The Ultimate Guide to Learning about Radio Communication and Why You Should - ITS Tactical
 

The Ultimate Guide to Learning about Radio Communication and Why You Should

By Bryan Black

ITS Tactical Handheld Radio 01

Cell phones have become our primary communication devices because of their versatility, portability and ease of use. However, the problem with relying on them too heavily is that during an emergency, the likelihood of them failing can become a big concern.

If we think about contingencies and recognize the limitations of the devices we rely on so heavily these days, what can we use to fill that gap if the cell networks become overloaded? Enter the venerable radio.

Radio communication is an extensive subject and one that causes a lot of head scratching. I’m not claiming to be an expert, but I have been learning over the years and I’d like to share that experience with you today.

Radio Origin

If you were a kid of the 80s like I was, you probably grew up blabbing to your friends over a walkie-talkie. If you were really cool, you had one that was disguised as a Pepsi bottle too. If you’re stewing at how young I am, I promise I had a string phone too.

Walkie Talkie

Walkie-Talkies were rudimentary communication devices that were fairly poor in terms of quality, reception and range. This was due to being limited at 100 milliwatts (0.1 watts) of power and lacking good antennas. Most just had an on/off switch, but some even had the ability to tap out Morse Code. Your buddy who had a different model of walkie-talkie could still hear you through his, as long as you were close enough.

In North America, these Walkie-talkies operated on the 27 MHz citizens band using amplitude modulation (AM). It wasn’t until much later that walkie-talkies appeared using the 49 MHz band with frequency modulation (FM), much like the cordless phones of yesteryear. Before we go any further, I wanted to pass along a great tutorial of how a radio works, if you’re already wondering what modulation is. It’s not going to keep you from learning in this article, but some of you may want to dive in more thoroughly.

With walkie-talkies, you were lucky if you could communicate within line-of-sight down the street, let alone burn through fences. God help you too if your pull-out antenna bent and snapped off when you were in the middle of a critical game of Army.

Power and Frequency

When talking about radios, the first thing that comes to anyone’s mind is range. How far can they transmit? It’s an important detail worthy of a quick discussion before we move on into the different radio services available to you for communication.

ITS Tactical Handheld Radio

Two key variables when discussing range are power and frequency. Power output is measured in watts and the more watts your radio has the further it can transmit. Think of wattage as one of those wind up cars that you pull back on. The harder you pull back on it, the further it goes once you release it. Watts work like this too, the higher the wattage, the further your signal will travel and the less prone it will be to interruption from resistance along the way. It’s important to note that higher wattage handheld radios will also wear down your batteries faster. This all depends on the quality of radio you’re running too.

Frequency is also a big part of the range you’ll achieve on a radio. The two frequency spectrums we’ll primarily be talking about are VHF (very high frequency) 30 MHz – 300 MHz and UHF (ultra high frequency) 300 MHz – 3 GHz. The frequencies you can operate on within these spectrums vary and we’ll get into that shortly. What’s important here is that neither VHF or UHF is better, per se, each have their differences.

Radio Frequency Spectrum

The lower the frequency, (VHF is lower than UHF) the longer the wavelength and typically further a signal can travel. Lower frequencies also have greater penetrating power. Don’t discount UHF though, it may have a shorter wavelength, but that can be beneficial within buildings, where a longer wavelength can hit stopping blocks and a UHF signal can find its way through nooks and crannies.

As a caveat, if you’re faced with a thick, impenetrable concrete wall, VHF is going to win and burn through it better than UHF would. But again, that’s a single wall. UHF is still possibly a better choice for indoor use and VHF might be better for outdoor use. Your mileage may vary though.

Now that we’ve got a few basics out of the way, let’s get into the actual frequencies you’ll have access to operate on.

Family Radio Service

In 1996, the personal radios we’re all used to today were introduced. Family Radio Service (FRS) capable devices are great for simple around town communication, but lack the power (read wattage) to truly be effective at long range communication.

ITS Tactical Handheld Radio

FRS Frequencies

Here are the 14 FRS ultra high frequencies (UHF), which are spaced at 12 kilohertz intervals. These frequencies can be used license-free for personal or business use, as long as you’re not a representative of a foreign government.

  • 462.5625
  • 462.5875
  • 462.6125
  • 462.6375
  • 462.6625
  • 462.6875
  • 462.7125
  • 467.5625
  • 467.5875
  • 467.6125
  • 467.6375
  • 467.6625
  • 467.6875
  • 467.7125

You may be familiar with the concept of the “perfect conditions” in which most of these FRS radio companies use to tout their crazy ranges of up to 40 miles. The fact of the matter remains that the FCC regulates that FRS radios have an integral non-detachable antenna and operate with a maximum power of 1/2 of a watt. That’s 0.5 watts or 500 milliwatts. Only 5 times more power than that 80s walkie-talkie was putting out. Even the FCC states that typical range of FRS is less than a mile.

