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Popular Wireless

 Updated 3/12/05

 Stop GMRS Piracy

The PopularWireless GMRS Bubble-Pack
Pirate FAQ

by Editor, Doug Smith and Senior Technical Editor Greg Forrest.

(© Copyright Doug Smith, any reproduction of this page
on other websites is strictly prohibited.)

"If you use a two-way radio on GMRS channels and you do not have an FCC license you are a radio pirate."

Visit the PopularWireless Intruder Forum to learn more
about GMRS Piracy

A bubble-pack radio pirate is generally an individual, business, organization, or agency that purchased a hand-held radio(s) for the General Mobile Radio Service and operates that radio without the required license from the Federal Communications Commission and often in violation of FCC license eligibility requirements. The pirate may be using one of the new inexpensive consumer entry-level GMRS radio models found in popular retail stores, at on-line E-tailers, or in special interest catalogs. These radios frequently are packed in plastic bubble packs. The term bubble pack pirate, coined at GMRS Web Magazine, can also apply to ineligible GMRS users that rent or have purchased GMRS radios from unscrupulous radio shops or dealers.

An end to Fuzzy Licensing?

The FCC finally put in writing the license requirements for bubble-pack GMRS/FRS hybrid radios. In 2004, some three or more years AFTER the FCC made unsuspecting radio pirates of millions of Americans and American businesses by allowing manufacturers to create and market these tempting new high-mileage GMRS/FRS hybrid toys in plastic bubble packs; the FCC has now said the following on both their GMRS and FRS information pages:

"Some manufacturers have received approval to market radios that are certified for use in both the Family Radio Service (FRS) and the General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS). Other manufacturers have received approval of their radios under the GMRS rules, but market them as FRS/GMRS radios on the basis that:

  • Some channels are authorized to both services, or
  • A user of the radio may communicate with stations in the other service.

"Radios marketed as "FRS/GMRS" or "dual-service radios" are available from many manufacturers and many retail or discount stores. The manual that comes with the radio, or the label placed on it by the manufacturer, should indicate the service the unit is certified for. If you cannot determine what service the unit may be used in, contact the manufacturer."

"If you operate a radio that has been approved exclusively under the rules that apply to FRS, you are not required to have a license. FRS radios have a maximum power of ½ watt (500 milliwatt) effective radiated power and integral (non-detachable) antennas. If you operate a radio under the rules that apply to GMRS, you must have a GMRS license. GMRS radios generally transmit at higher power levels (1 to 5 watts is typical) and may have detachable antennas. The current fee for a new GMRS license is $80. "

"Before any station transmits on any channel authorized in the GMRS from any point within or over the territorial limits of any area where the FCC regulates radio services, the responsible party must obtain a license. The FCC usually grants GMRS system licenses for a five-year term. To apply for a GMRS system license, you may file online through the Universal Licensing System (ULS), or file FCC Form 605 manually. New filers can learn more about ULS in its getting started tutorials. See Fee Requirements for FCC Form 605 for current licensing fee information. "

Editor's note: You will notice the FCC STILL doesn't understand GMRS licensing themselves. Their website refers to a GMRS "system" license. See the last paragraph above. GMRS licenses are granted to INDIVIDUALS and not systems. Individuals build a communications system for their families. The system is not licensed, the individual is.

The FCC is now contradicting what the official position has been of major retailers regarding the sale of GMRS/FRS hybrid bubble-pack radios. Virtually ALL bubble-pack dealers tell consumers that when you operate on the FRS channels using a twenty-two channel hybrid radio a license is not required. (This despite the fact that many of these hybrids use one watt of power on FRS channels one through 7 and only use FRS legal power on channels eight through fourteen.) Retailers tell their sales people to tell you that only when you operate on the GMRS channels do you need a license. This of course is false. When you transmit at a power level greater than one-half watt on FRS 1-7 a GMRS license is required!) This line of retail-speak enables consumers to buy radios without having to think about getting licensed. The FCC is now trying to save face by publicly declaring, after the fact, that licensed use of 22 channel radios was their original intent. Well we do not believe it was their original intent, particularly since this statement mysteriously appears after this magazine filed comments in a recent FCC rule making regarding the Commission's FAILURE to keep manufacturers honest and its failure to prevent the horrendous interference to licensees from bubble-pack pirates. The FCC created this monsterous mess. They approved a radio that had never before been approved in the history of the United States. The GMRS/FRS hybrid is the first radio approved that had license-free channels and must-license channels in the same radio. What did the FCC expect would happen? Any reasonable man could have seen this coming. Knowing what we know now about the actions of the FCC, most GMRS licensees do have empathy for those of you that find yourselves on the wrong side of the licensing law. Licensees want the horrendous interference from bubble pack pirates to stop and we want families like yours to join the ranks of licensed GMRS families. We want you to help us protect our radio services from further FCC decisions that make the services less and less useful.

