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Two Way Radios

Two way radios

Whether you are hiking in the mountains or enjoying a shopping excursion in town, two-way radios are a simple, convenient and affordable way to stay in close contact with family and friends. Also known as “walkie-talkies,” two-way radios actually transmit across special federally regulated radio frequencies, allowing you to communicate within short ranges without being dependant on external equipment such as cell phone towers. They provide instant access to all members of your party with the simple press of a button.


Traditionally, more powerful radios have been used on jobsites and in outdoor working environments to keep workers in diverse locations in contact. More recently, however, these devices have gained in popularity as a great way for families and small groups to keep in touch during long car rides involving multiple vehicles, camping excursions, trips to the amusement park and much more. Before you make a selection, consider the following questions:
        •  Will radios be utilized for recreational or business use?
        •  How many channels will you need?
        •  What privacy options are available?
        •  What sort of range are you looking for?
        •  Are there any special features you need?

Types, Channels, Range and Privacy

Two-way radios both transmit and receive radio signals. They are usually activated by pressing and holding down a talk button, though some are available with voice activation that begins transmitting as you speak. These compact, handheld devices allow you to communicate across a specific range that varies according to the model, and can fall within a radius of anywhere from one to ten or more miles. They have several distinct advantages, including the ability to be used right away with no setup time. 
They also carry no monthly subscription costs, although some may require registration with the FCC and a one-time fee. These devices are a useful tool for staying in touch on the ski slope, while mountain biking or kayaking, on a busy worksite and much more. There are a few different types of radios to choose from and the one that is right for you is largely dependant upon how you plan to use it, the distance you need to communicate across and other factors.

Types: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) maintains a number of dedicated radio frequencies that enable the use of two-way radios for both personal and business communication. Recreational users will typically make use of the FRS or GMRS channels. GMRS stands for the General Mobile Radio Service and FRS for the Family Radio Service. Since both types operate on public frequencies, they are not always suitable for business use. If you plan on using your two-way radio for business and you need to have privacy, you may want to explore the option of purchasing the rights to specific UHF or VHF frequencies that only your business has access to.

        •  All GMRS radios must be registered with the FCC and require that you pay a one-time fee
        •  FRS radios can be used right out of the box, require no registration and have no fees 
        •  Both FRS and GMRS radios allow short-range communication free of subscription fees
        •  Hybrid radios transmit across both FRS and GMRS channels
        •  UHF (ultra-high frequency) and VHF (very-high frequency) channels may be leased for
           private business use

Channels and Privacy: FRS and GMRS radios operate on set public channels. FRS devices can transmit across fourteen channels while GMRS radios have fifteen. Of the fifteen GMRS channels, seven of those are shared FRS frequencies. Hybrid units can transmit and receive on the entire range of FRS and GMRS frequencies, offering as many as twenty-two separate channels for you to choose from. Even with that many options, however, the rising popularity of these handy units may make it difficult to find a free channel, especially in crowded environments such as a shopping center or park. 
Thanks to the addition of privacy channels or codes and squelching functions, it is conceivable to have hundreds of unique channels. Privacy codes, however do not guarantee a private channel. Since these are public frequencies, anyone with a device set to the same frequency will be able to hear everything you say. Look for models that also employ a privacy scrambler to ensure a more secure, private conversation. As devices become more and more popular and the airwaves become increasingly crowded, privacy features are an important function for effective and enjoyable use of your two-way radio.
        •  For privacy settings to work, both users must have the same hardware, be on the same channel and
           use the same privacy code
        •  Privacy codes filter out unwanted noise from other voices on the channel, but they do not make your
           conversation secure
        •  Scramblers are used to alter your transmissions so that others may not listen in on your conversations
        •  Even when a scrambler or privacy code is in place, remember that you are on a public frequency, so be
           a courteous user
Range and Power: The listed range of a two-way radio tells you over what distance you will be able to communicate across under ideal circumstances. It is important to remember that the actual range may be significantly less. Large obstructions such as a mountain or a building, and even smaller items such as trees or cars, can interfere with the signal and reduce your reach. The total wattage of a radio is a good indication of the type of range it may have. The maximum output allowed for FRS frequencies is .5 watts, which provides an adequate range of around one to two miles. GMRS frequencies allow for transmission of up to 50 watts, though most are somewhere around 1W to 4W. They may work over ranges of up to ten or more miles. Take into account the overall distance your typical activities will require and plan accordingly.
        •  FRS channels have less transmission power and a shorter range
        •  GMRS channels allow greater transmission power and typically offer a longer range 
        •  In addition to transmission power, consider receiver sensitivity ratings – lower is better
        •  Choose a powerful enough battery to support the transmission power for extended times
        •  Fast chargers and replacement batteries are a good idea for more demanding users
Selection: When it comes to choosing a two-way radio, you’ll want to take into account how frequently you plan to use it and for what activities. Cost is another important factor to consider. Most consumer models are reasonably priced falling somewhere between $30 and $65, with more feature-rich radios carrying a higher price tag. Consult the following chart for an at-a-glance breakdown of your various options.

Two-Way Radio Type


Points to Consider


• Choose from UHF, VHF or combined


• Can designate private channels for

  dedicated business use

• Requires a larger investment  

• Offers privacy for more sensitive communication

• Used for construction, security, building-to-building

  communication, lumber yards, warehouses and



• Offers 14 separate channels

• Typical range is 1 to 2 miles· Requires

  no registration or subscription fees

• Limited range

• Operates on public channels

• