Saturday, November 27, 2010

FMS/GRMS radios, AA batteries and the FCC

I've been thinking about getting a GMRS radio, to monitor our local citizens patrol group out here in the boonies. I like this set:

Motorola TalkAbout MJ270R 27-Mile 22-Channel FRS/GMRS Two-Way Radio
* Up to 27 mile range.
* 22 channels each with 121 privacy codes.
* 27 hr. alkaline (3AA) or 9 hr. NiMH battery life. Includes rechargable battery pack.
* iVOX hands-free communication without the need for an audio accessory.
* Emergency Alert button and 11 weather channels (7NOAA) with alert feature. Also Built in Flashlight.

I like that it can use rechargeable NiMH battery packs, OR 3 AA alkaline batteries. AA batteries are the most common kind available, and in an emergency they will be the most attainable, so I like that. The other specs look good too, but the claim about 27 miles? From what I've read, it's unlikely.

Practically EVERYONE says that GMRS radios generally only do one or two miles at best, unless you are standing on top of a mountain with an unobstructed view of the other radio. Factors such as weather, terrain, interference, etc. can make a huge difference. So, "Your mileage may vary" is the rule.

I can deal with that. But what I'm not sure I want to deal with is, the license requirement. These radios use two radio services, FRS (Family Radio Service), which is unlicensed, and the more powerful service called GMRS, which requires a license from the FCC:

General Mobile Radio Service
The General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) is a land-mobile radio service available for short-distance two-way communications to facilitate the activities of an adult individual and his or her immediate family members, including a spouse, children, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces, and in-laws (47 CFR 95.179). Normally, as a GMRS system licensee, you and your family members would communicate among yourselves over the general area of your residence or during recreational group outings, such as camping or hiking.

The FCC grants five-year renewable licenses for GMRS Systems. The individual licensee is responsible for the proper operations of the licensed GMRS system at all times.

FRS/GMRS Dual Service Radios
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. [...]

I don't mind getting a license, because licensed airwaves tend to have better-behaved people using them. But the cost for the GMRS license is $85.00 for 5 years. That's pretty steep, considering that I probably wouldn't be using it all that often. My Ham Radio license cost me less than $15.00, and is good for 10 years. I can only wonder at the big price difference. And if it's worth it. If you are going to use them fairly often, I suspect it would be.


Here is another good model:

Motorola MR350 35-Mile Range 22-Channel FRS/GMRS Two-Way Radio (Pair)
* Pair of two-way radios with up to 35 mile range
* 22 channels each with 121 privacy codes for superior interference protection
* iVOX hands-free communication without the need for an audio accessory
* 11 weather channels (7 NOAA) with alert features
* VibraCall vibration alert or 20 different call tones

It has a very comprehensive user review here:

Excellent features and amazing range
First of all, all the distances advertised on any walkie talkie like this is based on mountain top to mountain top communication, where the valley increases the range, and no obstruction. That is where they based the 35 miles. For city use, in malls, house to house and areas with trees will be between .5 to 1 mile at most. Since I have been using Motorola Walkie talkies all my life so I knew what I was buying.

I experimented with 3 different models of Walkie talkies in the mall with my wife. First we tried the 5 mile Motorola. I was on one end of the mall inside Macy's and she was on the other side in Nordstrom. She could not even hear me.

We tried the 10 mile Motorola. This time she could hear me press the talk button and a few garbled words, but that was it. We could not communicate.

We tried these 35 mile ones last. We were able to hear each other just fine. Not bad considering the distance and the number of obstructions.

I have also tried this on the open road for car to car communication and it can reach the horizon. If you want more power, you will need to get a license and buy a 5 watt radio.

This Radio has many nice features you would normally find in Professional Radios 5 times the price of this. [...]

The reviewer goes on to give several updates to his review, going into much detail about the performance of these radios. If you are considering buying a GMRS radio, I would recommend reading the whole thing, it's very informative.


Bob said...

Hi Chuck.

Back in the mid-70's, when CB became popular, so many people just didn't apply for a license, that the FCC just dropped the requirement. I should think GMRS will go that way.

Anyhow, they have to find you.

Chas said...

Hi Bob,

People using GMRS are supposed to have a call sign they get with their license. If you use it a lot without the call sign, licensed users could report you.

GMRS might go the same way as CB, it's hard to say. I have no idea how many people might be using it unlicensed. Time will tell I suppose.

Al Czervic said...


Have had a GMRS store-and-forward repeater going here in the Catskills since 2007. Paid $80 for the license. Neighbors and other hunters here use it during hunting season, as do our family members. I run a STandard commercial radio (l985 vintage) with 16 channels as the base station, and midland brand HT's which make 2 watts
nimh rechargeable. The Standard makes 25 w. into a $30 yagi aimed down the mountain. I also use a homemade 6 db vertical (copper 1/2 inch dia) for unidirectional operations.

The range of the HT's is about 2 miles, but base to base I can get out about 30 miles mountaintop to mountaintop.

I have 3 standard's I would sell at a very reasonable price if you're interested. They are tuned and operate perfectly. They are not repeater equipped -- but can use the offset on two of the channels.

For my primary car unit, I run
a Kenwood 805D which is 16 channel and front panel programmeable. Works well on 70 cm ham bands too.
You can get these for $60-100 on Ebay.

I also run 2m Ham and MURS with a Kenwood 705D (also incredibly durable and cheap on Ebay)


Al "Old Buzzard" Czervic
Feel free to email me at-

Chas said...

Thanks Al, for all that information. I'm new to GMRS, and I'm not even sure how much it's used around these parts. There aren't any GMRS repeaters here, as far as I know.

Thanks for the offer of equipment too, but I've already ordered a set of the MR350's, figuring I would keep it simple and start with those. I'm not sure It's something I will get into or use a lot, so I'm taking small steps.

I've ordered a Midland base radio too, so that should keep me busy for a while. And combined with the FRS radios we already have, that should be plenty of equipment for us to use here around the farm, if nowhere else.

LinhTramN said...

Thanks Al, for all that information. I'm new to GMRS, and I'm not even sure how much it's used around these parts. There aren't any GMRS repeaters here, as far as I know.