Examples of
Bubble-Pack Pirates

  • Golf course greens keeper
  • Retail stock keepers
  • Retail security
  • Security companies
  • Restaurants
  • Retail stores
  • Movie theatres
  • Construction companies
  • Nursery's
  • Police agencies
  • Mining companies
  • Trades
  • Building managers
  • Commercial farms and ranches
  • Hospitals
  • Schools and school districts
  • Colleges
  • Rental car companies
  • Warehouses
  • Cemeteries
  • Churches
  • Private schools
  • Armored car services
  • Use of GPS GMRS/FRS radios without a license
  • Use of a 22 channel GMRS/FRS radio without a license.

The Issues, the Rules,
& the Facts

If you use a two-way radio on GMRS channels and you do not have an FCC license you are a radio pirate. If you are visiting this FAQ you are likely unaware that your use of the GMRS radio requires a license and radio call sign to identify your radio station. You also may not be aware that your operation could be causing harmful interference to licensed GMRS systems or that your operation of the radio is not permitted without a license. (License fee required.) If your use of the radio supports an organization or other non-individual as defined by the FCC you are not even eligible for a GMRS license. GMRS Web created the Bubble-Pack Pirate FAQ to give you the information you need to act as a concerned consumer and a law-abiding citizen.

This FAQ is lengthy. Just for brevity sake, the first part of the FAQ is a summary of what GMRS is and who is eligible to license in this radio service. The FCC rules sections governing use of GMRS channels are included. You will also find links to applicable FCC information throughout the FAQ. The FAQ is formatted to include questions a pirate is likely to ask.

You found the Bubble Pack Radio Pirate FAQ after you or a family member spoke to a GMRS licensee on your radio. (Or you were just interested in the topic.) You were probably confused and maybe even annoyed at first. The nerve of that guy interrupting you on your channel right? Maybe your son or daughter handed you the radio after the child heard a mysterious voice on the radio asking to speak to mom or dad. Imagine! Some stranger talking to the kid! The GMRS licensee seemed quite concerned about your family's unlicensed use of the GMRS radio channel. What business is that of his? He is not the FCC and besides the guy that sold you the radio said it didn't require a license.

You might be a business owner. You bought an inexpensive walkie-talkie at the store and never read the instructions. Maybe a radio shop sold or leased radios to you and said all the legal requirements were taken care of. You are wondering about that now because someone asked you on the air for your FCC license information and you don't have it. When you operated your GMRS radio without a license you attracted attention. You may have interfered with a GMRS licensee's radio communication or the potential for serious interference was there. You searched on the Internet to find out more and here you are. Keep reading.

All or some of those feelings ran through your mind. Now what do you suppose was going through the mind of the GMRS licensee when he heard your child, laughing, singing, broadcasting music, and playing the musical call tones hour after hour without restraint? What was he thinking when your employees tied up a radio channel for three hours one morning doing an inventory of the shoe department of your store? The GMRS licensee was thinking of the hundreds or thousands of dollars he and his family have invested in their GMRS two-way radio communication system. How are they going to communicate through this racket and interference. Besides, he thinks, I got the license and did everything the right way. These people just went out, bought a cheap radio, and started operating without regard for the rules or the rights of others that are assigned to use the channels.

Gets you thinking doesn't it? There are two sides to every story. The bubble-pack pirate radios, as we call them at GMRS Web, are indeed a big contributor to the GMRS piracy problem all over the United States. Unlicensed users, predominantly of the new inexpensive consumer entry-level GMRS radios, are popping up everywhere causing severe interference to GMRS communications. Most of these pirate users are businesses that looked for cheap two-way radio options. We hope hope that after reading the Bubble-Pack Pirate FAQ you will understand the issues and the FCC Rules and license your family or business properly. Train your family or employees to use your new radios in a fashion that minimizes or eliminates interference and channel congestion regardless of the radio service you finally decide to use.

Radio Frequencies Allocated to the General Mobile Radio Service

Am I operating illegally?

A GMRS license is required to operate on the FCC allocated GMRS channels below. If you are using these channels without a license then you are a GMRS pirate.

FCC R&R 95.29 Channels available:
462.550, 462.5750, 462.6000, 462.6250, 462.6500, 462.6750, 462.7000 and 462.7250. 467.5500, 467.5750, 467.6000, 467.6250, 467.6500, 467.6750, 467.7000, and 467.7250.

If your radio operates on any of the following frequencies and is NOT a radio FCC Type Approved for the Family Radio Service a GMRS FCC license is required. Operating power levels greater than .5 watt require a GMRS license.

(f) Except for a GMRS system licensed to a non-individual, a mobile station or a small base station operating in the simplex mode may transmit on the following 462 MHz interstitial channels:

462.5625 462.5875 462.6125 462.6375 462.6625 462.6875 and 462.7125.

These channels may be used only under the following conditions:

(1) Only voice type emissions may be transmitted;
(2) The station does not transmit one-way pages; and
(3) The station transmits with no more than 5 watts ERP.

The Family Radio Service shares the first seven low power GMRS Interstitial channels. A radio that has GMRS channels and the seven channels shared with FRS is a GMRS radio and must be used with a GMRS License. An FRS radio (a radio TYPE APPROVED by the FCC as an FRS Radio) CAN be operated without a license on these seven channels. There is also NO FCC restriction from using an FRS radio for commercial purposes. Businesses can use FRS radios. Businesses CANNOT use the new low cost GMRS radios on these shared channels or the GMRS channels.

