This Frequently Asked
Question list is a work in progress. Feel free to contribute to it. Send your
FAQ item to [email protected] I encourage you to read
the Family Radio Service FAQ,
history behind the creation of the Family Radio Service,
and the Family Radio Service
Federal Communications Rules and Regulations posted at the
Personal Radio Steering Group web site. PRSG also as the
FCC rules for the
General Mobile Radio Service and a
GMRS FAQ that is
considerably more detailed than this one. Please note that I do not provide a
license application service. I refer email sent to me on the subject to this
page and the PRSG web site.
Who are you and why did
you create this magazine?
Radio communication is a hobby (amateur radio, SWL, scanning) and has
been an occupation (police communications). Using this page I share my
enthusiasm for two-way radio, as well as my own experience using use GMRS. The
Personal Radio Steering Group was also on
the web when I created this page (ca 1999). PRSG had been so helpful to me in
obtaining my GMRS license that I wanted to put something on the site referring
others to the PRSG BBS available then. As time went on this site became the
most popular GMRS desitination on teh Internet. The site has been recognized by
hobby electronics publications as the place to go for GMRS information. My
family uses GMRS portable radios to stay in touch when we vacation, hike, bike
and walk, or travel to the store. The convenience of two-way radio
communication is hard to beat. There was also very little information about
equipment available to new GMRS licensees. It just seemed the logical thing to
Why would I want to buy
GMRS or FRS radios? What good are they?
Any time you need directed
communication between individuals in a group and you no more than a few miles
apart you can take advantage of GMRS and FRS. Using a cellular or cellular
walkie-talkie phone can be expensive and you might be paying for pager frills
you really don't really need. Stop and think whether your family communication
is really facilitated with your cell phone or your pager. Can you afford to
equip everyone in the family with a cellular phone just to keep track of them
on a family outing? Hint: Are there situations where a two-way radio would
benefit you more?
The convenience and simplicity of
two-way push-to-talk communication demonstrates how complicated a cellular
phone really is. When you are in radio range of your partner you can use
two-way radio communication rather than a telephone system. There is nothing in
the way except the distance between you and the other radio in your family or
group. There is no cell site, no telephone operator and no roaming charges.
Two-way radio communication is practical and fun. The
new FRS radios are TRULY very practical. As a matter of fact, I believe these
radios to be the first truly practical short range voice communication devices
made available to the general public. You don't have the noise and
skip of the CB band and you can communicate within a reasonable distance.
(Provided youa re also willing to share the FRS frequenices with many others in
How do the FRS
radios/walkie-talkies compare to CB radios? Which would be better for
house-to-house communication, say, 1-2 miles? CB or FRS? Which is better for
backup communication while driving on the road (assuming cell phone is dead) CB
CB radio is on shortwave frequencies
around 26-27 MHz. These radio waves propagate differently. You can find
yourself talking to someone in another country on the CB band. The skip, as it
is called, can occasionally render CB channels useless for communication beyond
five miles or so. (That's one big reason CB went to SSB.) The CB band also
became a polluted wasteland of nonsense, silliness, and foul language. It
quickly became a hobby band when that was not the original intent. FRS on the
other hand will NOT skip. FRS is limited to local communication and it tends to
be quite reliable depending on the terrain and surrounding obstructions. UHF
radio waves at 462 MHz behave a bit differently. You can now have the same
benefit police and business has always had using a UHF radio. The quality of
communication is terrific. Your family will enjoy using these devices!
The most important point about UHF
radios is that ANTENNA HEIGHT is more important than the output power of the
device. So if you can see the house you want to talk to then there is a very
good chance FRS radios will work quite nicely in your application. As an
example, I can talk to the grounds keeper at the local golf course over two
miles away from inside my house. The grounds keeper can see my home from the
hill he is on overlooking my town. Using a Family Radio hand held radio I can
also speak to someone on the 3800 foot peak some 14 miles away.
If you are talking within a mile or
less of another vehicle and all you want to do is talk to that vehicle, FRS is
superb. CB will improve distance locally but then you have to cope with skip,
AND you must have an outside antenna to get reliable distance. If you want
access to emergency services get a cellular phone. Not many people monitor
channel 9 any longer and no one listens to any FRS channel for emergency calls.
The great thing about FRS is that it is the first really good utility two-way
radio for families ever. It beats carrying big CB radio portable radios and it
is far more reliable than the older low power CB or 49 MHz walkie talkies. FRS
radios are not really toys. The radios are quite good and there are few poorly
made FRS radios on the market. The radios are truly superb if you are trying to
remain in contact with a person with whom you might become separated.
A little history. Where
did GMRS come from?
GMRS spectrum was once the old Class A
Citizens Radio Service. There are folks still using GMRS that have been using
this radio spectrum for many years.
A license? Why do I
have to license a GMRS portable radio? Who's going to care?
The proliferation of portable VHF and
UHF radios in the marketplace has introduced more and more people to two-way
radio communication. Most folks are savvy enough to know that cellular phones
are hand-held radios too. When a retailer tells a prospective purchaser that a
license to operate the radio is required the customer looks awfully puzzled.
Here you are reading the FAQ and wondering the same thing. How come there are
so many hurdles to gain access to the radio spectrum? And how come some radios
using the same channels don't have to be licensed?
These are all good points. What is
licensing all about? Why is it done and why should you care? Licensing serves
- Licensing creates an artificial
barrier to spectrum access. Only those who really need the radio apply for the
license. The modern fallacy with this argument is of course the proliferation
of unlicensed business band and GMRS radio systems already on the air. Everyone
has figured out there is no spectrum enforcement anyway.
- Licensing creates public records of
licensees and their radio stations so others seeking spectrum access can
coordinate their use of the spectrum. The FCC also has records of every system
for enforcement purposes. An operator of a malfunctioning radio, one that is
causing interference on other channels, can be identified and advised of the
malfunction much more easily.
- Licensing is a way of making sure the
applicant has selected the right radio service for the right purpose. The radio
spectrum is carved out to serve many specific interests and technical
- In some cases, as in the Amateur Radio
Service, licensing includes operator licensing to insure the person operating
the radio meets a certain standard of technical proficiency and has the
- When people go to the trouble to
license their radio system and obtain an authorized call sign they tend to take
responsibility for their actions more seriously. I say tend because this is not
always the case, particularly in the Business Radio Service.
- A lack of licensing, and ignorance of
rules and proper operating practice tends to facilitate the growth of chaos. No
one is served by limited spectrum space unless they have some idea how to use
the radio and understand that they are responsible for their actions. Even in
some services where a license is NOT required you can still face serious
consequences for improper use of a radio ( base, mobile, or hand-held.) If you
misuse a radio in the Marine Radio Service you could face Federal penalties
when you are identified and located by the Coast Guard. Radio station licensing
goes back many years even before the FCC was created. At the dawn of radio so
much interference was generated between broadcasters that the Federal Radio
Commission was created to license and channelize broadcasters. The trick with
licensing today is to make it easy enough so that the average citizen who needs
GMRS can understand the necessity for licensing and yet still be able to
complete the application. That's where the many REACT organizations and the
Personal Radio Steering Group come in.
The FCC decides who or what should be
licensed and for what reasons. Licensing requirements for many services are
changing. FRS was certainly a big change. Suddenly anyone could buy a low power
radio and use license free the same frequencies GMRS users use with a license.
Why? The FRS radios are considerably less powerful and in the FCC's mind less
likely to cause interference to licensed communications. As the power goes up
the responsibility for and consequences of improper operation of a radio system
increase. Licensing is a necessity.
What type of
communication can my family have on GMRS?
GMRS, as I understand it, was intended
to facilitate the personal business of the licensee and his/her immediate
family. It was never intended to be a hobby radio service where essentially
frivolous communication dominates. GMRS is intended for purposeful directed
communication. Now I agree that what one family might find frivolous anther
might find useful and necessary. Thank goodness there are no content police.
The idea was that you wouldn't be sitting by your radio calling any station for
a casual conversation. You would instead be calling your spouse or your
children regarding errands or your family business etc. This deliberate and
purposeful theme is however going to be difficult to support in the unlicensed
FRS which could turn into a free-for-all CB service. The GMRS rules make the
service a mobile-to-mobile and base-to-mobile service. The rules tend to
restrict the content of communication by characterizing the service in a
different way. Keep this in mind before you decide to license.
GMRS is a radio service where you CAN
discuss your personal business. Your own commercial and/or family activity can
be conducted on GMRS. Such use of the Amateur Radio Service is forbidden.
Some typical GMRS situations:
- Not everyone wants a two-way radio for
hobby purposes. Communication for these folks might not be allowed in other
- A husband and wife who are hams may
want to discuss family business and chores. The nature of personal
communication may not permit some of these conversations to take place in the
Amateur Radio Service. GMRS is an excellent choice.
- A husband and wife have a small
business and one or both of them are on the road frequently.
- A family requires a way to stay in
touch with the home when they are traveling around town. It could be a good way
for a single parent to stay in touch with kids at home.
- You could be a busy person that gets
lots of calls but you don't want to carry a pager or carry a cellular phone.
There is a family member at home that can call you by radio to give you
messages. For whatever reason you find your family members more responsible as
There are also some odd uses of GMRS
that are not generally appreciated. Some licensees created their repeaters
specifically as a hobby repeater to avoid getting amateur licenses. Some
created their repeaters as a way of disseminating information through paging.
The FCC has not watched GMRS very closely and you will also hear a variety of
bootlegging business users in many metropolitan areas.
What is a radio
The General Mobile Radio Service has
eight repeater frequency pairs. A radio repeater uses one of these pairs of
frequencies to receive and simulcast a radio transmission it receives on the
repeater input frequency. Repeaters are usually placed on hilltops, mountains,
towers, or tall buildings. When the repeater receives a signal from a hand-held
or mobile radio that signal is rebroadcast on the repeater output frequency.
The repeater can broadcast over a much wider geographical area than a hand held
or mobile radio. Most GMRS users will not own a repeater of their own. They
will most likely share a repeater system with others. When you use the repeater
you make it possible to communicate with your family over a much wider
Typical Radio Uses that
are not Compatible with GMRS.
- Corporate communication with
employees. Small or large businesses with employees should license radio
systems in the Business Radio Service. There are businesses using GMRS channels
that have been grandfathered on channels they occupied when business licensees
were allowed to license in GMRS. The FCC grants no NEW licenses to businesses
or any entities other than individual persons. In some areas, there are
non-personal licensees who were 'grandfathered' in when the eligibility rules
were changed in 1989.
- Hobby communication. This type of
communication is better suited for the Amateur Radio Service or the Citizens
Radio Service. In other words, operating your radio should not be a hobby. You
should be using a GMRS radio to communicate with family members and friends. If
you discuss hobbies in your personal communication that's another thing.
- Please also note that many specific
industries have their own radio service: Forestry, Motion Picture, Taxi,
Towing/Motor Club, marine, Aircraft, Oil, Conservation, and Government to name
a few. A call to the FCC or a visit to your local commercial two-way radio
retailer should help you get into the radio service where your communication
There are no content police in GMRS,
however the owner of a repeater that you intend to share CAN and often WILL
tell you what kind of communication is permissible on their radio system. Your
simplex communication can be anything between your family operating under your
license and your friends operating under their license and should be of no
concern to anyone else. Aside from observing courtesy on crowded radio channels
your personal communication is your own concern.
