Ultimate Handheld Radio Communication Guide: What to Look For

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Ultimate Radio Communication Guide: What to Look for in a Handheld Transceiver

By Bryan Black

ITS Handheld Transceiver

My previous article on radio communication was a primer that went into detail about why you’d want to learn about radios, the way they operate and what frequencies are available for you to operate on.

Today I’m going to address what kind of radios are out there for you to use with those different frequencies, the advantages to programming your radio, what kind of upgrades are available and even how to create your own comms, or frequency card.

I’m going to be referencing quite a bit of information from my last article when it comes to frequencies, so if you’re not up to speed yet on the difference between say, VHF and UHF, check out my first article.

What to Look for in a Handheld Radio

First off, my recommendations for radios are going to be primarily based on handheld applications. While there are certainly pros to having a larger base station transceiver, the handhelds have it when it comes to portability, ease of use, versatility and more. They can be used at home, in a vehicle, or even in the field.

What’s a Transceiver?

A transceiver, which I’ll be referring to frequently in this article, is essentially your radio. A transceiver is a unit which contains both a receiver and a transmitter. While these used to be separate units until the 1920s, most modern radios are transceivers. Occasionally you’ll see just a receiver, but this is mostly for shortwave listening and beyond the scope of this article.

What Radio to Buy?

This is a loaded topic and one that I mentioned I’ll be approaching from a handheld-only angle. I’m also going to keep this as budget conscious as possible, too. Like many of you that enjoy shooting, you’ve probably also amassed quite a collection of holsters, as you try different types out to find what works best for you. Handheld transceivers can be just as bad, but my hope is that with the info I’ll be providing, you’ll avoid amassing a box of radios that you no longer use like I have.

Some important considerations when looking at radios, are asking yourself some hard questions ahead of time. What do I want to do with my radio? What frequencies do I have access to and what are my power limits on those frequencies? My last article did a good job of laying out all the different frequencies available to you and which require a license to operate on. If you don’t already know which of the different frequencies you want to operate on, like FRS, GMRS, or MURS, reference that first article I wrote.

I hate to keep mentioning that first article, but I know there are some of you that are reading this that may think I’m breezing over important topics and I’m doing that for the sake of those that have the baseline info from that article.

Frequency and Power

Addressing each of these questions one at a time will give you a background of what essentials to look for. What you want to do with the radio is important, are you just talking outside within line of sight of another person? FRS radios are great for this application, but if distance is a concern, they’re not for you. FRS transmits and receives on UHF, which by nature doesn’t travel as far as VHF due to UHF’s shorter wavelength. This of course completely discounts obstacles you may encounter, which will decrease range even more.

Remember that more power equals better range, so the FCC legal limit of 0.5 watts on FRS is a real let down, when you can move to VHF and MURS frequencies and bump up to 2 watts of power. Pay your $90 to the FCC for a GMRS license and you can transmit at 5 watts to 50 watts. Have a HAM license? That changes things too.

Suffice to say, I’m trying to talk you out of FRS. FRS radio manufacturers like to inflate their range, which I got into on that last article. They make claims that seem to violate the laws of physics and the curvature of the earth. What I mean by FRS radios, are the two packs of walkie-talkie looking transceivers you commonly find at Wal-Mart and sporting goods stores.

ITS Tactical Handheld Radio

What you’re looking for in a good handheld is as much wattage as you can buy, while keeping in mind the legal limits you can operate on within your chosen frequencies. The frequency range the transceiver operates on is also very important. Obviously if your intent is programming MURS frequencies into your handheld, a handheld set up for CB with an operating range only in the High Frequency 27 MHz range, isn’t going to work with MURS and its 151-154 MHz range. The radios I’ll be recommend in this article are going to speak directly to versatility and can handle MURS, GMRS, NWR (Weather) and some HAM frequencies.

Typically, you’re only going to find a 5 watt max on handhelds, but what’s also important is ensuring they have different settings for power. Meaning that they have the ability to switch between a low power setting and a high power setting. This will ensure you have a handheld that can function well for GMRS and HAM wattage, but can also dial down for operating on MURS frequencies and not violate any FCC laws.

A good example of this is the Wouxun KG-UV5D radios we have here at ITS. They feature a selectable 1W low and 5W high setting for VHF and a 1W low and 5W high for UHF. By setting them to the low wattage setting, they’re able to be used with the FCC MURS requirement of not exceeding 2 watts of transmit power, yet with a programming change, they can be boosted to the high setting for GMRS or HAM frequencies at 5 watts. GMRS and HAM is obviously limited to licensed individuals only. More on those licenses and certifications here. While I could link to the KG-UV5D, the KG-UV6D is the newest version and is what I’d recommend if you’re buying one new.

Dual Band and More

ITS Handheld Transceiver

Having a dual band monitor feature on your handheld can be quite helpful. This feature will allow you to monitor two different frequencies at once. These can be VHF/VHF, VHF/UHF and even UHF/UHF. This might be hard to understand, so I’ll put it in the perspective of how we’ve used dual band before. During our recent ITS Muster, we assigned a radio to each of our squads and they had a designated main frequency to talk to the ITS staff on. The staff also had a frequency that we’d use to talk to each other on that the attendees didn’t have programmed into their radios. So we’d “monitor” both of these frequencies simultaneously with the dual band function of our radio transceivers and were easily able to select the specific frequency we wanted to transmit back on.

So in theory if the main frequency was channel 1 and our inner-staff channel was channel 2, we’d just have to make sure we were transmitting on channel 2 if we didn’t want the attendees to hear our conversation. One more thing about dual band is that you want to ensure your antenna can support dual band as well. If you’re buying a radio with dual band built-in, the antenna that comes with the radio will more than likely support it, it’s aftermarket antennas you have to worry about.

ITS Handheld Transceiver

Another important thing to look for in a radio transceiver its the ability to program it manually, as well as with programming software using a cable. More on programming in the next section. What I mean by programmed manually is that it has a keypad, a digital display and that all menu options can be set with that keypad and display. The display also provides visual feedback on what channel/frequency you’re operating on.

A few other considerations are as follows:

  • Does the transceiver have a memory bank to store your favorite frequencies?
  • What’s the battery type? Is it rechargeable? Is a charger included?
  • Is there an external mic/push-to-talk connection? This is likely also where you’d connect a programming cable.
  • Does it have an FM radio? (76-108 MHz) Do you need access to an FM radio?
  • What kind of antenna connection does it have? Is it SMA or BNC? (more on antennas later)
  • Does it have a manual channel adjustment knob? This can come in very handy.

This is Great, but What Radio Do I Buy?

ITS Handheld Transceiver

There are two transceivers I’ll put my name behind. My first choice is the Wouxun KG-UV6D and second is the Baofeng UV-5R. They’re both dual band monitor, programmable via keypad and cable, can handle MURS, GMRS, NWR (Weather) and some HAM frequencies.

Other notable features they share are multiple storage channels, digital backlit display (backlight can be disabled), channel lockout, 50 CTCSS / 104 DCS Tones, selectable low/high power settings and priority scanning. Each includes a rechargeable battery, desktop charger, belt clip and dual band antenna.

So what’s the difference? In my opinion, the Wouxun is a better made product. It feels more robustly made and they handled everything we threw at them during our last Muster without a hiccup. While I haven’t had the Baofeng in the same situations that I did with the Wouxun transceivers, there’s just something about the way they feel that makes me think they won’t last under hard conditions. I’m still testing the Baofeng’s out, but so far, that’s my opinion.

There’s a big cost difference between the units and that may push you one way or another. Let’s get into other things that separate these two radios and you’ll see everything lined out.

Wouxun KG-UV6D

ITS Handheld Transceiver

  • Frequency Range: 136-174 MHz, 400-480 MHz RX (receive) and TX (transmit)
  • FM Radio: 76-108 Hz (RX) automatic tuning and storing, radio frequency display, 18 FM memories in 2 banks
  • Selectable Power: VHF – 5W high/1W low UHF – 4W high/1W low
  • Selectable Step Sizes: 2.5, 5, 6.25, 10, 12.5, 25, 50 or 100 kHz
  • CTCSS/DCS: 50 CTCSS and 105 DCS Codes
  • Memory Channels: 199
  • Weather Resistant: IP55 Waterproof Standard
  • Programable: Via Keypad or Computer w/ Kenwood Style 2-Pin Connector
  • Scanning: Multiple Modes Including Priority Scan
  • Other Features: Keypad Lock (auto or manual), Flashlight Illumination, Optional Voice-Prompt Operation, VOX Function, Stopwatch Function, SOS Function, Selectable Transmit Over Timer (15-600 sec.), Wide/Narrow Band Capable, Independent Channel Adjustment Knob
  • Includes: 1700 mAH Li-ion battery, SMA Dual Band Antenna, desktop rapid charger (3-4 hrs.), belt clip, wrist strap, user manual
  • Operating Temperature: -22 °F to 140°F (-30°C to +60°C)
  • Dimensions: 2.3” wide x 4.1” height x 1.6” deep (with battery, without antenna)
  • Weight: 9.1 oz. w/ battery pack and included antenna
  • Made in China