Although these channels are shared, a user of a GMRS radio requires a license because the GMRS radio can transmit with more power than an FRS radio (5 watts versus 1/2 watt for FRS radios), among other reasons. Furthermore, a GMRS radio signal is "wide band", or uses a wider slice of the radio spectrum then does an FRS radio. An FRS radio signal is "narrow band" in nature, and requires less radio spectrum. It has less impact to GMRS operations on adjacent frequencies.

From the above discussion, it is obvious that a GMRS radio has a greater potential to cause interference to others on the same or adjacent frequencies than a FRS radio. This is the reason the FCC requires users of GMRS equipment to be licensed. A GMRS license indicates that you have read and understood some basic operating rules, and it permits the FCC to quickly find the source of interference should it occur.

You are operating illegally if:

  • You do not have an FCC call sign and license in the GMRS service (labeled as the "ZA" service on the license authorization); or
  • You have an FCC call sign and license, but it specifies frequencies different from those above, or
  • You have an FCC call sign and GMRS license, but you permit someone outside your immediate family to operate it, such as an employee. There is one exception is to item "c" above. If you hold a valid GMRS license under a business name (a "non-individual") that was issued before July 31, 1987, it is permissible for non-family members, such as employees, to operate under your existing GMRS license. Such use is grandfathered. However, you cannot reconfigure your system or operate on frequencies, or from locations not specified on your license, that are different from those licensed on that date. Your authorization can be cancelled if you make unauthorized system changes.

If I operate on the 467 MHz frequencies allocated to FRS am I illegal?

You may be operating on frequencies allocated exclusively to the Family Radio Service. These are:


If your radio equipment transmits greater than 1/2 watt (500 milliwatts) on the above frequencies, you are operating illegally. The FCC does not permit GMRS operation on these channels; only FRS radios. So if you are not using an FRS radio then you are a pirate.

If your radio is transmitting on these channels with more than 1/2 watt. your radio will likely be transmitting in "wide band" mode as well, which is also not permissible on these frequencies. In either case, it is likely that your operations are causing severe interference to licensed GMRS "repeater" systems. The FCC does not permit GMRS operations on these channels for this reason. However, 1/2-watt narrow band FRS operations are permitted since the FCC believes FRS radios cause less interference.

It is interesting to note that even FRS operations on these frequencies are causing significant interference to GMRS repeater systems today. It is therefore obvious that use of a high-powered, wide band radio on these channels can cause significant problems.

What will the FCC do to me if I am caught?

That is up to the FCC, but you can be issued anything from a stern letter of warning to a Notice of Violation leading to fines and imprisonment. A stubborn GMRS pirate in Sunol, CA did receive a Notice of Violation. This is a serious and costly situation in which to find yourself. The FCC has the authority to inspect your radio systems (legal or illegal) in operation at any time.

FCC Rules

The Federal Communications Commission Rules & Regulations (Title 47, Code of Federal Regulations [CFR]) govern the use of GMRS. GMRS Rules are located in FCC R&R PART 95, SUBPART A, Personal Radio Services, GENERAL MOBILE RADIO SERVICE (GMRS) with some GMRS-Related Sections in SUBPART E. Congress gives the FCC the authority to require licenses for using certain radio channels under the Communications Act of 1934 as amended. Unlicensed use of radio systems that require a license is considered a serious matter by the FCC. Unlicensed users of radio systems can be subject to severe fines and even imprisonment.

FCC R&R - 95.1 The General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS).
(a) The GMRS is a land mobile radio service available to persons for short- distance two-way communications to facilitate the activities of licensees and their immediate family members. Each licensee manages a system consisting of one or more stations.

FCC R&R - 95.3 License required.
Before any station transmits on any channel authorized in the GMRS from any point (a geographical location) within or over the territorial limits of any area where radio services are regulated by the FCC, the responsible party must obtain a license (a written authorization from the FCC for a GMRS system).

FCC R&R 95.5 License eligibility. (a) An individual (one man or one woman) is eligible to obtain, renew and have modified a GMRS system license if that individual is 18 years of age or older and is not a representative of a foreign government.

(b) A non-individual (an entity other than an individual) is ineligible to obtain a new GMRS system license or make a major modification to an existing GMRS system license.

(c) A GMRS system licensed to a non-individual before July 31, 1987, is eligible to renew that licenses and all subsequent licenses based upon it if:

(1) The non-individual is a partnership and each partner is 18 years of age or older; a corporation; an association; a state, territorial, or local government unit; or a legal entity;
(2) The non-individual is not a foreign government; a representative of a foreign government; or a federal government agency; and
(3) The licensee has not been granted a major modification to its GMRS system.

Businesses, Organizations, and other Non-Individuals Are Not Eligible to License and Use GMRS*

Non-individuals, corporations, government agencies, and organizations are not eligible under FCC Rules to license in the GMRS as specified in FCC R&R 95.5 Eligibility.

GMRS CAN be used by individuals licensed in GMRS and their family members for their own personal business. As examples: A family grocery could use GMRS radios as long as only family members used the radios and not non-family employees. A husband and wife, parents and family, brother and brother, sister and brother business users can use the radios for business purposes. (Immediate family, including immediate family not living in the same household.) GMRS is a very unique service in that the radio service can be used for personal and personal business communication. A radio channel set aside for business use may only be used for business purposes and not personal use.