What is a
The popularity of two way radio
communication on GMRS has brought with it the radio bootlegger. These people
are morons. Morons without scruples or call signs. These people are unlicensed
and do whatever they want whenever they want. Because these people abuse the
service many GMRS repeaters have to be shut down to prevent unauthorized
operation or to prevent interference. So whenever you hear Ray with his
modified VX-1 interfere with a repeater transmission recognize him for what he
is - a moron. Don't speak with him, don't acknowledge his presence. Listen on
the repeater input to see if you hear his input signal. If you develop
information on the identify of a bootlegger inform the local FCC field
A few things to keep in
mind about GMRS and FRS.
- Setting up a high power (50 watt) GMRS
base station and/or the capability to use a radio repeater has an initial
expense that is higher than cellular. There is also an FCC license form that
you must complete (See the Personal Radio Steering Group website for more
information.) and a $70 license fee to submit. The license fee is submitted
using an FCC Form used to ferret out scofflaws who owe the government money.
Subsequent modifications to your license also have a fee, currently $45. A
license renewal is required every five years. Thanks to the Personal Radio
Steering Group, licensing is a bit easier, but getting a GMRS system up and
running, even a modest one, takes time and planning. Your license will take
from six to eight weeks to return from the FCC and unless you only use portable
radios you have to assemble your system and maintain it. Under some specific
circumstances you can operate your radio station before your license
- GMRS licensees can use radios with
higher power output and external roof-top and car-top mobile antennas on all
GMRS frequencies. Because of this major advantage, GMRS licensees communicate
at greater distances than the unlicensed users of the Family Radio Service. On
channels shared with the FRS, GMRS can operate a small base station giving much
greater range. The major factor that determines the potential distance or range
of communication on these frequencies is the elevation of the antenna. Another
factor is the type of terrain and the types of objects between you and the
intended receiver of your transmission.
- GMRS equipment is more expensive than
Family Radio Service Equipment.
- Not every family communication
situation requires higher power and external antennas or even a telephone.
- UHF communication tends to be reliable
over the range of the radios in both services. Weaker signals from a greater
distance generally do not interfere with reception of radios closer to your
receiver. The strongest transmitter "captures" your receiver and that
is what you hear.
- The Family Radio Service shares seven
low power GMRS channels. GMRS users are allowed 5 watts ERP on these channels
and FRS only one-half watt. Do not expect to communicate at significant
distances using an FRS radio. You might achieve one mile in open terrain.
Expect to share the FRS with licensed users of the channels communicating over
greater distances. Those GMRS users may not be able to hear you!
- Only persons in your IMMEDIATE family
can operate your GMRS equipment. This rule was changed after 2/12/99. Now all
members of your immediate family wherever they live may use your radios under
your license. This rule change has a significant positive impact. If you travel
with a family group more people have access to the radios. FRS does not have
this restriction. If you go some place with a group (whomever they are), only
FRS can be used. On the other hand, if other individuals with whom you
communicate regularly, are also licensed in GMRS, there is no restriction since
all licensees in this service can communicate with each other.
- A GMRS base station can now talk house
to house or base to base (meaning one GMRS base station to another). originally
only mobile to mobile, base to mobile, and mobile to base communication was
allowed by FCC rules.
- The GMRS and FRS frequencies are, at
the moment, relatively quiet and free of the silliness that has always been
part of the 27 MHz CB band. Your GMRS and FRS communication won't be interfered
with by a CB'er in another part of the world. GMRS and FRS radios communicate
farther and more efficiently than the kiddie-talkies on the 49 MHz band.
- Certain types of business use may be
incompatible with FRS. Business cannot license in GMRS but business users can
use unlicensed FRS portable radios on the GMRS Interstitial radio channels
authorized for FRS. A business has no more priority to the use of an FRS
channel than does a child passing on a bicycle talking to his mother. Potential
business users may want to use a scanner and monitor these frequencies BEFORE
making a big investment in a number of radios. It is NOT uncommon to hear a
business user try to warn others off of their "band," their
"channel," or their "private frequency." My suggestion is
that if you can, change channels to avoid the jerks or ignore them completely.
They shouldn't have selected FRS for this type of communication if they didn't
want to hear kids and families on the radios. Businesses using FRS selected the
cheap option. They got what they paid for and they paid for what they
What are some typical
uses of GMRS and FRS?
communication while camping, taking trips to the beach, hiking, walking,
jogging, parks, amusement spots, skiing, biking, mobile caravans etc. Any trip
where two or more people need to stay in touch for safety or convenience. (A
radio should NEVER substitute for the buddy system when in the wilderness, on
the water, or biking on the open road; however, a radio can keep you in touch
with a base camp. Always use good judgement.
Survival means you always rely on your brains
and not the radio. ) The less powerful FRS units are perfect for
communication in a campground or wherever very close proximity communication is
desired. In the event a person who carries one of these radios becomes lost,
some scheme for using the radio as a locating device can be devised. As an
example: Every fifteen minutes turn the radio on and make a two minute distress
call. Agree on a channel to use. Since most public safety patrols and even
other families use these radios there may be a better chance that a lost person
is found faster. Agree that when you are out of range you wait until you are.
This way family members stay close!
GMRS users in this application can
communicate over greater distances. Forests and buildings have a tendency to
absorb and reflect radio waves in mysterious ways so if you need serious long
distance communication for extreme sports, as an example, consider licensing
some two to five watt hand-held portable radios. You might even want to contact
the ski patrol of your favorite resort to see if they have persons on staff
that have GMRS licenses. The activity in which you participate will dictate the
communication device you use. In maritime or sailing activities, for example,
it may make more sense to have a marine portable radio on your belt. In very
extreme sports it might make sense to carry a locator device that communicates
with a satellite! You get the picture.