ITS Comms 01So how can companies back up their long range claims? I’d love to actually see their testing, but with a clear line of sight, the UHF range is still going to be limited to the horizon. AM radio (550 kHz – 1650 kHz) and shorter wavelengths in the sub 2 MHz range follow the earth’s curvature due to reflection off of the atmosphere and thus travel pretty far. As wavelengths get shorter with VHF and then even shorter with UHF, they generally travel in straight lines.

This is what the horizon limitation is all about with FRS. It’s possible companies achieve a huge range by elevating an antenna. Once a transmission on FRS reaches the horizon, or point at which the earth starts to curve, it will continue indefinitely in a “generally” straight line. If the antenna on the other side of that earth curvature is elevated, it’s possible to game the distance the antenna can pick up the “straight line” communication. It’s a theory, but it’s what I’m going with for now.

One last thing to mention on FRS radios is the option of setting privacy codes. There’s a whole lot of terminology here, so try not to get overwhelmed. These “codes” are known as PL Tones (Motorola trademark) and generically referred to as CTCSS (Continuous Tone Coded Squelch System) codes. They’re analog and are often numbered 1-38. Additionally, there’s a digital block of these codes known as DPL (Digital Private Line – another Motorola trademark) and generically referred to as CDCSS (Continuous Digital Coded Squelch System) codes. These are typically numbered 39-121.

These codes are primarily for interference elimination in the case where all of the 14 FRS channels are occupied within your area. For instance, you hear chatter on all 14 FRS frequencies and rather than give up, you punch in a privacy code of 19 with your radio set to channel 1 (462.5625). Now you and the other party you’re communicating with can talk without hearing the main conversation on channel 1. Of course, if another radio in the area also has the privacy code of 19 set on channel 1, they’ll hear everything you’re saying.

General Mobile Radio Service

GMRS (General Mobile Radio Service) dates back to the 1940s when the FCC established the service for “individuals and entities that were not eligible to hold ‘land mobile’ licenses in public safety or industrial and land transportation services.” Basically, it was originally available for private citizens and business, but in 1988 the FCC limited eligibility to private citizens (individuals) only.

ITS Tactical Handheld Radio

GMRS frequencies require an FCC license to operate on (don’t worry, there’s no test – more on this later). Recently the FCC has started to allow companies to manufacture dual-service devices, which are FRS and GMRS capable radios. The FCC still states, however, that to actually use these extra GMRS channels on the dual-service device, you still need to have a license. For instance, the burden is on the user to ensure they’re not violating the FCC rules. What’s even more confusing is that some companies sell FRS/GMRS radios with channels 1-7 operating at more than the maximum 0.5 watt power, which means you have to know this and if you don’t have a GMRS license, limit yourself to FRS channels 8-14.

It’s very confusing to me why the FCC would let this happen if they’re so worried about licensing GMRS and how easy it is to mistakenly use a dual-service device improperly. I think they’re giving the average consumer too much credit to know the laws surrounding a dual-service device they may have just purchased, but I digress.

To bring you up to speed on why companies would be selling these FRS/GMRS radios with channels 1-7 operating at more than 0.5 watts, let’s get more into just what GMRS is all about.

GMRS Frequencies

Here are the 23 UHF (Ultra High Frequency) GMRS channels which are spaced at 25 kHz intervals. A license is required to operate on GMRS and the licensing process is explained below.

  • 462.5500
  • 462.5625
  • 462.5750
  • 462.5875
  • 462.6000
  • 462.6125
  • 462.6250
  • 462.6375
  • 462.6500
  • 462.6625
  • 462.6750
  • 462.6875
  • 462.7000
  • 462.7125
  • 462.7250
  • 467.5500
  • 467.5750
  • 467.6000
  • 467.6250
  • 467.6500
  • 467.6750
  • 467.7000
  • 467.7250

As mentioned earlier, there are 7 frequencies above that are shared frequencies with FRS. The only difference between these frequencies on GMRS is that by having a GMRS license, you can now transmit on these 7 with a max output of 5 watts vs. the 0.5 watt limit on FRS. Hopefully you’re tracking.

Other than those 7 channels with the max 5 watt output on GMRS, the other 16 channels have a max output of 50 watts! Most handheld GMRS capable radios only have 1-5 watts of available power though.

Licensing

The downside to GMRS is the licensing required, but I was surprised at just how easy it was to do. It took me all of 10 minutes to do and cost me $90. It’s a 5-year license that’s available to anyone 18 years or older and not a representative of a foreign government. The plus side is that once you get a license, any family member, regardless of age, can operate GMRS stations and units within your licensed system.

In 2010 a proposal was introduced to eliminate the licensing requirement to operate on GMRS frequencies, but as of this date that proposal is still pending. To get your GMRS license simply head to the FCC Universal License System (ULS) website and register. Once you’re setup with an account, just click on the option to “apply for a new license.” Next, select “ZA – General Mobile Radio (GMRS)” and follow the instructions.

Multi User Radio Service

MURS (Multi User Radio Service) was introduced in its current form back in 2002, when the FCC changed the service rules for its 5 VHF frequencies. MURS is unlicensed and its frequencies can be used by any businesses or any person, regardless of age, provided they’re not a representative of a foreign government.