CE & FCC Part 90 Certified
FCC ID: WVTWOUXUN07

Baofeng UV-5R

ITS Handheld Transceiver

  • Frequency Range: 136-174 MHz, 400-480 MHz RX (receive) and TX (transmit)
  • FM Radio: 65 – 108 MHz (RX)
  • Selectable Power: VHF/UHF – 4W high/1W low
  • Selectable Step Sizes: 2.5, 5, 6.25, 10, 12.5 or 25 kHz
  • CTCSS/DCS: 50 CTCSS and 104 DCS Codes
  • Memory Channels: 128
  • Programable: Via Keypad or Computer w/ Kenwood Style 2-Pin Connector
  • Scanning: Priority
  • Other Features: Keypad Lock (auto or manual), Flashlight Illumination, Optional Voice-Prompt Operation, VOX Function, Emergency Alarm, Wide/Narrow Band Capable, Timeout Timer
  • Includes: ANT5 SMA-J flexible antenna (male connector), 1800 mAH BL-5 Li-ion battery, belt clip, wrist strap, AC adapter and drop-in charging tray.
  • Operating Temperature: -4°F to 140°F (-20°C to +60°C)
  • Dimensions: 2.2” wide x 4.3” height x 1.2” deep (with battery, without antenna)
  • Weight: 6.8 oz. w/ battery pack and included antenna
  • Made in China

FCC Part 90 Certified
FCC ID: ZP5BF-5R

Part 90 FCC Certification

ITS Handheld Transceiver

Something additional you want to be on the look out for on a radio you’re considering purchasing, is that it’s FCC Part 90 Certified. This means the manufacturer has complied with the FCC and ensured their radios can be sold or imported into the US. There should also be a corresponding FCC ID that you can look up in the FCC online database to double check its authenticity.

Something to be aware of is that foreign manufacturers will only put this Part 90 certification label on radios they’re shipping to the US. Meaning that if you’re purchasing from an overseas dealer, your radio might be in compliance, but just not have a factory-installed label. According to the FCC, if there’s no label, it’s not legal for Part 90 Certification. Just make sure you ask if the label is installed and you’ll be fine.

Radio Programming Basics

ITS Handheld Transceiver

Hopefully by now in the article, you’ve gotten a bit of the gist of programming and how it doesn’t necessarily take software and a programming cable to do so. Most modern radios that have a display and a keypad, are capable of being programmed manually through the menu options. When I say programming, I mean setting what frequency is on what channel and what menu options are turned on or off. You can even completely lock out the menu to prevent the radios from being reprogrammed accidentally.

The benefits of programming a radio transceiver through a cable and software are saving time and the ease in which you can program multiple radios the same way. Programming software can differ based on what brand and model of radio you’re using too. I have my own recommendation below for software.

ITS Handheld Transceiver

Always buy the programming cable made by the manufacturer if possible. This isn’t to say a generic cable won’t work, but it’s just one more variable you might be able to remove when you’re troubleshooting. Trust me, programming has kinks that have to be worked out.

Software I recommend looking into is CHIRP, an open source and free amateur radio programming software that provides a way to interface with multiple data sources and formats. It’s got installers for Windows (XP, Vista 7, 8), Mac OSX, Linux, Fedora and Ubuntu. We’ve had success using the software on both Windows 7 and Mac OSX.

ITS Handheld Transceiver

Both the Wouxun and the Baofeng radios mentioned in this article take a Kenwood Style 2-Pin Cable for programming, which can usually be purchased from wherever you’re sourcing your radio from.

Tuning Steps

Something important to mention in this section on programming is tuning steps. This is particularly important if you’re manually setting frequencies on a radio transceiver. If the tuning step isn’t properly set, you may notice that you blow right past the frequency you’re trying to set into your transceiver.

Common step sizes are 5, 6.25, 10, 12.5 and 25 kHz and represent the amount the frequency will change when manually tuning into to different frequencies. For instance, when you use the up/down arrow buttons to adjust frequency, the tuning step is the amount of frequency that will change for each press. 5 kHz is fairly standard and you should be able to get just about any frequency with this setting.

Creating a Frequency Card

ITS Handheld Transceiver

A frequency card, or comms card is a great way to have a quick reference to important channels you have programmed in on your transceiver. Not only to know what frequency a particular channel is, but what it’s for within your communication plan. It’s also a great place to store reference information like prowords, radio lingo and transceiver setting information.

For instance, I mentioned earlier that during the ITS Muster we had a designated main frequency that our squads would use to talk to the ITS staff on. The staff also had a frequency that we’d use to talk to each other on that the attendees didn’t have programmed into their radios.

ITS Handheld Transceiver

A comms card is a great place to keep track of this information and keeps everyone on the same page. A couple of channels isn’t too difficult to keep straight, but when you start dealing with even more channels, a comms card becomes a necessity.

The good news is that comms cards are easy to create with nothing more than spreadsheet software and a laminator. ID card size is a good goal to shoot for when you’re designing one, but index card size is good too if you have quite a bit of info. A tip here is to design the front and back of the card in one long layout, then simply cut it out, fold it in the middle and laminate it.

Prowords

Procedure words, or prowords, are easily pronounceable words or phrases that are given specific meanings to expedite message handling. They’re often condensed and designed to not be confused with other words.

While there are plenty of universal prowords, like Roger, Over, Out, Negative and Copy, there also might be internal prowords you need to keep track of within a group and a comms card is great for this. Just be sure that a comms card is treated as sensitive information if it’s deemed so.

One of the most famous prowords is probably “Irene,” which was the “go” proword from the Battle of Mogadishu in 1993. The operation was designed to capture two of Mohammed Farah Aidid’s high-echelon lieutenants and turned into a tragic firefight documented in the book Blackhawk Down.

Radio Accessories and Upgrades

I’d like to use this section to go over a few accessories you might want to consider purchasing for your transceiver. While some don’t need much of an explanation, others include lessons learned that will hopefully save you some time when considering these options for yourself.

ITS Handheld Transceiver

High-Gain Handheld Antennas

An antenna is an extremely important part of your radio transceiver and should be treated as such. Without it, your signal will suffer and it’s something you shouldn’t skimp on.

What you’ll want to look for in a high-gain antenna is its actual gain, which reputable antenna manufacturers will list in the product details. Antenna gain is a measurement of the effect the antenna has on the signal and is expressed in positive decibels (dB), antenna loss is expressed in negative decibels.

ITS Handheld Transceiver

I don’t usually quote Wikipedia, but there’s a good description written there on antenna gain that will give you a little more insight that I’ve included here:

Antenna gain is usually defined as the ratio of the power produced by the antenna from a far-field source on the antenna’s beam axis to the power produced by a hypothetical lossless isotropic antenna, which is equally sensitive to signals from all directions. Usually this ratio is expressed in decibels, and these units are referred to as “decibels-isotropic” (dBi). An alternative definition compares the antenna to the power received by a lossless half-wave dipole antenna, in which case the units are written as dBd.

Many things can affect antenna performance in the near field region, which refers to objects near the antenna that can positively or negatively impact it. One of the most common things that can affect a handheld can actually be you.

Other things to look for in a high-gain handheld antenna is that it’s dual band capable and covers the frequency and power you’ll be operating on. Here’s an example of how Nagoya lists their NA-771 Dual Band 144/430Mhz U/V SMA-F Antenna. The first part of the description tells you what frequency its operating at (144 Mhz VHF and 430 Mhz UHF) and you’ll also see Dual Band written there along with the type of connection, which in this case is SMA-F (SMA female).

Further in you’ll also see a max power of 10 watts, which is plenty, considering most handhelds max out at 5 watts. The antenna’s gain is listed as “144Mhz 2.15dBi 430Mhz 3.0dBi” which means that in the VHF 2 Meter Band (144 Mhz – 148 Mhz) you’ll get a +2.15 dB gain, which is almost twice the gain of a stock antenna. In the UHF 70-Centimeter Band (430 Mhz – 450 Mhz) you’ll get a +3.0 dB gain, which is exactly twice the gain of a stock antenna.

Just note that an antenna like this isn’t optimized for all the frequencies a radio like the Wouxun can handle, this antenna I’m using as an example is purely optimized for the 70-Centimeter and 2 Meter Bands, which are are the bands used by local emergency radio services such as the Amateur Radio Emergency Service, Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service and Community Emergency Response Teams.

ITS Handheld Transceiver

Nagoya, Diamond and Comet are good names to look for in high-gain antennas when you’re out there researching them.

Relocating High-Gain Antennas

Something you’ll more than likely experience when replacing your stock antenna with a high-gain antenna is the length of your new whip-style antenna getting in the way. There’s a couple of things I can suggest for taming unwieldy antennas.

ITS Handheld Transceiver

Depending on where you’re running your radio from will determine which of these techniques will be best for you. The simplest option is to run your radio from a backpack or chest rig strap and use a Rigger’s Rubberband to curve the antenna back towards you to reduce it getting in your way. You can always release it from the rubber band if you’re not getting a good signal, but you shouldn’t have to.

ITS Handheld Transceiver

This of course might mean the radio itself is in your way though and you want to run it in a pouch on your belt or in a pouch on a chest rig. What you can do at this point is relocate the antenna if you have available MOLLE webbing to do so, or an attachment method to a backpack, etc. All you’ll need for this is an extension cable that’s set up correctly for your antenna attachment. Don’t skimp on the extension cable and ensure you’re buying quality connectors and a name brand cable, an inferior cable can cause a poor signal, no matter how good your antenna is. An extension cable can also attenuate, or reduce the signal strength and some companies will list how much reduction to expect in dB.