FRS & GMRS:
A family member can use either to stay in touch with home base when walking,
biking, or visiting a friend. The only hassle with this is keeping track of
battery use. We have to do that with cellular phones as well. Some of the older
GMRS portables that Radio Shack sold (PRS-101) had terrible battery life. They
were also bulky. Giving a kid one of these radios with a spare battery is
ridiculous. A small FRS radio with some 20 hours of expected battery life is
practical. (You begin to see that practical is really the buzz word.) Now on
the other hand, an adult can carry a larger radio with a fanny pack that
contains a spare battery.
In my own neighborhood, my wife carries
a GMRS portable with her as she walks. We can speak portable to portable or
base to portable wherever she is in the subdivision. An FRS radio would
accomplish the same thing over a shorter working distance.
FRS & GMRS:
FRS and GMRS in some cases would serve a Neighborhood Watch group quite well.
Using FRS radios neighbors can agree to monitor and watch out for each other.
Talk to friends on walks. Stay in touch with the elderly or infirm. Homes
associations can use the radios to coordinate activities. In times of disaster
a coordinated team can use the radios to report back to a control point where
there is a cellular phone.
GMRS:Some claim that children are at risk when carrying these radios. The
likelihood of your child coming in contact with a child molester is probably as
remote as being struck by lightning. You and your children are going to hear
and potentially communicate with other people. Some people you hear will be
polite, others may tease, others may be rude, others may simply change
channels. Children simply need to learn how to be just as careful on the radio
as they are in public. Just tell kids not to talk to strangers. use your own
brains and refuse to talk to people who don't observe good operating practices
in communicating with others. Don't be frightened to use FRS because of
alarmist view points. Plain old every day common sense and caution will prevail
every time. Just remember the channel you and your child operate on is NOT your
own. You don't have exclusive rights to it and you are being heard probably two
miles in every direction.
you can stay in touch with your family over greater distances. Using higher
power simplex or repeater operation you have the ability to go over a fairly
wide area in square miles. You can put 50 watt mobile units in automobiles and
carry higher power portables.
associations can start a neighborhood FRS radio network. You could encourage
neighbors to keep one of these radios with extra batteries
their home disaster kit. Elderly that live in the neighborhood
could check in with friends close by. When the phones and electricity go dead
due to natural or man made calamity, you have some way to communicate with
others that expect to hear you and come to your aid. Even a cell phone cannot
be expected to offer much security in this kind of situation. (Cell phones
are like pay phones in that these devices will begin working before residential
telephones will after a major disaster.) A simple two-way radio will keep
your neighborhood together until external communication is restored. You might
hold monthly radio drills with the neighbors who own these radios so everyone
is always familiar with the use of the network. Get your local ham radio
operator involved so all messages destined for the outside world can be routed
through him or her as needed. Sort of a Neighborhood Radio Network. Provide the
local police and fire department with the UHF FRS frequency your neighborhood
uses. That way the police officers can insert it in their scanners.
What should I look for in an
Size the radio up. Hold
it in your hand. Does it feel sturdy enough for your intended use? If it feels
like cheap plastic it probably is. The last thing you want is for your radio to
smash into pieces on a camping trip. How many channels does it have? FRS offers
14 channels. Some of these radios come with one channel and some with only
seven channels. The seven channel radios can be half as much in cost and for
most people be completely adequate. The sturdy single channel radios made by a
major commercial manufacturer are good for business use. Other cheaper models
with one channel are just toys. The one and seven channel radios generally have
the GMRS interstitial frequencies and not the FRS only channels. Consider a 14
channel unit if you plan to use your radio in a large urban environment where
GMRS is already popular. Channels seven through fourteen are FRS only. You
might have less interference there. Ask the sales clerk about the bells and
whistles (features). Determine if those features will be of use to you. One
common feature is Digital Controlled Squelch. DCS allows you to prevent your
radio from receiving signals other than those sharing the same squelch code.
Determine what kind of accessories are available. Ask about the battery life.
Give the sales clerk an idea how you will be using the radio and let him or her
show you what fits your application. The better FRS units are selling now from
$119 to $149.
How about battery life?
Battery life is a real
issue. Most half watt FRS radios are quite tiny, but not so the power
requirements. In the Cherokee FRS465 you can use up a set of batteries in 24
hours if you leave the radio on or transmit for long periods. The bells and
whistles on these radios eat up the juice as it were. This radio, while one of
the best, uses up AAA (yes AAA) VERY quickly. The MAH (milliampere-hour) rating
of AAA batteries is low and of AAA nicads even lower. Radios with AA batteries
operate a bit longer. You will either be buying batteries frequently or
investing in multiple rechargeable battery packs and a suitable charger.
Bells and Whistles in
FRS radios in the mid
to high price range tend to be feature rich. The good news is you get to choose
from a number of radios each with unique capabilities. The bad news is you have
to decide what features are most important to you. In addition to this FAQ I
encourage you to ask questions in the FRS forum at this website and the
The basic functions each radio should
- A reasonable loud and crisp audio
- A power switch that cannot be
accidentally turned off or on.
- Push button or switch capability to
defeat DCS or CTCSS
- A channel selector and easy to read
channel dial or read out.
- Reasonably rugged for your intended
- Easy to replace batteries.
- An owners manual.
- A DC jack to use the radio on an AC
- Enough power for your intended use.
Don't buy the 100 milliwatt units if you need distance!
- All 14 FRS channels.
Cool but bells and whistles that are
nice to have.
- Rechargeable battery packs and drop in
charger. Consider buying three packs.
- Leather protective case.
- Carry strap.
- Belt clip or some style of carry case
you can attach to yourself. Some belt clips are terrible. Try the clip and
determine for yourself if the radio is bound to fall off.
- A lock feature that prevents others
from changing settings.
- Battery sleep/save feature that
improves battery life when the radio is left on for long periods.
- Continuous Tone Coded Squelch.
- Very rugged rubberized case.
Really cool but not necessary
- Scanning function. Comes in handy at
campgrounds or when traveling.