ITS Tactical Handheld Radio

Every frequency we’ve discussed up to this point (FRS and GMRS) has been UHF. MURS is a tremendous resource that provides 5 VHF frequencies with a max power output of 2 watts. That’s four times the power of FRS radios. We’ve been running MURS on our ITS radios and can’t say enough good things about the radio service. We ran radios using MURS during this year’s ITS Muster and Skill-Set Development Excursion. Each squad was assigned a radio to communicate with and they worked extremely well for this purpose.

MURS Frequencies

Here are the 5 MURS frequencies which are spaced at 11.25 kHz or 20.00 kHz intervals.

  • 151.820 MHz (11.25 kHz)
  • 151.880 MHz (11.25 kHz)
  • 151.940 MHz (11.25 kHz)
  • 154.570 MHz (20.00 kHz)
  • 154.600 MHz (20.00 kHz)

A few other benefits of operating on MURS frequencies are the ability to have detachable antennas and use an external antenna of up to 20 ft. (6.1 meters) above a structure, or 60 ft. (18.3 meters) above the ground, whichever is higher. MURS can’t be used with repeaters though. You’ll also find the ability to set privacy codes on MURS frequencies like I described earlier with FRS radios.

ITS Tactical Handheld Radio

Citizens Band

CB Radio (Citizens Band) dates back to its establishment in the 1940s by the FCC, but it wasn’t until 1983 that the license requirement was lifted. A business or a person of any age is eligible to operate a CB, provided you aren’t a representative of a foreign government.

A CB radio is an awesome tool to have at your disposal for vehicle-to-vehicle communication and even emergency purposes. The 27 MHz frequencies used by CB are relatively poor indoors and discourage the use of handheld radios. Many CB radios also have weather frequencies built in to receive NOAA National Weather Service alerts. More on Weather frequencies in the next section.

CB Radio

CB Frequencies

Here are the 40 HF (High Frequency) 27 MHz CB Frequencies authorized for use with a maximum 4 watt output (AM) or 12 watt output in Single Side Band (SSB) as measured at the antenna connector on the back of the radio.

  1. 26.965
  2. 26.975
  3. 26.985
  4. 27.005
  5. 27.015
  6. 27.025
  7. 27.035
  8. 27.055
  9. 27.065 *Emergency Use Only*
  10. 27.075
  11. 27.085
  12. 27.105
  13. 27.115
  14. 27.125
  15. 27.135
  16. 27.155
  17. 27.165
  18. 27.175
  19. 27.185
  20. 27.205
  21. 27.215
  22. 27.225
  23. 27.255
  24. 27.235
  25. 27.245
  26. 27.265
  27. 27.275
  28. 27.285
  29. 27.295
  30. 27.305
  31. 27.315
  32. 27.325
  33. 27.335
  34. 27.345
  35. 27.355
  36. 27.365
  37. 27.375
  38. 27.385
  39. 27.395
  40. 27.405

When talking on a CB radio, you can’t talk with another station for more than 5 minutes continuously before waiting at least one minute before starting another communication. Channel 9 is restricted by the FCC as an emergency communication and roadside assistance channel only. The typical conversation channel on CB is 19, where you’ll often find truckers and highway travelers providing information on traffic, construction and accidents. It can be a great way to find out what’s going on ahead of you on the highway when traveling.

CB Radio 02

Single Side Band

SSB is a refinement of amplitude modulation (AM), which uses transmitter power and bandwidth more efficiently. Channels 36–40 are designated for SSB use, with channel 36 being the unofficial calling channel for making contact and channels 37-40 being used for continued conversation. AM only CB radios are asked to not use channels 36 through 40 and SSB stations are requested to stay off the remaining 35 channels. This theoretically provides interference-free operation by separating the more powerful SSB stations from the AM stations.

Here are a few additional things to keep in mind when using a CB radio:

  • You may not raise the power output of a CB device.
  • You may not attach a “linear,” “linear amplifier” or any other type of power amplifier to your CB device.
  • There are no height restrictions for antennas mounted on vehicles or for hand-held devices.
  • For structures, the highest point of your antenna must not be more than 20 feet above the highest point of the building or tree on which it is mounted, or 60 feet above the ground.
  • There are lower height limits if your antenna structure is located within two miles of an airport: If your antenna is more than 20 feet above the ground, the highest point of the antenna must not exceed 1 meter above the airport elevation for every 100 meters of distance from the nearest point of the nearest airport runway.
  • You can use an on-the-air pseudonym (“handle”) of your choosing. “Rubber ducky, this is Large Marge, come on back.”

Weather Frequencies

NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards (NWR) is a nationwide network of radio stations broadcasting continuous weather information directly from the nearest National Weather Service office. NWR broadcasts official Weather Service warnings, watches, forecasts and other hazard information 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

NOAA 00

These Weather frequencies below are a great way to stay informed of weather that may be moving in or even to just check the temperature outside. If you’ve ever tuned into these weather frequencies, it’s hard not to get sucked in and feel like you’re in the middle of an important brief. The automated voice broadcasting the weather information is eerily creepy too.