This is a good time to compare SMA connections to BNC connections. I’ve included a photo below describing Male SMA, Female SMA and BNC connectors. This is very important when buying extension cables and antennas in general. You need to know whether the transceiver portion of your radio is SMA or BNC, as well as whether it’s a male or female interface.

ITS Handheld Transceiver

Another accessory you might want to consider if you’re running a radio from a chest rig or dedicated radio pouch is a right-angle connector. Using a right-angle adapter for your extension cable can prevent your cable from getting crimped as its routed around your equipment. Again, double check your connections to ensure you’re buying the right type of right angle.

ITS Handheld Transceiver

Many of the same companies I recommended to research for high-gain antennas make dedicated external antennas that either permanently mount on a vehicle, or utilize a magnet mount, making removal easy.

ITS Handheld Transceiver

Batteries and Adapters

I’ll quickly mention that extra batteries are an important consideration in your comms plan. You don’t want to run out of juice when you need it the most.

ITS Handheld Transceiver

Rechargeable batteries are the most popular option and carrying a spare charged battery can be a good plan. Another option is purchasing an extended rechargeable battery, which are often taller in profile, but hold a longer charge than a standard rechargeable. Alway try to stick to OEM (original equipment manufacturer) batteries when possible. Aftermarket batteries might not list specs and you might not be aware of a compatibility issue until its too late.

I know that both Wouxun and Baofeng also have battery pack and cigarette lighter adapter accessories that might be a good option for you. The battery pack replaces the rechargeable battery and can be loaded with AA batteries in a pinch. The cigarette lighter adapter allows you to directly power your handheld in a vehicle for extended operation.

Microphones and PTTs

Depending on your usage, an external microphone like you often see Police Officers wearing might be a good option for you, but just like a handheld, everyone within earshot will hear everything coming over your transceiver.

ITS Handheld Transceiver

For a more discreet profile you might want to look into a push-to-talk headset, which includes an earpiece for monitoring audio transmissions and a small handheld microphone that’s actuated with a push button to communicate.

ITS Handheld Transceiver

Don’t be a Dummy

The last thing I’ll mention is that you should always ensure you have positive retention on your transceiver. A radio can be your lifeline in certain circumstances and treating it as a sensitive piece of equipment is important.

ITS Handheld Transceiver

There’s a few ways of retaining your radio and it’s aways going to be what works best for you. The simplest method is dummy cording it in with a piece of cordage. I’ve found the best knot to tie in this scenario is a Bowline and you can refer to our Knot of the Week article on the Bowline to learn how to tie this knot.

The next option is a retractable lanyard that features some kind of quick disconnect that will allow you to quickly remove the radio from the retention if you need to pass it off to someone else.

ITS Tactical Handheld Radio

Whichever option you choose, just don’t lose your radio at night moving through the woods like Delta Squad did at our last Muster. Thankfully we had one of the best trackers in the world named John Hurth from TYR Group with us. After Delta reported their lost radio and couldn’t find it, John tracked the black radio down in the middle of the night. Delta had to pay the man a bit and along with their radio being tied into a water jug, they had a name change to Dora Squad.

Stay tuned for the next article in our Ultimate Radio Communication Guide series, where I’ll be going over repeaters, scanners and even more on antennas. Do you already own a dual band handheld? I’d love to hear about what’s working for you and anything additional you can add to this resource I’ve put together.

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Discussion

  • KMAC

    Can you provide guidance on compatibility with headsets like Peltor COMTAC?

    • @KMAC Sure can, that’s coming in the next article 🙂

    • kazzerax

      bryanpblack Awesome, glad to hear that. I have a set of Howard Leight Impact Sports myself, has a 1/8″ audio in jack, would love to get some info on how best to run that with a radio.

  • Don’t forget VHF and UHF are dependent on line of sight as much if not more than on wattage. The old mantra “elevation over power” applies in those bands.

    • @TheLizardFarmer I definitely brought that up in the first article I wrote. Thanks!

  • bjshideler

    Jack Spirko and Steve Harris did an episode on all things radios.  Steve’s website lists the items discussed as well as the episode for reference.  http://radios1234.com/

  • Mike

    Great article! As a long time radio user with a preference for speaker mics, I’d like to point out some of them include a 1/8″ jack to plug in an ear piece if you want it. Run the standard speaker mic, then pull an ear bud out and use it if you need to be discreet. I do so quite often with mine.

    • @Mike Very good point, thanks for bringing that up. I’ll admit I’m not too up on speaker mics so that was certainly a detail I neglected to mention.

  • erichiggins

    Be careful with the software discs that come with these devices. A few folks have reported that they’re loaded with malware — not uncommon from Chinese manufactures. Similarly, care should be taken with USB devices, which could be used to run the BadUSB exploit against your machine. Personally, I run CHIRP (as you suggest) on a Raspberry Pi instead of my laptop, to reduce the risks. Also, I’ve found it significantly easier to run CHIRP on Linux than on an OSX machine.

    • erichiggins Good point Eric, thanks for the addition!

  • Souljacket

    Another great article, Bryan. I’ve got several UV-5RA’s (only differing from the UV-5R in appearance). Can’t be beat for the price. Their primary purpose will be for family comms in the event of a disaster and/or when cell towers are down. I’d certainly consider a more robust and waterproof radio for field use.
    I’m hoping you can address an issue I’ve come across online (http://wb7tjd.org/wiki/FRS,_GMRS_and_MURS_%28Radio_Services_under_FCC_Part_95_Rules%29#BaoFeng_UV5R_is_Part_90_Type_Certified, https://b3n.org/baofeng-uv-5ra-quick-review/) regarding the FCC certification of radios. While the Baofeng and Wouxun are Part 90 certified, they supposedly must be Part 95 certified to be used for FRS, GMRS, and MURS.

    • Souljacket Thanks brother, glad you liked the article. The issue you’ve come across isn’t really an issue in my opinion. If you follow the FCC’s guidelines on specific frequencies, there’s nothing to worry about. Meaning at no point would I attempt to run FRS frequencies on these radios I’ve recommend, because the lowest operating wattage is 1 watt. This is double the legal limit of .5 watts set by the FCC for FRS frequencies.
      In my first article I linked to the FCC’s own guidelines on running GMRS and MURS and nowhere does it mention Part 95 certification being mandatory. That’s what I’m going on at least and will continue to. 
      Thanks for the comment,
      Bryan

    • Jose

      bryanpblack Souljacket Thanks for the article but I do need to make to correction about parts 95 certification. Part 95.129 Station equipment states that “Every station in a GMRS system must use transmitters the FCC has certificated for use in the GMRS.” With that said these are decent radios and nothing states that you can’t have the frequencies programmed into the radios, just don’t let the FCC catch you transmitting. Again, thanks for the article.

  • need help

    looking for a ptt switch with a 1/8″ mini jack output (instead of an ear piece) to connect to my ear protection.  anyone know of a good quality one?

  • Souljacket

    bryanpblack Please delete that obnoxious photo above. Didn’t realize that would happen.

    • Souljacket Well… I tried replacing the links with shortened links from our bit.ly account and its still doing the same thing. I’ll definitely look into this issue, I’m not sure why Livefyre is doing those image previews now. Thanks!

  • Great work and even GREATER photos.

    But you are missing the TYT radios. which seem to be a bit better than the Baos and the Wous.

    BTW I took the liberty of posting a link to this article in my blog. hope Bryan does not mind.

    • @Greek Preparedness Thanks for the kind words, no problem at all on sharing a link. I appreciate your support!

    • bryanpblack No, thank You for the inspiration.

  • Does any have any recommendations for an extension kit for the 5VR? I have a High-Gain antenna, just not the remote kit.
    Thanks

    • ericfine50 Eric, all you need is an extension cable. If you’re using the 5VR you’ll need an SWR extension cable and I linked to one of those in the article. Hope that helps!

    • bryanpblack ericfine50 Thank you @Bryanpblack – Missed it. Will circle back

  • JW M

    Speaking of antenna, I keep a set of the 2″ dummy load antennas for the times I don’t want to broadcast over the whole world.  There are times when having radio range limited to 500 meters may bell be a nice option (other people can listen in or DFyou).

  • Chitiger

    Am a freelance photojournalist. Can anyone tell me what would be a good portable scanner to track police/ fire emergency calls ?thanks

    • Chitiger That can be a very complicated question. For this particular answer I can’t recommend an episode of The Survival Podcast hard enough. bryanpblack is a friend of the man who runs the show, Jack Spirco, and his guest on the episode I recommend is named Stephen Harris. 

      Show link: http://www.thesurvivalpodcast.com/1322-harris-on-radio-preps

      In this episode he covers exactly what you’ll need to monitor police and emergency frequencies no matter what technology your local services use. In addition to what you’ll need to communicate with others and a lot of other things… If you don’t want to listen to the show you can skip straight to the answers here: 

      http://www.radios1234.com/

  • J Money

    Baofeng is a very capable radio for the price but when you decide to get serious, grab yourself a Motorola HT Jedi series. XTS5000 or XTS2500 can be found with FFP mod that allows for keying in freq from the front panel. This is helpful if you are not up to programming them with a PC which can be pretty laborious. You can find both Motos in VHS and UHF and the 2500 can be found in 900MHz if you look long enough. Great kit. Also want to say that it’s nice to see you posting about this hobby. If we don’t get more people interested we are going to lose our bands. More young people need to get involved.