- Dual Watch function. Monitors for
activity by alternating between two channels instead monitoring only one. Cool
if your function uses two channels.
- Power adjustment to preserve battery
- An external microphone.
- Chest pack. Hikers, bikers, and skiers
will LOVE this kind of radio carrying case.
There are some manufacturer specific
goodies that you might like.
- Motorola processes audio in their
radios and claims that processed audio improves the limited range of the
radios. To enjoy this feature you need a pair of these radios.
- Kenwood offers scrambling if you want
a little more privacy in your communication. Any other Kenwood can decode your
- Cherokee offers the ability to use
CTCSS on your receiver and your transmitter.
- Radio Shack makes an inexpensive radio
that opens like a flip-phone. This is a "self consciousness" feature.
Everyone will think you are using a cell phone. They also make a low power
"toy" model which is great for children.
Some FRS manufacturers:
- Radio Shack
How far will Family Radio Service radios transmit?
Visit The Gadget Page
for a terrific graphical representation. I couldn't say it better myself in
words! The webmaster at this site uses FRS radios for camping and includes the
radios as a feature of his Camping Trailer Website.
Are mobile units
permitted in the Family Radio Service?
You can operate your
hand-held radio in your car. The only limitation is that it cannot be connected
to an external antenna. FRS is a hand-held radio service. So yes, you
can drive around talking on your radio. This is one of the most popular
modes of operation actually! A car caravan can stay in touch over a reasonable
distance. Much better than the old 49MHz radios and with a lot less
interference than CB.
Do I really need a
GMRS: You need a
license if you want to use GMRS radios and GMRS frequencies.
FRS: You do NOT
need a license to operate radios in the Family Radio Service. Using GMRS
frequencies or power levels and external antennas without a license subjects
you to large fines and potential criminal prosecution. You never want to modify
an FRS radio to accept a different antenna than the one that came attached to
the radio or to raise the power level of the radio.
Can I use GMRS or FRS
You need to verify whether two way radios can be used during hunting with
your local/state department of fish and game. The use of radios in some states
is either illegal or subject to regulation.
Consult the following link at Jesse's Hunting Page for
information about some states.
Can other people hear
GMRS & FRS:
Yes. GMRS and FRS frequencies are located in the 462 and 467 MHz bands of
the UHF spectrum. These bands are popular with scanner listeners who listen to
police around 460 MHz, medical above 470 MHz, and business communications
systems at various spots in the 450 to 512 MHz. range. FRS units are very low
power devices. The likelihood of being heard over a wide area is not great
unless you are in a house at a very high elevation. A good rule of thumb is
just to never discuss things you wouldn't want your neighbor to hear. Don't
worry about it.
It has been my observation that most
new FRS users are choosing to use Continuous Tone Coded Squelch. This means
that you won't hear anyone else calling you unless they too use the same
squelch code. Coded squelch is useful if you are in a busy area, but I suggest
you not use it when traveling. By the way, just because you have a coded
squelch does not mean you can transmit without listening. You should disable
the coded squelch before making a call to make sure you are not interfering
with another station.
Are FRS radios a
FRS: Yes. I
guess you would have to classify them as slightly better than a child's
walkie-talkie. You could also call them HT's for handie-talkies or hand-held
radios. Whatever suits you.
What makes the Family
Radio Service radios so much better than other walkie talkies?
FRS: The radios
use radio spectrum that is more efficient for the intended use AND the radios
have a significant power level. One half watt may not seem like much; however,
under ideal conditions your signal will go a long way compared to the old 27Mhz
100 milliwatt radios and the 25 milliwatt radios used on 49MHz. An FRS radio is
very much like the hand held radio a policeman uses with similar power output
and in the same UHF frequency range.
Can an FRS unit be a
FRS: No. The
ONLY base stations allowed in GMRS interstitial channels are the Small Base
Stations (FCC Station Class FBA) of the General Mobile Radio Service. These FBA
stations are allowed on FRS channels 1-7. The FCC rules are very specific about
attaching external antennas to these radios. You are not permitted to do it.
You may hear rumors that base stations (classified as FRB) are OK, but that is
JUST a rumor, or perhaps something that was once considered in an FCC
rule making. Read the FCC rules for the Family Radio Service.
Can other people hear
me when I use DCS or CTCSS?
Yes. DCS and CTCSS only limits what you can hear to minimize interference or
the annoyance of listening to communication not directed to you. In order to be
secure, you could invest in the Kenwood FRS radio that actually scrambles your
voice transmission. Scrambling can reduce the range of an already challenged
device and another Kenwood could hear and understand your transmissions. What
you need in a radio is a personal choice. If you are paranoid about being heard
you should consider stopping at a pay phone.
Calling other FRS
really is no prescribed way to call another FRS user. Whatever you decide to
pick as an identifier will be what other people use to call you. People are not
using CB handles. I like that. Most conversations you hear use identification
describing the nature of the activity, "Base Camp," "Camp
ground," or you hear first names "John you there." Some users
give themselves arbitrarily assigned numbers or letters. The GMRS stations in
FRS are using their FCC assigned call sign as prescribed by law. These call
signs are made of three letters and four numbers, e.g. KAF9830. FRS culture is
new so there isn't a standard. In general you call another station and identify
yourself. "Eileen this Doug, do you hear me?" Establishing
communication with other families in a campground or other vacation activity
can be fun. If someone else calls you say hello! In most cases, people are
surprised to hear anyone else much less hear someone call them!. Unlike other
radio services, like HF CB or Amateur Radio, some FRS users get indignant if
anyone has the nerve to call or interrupt. It is actually kind of funny. People
don't realize that two way radio is not cellular and that anyone can hear or
talk to them given the distance and tones are compatible. As FRS users get more
sophisticated a system of identification will probably develop and people won't
mind other users on the same frequency.