NWR Frequencies

Here are the 7 VHF weather frequencies that NOAA broadcasts on. Use this link to find out what station you’ll need to tune into locally.

  • 162.400
  • 162.425
  • 162.450
  • 162.475
  • 162.500
  • 162.525
  • 162.550

In addition to the weather, you’ll also hear hazard warning broadcasts and post-event information. This includes natural disaster (earthquakes or avalanches), environmental issues (chemical releases or oil spills) and public safety messages (AMBER alerts or 911 Telephone outages).

These weather frequencies use 1,025 transmitters that cover all 50 states, adjacent coastal waters, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands and the US Pacific Territories. This makes them readily accessible in US territorial waters and you’ll likely find them on most marine VHF radios.

Amateur Radio

In my opinion, the ultimate in radio communication is Amateur Radio, also known as Ham Radio. Ham isn’t an acronym, but an old-school term originally thought to have been derived from radio operators with poor or “ham-fisted” skills. It consists of a series of radio frequency bands designated internationally for public, non-commercial use. Various types of information can be transmitted over the bands, such as voice, video and digital data.

UHF Antennas Stacking for Ham Radio Bands

Amateur Radio is a doorway to the world, which can be used to communicate with people both local and distant. Even off-planet communications are possible, as the astronauts in the International Space Station (ISS) maintain an Amateur Radio Station!

The real power of Amateur Radio is the ability to communicate over great distances during an emergency and gain important intel on what’s actually going on. There are a multitude of volunteers that broadcast important information via the airwaves as a public service during disasters. After 9/11 Ham Radio Operators played an important role in emergency communications. It’s prohibited to use Ham for commercial purposes and the only time you can receive compensation for operating a station is if you’re a teacher and you’re demonstrating Amateur Radio for students.

Licensing

An FCC license is required to transmit on the amateur bands and there are three different license classes, each of which award the operator with a variety of privileges across the radio frequency spectrum.

On February 23, 2007, the FCC eliminated Morse code testing. The Morse code requirement was a major stumbling block for many interested in amateur radio. While no longer required for licensing, Morse code (or CW – continuous wave) remains an interesting and effective mode of communication by many amateur radio operators.

New amateur radio operators typically enter the hobby by obtaining a Technician Class license, which is easily obtainable by answering at least 26 questions correctly from a 35 question written examination. Later advancements and the ability to operate on more Amateur Radio frequencies are made possible by obtaining the General Class or Extra Class License.

Ham Frequencies

The privileges of a Technician Class Operator License include operating an amateur station that may transmit on channels in any of 17 frequency bands above 50 MHz with up to 1,500 watts of power. Click here for a comprehensive overview of the Amateur Radio frequency allocations.

How to Be a Ham

Obtaining your Technician Class Operator License is simple. All there is to it, is studying the proper question pool for the exam and finding a local testing location near you. Here’s how to take care of those two requirements quickly.

Technician Class Amateur Radio License Prep

First, head to Amazon and purchase the book Technician Class by Gordon West. It’s a phenomenal resource and in addition to teaching you all about Amateur Radio, it has the question pool I mentioned above with all the right answers. Don’t think of it as a cheat guide though, it’s a study guide, pure and simple.

Next, study! Go through the book absorbing the information and working through the question pool and corresponding answers. There’s 426 of them (there aren’t any secret questions on the exam), but don’t let that intimidate you. There’s only 35 of them on the test, remember? You only need to answer 26 of them right, which is 74% of the questions. West estimates that it will take you about 30 days to go through the questions a few times for the information to stick.

Finally, head to the W5YI-VEC website and search your state for a local exam location. Find one near you and inquire about when the next test will occur. Simple!

I’m actually in the process of studying for my Technician Class License, finally. I’ve known about how easy the process was for so long that I found myself putting it off. No longer though, one of my motivations for writing this article was to hold myself accountable to get my ass in gear!

What’s Next?

Now you have the hard decision of figuring out which of these radio frequencies you want to use. There’s no right answer though, they all have their strengths and weaknesses. Each usage will depend on your situation and what you want to achieve with your communication.

ITS Tactical Handheld Radio

While this article was a primer to what’s available to you, I’ve got another article that will run shortly on recommended radios, how to program them, customize them and last but not least, how to dummy cord your radio. The guys from this year’s Muster know exactly what I’m talking about, especially Delta Squad.

Stay tuned for more and please add your experience with these different radio frequencies in the comments below. I’d love to hear about what’s working for you.

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Discussion

  • Howard AE0Z

    Well written!  A good survey of radio.  The one thing I would add is there are many, many resources available to help pass the Amateur exams, and one of the most useful of these are sites that offer practice exams.

    The most appealing thing for me about Amateur Radio is the idea that I can take a radio I built out of parts myself, emitting all of half a watt, attach it to a length of wire thrown up in a tree, and talk (via Morse Code) to people all over the world.  The magic is in how radio waves propogate.

    • Howard AE0Z Great additions Howard, thanks for the kind words!