  • idaho backcountry

    Some buddies and I recently acquired BaoFeng BF-F8HP’s, which are basically the same radios as the UV-5R’s mentioned in article, except with a tri-power option (1, 4, and 8 watt).  The combination of 8 watt power and the decent factory antenna on the F8HP’s has extended our range on GMRS channels considerably over the bubble pack Motorolas we used previously.  Wish the FCC would lift the 2 watt limit on MURS.

  • Ken Bass

    Let me know when you get to the mobile section! I’m digging this series, good stuff, I swear we all are all long lost family, our hobbies all intertwine at the same time it seems! Scary! Hahaha

  • Another Good Article!  Great Pics to boot!  Long time Wouxun user-they have really served me well!  Add a shoulder-mic and a Maxpedition CP radio holster and you’re GTG.

    • Fo Time Podcast K4CDN Off-topic, but I got licensed about a month ago now and I found your podcast while I was waiting for my callsign to show up in the database. Great show!

      If anybody is interested in Amateur Radio (and you know what podcasts are) you should subscribe to this guy’s podcast.

    • brysonholland Fo Time Podcast K4CDN Cool Man, Congrats on your Ticket and Thanks for the Shout-Out!   I appreciate you listening to the show!

      Here is another good Podcast Episode to listen to regarding Scanner and Ham Radios, etc…
      http://www.thesurvivalpodcast.com/ham-and-scanners-tim-glance

  • Phil Montgomery

    Thanks for another fantastic article.  One question I have (may be good for a follow up article), is what frequency ranges can you actually use for private communication, what are emergency services, etc.

    • GrapeJuice48

      Phil Montgomery Check out:  https://www.radioreference.com/apps/db/ (or google radio frequency guides for other links). FYI, I don’t really think there is such a thing as a frequency that is truly “private.”  The article references scrambling strategies – these are not permitted in amateur radio, nor, I would surmise, in any of the Part 95 services. There are so-called “freebanders” who have had to ante up big bucks to the FCC because the frequencies they used appeared to be unused but turned out to be reserved for gubmint use.  Beware! 

      Since cellular frequencies are blocked from scanners, I wonder if your cellphone provides a higher level of privacy than these radios in the article. Of course, they require an extensive infrastructure to operate whereas these ham and personal radio services generally do not. 

      As others have pointed out: if a license is required, make sure you have one before you decide to press the transmit button!

  • teraph

    What is your take on the yaesu ft-60r?

    • Daniel H

      teraph I have used this radio with a high-gain MFJ brand dualband antenna for years with excellent results.  It has taken several careless drops with no issues, and it is easy, but time consuming, to program without using programming software.  My uses were HAM radio in different emergency communication networks, operating from distances up to 25mi in severe weather.

    • Ken Bass Plank Owner

      I’m a Yaesu fanboy. The FT-60 is a fine radio for ham use! Like the radios in the articles above it benefits from a high gain antenna and some accessories like a mic. If you visit the ITS forums under the technology section a few of us have discussed this radio a in depth! Some of the major plus’ the Ft-60 has over many of its competitors is its ability to be programmed is pretty simple compare to say the Boefeng, it scans through its memories faster, and (my personal favorite!) its AA battery pack still allows you transmit on full (high) output where some radios will force you to only be able to transmit on medium or low with the AA battery packs for some reason. Black Friday will show the FT-60 at ham radio outlet for around $120 (no affiliation)

    • Mark

      teraph 
      FT-60R is my favorite handheld.  I have two other Ham handhelds and a couple different FRS/GMRS handhelds too, the FT-60R is the best of the bunch.  Its a popular radio amongst the Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) crowd.

      Mark KC9GUY
      Steuben County Indiana County ARES Coordinator

  • ABLE1

    What about iCOM?

  • PaulWongMinKong

    What to look for in your Walkie-Talkie or Radio Comms.! Good Topic ! Some are clueless!

  • DavidHMalin

    Good Article! I see there are many questions regards to other models of radios.  The Chinese radios are good, cheap, expendable radios, especially for the price!  The Japanese, ICOM, Yaesu, Kenwood radios are better built, more reliable, better engineered, easier to program AND more expensive.  But, if you really want to get into communications, get your Amateur Radio License!  My callsign is aa6rv, I’ve been licensed since 87 and became a Extra Class Ham Radio Operator when Morse Code was a requirement.  Today, there is NO MORSE CODE requirement!  You can even do this self study and pass the test.  Recently, I know of a 7 y/o that passed the test.  I did a podcast with Bob Mayne, on Todays Survival Show.  You can find it at http://www.todayssurvival.com/ep-203-understanding-shtf-communications-without-being-an-engineer/    

    The best handheld on the market for the price right now is the Yaesu FT-1D.  I’ve seen it down to $300.  This radio allows for Yaesus new Digital Format C4FM, but disregarding that….it has a built in GPS as well as it’s designed for 2m/70cm radio.  But, to use it you must have a Amateur Radio License.   

    David, aa6rv

    • phillipc

      DavidHMalin Quick (dumb) question: What is the built-in GPS used for? Do you actually use it for navigation like google maps or something else?

    • DavidHMalin

      phillipc DavidHMalin Some of the newer radios have
      http://r.search.yahoo.com/_ylt=A0LEVvyIOFZW_xkA0ZonnIlQ;_ylu=X3oDMTByOHZyb21tBGNvbG8DYmYxBHBvcwMxBHZ0aWQDBHNlYwNzcg–/RV=2/RE=1448519945/RO=10/RU=http%3a%2f%2fwww.aprs.org%2f/RK=0/RS=9I6l3u.JYem5D4FlWqUElPBkag8-
      built into the radio.  By using a Terminal Node Controller (TNC) and
      the GPS you are able to beacon your location with your radio.  For
      instance, go to aprs.fi  on the internet and then search my callsign 
      aa6rv-9  you will see where I was during a day that I was using my radio
      in the APRS mode.  You can search for other people with callsigns.  You
      can also search for aa6rv* and see my other devices. Works great from
      Emergency location.  APRS works on 144.390.  You will hear a ton of
      data traffic on that frequency in most places.  A good radio to buy
      right now with that capability is the Yaesu FT-1D.   It has that plus it
      does the new Digital Fusion C4FM as well as traditional analog radio. 
      If you find that under $300 you are getting a good deal.  Wait for the
      Black Friday Specials…when this radio first came out it was around
      $580 dollars.   I love mine……they came out with a new one, but for
      the dollar you can’t beat this radio.  Built in GPS, TNC, analog fm,
      digitial C4FM (repeaters are starting to come online now with this
      capability)  depends where you live.

    • phillipc

      DavidHMalin thanks! That is great information to have. 
      I may have to spend some Christmas money. 🙂

    • DavidHMalin

      phillipc DavidHMalin You do have your Amateur Radio License correct?  Because that’s what that radio is really for.  I’m the outgoing president of the Santa Clarita Amateur Radio Club.  We are purchasing 3 new Yaesu Repeaters with the digital capability.  Almost everyone is going to be buying one of the FT-1D.  Remember…..read the manuals….it’s a very sophisticated radio.  You can download it now off the Yaesu Website.  You can also buy the the newer radio, but it’s going to cost you twice as much.  For the extra cost, I don’t consider it worth the extra money.  I rather buy two FT-1Ds…..or even better.  One FT-1D handheld and one mobile radio FTM-100.  

      Good Luck,

      David, aa6rv

  • Roy

    A few notes regarding radio…
    1) Be VERY cognizant of your transmit frequency. Nothing will bring you to the attention of the FCC (and US Marshals, if need be) faster than transmitting interfering signals in the public safety/aviation bands. Unless you’re causing interference, intentional or not, you have let’s say, a little more latitude in the FRS and MURS bands.
    2) Unless you’re a licensed ham, stay out of their bands, too. They have the capability of DFing (Direction Finding) you, and turning you over to the authorities. See #1.
    3) On high power, these radios get HOT. FAST. Try to stay on low power as often, and for as long as you can carry out the desired communications. It’s not only good radio practice, but it will lead to longer battery and radio life.
    4) In place of/in addition to a gain antenna, consider the use of a counterpoise. There are plenty of articles on the net about what they are and how to contstruct them. See http://www.w1npp.org/ARES/topics/TIGERT~1/TIGERT~1.PDF
    5) Know the limits of handheld radios. They’re extremely handy and versatile, but like everything else, can give you problems if stretched beyond their capabilities. See “Handheld Duty Cycle Limits” at https://www.scc-ares-races.org/emergency_operations_and_ht.htm
    Great article!

    • DavidHMalin

      @Roy That’s funny you say we have Direction Finding capablities.  We had an issue with someone in the Los Angeles area purchasing an Amateur Radio and getting on the air and jamming our conversations.  The problem with that is some of us work in LE.  After a few months it was getting old.  The guy just wouldn’t stop.  Normal protocol is never acknowledge you are being jammed.  You talk about the issue offline.  So, several of the club members were able to triangulate and eventually found the home of the individual.  It’s actually very easy, especially if the person keeps keying up and blocking.  You basically just switch antenna’s to one that is directional and also change the radio to the repeaters input.  The stronger the signal….the closer you are. Well he was caught, arrested….I’m sure he will get charged and fined…usually those fines are around $10K for first offense.  Well see.