It is very common to find advertising defining GMRS radios as excellent for business use. Such advertising is in direct conflict with FCC Rules yet many retailers continue to encourage non-individuals to buy commercial radios on GMRS frequencies. It is even more common to find the inexpensive entry-level GMRS radios positioned as "professional radios" with NO mention of the licensing requirement. GMRS has an eligibility requirement and there is no way around meeting that requirement.

The Questions

My radio dealer said the channels my business is using are perfectly legal for us to use.

Your radio shop is wrong. Call the FCC 800 number and discuss it with them. The FCC wants to help companies do the right thing.

My radio dealer said the channels my business is using are called "Color Dot" business channels. Now you're telling me the channels are not for business use?

Prior to 1987, fourteen years before this FAQ was written, some manufacturers gave color codes or labels to frequently licensed business channels. Before 1987, 462.625 and 462.675 were listed in this color dot scheme. The color coding made it easier for a business to buy compatible radios. The color dot scheme has not applied to these GMRS channels since 1987 but some manufacturers and radio shops still believe it does. So no, the color dot scheme does not apply in this case and even before 1987 an FCC license was required.

What types of radios are popular with bubble pack pirates?

While any brand of radio can be operated without a license, the growing problem of unlicensed use across the United States involves newer radio models manufactured for mass retail since mid-2000. The radios typically range in price from $41 on sale to just around $149. These radios are often similar in appearance to FRS radios and have been erroneously advertised as GMRS & FRS hybrid radios. The inexpensive simplex only radios generally have the same features as FRS radios including the annoying call alert function, normally not found in GMRS radios. You probably bought one of these radios thinking you were getting a more powerful FRS radio when in fact you were trading up to an entirely different radio service that only SHARES seven of the fourteen FRS channels. What you gained was maybe a half watt to one and a half watts of output power and the ability to transmit on the eight standard GMRS frequencies typically used for radio repeaters.

As a business pirate, a radio shop may have leased or sold you some very durable radios programmed on GMRS channels. This is more common than you might think.

I bought this radio to talk to my friends on their FRS radios but I don't have all the channels they have! I thought this was a better radio! Why does this radio not have all the FRS channels?

GMRS licensees may not, by FCC rule, operate their radios on FRS channels eight through fourteen. Your new radio only shares FRS channels 1-7 with GMRS. Your new GMRS radio also requires an FCC GMRS license and the use of the FCC call sign EVEN when using the radio with your friends on FRS radios.

Are there different kinds of Bubble-Pack Pirates?

At GMRS Web we see two predominant types of Bubble Pack Pirates. Those are business or commercial pirates and personal or family pirates. Both pirate groups purchase GMRS capable radios and use them without a license. In many cases, both pirate groups get their bubble-pack pirate radios from the same retail stores. The attraction for these radios is the low cost and purported higher power output that could transmit signals at a greater distance than a typical FRS radio. (We have found in one case that the radio is in fact not capable of transmitting at the rated two watts.)

The packaging or advertising for these radios leaves the impression for both groups that unlicensed use is OK and/or that commercial use is OK. The statements on the package are very misleading. GMRS licensees have been very concerned about GMRS piracy for three years now. Just as that problem was beginning to show some promise of easing up, along came the inexpensive cookie cutter GMRS radios sold at mass retail. GMRS licensees are beginning to hear what amounts to obnoxious FRS and CB like radio behaviors that have the potential for changing the GMRS for the worse.

Were you mislead by the vague and misleading statements made on the product box or in advertisements? We urge you to let us know at the magazine and we also urge you to write the President of the company that markets the radios. Let him or her know you are not pleased.

Tell me more about the business pirates?

Unfortunately, business pirates are often put on the air by unscrupulous radio shops. Radio shops across the U.S. have already been caught programming customer radios on the first seven shared channels with GMRS and FRS. Some have even programmed radios on the band edge channels 12.5 KHz from the top and bottom channels at 462 and 467 MHz.

Radio shops regularly provide GMRS radios as rental radios, in violation of the law. Unsuspecting pirates use these rental radios at public events or company related activities. The real estate convention in California rented a portable GMRS repeater for a week. The local radio station rented radios for a public event and the rental company sent commercial two-way hand held radios programmed on GMRS channels. A golf course was given five watt commercial radios programmed on FRS channels, several schools were given complete GMRS systems, the movie theatre projectionists, the tree farm, the elementary school, and even a small telephone company were equipped with GMRS radios they were not even eligible to license. The mischief goes on and on.

Business pirates put GMRS at risk. GMRS licensees are aware of that so they now report any pirate activity they here to their local FCC Enforcement Bureau office.

Doh! Am I in trouble?

Probably not, but if you persist operating a GMRS radio without the FCC license you could be. Look, the chances of you actually attracting the attention of the FCC are minimal at best. Most pirates will want to either take their radios back to the store and exchange them for FRS radios or pay the license fee and enjoy the use of their GMRS radios. Do the right thing. Get licensed! If you are a business and cannot license in GMRS take your radios back and demand the retailer make good on the sale.