  • Souljacket

    Great article and perfect timing as I’m just getting into this. I picked up a GMRS license and will be working towards amateur radio as it really expands the possibilities. I purchased several Baofeng UV-5RA radios and am impressed with the capabilities. They’re cheap but well built, and there are a multitude of accessories. I’m still trying to find the right frequency that gives the best range (lots of hills and tall trees here in the Northwest). Looking forward to the next article.

    • Souljacket Thanks for the kind words, glad you enjoyed the article! The Baofeng radios seem to work well, I haven’t been hands on with them yet, but them seem like a great bargin in terms of price.

  • KJ4BNE Georges

    All, I am an Amateur Radio Operator (KJ4BNE) and have used radios in the military and as a civilian. Despite the licensing requirements, HAM radio is the most liberal form of communication possible. Not only are there several modes available (CW, Voice, Data, Digital, video, and Low Earth Orbit Satellite), several bands of frequencies to use, depending on time of day and conditions. It allows local and world wide communication. Local HAM’s will help you study up and prepare for the FCC tests, and will get you involved in their disaster prep activities. They’ll help you buy a radio, and may even have one to give away! You can find more information at ARRL.org, and certainly you should good for your local amateur radio club. The testing isn’t difficult; I know of 12 year olds who have Extra class licenses (the highest class)…. 73 to all (look it up), and good luck!   KJ4BNE  Georges

    • @KJ4BNE Georges Thanks for the comment Georges!

  • ThePixelated

    I’m going to get my amateur radio license and I’ve got Gordon West’s book too. Unfortunately I’m not a fast reader. The closest group to me that are give the exams does it every other month. Not sure if I’ll be ready by mid-November. After that I’ll take it in mid-January. Study hard & good luck on the exam!

  • BillSmerdon

    Good article.  Now that there is no CW requirement, getting a Ham license is really not too tough.  A great resource is hamtestonline – they have a service that where you log in and answer question on that come directly from the current test pool.  There is a very modest fee to use the service and you can sign up for one license or all three.  Make sure to start at Technician because you have to pass Tech before you can take the General exam, and you have to pass General before you can take Extra.  If you sign up for all three on hamtestonline and work at it for a couple of months you should be able to pass all three tests in one sitting.  The capabilities of ham radio are truly amazing.  And for a very small investment you can get on UHF or VHF and start accessing the huge network of repeaters out there, and for less than $1000 you can get set up on HF and literally work the world. Also you get your own unique call sign.  

    73,

    NW6O

  • JoeFreedom

    Someone point out to me in the constitution where the federal government has to power to control airwaves…  Can’t seem to find that anywhere and since the federal government’s powers are limited to the enumerated list as it appears in the constitution.  Revolution is needed badly in this nation and this is the least of them reasons but a reason all the same.  Screw the fed.

    • Harold_Giddings

      JoeFreedom It would help if you at least made since. Why don’t you show me in the constitution where it says we need a drivers license? Where does it say we can’t drink and drive? Do you see how that sounds like nonsense?
      The right of freedom does not include the right to transmit/broadcast. A big part of licensing is to help prevent misuse of the airwaves and prevent interference to other radio bands. There are people out there illegally using ham rigs modified to go out of band and are trampling police/fire frequencies unknowingly, had they actually taken the test and applied for their license they would know exactly what to do.

      People are not known for courtesy or technical knowledge, it would be insane to let the general public pick a frequency and transmit, there would be no coordination, havoc, and jamming/interference on important radio bands used by everything from broadcast radio to police.

      You have plenty of option for communications which are free, the ones with a charge are reasonable. $90 for GMRS if you don’t want to grow up and learn how to properly handle a radio (no offense to those who chose this option, this is directed at JoeFreedom) or $14 to learn your shit and know how to operate and handle your radio. 

      If you lived anywhere near me and I found you interfering with a licensed band I would immediately try to find the location of the signal and report it to the FCC. I paid for my license, the police, broadcasters, etc paid for their license and if you trample it because you don’t know what your doing and think you’re some kind of a big shot you sir are mistaken. Radio interference is a big deal.

      You don’t want to get a license?
      That’s fine, stick to FRS and CB.

    • BillSmerdon

      JoeFreedom I am all for freedom, but when you are dealing with the kind of power that ham’s can use, there are real safety concerns.  Further these bands allow radio signals to travel thousands of miles.  A license is a good thing on these bands.  The fee for the license is very low and the testing covers radio safety, radio theory and the laws and customs that apply.  Anyone with reasonable intelligence who puts the time into study can pass.

      NW6O

    • gw812

      JoeFreedom I’m all for limited government too, but the FCC might be one of the only federal agencies that actually listens to the people’s opinions about how the airwaves should be regulated. They are pretty liberal toward hams as well, we’ve got a GIANT swath of frequency protected just for us poor little citizens. 

      To answer constitutionality, I refer you to:
      Article 1, Section 8, last sentence – congress can make laws, then see US Code for what they are and the Telecommunications Act of 1934 for specifically the FCC
      Article 2, Section 2, second paragraph – POTUS can appoint officers, such as the Director of the FCC

  • Kris_Q

    Nice overview Bryan.  Amateur radio is on my someday skill list too.  I am a knowledge and skill junky, but I am really interested in learning how to transmit digital data.  Like you, someday I will need to just sit down and do it.