  • Neither of those radios are FCC Part 95 certified prohibiting their operation on GMRS and MURS frequencies. Also, only radios marked as MURS may operate on MURS frequencies.

    • @AaronK I’ve been all through Part 95 in the FCC rules and see nothing about a Part 95 Certification being needed on a radio to operate on MURS frequencies. Here’s the regulations: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2000-10-13/pdf/00-25276.pdf#page=10

    • bryanpblack

      According to this the UV-5R only has Part 90 certification:
      https://apps.fcc.gov/oetcf/eas/reports/ViewExhibitReport.cfm?mode=Exhibits&RequestTimeout=500&calledFromFrame=N&application_id=392511&fcc_id=ZP5BF-5R

      Where did you find info on them being Part 95?

      As far as MURS, I remember reading somewhere that it needs to be manufactured as a MURS radio. I’ll try to find that again.

      As for GMRS:
      95.129 seems to indicate that it does need certification (stupid tablet wouldn’t let me copy the text out of Adobe…)

      I agree that it’s stupid confusing /complicated. I’m trying to get this all figured out because I want to get a GMRS license for emcomm since my wife won’t get on board with my ham license. I already own a UV-5R as a backup ham and would like to get another for my wife. I just don’t want to end up on the business end of an FCC fine.

    • @AaronK I didn’t find anything about them being Part 95, I was just stating they meet the criteria. I feel like these hidden rules, (and they really are hidden) place an unnecessary burden on the consumer. I think most people that take the time to understand radios and the way they work, do a great job self-regulating themselves. They care enough to stay off frequencies they don’t have access to, etc. 

      This burden of potentially having to purchase a different radio for every frequency spectrum seems excessive. Meaning that the Wouxun referenced in this article can operate at 5 watts or 1 watt. If I’m operating it at 1 watt, half of what the FCC states MURS can be powered at, along with following all other rules, I don’t understand why I’d potentially not be able to use it. It seems like an unnecessary burden, but I digress. I’m going to look more into this and try to talk to someone directly at the FCC.

      Thanks for your comments!

    • OctoberNight

      bryanpblack the murs rules state you need a murs cert radio and can not be able to push more then 2w below is coppied directly from the FCC website.
      https://www.fcc.gov/general/multi-use-radio-service-murs

      Operating a Multi-Use Radio Service (MURS) Device
      You may operate a MURS transmitter at any location the FCC regulates
      radio communications, subject to certain restrictions. A MURS
      transmitter must be certified by the FCC. A certified MURS transmitter
      has an identifying label placed on it by the manufacturer.
      None of the MURS channels are assigned for the exclusive use of any
      user. You must cooperate in the selection and use of the channels in
      order to make the most effective use of them and to reduce the
      possibility of interference.
      No MURS transmitter shall, under any condition of modulation, transmit more than 2 watts transmitter power output.
      The usual range of communications between MURS stations is less than a
      few miles; connecting a MURS radio to an external antenna can extend
      the range to ten miles or more. MURS stations are not allowed to be
      interconnected with the public switched telephone network. A station
      identification announcement is not required to be transmitted. Other
      restrictions on the use of MURS stations also apply.

  • Pedro Gonz

    A couple of follow up questions, and you might address this later, but what is a good source for finding accessories and replacement parts. Amazon is great for locating the radio, but the Wouxun branded programming cable and AA battery replacement packs are nowhere to be found on there.

    Thanks again for the great article.. you’ve got me excited to give this a try.

    • Pedro Gonz If I might; http://www.mtcradio.com/wouxun-accessories/ has all those accessories and more. The RED Wouxun cable is the one to get if you can locate it.

      Hope this helps

    • Pedro Gonz

      Fo Time Podcast K4CDN Pedro Gonz Thank you! I should mention that I listened to your podcast for the very first time after reading your post from last week.

  • kennywfrench

    Great article, Bryan. I’m still learning about two-radios and this information is Outstanding. 

    I’m not sure about the Wouxun, but one thing to watch out for with the Baufeng UV-5R is firmware. If you’re programming multiple radios, it helps to have them all on the same firmware version. I ordered two UV-5R’s from Amazon and they each came from a different vendor and each with a different firmware version. Using CHIRP, I downloaded the image from one radio, made some changes, pushed the image back to that radio, but ran into trouble when I tried to push the image to the other radio. After some research online, I found I had to install an older version of CHIRP in order to push the image to the second radio.

    The trouble is, this method of “forcing” the image to the radio can cause memory corruption which in turn can cause communication issues with the radio. I’m still very new to two-radios, but from what I understand, the difference in the firmware version of the first radio (N5R-219BF297) and the second radio (N5R-20BFB297) is memory allocation – the N5R-20 firmware allocates less memory. Plus, from what I understand, the firmware cannot be updated on Baofeng radios. I found one online vender – BuyTwoWayRadios.com – who says they will make sure all of your radios have the same firmware version if you order more than one radio from them, but I think they charge an extra fee for that. 

    Also, as Bryan mentioned in the article, be sure to buy a USB cable from the manufacturer. As far as the Baufeng, there are some USB cables out there using a cloned and inferior chipset that could cause problems with downloading/uploading images. 

    And, one last comment – I recently ordered a Maxpedition CP-L holster – after reading reviews about how well it fits the Baofeng UV-5R – and found it’s a little big for this radio. (Note to self, The “L” stands for LARGE – DUH). I’m ordering a CP-M and CP-S to see which fits better. Does anyone have any suggestions for other radio holsters?

    • kennywfrench Hey Kenny, thanks for the kind words, I’m glad you enjoyed the article. That’s a great tip on the firmware, thanks for adding your comment on that.

  • shuttster

    bryanpblack I purchased 2 of the UV-5R’s from the link in the article, I just received them and I cannot find the FCC label on either. Does it look just like the one of the Wouxun in the picture you posted in the article?http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0076T2C9U/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B0076T2C9U&linkCode=as2&tag=itta-20&linkId=QJMXD6MLCFUGJVYW

  • Chitiger

    Please forgive my ignorance here but, I need some advice and it’s obvious you people are extremely knowledgeable about communications so; here it goes… I am a freelance news photographer in Chicago and have been told that a particular model of Uniden scanner ( costs about 450) would be the right choice for me. It’s digital ( Was also told CPD / CFD are going digital before long) and deals with trunking that exists in Chicago .
    My question , as naive as it sounds , is… What does a device such as the Uniden do that the scanner app on my cell phone doesn’t ? Clarity, access, information ? Does a scanner actually ” scan / search” for hot stations? Vs having to pick a PD district from a list as with the app? I realize that there are times that there is dead air on the app scanner but I’m not sure that it’s because there is no activity or, lack of reception. I know reporters often use a scanner on the crime beat but I’m not close to them so can’t get the info. If you can , please help a real novice out here. I’m a good photographer but lousy when it comes to this stuff. Thank you . JM

    • Pedro Gonz

      Chitiger I’m not an expert, but I can tell you that police/sheriff/fire agencies are going to EDACS based networks from plain over the air frequencies and those are harder/impossible to access from an entry level transceiver such as these. I’ve used, and recommend, a Uniden (something from the Home Patrol) family if possible for listening and the scan/search features you are looking for. It’s not cheap, but it’s pretty much guaranteed to work.

    • Harold_Giddings

      Chitiger Those apps don’t catch the majority of radio traffic they are also nowhere near real time with delays in the audio.

      I used to host some stations for those apps, it’s litterally someone hooking a scanner into their computer and streaming it online. From THEIR location, not yours.

      You will likely miss a ton of important information and in the field of new photography time is money, well if you don’t know about something until 10min after it happened you’ve missed quite a bit by the time you get to the scene.

      I should also mention that in the united states it’s illegal to use a scanner for the purpose of making money, it’s also illegal in most states to have a scanner in your car or even use a scanner app in your car. Please check your local laws on that one, you could get nailed.

      Digital scanners by the way won’t cut it unless it’s a P25 (APCO 25) scanner, many manufactures will call it digital because it’s using digital screens or controls but a true digital scanner will say it’s P25 or APCO 25. They are start at $500 and if you’re serious about this don’t settle for anything less because once your area goes digital you wont hear next to anything on your scanner without P25 capability.

      ~~Experienced Amateur Radio Operator (extra class),
      Hope that helps

  • Chitiger

    Uniden Handheld TrunkTracker IV Digital Police Scanner (BCD396XT)
    Something like this ? Thank you

    • Pedro Gonz

      Chitiger Good choice – that will get you the ability to receive the digital stations you are more than likely to have in your area PLUS the GPS feature so you will have to do minimal programming/setup – you should be pretty ready to go out the box.

  • StoneGray

    While this is a great introduction tutorial, I feel like it skips over tonnes of important information, and focuses only on two of the cheapest (~<$50) radios available; two radios which aren’t particularly great in any category except for cost.

    I’m surprised that popular brands like Motorola, Yaesu, Hytera and Harris aren’t mentioned, even as a comparison. While cost is obviously a huge factor for readers, I’m sure most would at least like to be aware of mid to high-end options. Many significantly better radios are not that much more expensive: you can buy cheap digital radios with voice encryption (true encryption, not scrambling) for under <$100. A nearly indestructible Motorola radio can be had for under $150. You can make (mediocre) repeaters for under $50. You can scan almost any radio from 20Mhz to 1Ghz for less than $20. High-gain antennas can be made for less than $10.

