencies for different uses. Cell phones, baby monitors, Wi-Fi devices, etc. and all must be built to follow the FCC regulations.
Fortunately, the FCC has said that citizens can freely transmit on certain types of type-certified radios. So if you purchase a certified radio, then you don’t need to get a FCC license.
You can use a FRS, MURS, CB, Marine, or license-free 900MHz radio to talk with anyone that has the same kind of radio. These radios range from an inexpensive Walmart blister-pack FRS radio to a professional spread-spectrum digital voice radio. As mentioned, when you purchase one of these certified radios, then the FCC says you may freely talk on them. You can use them for personal or business use. Remember you do not have exclusive use of these frequencies. You have to share them with others.
FRS (Family Radio Service)
These handheld radios can be purchased at many different stores (ie. Walmart, Bass Pro, etc) and give you 22 actual channels.
Don’t believe the marketing on the blister-pack packaging! The range listed measures distance from one mountain-top to another on a clear day! These have a .5 or 2-watt maximum power and with their attached antenna these radios can get up to one to two miles of actual distance.
You need to also understand that that “privacy codes” on these FRS radios are not private! Enabling them only limits what you hear, not what others hear. Some marketing multiplies the number of privacy codes times 22 channels to come up with an exaggerated number of “channels”.
In 2018, the FCC redid the rules on FRS and reclassified any old FRS/GMRS radios as being only a FRS radio.
For more information see our FRS Radio page.
CB (Citizens Band Radio Service)
These mobile radios have been a truckers staple for a few decades! Forty channels and a maximum of 4 watts can get you a range of a few miles. Sometimes you
Because of the lack of sunspots on the sun in 2019, the CB distance is reduced a bit, but just wait a few years and you’ll pick up long distance contacts again! Channel 9 is reserved for emergencies but you also might hear a lot of traffic on channel 19.
We have more information on our CB Radio page.
MURS (Multi Use Radio Service)
These business oriented 2-watt handheld radios give you five channels to work and play with. Listen on Channel 5 and you might hear Walmart employees talking! Please don’t interfere with them.
You can attach an external antenna to add distance. Also you can pass data on these channels.
See our MURS Radio page for more information.
Marine (Maritime Mobile Service)
These handheld or mobile radios should only be used on or near the waterways. Channel 16 is for emergency calls to the Coast Guard and others.
See our Marine Radio page.
900-MHz License Free
These radios use the license-free part of the 900-MHz ISM band to transmit and receive.
See our ISM Radio page.
The following Radio Service require applying for a FCC license. These are 10 year licenses with varying costs (free to $170)
GMRS (General Mobile Radio Service)
These GMRS handheld and mobile radios are great for a family when you need more range than the license-free options. You can even use GMRS repeaters to cover over a 100 square miles. You need two things:
- A GMRS License ($70 for a 10 year license that covers your family). It only takes 30 minutes to complete online with the FCC. No test required!
- GMRS radios that are certified as FCC Part 95 accepted.
You may talk with non-family members on the shared GMRS channels but they need their own GMRS license.
More information is available on our GMRS Radio page.
Ham Radio (Amateur Radio Service)
This isn’t a radio per se, but a license from the FCC to build (or buy) your own non-certified radio and to experiment.
There are three levels.
- Technician – Gives you access to the Amateur local, line-of-sight frequencies
- General – Gives you access to the Amateur beyond-line-of-sight, regional and worldwide frequencies
- Extra – Gives you more permissions on the Amateur regional and worldwide frequencies
The Technician license is easy to get. It take 20-25 hours of work over a few weeks to accomplish and the free license is valid for 10 years. The test is given by volunteer examiners and costs $15. When you pass this multiple-choice test, then when your name appears on the FCC database you can then transmit.
There was a 9 year old girl that was in my Technician licence class. If she can pass her test, so can you!
There is more information on our Ham Radio Licensing page.
Business Radio (Private Land Mobile Radio Service)
This FCC licence gives your business, organization or volunteer group an exclusive or shared use of different business frequencies.
To do this, you need two things:
- A LMR (Business) License. This is a 10 year license that covers everyone in the business or group. No test required.
- A FCC Part 90 certified radio. The manufacture must have it registered with the FCC Part 90 database.
There needs to be a lot of thought and planning on how you are going to use radios and then co-ordination with different entities while you are filling out the online FCC application.
There is more information on our Business Radio Licensing page.