The manufacturer says
my FRS radio has hundreds of channels! What gives?
FRS radios have 14
channels. The manufacturer has given you, in most cases, 38 possible CTCSS
tones to use in receiver and transmitter of your FRS hand-held radio. Thirty
eight codes times 14 channels means you can have 532 different channel
configurations. Referring to these channel configuration options as
"channels" is deliberately misleading. Marketing managers hype
numbers BECAUSE numbers mean something to average consumers. We perpetuate this
business behavior by reacting positively to it, but that is another FAQ on
another web page ;-). The reality is you have only fourteen channels on
FRS and some FRS radios have ONLY seven channels! You can however configure
different CTCSS tones for each of the seven or fourteen channels. In addition,
ANYONE with CTCSS disabled can still hear your radio transmissions on their
radio! Every scanner listener close enough to hear you can hear you regardless
of the CTCSS tone you use. There is NO security or communication privacy on
FRS. (Scrambled radios are another subject.) Others can also figure
out which of the 38 tones you use and still talk to you. When you use CTCSS you
are essentially preventing yourself from hearing anyone else also using the
same frequency. Always ask the salesman what is hype and what isn't. Read and
understand the label. Any vendor hyping numbers ought to be ready to explain
what those numbers really mean. You can certainly ask in the Forum.
There is no expectation
of privacy when you use the Family Radio Service.
FRS: Anyone with
another FRS radio or a UHF scanner can hear you speak on your radio. Anyone
standing next to you can hear your radio and hear you talk into it. These
radios are NOT cellular phones. FRS radios are hand-held short distance
communications devices that transmit on frequencies anyone with a scanner can
everything you read.
newspaper article refers to some hocus pocus
that probably points more toward the poor knowledge and experience of the
writer than to any cool new enhancement of the Family Radio Service. The writer
tells you that FRS radios are not walkie talkies and then proceeds to say,
"Motorola and Radio Shack will also be offering models with the ability
to further divide the FRS spectrum into ``sub-channels,'' reducing the
likelihood of someone else monitoring a conversation. For more information,
call Radio Shack at (800) 843-7422 or Motorola at (800) 448-6686."
This is poppycock, hogwash, incorrect, confuse-think. I suspect the author is
referring to tone coded squelch. Tone coded squelch DOES NOT prevent
your transmission from being heard by anyone else.
You frequently suggest
that FRS users should not use CTCSS. How come?
FRS: It depends
on the situation. Anytime you require a radio to decode something in order to
filter communication you run the risk of limiting the potential distance you
can communicate. Unless you check the frequency first you could interfere with
others when you transmit. You might also miss a transmission directed to you if
the other party does not have your CTCSS tone. I can think of a bunch of
what-ifs on this last one. I just think until you get very familiar with the
way UHF radios work, it might behoove you to operate without CTCSS. My personal
opinion is that it should always be disabled when carried in wilderness areas.
The real purpose of CTCSS is to restrict what you hear in urban areas where
there are lots of radio users. It should prevent you from being annoyed but it
should not prevent you from being the safest you can be.
Can I have a technician
modify my single channel FRS radio for another channel and higher power?
You might want to
consult the FCC Rules and Regulations just to be sure. I think the answer is
no. The unit you have, albeit challenged, was "type accepted" in that
form. Modifying the radio would void the type acceptance. Voiding the type
acceptance means you can no longer use it legally in the FRS. Get a more full
featured radio and sell the single channel unit.
The FRS radio antennas
are built into the radio and don't come off. How come?
FRS: The radios
were designed and manufactured this way because of Federal Communications
Commission Rules and Regulations. The FRS is supposed to be a low power, short
distance, family communication service. If you want more power and flexibility
go with GMRS instead. By preventing you from modifying the antenna of an FRS
radio the FCC is making sure users comply with the intended purpose of the
What about using
so-called passive or inductively coupled antennas in vehicles?
FRS: This is a
scam. You cannot expect to get additional range using this method. This type of
product first appeared as a way to increase the range of cell phones used in
vehicles. Remember that you have to DOUBLE the power of a radio to go 1.4 times
as far. (Inverse square ratio.) By raising the antenna or getting the antenna
as in the clear as possible you can increase range a lot more efficiently. If
you need to talk, stop and stand outside the vehicle.
Is there an emergency
FRS or Traveler's Advisory channel?
FRS: No. You may
want to establish some rules within your group that everyone meet on a specific
channel at specific time while the group is out. One person checks everyone in
and remains on the check in frequency until everyone does. The most frequently
used channel in some areas is Channel 1. If everyone monitored channel 1 you
might hear someone calling, but don't count on it.
What does simplex
GMRS & FRS:
Simplex is also known by some GMRS licensees as talk-around. When two or
more two-way radios exchange communication on the same frequency they are said
to be operating simplex. When two GMRS users are operating simplex on a
repeater output channel they are said to be operating on talk-around. Really
the same thing. FRS radios always operate simplex.
Can I modify my FRS
portable to transmit on GMRS channels?
Radios in FRS and GMRS must be "type accepted" by the FCC. These are
not hobby bands. This means you cannot modify or construct a radio from
Do you have special
radio modifications available on your website?
Do police monitor FRS
There is no sure answer
to this, but you can be sure they probably have the capability. Many police
officers are technically very savvy when it comes to communication and radios.
Their survival on the street depends to some extent on their understanding of
their own radio system. Giving police frequency information could however be
handy in the event a lost person has a radio. Search and rescue volunteers that
carry scanners then have one more tool with which to find a lost person. It is
conceivable such a signal could be heard from the air as well. Carry a list of
the radio frequencies in the FRS radio you have. Share the frequency list with
the police or rescue personnel. Give them the last known frequency used by the
lost person, as well as your group's agreed upon emergency calling
frequency. (TIP: Cut out the frequency list on the main page and print your
CTCSS code on it. Stick the list in your wallet or purse.)