When the GMRS licensee contacted me on the radio did he call the FCC to turn me in?

It is very possible. The bubble-pack piracy problem is handled differently in various areas. What most GMRS licensees try to do is politely explain that a license is required to operate on GMRS channels. The licensee knows you are not licensed by your operating habits, a query to the FCC license database, and your failure to identify with an FCC assigned call sign. A licensee is not required to warn you before calling the FCC. From experience, business pirates are not generally cooperative so they are usually reported to the FCC. Personal licensees generally do the right thing and send away for the license and use their call letters.

Both types of pirates give themselves up very easily and usually without their knowledge. If the same pirate persists in interfering with GMRS licensees after being asked to license properly, or move from GMRS to business channels and avoid interference, that pirate is often located by radio direction finding methods. The pirate's address is sent to the FCC for enforcement action.

No one contacted me yet and I have one of these radios. Should I wait to see if anyone cares?

Do the right thing. Don't wait. License. If you can't license return the radios to your vendor.

If I decide to ignore the licensing requirements how easy is it for the FCC, or anyone else, to find a person using a GMRS radio?

Using today's Doppler radio direction finding technology it is quite easy to find someone using a GMRS radio. You won't even know you have been found. Many GMRS groups have at least one person with a Doppler device they can call on to help locate unlicensed GMRS operators that are interfering with GMRS systems. In Northern California over 100 pirates have been reported and well over three fourths of those were located and reported to the FCC.

What kind of behavior gives me away as a bubble-pack pirate? How would anyone know I did not have a license?

1) Failure to use a call sign issued by the FCC.
2) Use of a fake or expired call sign.
3) Failure to listen before transmitting resulting in interference to others.
4) Unsupervised children using the radio. (playing, yelling, screaming, broadcasting.)
5) Unrestrained use of call tones.
6) You do not use the radio repeaters.
7) Business activity on the radio.

What happened? Why did the store not tell me about the license requirement? Did they lie about it, or did they just lead me to believe that because this radio had seven of Family Radio Service channels no license was required? This is whole situation is a bit embarrassing. What can I do?

Caveat emptor - Buyers beware. We think many marketing managers plan and expect that the public will not license, care about licensing, or even ask about licensing. We think the corporate interest of some manufacturers is only to sell large quantities of radios. What else could it be? At GMRS Web, we have monitored the activities of retailers and manufacturers. Even after appropriate and friendly notice, some retailers and manufacturers continue to mislead the public. The average person does not see the harm in unlicensed operation since their total GMRS investment might be $82 plus tax. The victim in this sham is the GMRS licensee whose out of pocket expenses for an entire family oriented radio repeater system is in the thousands of dollars

You did not find out about the licensing requirement in the store. Why? Because the odds are stacked against you making that discovery from the moment you hear about the cool new radios that can transmit five miles! Whoopee! Even two very good syndicated talk show hosts fell hook line and sinker for the advertising drivel furnished to them by a manufacturer. After GMRS Web Magazine readers called it to their attention, the hosts were apologetic and supportive. You did not have to work very hard to find yourself in this position. You got help from the retailer and the manufacturers advertising.

Newspaper ads and catalogs tout the radios as "good for the job site" with no mention of the FCC license requirement or the license fee! Even major metropolitan newspapers have faithfully reprinted inaccurate claims from manufacturers sell sheets without doing their own research. We understand how very easy it was for you to be confused and do the wrong thing. Here at the magazine, we continue to be dumbfounded at the number of well-known companies and newspapers that perpetuate the piracy problem. Even when the inaccuracies are called to their attention many of these companies simply ignore the complaints.

OK. What are my options?

You can return the radio to the retailer for a refund or you can obtain a GMRS license (if eligible) and continue to use your radio. Consider writing the President of the company that made the radio as well as the retailer. Call your situation to his attention.

How much does a license cost?

You pay $85 to the FCC for a five-year license that covers you and your immediate family members whether or not they all live in the same household.

One package said I could "FCC Self License." How is that different from what you describe?

That company made that term up. We have no idea what they meant. We suspect they were trying to indicate it was easy to obtain a GMRS license. It is very easy. What they should have said on their package was, "FCC GMRS license required to operate this radio."

My husband is a ham. We do not need a license. Right?

GMRS has nothing to do with Ham radio. A Ham license does not allow operation on GMRS. Not only that, but your husband cannot legally use his Ham radio on GMRS channels. That's really what this statement was about right? He bought you a radio but he's using his modified ham radio? Hmmm. Better ask him to check the rules.

Use of a modified ham radio on GMRS channels can subject the Ham to FCC enforcement action. He could be fined and lose his ham and GMRS license.

You should also know that GMRS was not intended to be a supplemental radio service for the Hams. GMRS is for families. It was not intended for hobby communication.

OK. You sold me. How do I get a license?

Here are three web links to places where you can get licensing information.

Once I have a license, can I operate on the repeaters in my area?

GMRS repeaters are private property. Until recently, the FCC required by rule that GMRS licensees have written permission before operating on another licensee's repeater. The FCC dropped the requirement; however, you must still contact the repeater owner for permission before you use any repeater that does not belong to you. Just because you purchased a repeater-capable radio from the retail store does not mean you can use your radio on any repeater you please.