    Not to say that you should be focusing on $7k-$14k Motorolas or high-end SDR stuff, but I feel like this article is like showing off all the neat accessories you can put on your hi-point and some readers might get the impression that that’s all that’s available.

    • StoneGray Thanks for the comment, this certainly isn’t the only article in the series and there’s more to come for sure. You’ll have to expound more on the “tonnes of important information” you feel this series of article is lacking thus far. In my research, I couldn’t find another condensed informational article on what I’ve gone over thus far. I will, however, agree that this article is not comprehensive, as there’s still a lot more that I’d like to cover. I’ve alluded to this too at the end of each of the two articles I’ve written thus far.
      The radios I’ve mentioned in the article were an attempt to address extremely popular and well priced radios readily available to the consumer. While I’d love to do a true comparison of other radios, that’s just not feasible right now, perhaps in the future. Your <$50 price isn’t true on the Wouxun radios by the way, they’re about $125.

      My other motivation for excluding higher priced radios was an effort to keep the reader’s cost more manageable while getting into radio communication. There’s always a more expensive and better product out there; we’ve certainly done our fair share of covering products like that on ITS in other areas of focus. I felt in this case, the route to take was more from an introductory level, as it’s what was missing during my research trying to learn more about radios.

      Your hi-point reference is a bit absurd, especially with the information I provided to readers in the section titled “What Radio to Buy.” How about using the comments section to suggest some options to those that might read this. You seem to have some valuable information that many could benefit from.
      Thanks,
      Bryan

    • StoneGray

      bryanpblack StoneGray
      By ‘tonnes of important information’ I’m more referring to things that could have been mentioned, (to allow readers to research other topics further) rather than things that were not covered in this article. It’s a very comprehensive rundown on these HTs; just not all HTs. My apologies if I came off as overly critical. 

      Some things that may interest readers in future articles:
      – How wattage, antenna gain, and terrain affect range.
      – Comparison with digital radio
      – Options in different price ranges (i.e. <$50, <$100, <$200 and up)
      – Durability, waterproofness etc. 
      – Other mic and earpiece options, such as speakermics, throat mics, boom mics, etc You can even get wireless in-ear covert stuff for <$20. It’s crazy how consumer-accessible and inexpensive some neat tech is.
      – Communication security, clear vs scrambled vs encryption. 

      Not directly related to portables, but some related topics:
      – Mobile radios (as opposed to portable radios)
      – LOS (line-of-sight) vs ionosphere bouncable radio (eg. UHF vs HF) for long distance communication

      If you ever do a comparison of more radios, Let me know and I’d be happy to send some for you to compare. 

      I’m looking forward to future articles in this series.

      Stone

    • StoneGray bryanpblack Hey Stone, thanks for the follow up. No worries at all, I appreciate all your suggestions and help with the comparison. 
      Stay safe,
      Bryan

    • kmaxx1029

      bryanpblack StoneGray i certainly appreciate you pointing out radios that are affordable to everyone. most articles point out equipment that is ridiculously expensive. kudos and thanks for the info.

    • kennywfrench

      StoneGray The price someone is willing to pay for radios all depends on how they plan on using them. For me, I just wanted something my wife and I could use while out biking riding. I have a faster pace than my wife so when we separated, having a walkie clipped to the shoulder strap of my CamelBak is much easier to use then digging out the cell phone packed away in the backpack. 

      I picked up a set of Midland GMRS radios at a sporting store for around $45.00. The set came with 2 radios and a charging base for both. These radios are great for short distances with line-of-site. But, once I get a few miles ahead and over a hill, the signal gets pretty weak. 

      After reading this article, I picked up 2 BaoFeng UV-5R for $30.00 each. That’s $15.00 more than I paid for the Midlands, but a much better purchase. Not only are we getting more signal strength, we can also add a high-gain antenna to boost the signal even more. And, besides being able to program in privacy codes so that other people can’t listen into our conversations, there are all the other programming options Bryan mentioned in the article. 

      The BaoFeng radios work great for my intended use. Now, if my need was for daily use or something more important than just keeping in touch out on the trail, then I would be more willing to pay the price for a Motorola, Wouxun, or Vertex. To be honest, when I first started looking into two-radios, my first choice was Motorola – You can outrun the Mopar, but you can’t outrun the Motorola.

    • StoneGray

      kennywfrench StoneGray
      Just a heads up that privacy codes don’t prevent people from listening into your conversations. A radio with no privacy code set will be able to listen to any conversation on that frequency, regardless of the privacy code. Enabling monitor mode will also allow you to do this.

      They do make it slightly more difficult for somebody to talk to your radio (as somebody would need to record your radio transmission and figure out your CTCSS/CDCSS codes) but they’re not designed to provide any sort of security.

    • kennywfrench

      StoneGray Thanks for the clarification. I’m not ashamed to say that I don’t know as much about comms as I want.

    • India_Actual

      kennywfrench StoneGray Don’t feel bad; no normal person does! Radio communication is ridiculously complex.

    • estefan2020

      StoneGray kennywfrench
      There are radios that have digital scrambles inside, not the analog voice inversions in some blister pack radios for real security, but you will not see them at the $50 price point in working condition.
      Ctcss/dcss is mainly for the radios to block unwanted noise, initiate a repeater, or block nearby transmissions that is not relevant.

    • Squid98765

      estefan2020 StoneGray kennywfrench

      A nice write up and explanation on CTCSS/DCSS etc. 

      http://codegreenprep.com/2013/03/explaining-the-confusion-of-frequencies-and-channels-with-frs-gmrs-radios/

    • India_Actual

      StoneGray kennywfrench Yes! The whole “sub-channel” “privacy code” crap is very frustrating. All they are is a set of tones that piggyback on the transmission (the human ear can’t hear them) to tell the radio that the signal is intentional, and not random environmental noise. I hate how they try to market that feature!

  • Brushpopper

    I am new to these hand helds.  I recently ordered a UV5R and am having trouble with my computer recognizing the software CD they sent, I believe the problem is my DVD drive. Do you have a suggestion of where I could download the software from a safe website?  Also, other than the NOAA weather band stations, are there any frequencies you recommend to definitely program in?  Thanks for any info!

    • Brushpopper Skip the Software as provided by the factory, from the article: 
      Software I recommend looking into is http://chirp.danplanet.com/projects/chirp/wiki/Home,
      an open source and free amateur radio programming software that
      provides a way to interface with multiple data sources and formats. It’s
      got installers for Windows (XP, Vista 7, 8), Mac OSX, Linux, Fedora and
      Ubuntu. We’ve had success using the software on both Windows 7 and Mac
      OSX.
      hope that helps!

    • Pedro Gonz

      Brushpopper Just like the article said the CHIRP software is the easy way to go plus you can actually get assistance from the CHIRP user group if you have any trouble in programming. I’d suggest NOAA and then lock in some of the frequencies that were listed in the first article: http://www.itstactical.com/digicom/comms/the-ultimate-guide-to-learning-about-radio-communication-and-why-you-should/

      Plus check out a radio reference or repeater guide and listen to what’s going on with the local HAM community.. it’s what got me hooked.

  • Brushpopper

    Thanks guys.  I appreciate it.  I wasn’t sure if I needed to use the included software in conjunction with the CHIRP software or not. Very interesting stuff, still have a lot to learn.  My grandad new a lot about radios, CB’s etc…, he was an airplane mechanic in WWII, wish he was still around, I learned a lot from him working in the shop at his place.
    I am in the process of getting an FCC license for my GPS radio, I am a land surveyor, my Trimble RTK GPS system works in conjunction with a Trimble TDL-450 Radio which connects my rover GPS with my base station, allowing me to take measurements and check them on the fly, or inverse between points, etc….  The frequencies we will work on are 461.025 MHz through 464.750 MHz, change in frequencies is 0.025 MHz to 0.050 MHz.  Thanks again!

  • Wolf72

    Great article, very informative. I love this page.

  • Nomad1551

    ok all our group uses UV82C’s which I have tweeked down to 375mhz on UHF Use A combo of Chirp and the OEM softwares to program them down that far However They work and work well At those freq’s getting 10 Miles Ht to Ht on the stock antenna’s food for though………

  • strom

    Great intro to tac coms. You can spend years going down the rabbit hole of possibilities and finding some cool stuff to apply to practically any need you might have.
    with ham equipment (I’m an extra class ham myself) you could even setup data links and such with existing technology.
    “Survivaltech nord” has some good videos on YouTube on the topics.

    • India_Actual

      @strom It’s definitely a rabbit hole, but that fact has actually turned me off to radios. I still use them when necessary, but I keep my setups as absolutely simple as possible There’s not enough time, money, or gear to fill that hole, once you start going down it.

  • Harold_Giddings

    Interesting article, I would like to see some a post about digital network communications. (which btw I’m happy to contribute)

    I’ve used packet for a number of things

    APRS – Location tracking, and messaging
    TCP/IP Tunneling – Real internet/computer networking over radio (it’s piss slow, but it works. Think text comms)

    AX.25 – user to user messaging
    Winlink – Email over radio

    There is much more than this, but it’s a few of the technologies that can really come in handy.