  • Alex

    I look forward to the recommended radio article. I’ve been meaning to pick up a handheld radio for emergency situations and I found this article very informative for me needs!

  • Oscar

    Good luck in the test. Not that difficult I’m an extra, my daughter passed the technician test last year at 10yrs old. She’s a bright kid but anyone can pass the ham tests. Great starter radio is a Baefong hand held uv5r or the new 8 series. You can pick one up on Amazon for less than $50. Great starting place as your involvement in ham grows. I can’t stress this enough, join a local ham radio club. Good folks with a wealth of knowledge that they’re happy to share. And your going to need it.

    • michael_s

      @Oscar I bought3 from the distributer in Houston for $116, with shipping, last month.

  • vettepilot427

    Bryan,
    Which radios did you use at the Muster and that are pictured in this article?  I would be very interested since you seem to like them and I know that you used them in the field.  A set like this would be great for our hunt club.
    Thanks again for the diligent work and research that went into this article!

  • Very Nice Post!
    There are many tools available to those interested in alternative comm solutions.  
    I think you covered those bases nicely! Ham is a Great Option for those willing to do what little is required nowadays to get the ticket; though not the best fit for ‘everyone’.  
    As a reminder-a Scanner is an invaluable part of the equation as well!  
    Cale-
    http://www.amateurradio15.com The Fo Time Podcast

  • smurf hunter

    I earned both my Technician and General class license last May.  I never paid for a course or bought a book.  I used free smart phone apps that worked like flashcards.
    Every few years the question pool shifts in a staggered fashion for each class of exam.

    Aside from the order of the multiple choice answers, the questions are VERBATIM on the exam.  So while it’s ideal that you actually learn all the concepts, you can just memorize the question pool.

    I had a lot of commuting time on a city bus and did this for a 2 hours/day for a few weeks leading up to my exam.
    Since then I’ve joined a local club as well as AARL.  I’m not sure yet if I’ll renew every year, but wanted to take advantage of all the resources available to new operators.

    • Harold_Giddings

      smurf hunter Just wanted to point out the license is good for 10 years, not 1 year.
      So you won’t have to worry about renewal for some time.

    • gw812

      Harold_Giddings smurf hunter I think he meant renewing ARRL membership

  • What was left out that Cell phones have dead zones too and most the time a OK HT can still get out on 2m
    That is why I am bringing my HT with me when I walk across the us Kf7kip (not going to spam the site but a google search with my call should find the walk I am doing (I am willing to meat up with you too if you hunt me down wall I am doing it)

    • smurf hunter

      I just followed you on FB.

    • gw812

      Desmond Robertson I can only hope that when you say you’re willing to ‘meat up’ that barbecue is involved…

  • The wife and I just took and passed our Technician test today. General is next and the wife is on board. Is Kelly getting her callsign also?

    • brysonholland We’ll see brother, I’m certainly trying to talk her into it 🙂 Thanks for all the info you shared in your comments. Much appreciated!

  • PheebzPetenstine

    Great blog ,Good info.Thanks.

  • MattBowyer

    Good article, although it should probably be pointed out that much of it is only relevant to the US.

    In the EU the equivalent of the FRS is the PMR446 (Personal Mobile Radio 446MHz) standard, which use much of the same kit just modified for the slightly different frequency. But be warned that you should never use PMR446 kit in the US or FRS kit in the EU, as the frequencies may well be controlled!

  • nDjinn

    Luck round here, the State HAM club puts on free classes. Wondering if anyone has use of the Baofang radio line? A multiband radio that doesn’t require a license as long as you don’t use them for business. (as explained to me by the president of the local Ham club and owner of two radio shops that provides radios to remote and offshore natural resource operations)

    • Souljacket

      nDjinn I’m just getting into this myself, so I may be incorrect on this, but I’ve been pulling my info from the FCC: multiband radios such as the Baofengs would require a license for personal use. The only band you could use on there without one would be MURS, limited to 2W. FRS is out because it requires max 1/2W and an integrated antenna. CB is HF and therefore below the range of those radios. GMRS requires a license ($80 for 5 yr, no test). These bands fall under the Personal Radio Service. Utilizing frequencies outside of these would require an Amateur Radio License. Harold_Giddings can correct me if I’m mistaken.

      I’ve purchased a few Baofeng UV-5RA’s and I’m in the midst of programming them and trying different antennas (was able to get a repeater 66 miles away last night). There are a multitude of accessories and information on them, and being cheap are a good way to get your feet wet in the radio world.

    • BrittBurton

      Souljacket nDjinn Harold_Giddings Baofeng radios are not Part 95 certified by the FCC, therefore they are illegal to use on the Part 95 freqs. This includes MURS.