GMRS is a more formal place. You should also know that some repeater owners do charge a monthly access fee to use their repeater. Many families share repeater related expenses. The FCC does allow a repeater owner to recoup operational expenses but not to make a profit. You also must agree to the terms of operation imposed by the repeater owner.

Any repeater owner that does charge for access should be prepared to show you station financial records to show he is not making a profit. You should see expenses and income. As each new user is brought on the system the rate should go down.

What is market-place activism? (The politics of marketing.)

The magazine believes many bubble-pack pirates are the victim of what we call "market-place activism." Unscrupulous marketing managers buy cheap, low quality products and dump them in large quantities on the unsuspecting public in hopes of changing the FCC rules to meet their own profit objectives. Radio companies are in the business of selling radios and meeting quarterly sales objectives. These sales objectives cannot wait for the GMRS to dictate product demand. The manufacturer therefor creates the demand by fostering conditions under which the product is likely to be used without a license. When license restrictions are removed the manufacturer sells more radios.

The two-way radio industry used the same market-place activism to create the new Multi-Use Radio Service, MURS. For years, radio shops have been putting companies and individuals on low power portable only radio channels without the required channel coordination or FCC license. The unlicensed use problem became so unenforceable that the FCC finally acknowledge it by creating the VHF license free Multi-Use Radio Service. They created a license-free VHF personal radio service on radio channels where unlicensed radio use was common.

GMRS Web believes that some manufacturers are more interested in profit than in working with the GMRS community to create product demand within the technical and regulatory scope of the current service. When some companies feel that the rules are archaic or that the rules unduly restrain their profit potential the companies take unprofessional steps toward creating a new radio service that meets their market expectations. They make the market with market place activism calling it capitalism or the good old American way. Truth be told it gives capitalism a bad name.

The affect on GMRS could be catastrophic if the bubble-pack pirates proliferate. A very good alternative to the growing popularity of expensive digital subscription radio services could be lost if GMRS licensees don't protect their personal investment.

Everyone loses when bean counters act with unrestrained greed. The same problems now affect many industries including the high-tech and software industries. Competition now means the complete destruction and desecration of a competitor with unfair market practices, nuisance lawsuits, product dumping, and netting to zero schemes. Driving one's competitor out of business or changing the market to suit profit objectives is more important than competing on product quality and features. Product development is quick and cheap. You do not have to have the best product to be "number one" anymore. Sadly enough, our buying habits make this possible. You have to admit that if you paid more attention to your purchase you might not be here now reading this FAQ.

What is the difference between a GMRS radio and a FRS radio?



  • Can use repeaters
  • Maximum output power of the transmitter 50 watts
  • No ERP limit on main channels
  • can cover tens of miles via simplex and hundreds of square miles by repeater
  • Eight repeater pair channels
  • Eight high power simplex channels
  • Seven Interstitial channels shared with FRS
  • 5 watt ERP base station allowed on Interstitials shared with FRS
  • FCC License required
  • OK for family members to use in a family business
  • Commercial use by non-individuals prohibited.
  • No use by government.
  • Removable antennas on portable radios OK
  • External antennas for portable radios OK
  • Voice inversion scrambling prohibited. All transmissions must be in voice
  • Moderate to very high cost
  • Repeaters and base stations require high quality and low loss cable and connectors
  • Efficient omni or directional antenna systems required
  • Systems best assembled by qualified radio technicians
  • Commercial UHF radios with high frequency tolerance required
  • Very low power, one-half watt effective radiated power
  • Intended for short range communication, under 1 mile reliably
  • No license required
  • Personal and business use OK
  • Shares the 7 GMRS Interstitial channels, depending on equipment can talk to GMRS radios on FRS 1-7
  • 14 total channels, 7 are FRS only
  • Can use voice inversion scrambling.
  • No external antennas allowed
  • No detachable antennas allowed
  • Very low cost
  • No system assembly or radio tech required

I thought FRS channels were license free?

You can ONLY operate without a license in the Family Radio Service if you are using a radio that is FCC Type Approved as a FRS radio. This means a radio type accepted by the FCC as a FRS radio and NOT a GMRS radio.

Your GMRS radio probably has the first seven channels also shared with the Family Radio Service. When you use your GMRS radio on these shared channels you must also use your GMRS call letters. You must have a GMRS license.

The Type Approval certification of your radio determines whether the radio is a GMRS or FRS radio. If the radio store or radio shop tells you differently they are not well informed or are deceiving you.*

*Motorola claims to have received Type Approval for a new GMRS AND FRS radio that is available September 2001. The FCC Rules still apply to both services. There is NO reason why a business or organization would buy one of these radios. Mere possession would imply to us that radios are being used in violation of FCC GMRS rules. This magazine does not understand the benefit such a device and we cannot editorially recommend it. The distinction between GMRS and FRS radios has already been blurred enough through irresponsible marketing. Creating a radio like this was a dumb thing to do. It is another example of industry creating market conditions that have a deleterious impact on a radio service. We cannot imagine what the FCC was thinking when they approved of this device.

