For radio communications, there are a lot of options out there, and many people that I speak to are confused as to which one is right for them. There isn't really a one-size-fits-all answer that I can give you. There are a lot of variables to consider when choosing a radio communications system which I will attempt to go over a few of in this article.
First off, lets decide who you want to be able to communicate with via radio. Do you only want or need to communicate with your family around your property? Do you need to communicate with people within a one-mile range? Do you need to communicate with people farther away?
Let's take a look at each radio type, their benefits, and their limits:
Family Radio Service (FRS) is a radio service open to the general public without having to apply for a license from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). It utilizes a set of 14 channels in the Ultra-High Frequency (UHF) radio spectrum and is limited to a maximum of 2-watts of power. They are restricted to having fixed antennas, so you do not have the option of connecting an external antenna to help get better range.
FRS radios can be purchased in blister packs from big-box stores, home improvement stores, electronics stores, sporting goods stores, and online fairly cheap. A major drawback to FRS radios is their range. Even though the packaging will make claims that you can talk up to 14, or even 30 miles away with these radios, that is complete bullshit. FRS radios will be able to talk about one mile, depending on terrain and obstacles like trees, buildings, hills, etc.
Multi-Use Radio Service (MURS) is another radio service that is open to the general public without needing an FCC license. MURS radios operate on 5 channels in the Very-High Frequency (VHF) radio spectrum and are limited to 2-watts of power. They are also restricted to having fixed antennas, so you do not have the option of connecting an external antenna to help get better range.
Because these radios operate at a slightly lower frequency range, you are able to communicate a little farther with these radios at between 2 to 3 miles. MURS radios are a little harder to find, but they are available online.
They are a little more expensive because they are generally commercial quality devices so they are built to last longer than the cheaper consumer grade FRS radios.
Citizens and Radio Service (CBRS), also known as CB's are the last option for radio communications that do not require an FCC license. They operate in the High Frequency (HF) radio spectrum which adds to their operating range. They are limited to 4-watts of power on AM channels and 12-watts of power on SSB.
CB radios are able to utilize external antennas, so if it is mounted in a vehicle by having an antenna mounted outside of the vehicle you get better range and the metal of the vehicle does not block the signal. If the CB is mounted as a base station radio at your house or other location, you can also connect it to an antenna mounted higher up to extend the range of your communications. Under normal conditions, you can generally get 10 to 15 miles
CB radios are available at most big-box stores, electronics stores, and online. You can also find hand-held versions which are self-contained with a short "rubber-ducky" antenna and battery for mobile convenience, however their range is limited to about 2 to 3 miles typically.
General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) is the first level of radios that require an FCC license to operate. GMRS radios operate on 30 channels in the Ultra-High Frequency (UHF) radio spectrum which include 8 channels that are used for repeater operations. GMRS radios can use up to 50-watts of power on certain channels and are able to use external antennas which greatly helps their range.
Mobile versions of the GMRS radios running 50-watts connected to good antennas mounted up high can get a range of 20 to 30 miles. Hand-held GMRS radios with "rubber-ducky" antennas and self-enclosed batteries are typically running around 5-watts of power and typically have a range of 3 to 4 miles.
As I said earlier, GMRS radios do require a license from the FCC however there is no test that you have to pass to receive one. All you have to do is go to the FCC website, fill out an application with your information, and pay the $75 fee for a license which is valid for 10-years. All members of your immediate family are able to operate a GMRS radio under that one license so there is no need to have multiple GMRS licenses for members of your family.
Once you complete the application and pay the application fee the FCC will issue a callsign within a couple days and you will receive a copy of your GMRS radio license in your email that you can print out. You must announce your issued callsign at least every 15 minutes during a conversation and at the end of the conversation.
Amateur Radio or Ham Radio as it is commonly referred to is the final radio type that we will discuss today. Ham radio is the most flexible of all the radio communications options in that you have the ability with ham radio for local, regional, or even international radio communications depending on your license level.
Getting a ham radio license does take some work. There is a 35 question multiple choice exam that you need to have a minimum of 26 correct answers on for the Technician level license, which is the entry-level license class for ham radio.
We will go into more detail on attaining a ham license in a later post. For this one, I mainly just wanted to give an overview of the various radio services available that can be used for your communications needs.
You are not limited to just one radio service. In fact, for my radio communications needs I utilize all of these services. I have multiple radio stations set up for these services and my Baofeng dual-band hand-held radios contain the VHF and UHF amateur frequencies as well as the FRS, MURS, and GMRS frequencies. The more communications options that you can have available to you in an emergency, the better off you will be.
So decide what your communications needs are, and then decide which radio service or services will fill those needs.
If you have any questions, or need any advice, let me know. I will assist you all that I can. You can email me at TheKiltedPiper@Mail.com.