Update! A recent post 5/98 in the
alt.radio.family newsgroup indicated that a police department and at least one
National park were considering having officers carry FRS radios in their cars.
FRS is becoming so popular with vacationers that the police feel it might be a
positive way to work the crowds.
A suggested FRS and
GMRS Interstitial Calling Frequency
I am going to suggest
in this FAQ that everyone everywhere adopt GMRS Interstitial Channel 1
(462.5625) as an FRS calling frequency. Whenever you lose communication on
another channel move back to channel one and call your station again. Wait to
be called by stations on FRS Channel 1. Monitor Channel One for calls and move
off to another channel for conversations. This is a technique Amateur Radio
Operators use on 146.52 MHz. Hams in wilderness areas also listen on the 146.52
channel continuously or at least on every hour at the top of the hour. This is
known as the Wilderness Protocol. The likelihood of helping in an emergency is
greater. I would also encourage police, parks, amusement parks, etc. to have
this frequency in their scanners. I hesitate to call the channel anything more
than a calling frequency since it does not need to be specifically set aside
for this purpose. Listening on 462.675 would be helpful as well.
Now let's get real for a minute. You
SHOULD NOT expect that an FRS radio can get you assistance out in the middle of
nowhere or on a freeway. FRS was intended for family communication and not as
an emergency calling service. To get emergency service you should consider a
cellular phone, GMRS repeater system, or other long distance communication
service. FRS or simplex GMRS will not get you help avoid road hazards or save
yourself from tragic circumstances.
GMRS users have a specific channel that
all licensees can use for emergency calling, 462.675/467.675 MHz. There are
REACT organizations that monitor this frequency in some urban areas.
Unfortunately, most 462.675 communication is expected to be repeater
communication and not simplex communication. A person using a repeater that is
out of range of a person calling for help on simplex can actually prevent
rescue and not know it. As an example, I have tried to call in traffic
accidents from the Richmond/San Rafael Bridge near San Francisco, CA. I have
called for any station monitoring 462.675. While I could hear a repeater in the
background, it was obvious that my two watt portable was not being heard. A
casual conversation between two repeater users, located out of range of my
simplex portable, made my attempts at communication fruitless. This is why GMRS
users need to plan ahead. In order to take advantage of 462.675 you really need
a radio capable of repeater operation. You also need permission from the
repeater owners along your intended route to use their radio systems. No
repeater owner is obligated to share his system with you even on 462.675 and
not all do! Never plan on simplex communication helping you when you need it.
In some cases, another radio service, or even a cell phone makes more sense.
Unless people know where you are going
and what frequency you will use in an emergency, you could be calling (on
any channel) from a weak portable until you are blue in the face. Most GMRS
and FRS portables carried in the wilderness are no where near monitoring
stations and even if these radios were, there is no guarantee a simplex
communication would be heard.
As of May 1998 FRS/GMRS 1 is emerging
as a channel with lots of activity. The major reason is that Radio Shack is
selling inexpensive single channel FRS radios on the frequency. You can
identify the Radio Shack radio user by the tell-tale phone bell they often
broadcast before making contact.
Can I connect my phone
line to my GMRS or FRS radio?
No. This is against
Can my FRS radio talk
to a GMRS radio?
Certainly. The GMRS
user is required to give a radio call sign at specific intervals. This should
be the only difference in the the communication. There are some circumstances
where you may not get an answer to your call. GMRS and FRS radios have Digital
Controlled Squelch or Continuous Tone Coded Squelch. If you are not
transmitting the squelch code used by the other radio the person at that radio
cannot hear you. They would first have to disable the squelch control. Unless
you are plagued with interference I would suggest you not use DCS or CTCS on
The frequency deviation of GMRS radios
is much greater than the 2.5KHz deviation permitted in FRS. You could call this
voice bandwidth. Some FRS receivers may chop up some of the audio and sound
slightly distorted when listening to a GMRS station. The effect is really
negligeable. Don't concern yourself with it.
What else am I likely
to hear on GMRS, and FRS?
The GMRS frequencies
still have some business communication systems that were grandfathered in when
GMRS became strictly a personal radio service back in 1989. These business
users are only allowed to use their radios in the course of business. Business
users often fail to identify their stations so it is very difficult to
determine who the users are or even if the user does indeed have a license. On
the GMRS interstitial channels that are shared with FRS you may hear quite a
few types of activities listening on a scanner with a good receiver and an
antenna. There is a major retailer near me that uses Channel 1 for internal
shopper security. They really should be on a low power business itinerant
frequency like 154.60. I think after the Christmas season, such inappropriate
use will be difficult to continue. Share what you hear on these channels in the
GMRS FRS Forum.
Are there business uses
of GMRS Interstitial Channels?
The FCC fully expects
business use of FRS. This means that families who use this service will also
have to share it with commercial users. You might wonder about the wisdom of
this decision. In my area, a major national retail chain is already using
unlicensed FRS radios on Interstitial 1 for store security. My wife and I have
already been the butt of nasty comments from store personnel who hear us using
our radios in our neighborhood. I'm a licensed GMRS user! If you are a licensed
user of GMRS and/or you use FRS, you have every right to use the radio as much
as anyone else. Etiquette is certainly something to think about. It is however,
ridiculous that store security personnel are using Family Radio Service
channels. Having worked in police communications for 12 years, I think this
kind of use puts these guards at great personal risk. If you were chasing a
suspect down the street and needed reliable communication would you want to
share the channel with a family rolling by on bicycles?
A store that uses these radios for
store security personnel is going to have a tough time when a family shows up
at the mall equipped with radios! Don't expect the family to shut down their
radio operations to suit the store. There is a tremendous potential here for a
serious misunderstanding. A misinformed store security officer could well
decide to detain an FRS user if he thinks the use of an FRS radio is illegal on
the "store's" radio frequency. Even worse, a police officer might
affect an arrest on someone with an FRS radio charging possession of a burglary
tool. Let's also hope a real burglar that actually rips off the store does not
use an FRS radio to jam the communications of security personnel chasing him!