    • phillipc

      Harold_Giddings I would be very interested in this article.

  • Kent Hertz

    Overall a good article. Where I disagree vehemently is the recommendation of Baofeng radios. I own 4 of these radios and each one has a quality control issue which in my view makes them an exceptionally poor choice for emergency comms. Too many people get wrapped up in the low cost of the Baofeng and tend to overlook all the quality control issues and that programming these radios can be a nightmare without the use of CHIRP. While more expensive I recommend spending $149.00 for a Yaesu FT-60 which is a proven radio that works great. Yes, more expensive but dependable.

  • Armando Ortiz

    Really great advice in the article if you want to get people busted by the FCC.

    Yes, in a life-or-death emergency (hurricane, tornado) where regular communications have been knocked out, nobody gives a hoot if that’s your only method of calling for help and you just happen to have a radio on your hip, but for other types of communications, transmitting on frequencies using non-type accepted radios or transmitting on frequencies for which you are not licensed for (especially on amateur and public service frequencies) or making a transmission on a frequency that causes interference to other frequencies (harmonics, spurious emissions) is a big bottle of NOPE.

    MURS, FRS and GMRS fall into this category.  You can’t simply fire up a Baofeng of Wouxun radio and start transmitting just because it has the capability of doing so on those frequencies without a justifiable cause.

    From the FCC on MURS (also applies to FRS):

    A MURS transmitter must be certified by the FCC. A certified MURS
    transmitter has an identifying label placed on it by the manufacturer.
    Part 90 certification means nothing for MURS, FRS, GMRS, CB or Amateur use, although licensed Amateurs may use these Part 90 radios within their allocated band privileges.  Part 97 also provides a provision for Amateurs to be able to operate on any available frequency under emergency scenarios where life and property are at stake and other more conventional means of communications have been cut off.

    Why is it so hard to be legal about it?

  • David701

    I need a handheld radio that would work alone, or with battery operated repeaters, that will give me communication in a 13 mile tunnel. I’ve been told that a high frequency, 6 GHz radio would work best, but I can’t seem to find anything close. We need 4 radios that can communicate on the same band. Any suggestions?

    • David701 You can’t find anything close because 6GHz isn’t an amateur frequency allocation. There’s an allocation close in the mid-upper 5GHz range, which is also called the “5 centimeter band”. 5/6GHz is also going to require a good amount of power to get a 13 mile transmission out of. Most things in these ranges use very directional high-gain antennas which are absolutely not suitable to a handheld radio. Handhelds also have a legal power limit. I believe the legal limit is 7W, and most handhelds available for purchase don’t transmit over 5W.

      Commonly available handheld frequencies are 2 meter (~144 MHz) and 70 centimeter (~440 MHz), also available but less common are 1.25 meter (~220 MHz), and 6 meter (~50 MHz). All of these frequencies have repeaters commonly available.

      A rule of thumb is that the lower your frequency, the longer your range. The higher your frequency, the better your barrier penetration. That’s why cell phones keep going up in frequency: they have to get through buildings and walls and cars and trees. Places like the street level of New York City pose huge problems for cellular networks. The directionality of the antennas used at these frequencies is also why you see big antenna arrays spread around a tower instead of a single pole antenna like on your car. And those frequencies are only in the 1–2 GHz range, not the 5/6GHz you think you want to use.

      All that said, you have a lot more info to find/provide. Is your 13 mile tunnel straight? Is it underground? Do you plan to put a repeater inside the tunnel? If so have you identified the radiation limits and maximum duty cycle when humans are inside the tunnel? Have you talked with your local frequency coordinator about open frequency allocations for repeaters in your area? Do you have a budget for the project, including the cost of towers and cost of installation of towers to mount the repeaters on? Have you identified all the approvals you need to get to raise a tower (which might include anything from your HOA to the FAA)? Do you have an existing place that’s going to let you put your repeater on their tower through some deal you worked out? If so, is it close enough to your tunnel and your estimated area of operation to be useful? Do you know how many batteries you will need to provide the system to run a repeater at a given power level for a given time?

      And for my own curiosity, I’d like to know who told you a 6GHz radio would work best (although it isn’t relevant…I just really want to know).

  • frustrated

    say, i need a portable with built-in antenna so wife can listen to her music around the house, maybe a grundig as some friends have recommended. price range around $50. could someone please help me?.

  • Dax Hunter

    I just orders a book off Amazon called Ham Radio Go Bag by
    Max Cooper. It looks like a useful book. I’ve read a couple of this authors
    other books and they were great. I’m looking forward to this one. Just wanted
    to pass this along.
    http://www.amazon.com/Ham-Radio-Bag-Max-Cooper/dp/1515020517/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1437671941&sr=8-3&keywords=ham+radio+go+bag&pebp=1437671943641&perid=16R5STYHHYYT0CGC38JY

  • redraven88

    Hey guys, can you link a pdf or some other file format to the freq card in this article? Would be great to have these print right out and be ready to use. Thanks!

  • JockSoutar

    I would be worried if I was in a control center and they had their cooler jug chained down like that.

    • phillipc

      JockSoutar That was the punishment for losing the radio. Delta/Dora had to carry it that way. (look closely & you’ll see the handheld radio on it.)

  • GrapeJuice48

    A ham friend of mine referred me to your excellent article – very well written (only caught a couple of typos, which is extraordinary!)  I’ve owned the Wouxon in the article (both 2m/220 & 2m/440 versions). At about $30 from Amazon (free shipping with Prime) they are hard to pass up!  They work well, though front-panel programming is pretty arcane. As you mentioned, programs like CHIRP are good, especially if you’re technically savvy. One caveat: it is possible with CHIRP to modify things that would probably be best left unmodified!  I’ll leave it at that. There’s a company called RT Systems that makes EXCELLENT programming cables & software for a number of radios (both handhelds and mobile rigs). 

    For those interested in amateur radio, there are at least 3 competing digital formats readily available. Yaesu offers “Fusion” – with special deals on repeaters that make it almost impossible to pass up. Icom has a mature (>10 years) technology called D*Star that interconnects with the Internet permitting very long distance communication, augmented by the ‘net. A third mode is called DMR has a few fans. A company called CONNECT SYSTEMS INC., markets a couple of popular radios in this format. I have radios on the first 2, not the 3rd (yet?). 

    The biggest advantage, in my opinion, of the “big three” — Yaesu, Kenwood, Icom — are their reliability and general ease of use.  If anyone is interested in more thoughts about the FT-2D, TH-F6A or the Icom ID-51, I’ll happy to reply. 

    I’ve been a licensed ham for over 50 years and I can honestly say that I am more excited about this hobby than ever before. The infusion of new blood into the hobby due to the availability of these inexpensive “starter” radios makes it possible for folks to get into amateur radio at a reasonable price point. If they “get the bug” they might grow their interest in other facets of radio, including Software Defined Radios, Satellite communications, High frequency comms, etc. 

    Best 73! 

    GJ

    • nato425

      What radio would you recommend for a search and rescue team. We are using vhf and have a licensed freq

  • spiritwild09

    Ia m looking for detail about your products place leave a messages . When I post this, I am looking for more Information 
    write  back [email protected]

  • HarryTuttle

    If it’s Chinese made, it isn’t tactical, snackticial, or practical. Do yourself and family a favor and stop financing the Chinese military.

    • Punish155

      Ok, so what merakan made should I get?

    • Updahill

      Punish155 Elecraft kx3

    • phillipc

      Updahill
      The conversation has seemed to shift towards HAM. This radio says it does HAM & SSB/CW/DATA/AM/FM modes. Does that include UHF/VHF for those of us who are interested in that?

  • Erich Schulman

    Part 90 certification is applicable to the Land Mobile Radio Service, often called commercial radio or the business band. This has no relevance to CB, FRS, GMRS, MURS, or amateur (ham) communications. To legally use CB, FRS, GMRS, or MURS, your radio needs Part 95 type acceptance (certification). Even using 1W on an uncertified radio is still not legal. Virtually no radios of the kind you discuss have Part 95 type acceptance. AnyTone has made several models which do have it, but they are very hard to find.

    Marine VHF radio is commonly abused. Using it without a license requires you be on water. USCG monitoring stations can (and do) check your location so don’t use these radios on land.

    Don’t hack these radios. Doing so voids your type acceptance and makes transmission illegal. You can legally make repairs if you hold a General Radiotelephone Operator License (sometimes called a commercial license). This requires a test which is much more difficult than a Technician class amateur (ham) license test.

  • ryan

    FCC Part 90 radios can be used for commercial or ham operation only.  ANY radio used for FRS, GMRS, or MURS must be FCC Part 95 compliant.

  • hoopdog909

    How much is a brand new still in box 1993 Pro 90 Ranger VHF/FM marine Transceiver worth

  • EdwardvanNatta

    I am looking for details about your product place lave a messages . When I post this, I am looking for more information . Me see what post on your website

  • EdwardvanNatta

    like get one of ham radio

  • OctoberNight

    I have been doing some of my own researcher into murs and the only 2 radios that I can find that are legal for murs and relatively easy to get a hold of are the Motorola RMM2050 and the Dakota alert M538-HT. however the Motorola runs almost $200 per radio and the Dakota alert runs around $90 per radio.  does anyone know of any other relatively easy to get murs legal radios that might be a little more cost effective.