Which radio service came first? (A little history.)

The General Mobile Radio Service came first.

The Family Radio Service was carved out of the radio spectrum allocated to the General Mobile Radio Service. GMRS shares its portable radio to portable radio frequencies, known as the GMRS Interstitials, with FRS. In FRS these channels are known as FRS channels one through seven. GMRS licensees have always used these first seven FRS channels for small base stations and talking portable to portable. FRS users may hear GMRS users from time to time. FRS users can even talk to a GMRS station on these seven frequencies.

FRS channels eight through fourteen are allocated ONLY to FRS. These channels are in-between the GMRS channels used for GMRS repeater communication.

Wait a minute. So are you saying one radio service has to have a license for FRS 1-7 and the other radio service doesn't?

That is correct! The reason is that GMRS licensees can use up to five watts of effective radiated power on these channels. The GMRS licensee's signal can carry farther so the potential for interference is greater. Licensees tend to be more careful about their on-the-air activities and listen for others to avoid interference. You will hear GMRS licensees using their call signs on the GMRS Interstitial channels also known as FRS channels one through seven.

The manufacturer implies my GMRS radio is actually a FRS radio on FRS channels one through seven and a GMRS radio on GMRS channels. They say since my radio transmits with no more power than a FRS radio on FRS channels that the radio is half GMRS and half FRS. Do I still need a license to use it on FRS?

Yes. The radio you are using was Type Approved as a GMRS radio because it also transmits on the standard GMRS channels. An FRS radio has ONLY FRS channels. The power rating is not the relevant issue here. FCC Type Approval and the technical requirements and regulations of each radio service are the relevant issues. There is no such thing as a hybrid GMRS FRS radio. There are only FRS radios and GMRS radios. FRS does not require a license. GMRS does require a license.

But the antenna on my GMRS radio is not detachable? That's just like the FRS radio correct.

Bummer! Maybe you should have gotten a GMRS radio with a removable antenna. Why anyone would design a GMRS radio without a removable antenna is beyond understanding. When you can remove the antenna you can generally connect your radio to a mobile antenna on a car or a base station antenna at home. If you can't do that you have given up a great benefit to having a real GMRS radio.

What is FCC Type Approval?

Before a manufacturer can sell a radio frequency generating device in the United States, the manufacturer must seek FCC Type Approval for the device. The manufacturer submits technical information about the product they want to sell showing the FCC that the device meets all of the technical rules. There is a Type Approval qualification for FRS and GMRS. There is no Type Approval for a device called a hybrid GMRS/FRS radio.

I'm still not convinced I need a license. Why should you bother?

Then can we appeal to your sense of honor, integrity, and good citizenship. What's wrong with going along with the program? What do you have to lose by doing the right thing?

The FCC has been organizing the various radio services with our input since 1934. Organized of limited spectrum resources makes use that resource efficient. Business use of a radio channel can make that channel unusable by personal licensees. Even when a business uses an FRS channel it limits the available channels for families to use in the immediate area.

Should I have bought this radio?

We do not think you will really appreciate GMRS if you choose the inexpensive simplex-only GMRS radios. Battery consumption is lighting fast and equipment life is probably much shorter than if you purchased a better quality or commercial quality GMRS radio. You will get more for your dollar if you spend more. We like to say, "You get what you pay for and you pay for what you get." There are a number of reasonably priced, very high quality commercial radios for use as simplex-only radios.

Some families have found a useful purpose for the inexpensive GMRS radios. The radios are closer to the disposable appliance category so the radios are perfect for kids to use under appropriate adult supervision of course.

Why is a license required again?

The license requirement has its roots in radio history. When you receive your license, you receive call letters that you use to identify your GMRS station. The call letters are much like the license plate letters and numbers on your vehicles or the station identification used by your favorite radio or TV broadcast station. The FCC, or another GMRS licensee, can readily identify you when you use your call letters. If you have a transmitter malfunction or cause interference to others, you can be contacted by researching the licensee information associated with your call letters. Other GMRS licensees can call you by saying your call letters before their own. Your call letters or call sign is your on-the-air GMRS identity. A license also says that you have paid your fees.

We believe that people also tend to value a radio service more if they have paid their license fee. When people get something for nothing they tend to take advantage. When you are part of a community that has an investment in the service you tend to want to use it properly, and obey the rules. In most areas of the country, you can hear the difference between families using GMRS and FRS or GMRS and CB.

When a family has gone to the trouble to properly license, they have also made an investment in their communication system. When the people who share these systems maintain order and discipline the efficiency and quality of communication on their GMRS system is quite good. License free radio services have no order or discipline and are very frustrating to use. Get the license and learn how to use your radio. You will appreciate it more. The people who share the channels with you will appreciate you and your family more as well.

Can my child use a GMRS radio?

You can only be a GMRS licensee if you are over 18 years of age, but you can operate the GMRS radios under an immediate family member's license at any age. In general, the GMRS community appreciates it if you train your children to be respectful of others and learn the various radio protocols that prevent interference. Some of the bubble pack pirates that hand radios to their children may not realize it, but their children's play-time antics on the radio can cause severe interference to others. The cheap GMRS radios that are advertised as GMRS & FRS radios also have what marketing managers refer to as "call tones." These short musical bursts are often played continuously for amusement or the annoyance effect. Call tones are rarely used as intended. Call tones are an idea carried back from FRS radios. Until the year 2000 no one in GMRS ever used such a feature. Children tend to be the ones that play the tones repeatedly, though some adults are also amused by this annoying behavior.