    • nDjinn The brand of radio has nothing to do with it. Everything is based on frequency transmitted on. Depending on the frequency you use, there are additional limitations like maximum power output and whether or not your radio can have a detachable antenna, for example. 
      Direct from the FCC’s website:
      Devices marketed as “FRS/GMRS” or “dual-service devices” are available from many manufacturers and many retail or discount stores. … If you operate a device that has been approved exclusively under the rules that apply to FRS you are not required to have a license. FRS devices have a maximum power of ½ watt (500 milliwatt) effective radiated power and integral (non-detachable) antennas. If you operate a device under the rules that apply to GMRS, you must have a GMRS license. GMRS devices generally transmit at higher power levels (1 to 5 watts is typical) and may have detachable antennas.

      Baofang radios are budget-minded radios. They’re not the best and toughest, but they’re the cheapest, and they work well enough for the kinds of people who typically buy them.

    • nDjinn

      brysonholland nDjinn  I appreciate the time you took to reply. I have used a ton of different radios for fun and work (overland/EMS/rescue/etc) and owned a few GMRS so I understand the licensing. I am an organization end user, we have simplex and duplex radios as well as LMR (some kind of super DHS emergency response radio that I can talk to fire/ems all over the country on via mix of radio, internet and cell tech) radios  But this guy who is an authority on radios (board of the Ham club and like I said owner of a couple radio shops) and he should really know, told me in no uncertain terms the Baofeng was exempt. I don’t own any, and wouldn’t care for a fine from the FCC. Basically I and trying to find anyone else who has ever heard of this. Everyone one else is like “no, that’s insane”. He volunteers at a nonprofit I am on the board of and his company donates our comms so I have asked him a few times about it in case I misunderstood and he stands by his claim. He is an “always right” type and that makes asking questions difficult as someone new to owning UFH/VHF/Ham radios he’s supposed to be the expert and does most of our training on radio use. I am going to have to ask for documentation next time we meet for training.

    • nDjinn The brand of radio doesn’t matter, it’s the freqs you want to transmit on that dictate your restrictions and licensing requirements. The FCC regulations are available on their website.
      CB, MURS, and FRS require no licensing, and have very specific frequencies they are allowed to transmit on. Bryan outlined those freqs in the post above. Those are your options for transmitting without a license.
      LMR is not, as you say, a “super DHS emergency response radio”, it’s the Land Mobile Radio Service. You simply have a radio that will transmit in its designated frequencies. This is how the FCC licenses organizations to transmit for business purposes. You can also read about this on the FCC website: http://wireless.fcc.gov/services/index.htm?job=service_home&id=private_land_radio

    • SerbanDorin

      nDjinn i use baofeng on duty and is ok ! battery is not so great but is best then motorola ! 888-s model is super!!!

    • gw812

      SerbanDorin nDjinn and everyone else…

      The answer to the question is TYPE ACCEPTANCE by the FCC. In order to use one of the Baofeng or Wouxun handsets on multiple services (programming it to work for your Fire Department on duty, for FRS off-duty, and for amateur as well) the device has to be type-accepted by the FCC to operate on those services. We are looking at Part 90, Part 95 and Part 97 type acceptance, and you need to look up the exact model to see if it is. FCC website is the place to go – hard to find but it’s there. The Wouxuns and Baofengs would NOT be certified for FRS because they can exceed the power limit and have detachable antennae. Those are no-nos, and if you used them as such you would be falling on the wrong side of the law. This is commonly known as “opening up” or “freebanding” a radio. Many people do it. 

      True, it’s a very small chance that the FCC will find out and do something about it, but it’s a chance. They have the ability to seize your stuff, fine you and put you in the federal pen. 

      The only loophole is if the device covers Amateur frequencies AND you’re a licensed Amateur. You can use the device for its type-accepted service and for Amateur as long as you follow the normal operating rules from Part 97.

    • nDjinn

      gw812 SerbanDorin nDjinn Thanks for the information. I felt my source was giving me bad information, but that he was in a position to know better (our communications director and local business leader in the field – radio sales and leasing) it’s hard to question his accuracy directly.

  • bwerban

    What a great thorough post.

  • stevbarto

    High speed, low drag!  I love this article.

  • SerbanDorin

    great job ! i read this and is more than all we need ! from ro army as a com&info specialist u done a great info job !! best and well inform i ever seen ! keep up the good work !!! see ya on  I.T.S. TACTICAL :-*

  • Chris

    awesome article. a little more info about repeaters, echolink, etc may be good.
    dont forgot the GMRS repeaters on the “non commercial gmrs channels”

    these are scattered around, and not as popular as 2m/440 repeaters. They are however normally open during major events. when there is a disaster or huge storm, ham repeaters get really busy. It seems, it atlanta at least, all hams want to talk about is their radio, the antenna they are using, or the weather. so when the weather gets bad, they all hop on the repeater to talk about it.

    73’s

  • AL_G

    THANK You so much for this info. What a time saver.

  • Armandi

    Lookiing forward to the next article on recommended radios and programming.

  • Donald Martens

    I apologize if this has been answered, How many people can be included in your “Licensed System?” From the above post: The plus side is that once you get a license, any family member, regardless of age, can operate GMRS stations and units within your licensed system.