  • Problem with relocating your antenna and actual transceiver out of your way using PTT mic or headset is that HT radios depend on person holding them for counterweight. That is why sometimes you can get very shitty reception on radio that is just standing on a table and then when you hold it in your hand it suddenly gets clear. 
    This can be solved by adding rat tale wire to the antenna connector, but I would be very much interested in some more robust solution

    • India_Actual

      Delltar What do you mean by ‘counterweight?’

    • pmarc

      India_Actual Delltar he is probably meaning counterpoise… which means sort of a path to ground, while not necessarily a DC ground. A RF ground is not necessarily a DC ground while the opposite is.

    • Squid98765

      Delltar Here is a decent video on how to and why to use  a rat/tiger tail on a HT.  He shows SWR stats as well.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s8mKOofJ1m4&feature=youtu.be

  • can you link a pdf or some other file format to the freq card in this
    article? Would be great to have these print right out and be ready to
    use. Thanks!

  • Josh

    Hello, about to get a Baofeng UV-5R, reading around I found the Nagoya NA-771 antenna was the most recommended cheap antenna to use that still is better than the stock antenna it comes with.
    I was just wondering, the radio in UHF is 400-520MHz but the NA-771 antenna is only 430Mhz.

    Can it still receive and transmit on frequencies higher than 430Mhz? 
     I need to find out as I’ll be using frequencies between 476 and 477Mhz (the ones we use in Australia for our UHF).

    • India_Actual

      @Josh You  should be fine. It probably means that the antenna was tuned specifically to 430mhz, but it will handle a wide range of frequencies above and below that.

  • Ken

    I would like to use something similar for our small group. Does everyone in the group need to have a license? Were you able to hand out radios because you were in a rural area where no one will complain?

    • India_Actual

      @Ken If you’re talking about an unrestricted band (i.e. FRS, MURS, CB, etc.), then no. If you’re talking about a restricted band, then…the practical answer is: no, because no one cares unless you become a problem. The correct answer, however, is: yes, everyone needs to have a license, or be actively supervised by someone with a license.

  • Manuel

    Kind of new to this stuff, mainly only have basic knowledge about scanners. I work for a major natural gas utility company here in california. We use radios/transceivers in our work trucks and use a specific frequency. My question is: do I still have to be licensed and all that stuff to talk to my dispatcher on our frequency if I buy a portable transceiver? Most of the time I’m in houses responding to gas leaks and if I’m not in the truck to hear my dispatcher if another emergency comes in they get ahold of me via pager (yes people still use them lol). I was looking into getting a Kenwood TH-K20A because we use Kenwood transceivers in our trucks. I just don’t want to get in trouble, i want to do things the right way. Our company frequency is the only frequency i will be communicating on. Any help would be greatly appreciated, thanks in advance!

    • India_Actual

      @Manuel It depends on the frequencies you’re using. An un-licensed operator can transmit on some restricted frequencies only if a licensed operator is supervising them.  That having been said, most of the time, no one cares. We have the same problem with Search & Rescue: unlicensed, unsupervised personnel transmitting on VHF frequencies. It only becomes a problem when you’re causing a disturbance.

    • DanHow

      Note on this most radios are not intristcly safe basicly meening if you use your radio near a gas leek it can cause an explosion most pagers are is compatible please look up the information on intristcly safe wiki should have an article on this

  • edparziale

    Can anyone tell me where I can down load a Transceiver Manual written in English? The manual I have is a manual written by a Chinese person so it is not translated very well. Your help is appreciated. Thanks Ed

    • hamradio360

      edparziale skip the manual, and visit miklor.com John breaks it all down there

  • KenYank

    I have the BF8, 2nd gen. WITHOUT the flash light. It rocks well with all the repeaters. Super good. I ordered a 2nd one, but got one with the flash light and sent it back.. I keep it clipped to my visor in my jeep. I’ve never found another that doesn’t have the flashlight thingy… Not sure why all the cheapy handhelds have that flashlight part. I have a powerfull flashlight, and don’t need one from the top of my handheld.. Sorta strange…

  • Mykel Hawke

    Ham Radio for Preppers by Kent Hertz is great resource for those looking to improve their comms.
    http://www.amazon.com/Ham-Radio-Preppers-Kent-Hertz/dp/1532939337?ie=UTF8&keywords=kent%20hertz&qid=1465420971&ref_=sr_1_4&s=books&sr=1-4

  • John

    Nice write up. I have both a Wouxun and a Baofeng but I also run a Yaesu FT-60R. My experience with programming is that the Yaesu has been much easier (thanks to a gentleman from the UK who writes the software). The FT-60R is more expensive and heavier than the other 2 but I think it’s very durable.

  • LorenAMoore

    One thing I did not see mentioned is checking the Standing wave ratio for those relocated antennas. HT Antennas that are relocated lose their ground plane. HT antennas are designed to operate utilizing the HT ground. Antennas are designed to operate on certain frequencies and if they are operate beyond those frequencies excessive reflected power exists placing a strain on the electrical components while experiencing major transmission power loss. There are so many factors involved when considering antennas and good TX and RX. Use the correct tools, e.g. antenna analyser or SWR meter, to make sure your antenna is properly located and tuned to the frequency for maximum performance and longevity of the transiever.

  • India_Actual

    Great article!

    I use the Baofeng UV-5R for SAR operations. Even though IC generally has radios that they can assign, I find that they tend to be poorly maintained, with batteries that can no longer hold much of a charge. With the ease, and price, of these Chinese radios, supplying my own is a no brainer.

    I also use Chirp, and so far it has worked well on Windows 10.

    The Baofeng extended batteries are also a no brainer. They’re dirt cheap, and make the unit much easier to manipulate. Smaller is better with most things, but typical Chinese radios are a bit TOO small. The extended battery gives the Baofeng UV-5R similar ergonomics to a more traditional Motorola radios, but with significantly less weight.

    One feature I would love to see on handheld units is a way to physically block, or disable, the on-board PTT button when using an external mic. No one likes a hot mic, and having a radio in a pouch/pocket increases the odds of negligent transmissions. On my last unit (Puxing 777+). As funny as it is to hear someone breathing for two minutes, it just can’t happen.

  • Robert

    I’m an 18E and an Extra class ham.  The ARRL tested a lot of the Chinese built ham HT’s and found that most do not meet the FCC requirements and do not have the advertised noise rejection.  You do get what you pay for.  My IC 92ad was $650 when it came out.  About using an external antenna with coax woven into a vest will not work as you think.  You will need some sort of counterpoise or some ferrite chokes along the coax to block rf and allow the coax from the connector to the choke to be the coax.  get a book from the ARRL on antennas and read through it.  There is a lot of good info in it.  Also look into getting you ham ticket.  CW / Morse code is still one of the best digital methods FMis OK but SSB is better for phone.  With a license you can also operate FSK and other digital modes.  While still unencrypted, “by law”,  comms with a pactor modem direct will be a very secure mode.  Use a predetermined time and frequency for better security and keep it short.  Use the lowest amount of power needed and directional antennas.

    Robert

  • Robert

    sorry… the coax from the choke to the antenna should be counterpoise…sorry for the typo…

  • India_Actual

    VHF and UHF refer to frequency ranges (30mhz-300mhz, and 300mhz-3ghz respectively).

    SSB/CW/DATA/AM/FM refers to ways you can transmit. I know some modes work better at certain frequencies, but other than that, someone else will have to chime in. Here’s a link that might help, if you want to dig into it more: http://tymkrs.tumblr.com/post/25931285315/general-ham-modes-cw-ssb-am-fm

    • PhillipC

      India_Actual right, the actual frequencies I’m interested in transmitting on are FRS, GMRS, PMR, MURS, and Marine. Which are all between 136-174MHz and 400-480 MHz

    • India_Actual

      PhillipC India_Actual Then that radio should be fine, but bear in mind that most radio specs only indicate RECEIVING frequencies, so make sure that the TRANSMISSION frequencies also cover what you’re wanting. They’re usually identical, but I had a UHF radio years ago (I forget the  brand) that could receive FRS/GMRS, but not transmit.

    • PhillipC

      India_Actual

      Thanks!!!

  • WalterWhite303

    Fantastic article as been most provided by ITS.  Question about the PTT: I have a Peltor Comtac II set of ears that I would like to use with a receiver.  I’ve read that the Kenwood Peltor PTT 2pin option is best but is around $200 and seems to be the only good quality unit.  

    Do you guys know of any decent quality PTT units for Comtacs that are less expensive for integration with these radios?

  • Nick Cassady

    I’m trying to remember how to rig an aerial antenna we made in the service. 292? I remember we used plastic spoons wire and sticks formed a 3D triangle. I’m lost after that. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks in advance

  • Muhannad Al tapaa

    Hello all
    I have a transmitter and receive the type of Motorola UV-6R and the device is very good but there is a problem in the message and did not exist before and that is that I hear the station call and clearly good but when I want the transmitter station never hear me please help me Thank you and this email to [email protected]

  • Dann Pitkapaasi

    QUESTION ??? I have a Baofeng UV-5RC Fm Transceiver and I was wondering if I can monitor/transmit/receive via Midland LXT118 if I program the frequency in?????

  • Phillip C

    Anyone have a 2017 update on best units to buy? Looking for handheld and dash mounted.

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