If you allow young children to use a GMRS radio you should teach them:

1) NOT to use the call tones improperly.
2) NOT to use obscenities.
3) NOT to sing into the radio.
4) NOT to rebroadcast music from a radio or CD player
5) NOT to scream, yell, or shout into the radio.
6) To listen before transmitting by momentarily pushing the monitor button on the radio to disable coded squelch.
7) To use the family call letters every fifteen minutes during long conversations or at the beginning and end of each exchange of short transmissions.
8) To be polite to others on the radio and remember that GMRS is shared with others.
9) To know that at high altitude the radio signal can carry for miles around.

Your child should not use a GMRS radio until they understand why they use it. They should also understand that when they use it they are sharing the radio channel with others. It is another opportunity for you as a parent to teach compliance with rules, manners, politeness, and respect. While you are at it you may wish to teach them NOT to talk to people they do not know.

So there is no way around that requirement?

No! If you continue to operate your GMRS radios without a license you are technically in violation of the following Federal Communications Commission Rules & Regulations (Title 47, Code of Federal Regulations [CFR] ). Each individual operator of an unlicensed radio can be subject to FCC fines now as high as $11000 per day for each day the offense occurs:

· §95.3 - License required
· §95.119 - Station identification

Operation of radio transmitting apparatus without a valid radio station authorization constitutes a violation of Section 301 of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended 47 U.S.C. § 301. Under the Communications Act, violators may be subject to civil monetary penalties up to $11,000 and the equipment used is subject to seizure and forfeiture by court order. Unlicensed operators also could be subject to criminal fines of up to $100,000 and/or imprisonment for up to one year, or both, for a first time offense.

Unlicensed radio operation may also subject the radio operator to serious penalties as provided in Section 501 of the Communications Act, as amended. Because unlicensed radio operation creates a definite danger of interference to important radio communication services, immediate and strict compliance with FCC Rules and Regulations is important.

How do I avoid interference with others?

GMRS is a shared radio service. The use of tone coded or digitally coded squelch allows you to hear only transmissions directed to you. It can also prevent you from hearing others using the same channel. Here are some things you can do to avoid interfering with others.

1) Monitor before transmitting. Activate the monitor function on your radio or listen in open squelch before you transmit. When you do this you make sure your transmission will not interfere with others using the same channel close to you.
2) Use the GMRS Interstitials for portable to portable communication.
3) Use the GMRS standard channels to access repeaters.

I thought this radio was an FRS radio that did not require a license!

That is certainly the impression that the packaging and the stores are leaving with lots of folks. Most stores do not tell you that a GMRS license is required. The store may not even know a license is required or if managers know they have not bothered to train employees. Packaging is often vague or misleading. You will discover though, that the fine print in the owner's manual is usually more specific about the license requirement. Did you read the owner's manual? If push ever came to shove between you, the FCC, and the radio retailer - you would lose and nothing would happen to the retailer. The FCC deals only with the unlicensed user of the radio. The FCC assumes that you read the instructions and the rules before you began operating your radio. You can liken it to the driver of a car. If you get a speeding ticket from the police, it is not the manufacturer's fault. Go back and read your manual. What kind of radio did you buy? Does it require a license? Are you eligible to license?

So, what is the General Mobile Radio Service exactly?

The FCC defines GMRS as a land mobile radio service available to individual persons for short-distance two-way communications to facilitate the activities of licensees and their immediate family members. Each licensee manages a system consisting of one or more stations. GMRS is intended as a radio service where purposeful directed communication between family members takes place. An individual licensee can conduct personal or business communication. Business communication must be conducted between immediate family members. Companies and their employees cannot use GMRS unless they were licensed before 1987 and meet certain additional criteria.

"….but, but I didn't know I was breaking the law!"

You do now.

How can I get myself out of this mess? This retailer got me into this predicament. I am very angry now. They put me in a tough spot, besides I have to spend another $85 before I can use these radios! ($75 after September 10, 2001)

We believe you should contact the store where you purchased your bubble pack radios and tell them about your situation. We also believe that they put you in a tough spot. If you have no desire to license and would be very happy with a FRS radio ask for an exchange or ask for your money back. Also, consider writing the Federal Trade Commission regarding your experience. The FCC has no jurisdiction over the stores.

Are GMRS licensees nice people? If I get this license, will I be accepted even if I just use my inexpensive radios?

If you run into trouble let us know. When a bubble-pack pirate family makes the conversion to GMRS licensee in our area we go out of our way to get to know them. We also invite them to use our family repeaters if they are eligible to license in GMRS. Within months many have upgraded to repeater capable radios

You might run into a licensee or two with an attitude. As long as you observe the rules, avoid interfering with others, and use your call sign as required you have as much right to use a channel as anyone else. No one owns a channel.


Last updated March 12, 2005

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