Maybe the worry is unfounded, but I still remember stories of local
transportation police detaining licensed amateur radio operators carrying
commercial hand held radios back in the 70's thinking the hams had illegal
possession of police radios. Evaluate whether use of the FRS is in the best
interest of your business. Educate your people about what to expect. Study the
limitations, advantages and disadvantages carefully.
There is a growing tendency for
government agencies to use FRS. The appeal is the low cost of the radios. Some
FRS units are now only $49.99. If these radios break the agencies buy a new
one. Why not furnish a city crew or a parks department with FRS Radios! I see
problems with this. Government agencies have radio spectrum assigned to them
for specific purposes. (One of the reasons for licensing in the first
place!) This includes public works, public safety, medical, military, and
special law enforcement. Government agencies should be using the spectrum
already allocated to them and should not be cluttering up radio spectrum
available to the general public for family communication. Public employees and
their unions should refuse to use FRS radios. FRS radios cannot reach the
agency dispatchers. Any government employee whose safety is at risk or who
works in public areas should INSIST on having a high quality two-way hand-held
radio on their belt and not a disposable FRS unit. The safety of the government
employee is more important than the cost of the radio! If you think I'm
exaggerating read this newspaper person's own experience with FRS
and then tell me you want to carry a Family Radio while you are working alone
in a City park.
But the instructions in
my radio manual say this band is for non-commercial use?
The folks who wrote
your manual have not followed the FCC decisions about the FRS or they have
never heard of PRSG. You will probably hear businesses using the frequencies.
They have every right to be there. Whether FRS was a good choice for that
business remains to be seen.
Some typical business and government
uses you might hear are listed below. Note that each one of these is actually
better suited to another radio service besides FRS :
- Schools: playground supervisors,
school communication with faculty, athletic event coordination
- Security: shopping malls and retails
- Service: hotel, motel, janitorial
- Real Estate: between agents and
offices at a new housing development
- Government: Parks departments and
- Construction: short range coordination
of crews on the job site.
- Retail stores
- Convalescent homes
If you are using your FRS radios and
come across one of these users and they insist you are on their "private
frequency" you can do one of a couple of things. If you are passing by
just ignore them. if you are remaining in the area switch to a different
channel. If you are remaining in the area and cannot switch channels politely
explain you are using a channel in the Family Radio Service and that you will
do your best not interfere with their communication. A polite cooperative tone
to your communication would probably be best.
Are GMRS Radios Job
Some advertisers have
taken to describing GMRS radios as "job site radios." They do this to
move product and inventory. The end result is that thousands of unlicensed
business users are now pirates on the GMRS channels. If you are business
looking for portable radios you are NOT eligible to use GMRS frequencies
regardless of what your radio shop tells you. Models of GMRS radios that are
typically sold to the inexperienced or inattentive consumer for business use
are the Motorola TalkAboutDistance Plus and the Kenwood Freetalk. Both of these
radios are GMRS portables and CANNOT be operated by business users. You may buy
these and then someday find yourself discussing GMRS piracy with a GMRS
licensee or the FCC.
Are there GMRS/FRS
We would like to
believe no; however the two-way radio industry and the FCC have created
hybrids! Manufacturers claim that their GMRS radios are also FRS radios with
the blessing of the FCC. Without any public input the FCC permitted the new 22
channel GMRS/FRS hybrids to be made and sold. Shortly after these radios hit
the market the levels of interference (intentional and unintentional) increased
exponentially. We at the magazine believe the FCC made a decisin that will
change GMRS forever - for the worse. The decision has opened the door to many
other potential abuses, particularly unlicensed data transmissions by GPS
Who created the
Commission created FRS
May I use my FRS radios
in Canada, Mexico, the UK or any other country?
As of April 2, 2000 Canada has approved
a similar FRS service on the same frequencies used in the United States. You
may indeed use your American FRS radio in Canada.
No! Read the FRS rules!
Use of radio frequencies in one country can be very different in another.
Canada does not have an equivalent family radio service. Use of these radios in
Canada could attract the attention of Canadian law enforcement. There is active
frequency coordination between the U.S. and Canada to make sure a radio service
in one country does not interfere with the radio service of another near
particularly at the border. Some GMRS licensees are restricted from using their
two-way radios within a certain distance of the Canadian border. U.S. citizens
must respect the sovereign right of another country to regulate radio
communication in their domain. When you go to Canada put your FRS portables
away. Do not use them. This also goes for Mexico or any other place in the
world where the FCC is not the regulatory agency for radio communication. The
rules say that if the FCC regulates radio communication where you intend to
operate then operation of the radio is legal. You assume great personal
risk operating radio transmitting devices in another country without
permission. Does the word prison mean anything to you? ;-)
Now there have been exceptions. We have
had reports that persons have indeed obtained permission to use U.S, FRS radios
in South America. Disney Cruise Lines sells FRS radios on their boats and U.S.
tourists use the radios in the Bahamas. You need to be the one making the
decision. Are you willing to take a chance?
Who is the recognized
GMRS spokesperson or special interest group?
In the 70's, 80's, and
90's that was the Personal Radio Steering Group.
Visit their web site for up to date GMRS
information. PRSG has been in existence for over ten years. This organization
has fought to retain the GMRS frequencies for the intended purpose of the
service -- personal communication. PRSG provides potential GMRS licensees with
mountains of useful information including sample license applications. You can
ask PRSG questions in the BBS located at this website.
GMRS Web Magazine has also been an
advocate of the service since 1999, promoting lawful use and appropriate use of
the service. We are the largest GMRS community on the Internet.