    • Donald Martens The licensed system isn’t his, it’s whomever’s is licensed. If you get your GMRS license, then you can run your own “licensed system” for whomever the license covers (basically, your immediate family). For example, if you ran your own GMRS repeater on your property and your wife and kids all had GMRS radios, that would be covered under your single GMRS license and would be your own private licensed system (since you own the repeater, and your family is covered under your license). Hope that makes sense.

  • Dan

    What about other countries? This is very US-centric, only partially useful if you are not living in the US and/or not planning to travel there. I guess it may be useful also for americans traveling abroad to know how things work in other places (Europe? Not sure, we may or may not have huge differences within ourselves. Asia?)

  • DriverTrainerMV

    I am a licensed ham and I totally agree with licensing the airwaves. When the FCC lifted the license requirement on the citizens band, it became a skywave free for all and it totally ruined that band. Working to get a ham ticket is rewarding in itself and some type of achievement. It shows that you are a proficient skilled radio operator at the least. I even polished my skills by joining the U.S.Army MARS radio program and earned a callsign through them as well. As a General Class ham I enjoy the HF bands and even communicated with the AMUNDSEN-SCOTT SOUTH POLE STATION under the United States Antarctic Program and obtained a QSL card. I love ham radio and it’s a great hobby and a service to the community and country at large.                        Rob          73’s  N3UIV       MARS Call – AAT3HQ

  • ptcuz

    Great article, thanks for taking the time to share your knowledge.  All links provided are very useful.  I am currently studying for Tech class operator.  Thanks again.

  • Matt Vieira

    Brandon, Schel,

  • Bryant Amper

    Baofeng uv-5r all the fucking way

  • Nic Gonzales

    Christopher Nehr

  • Jared DeVault

    Curtis J. DeVault

  • David Furnish

    I have my backup plus a galaxy 88 and a connex 3300 hp and a texas star 250

  • David Carter

    Program it in CHIRP to do all of the FRS/GMRS channels and they are pretty awesome. 5w and a good antenna on those channels, while technically against the FCC rules, is rather nice. I kind of want to try one of their Dual Band mobile units to see if I can do the same. Also, the newer BF radios are a bit better and still just as stupid cheap. Buy a few so you have back ups for your back ups.

  • Levi Pearson

    Anthony Bucher Kenny Smith

  • Epi Reséndez

    Malachi McDonald maybe it’ll make sense now

  • Bryan Watts

    Older article. It may be worthwhile to update with information about GMRS repeaters. A single GMRS license and a well placed repeater can give your extended family back up, or even primary comms, over an entire city or region (15-20 mile radius with 5 watt handhelds).
    Another consideration for emergencies are VOIP apps. Google, Facebook, WhatsApp, Skype, etc all offer free VOIP calling via mobile app. Zello allows you to create a virtual PTT radio network via cell phones. Even when cell lines are tied up with calls in an emergency, data connections will often still be working.

  • Luis Sousa Pereira

    My trio of Midland G9 PMR radios boosted to 5w (is illegal, I know…) whit 2500mAh batterys, are inexpensive and fullfill the gap between CB and mobilphones…

  • Andrew Wemlinger

    Danny Montes

  • Jeff Carpenter

    These articles are great and helped me when they first came out. Repeaters are also great, HOWEVER, remember that they will not be operational if there is a power outage that last longer than their battery backup (Perhaps whomever is the trustee of the repeater might have a generator – or not) SO it would be prudent to do some testing in your area as to how far you can transmit/receive from your dwelling via Simplex (Without the repeater) ahead of time. If you have more than flat terrain, it will not be the same in all directions.

  • Adam Bower

    If you know how to use a repeater, you’re better off than a lot of people.

  • Magirard2680

    Hi folks

    what will be the best radio for hunting in a dense forest ? with the best range.

    thanks from Canada

    • DriverTrainerMV

      Magirard2680 Hi There, It’s not so much as the radio as it is the frequency range, you need a radio capable of 30 to 75 Mhz range. Those frequencies are able to penetrate objects such as trees whereas higher frequencies reflect more and are blocked more by objects. Military short range communications are conducted on some of those frequencies for that very reason.  The Amateur Radio portion that is for licensed Hams falls into the 50 to 54 Mhz range known as the 6 meter band. I hopes this helps.

  • Seauton22

    Thank you for taking the time to write this article. I have learned far more from it than I have from 2 days of research and reading, never mind the FCC website which is useless.

  • Aaron

    Awesome resource! Thanks so much for writing this up.

  • B Montana

    I have been reading a great deal on the subjects covered in this article.  I am happy I finally found it.  Thank you for creating it.

  • Donald Martens

    I just applied for a GMRS license. $65 for 5 years in Oklahoma.

  • H Ward Silver

    Ham Radio Go Bag by Max Cooper is a good book worth checking out. http://www.amazon.com/Ham-Radio-Bag-Max-Cooper/dp/1515020517/r

  • WalterWhite303

    Thanks much ITS.  Your articles are fantastic.

  • Such a great article. On a side note, it would be super cool if you turned your “Radio ITS” graphic into a badge or a sticker for all of hams out there to show our radio and ITS pride together.

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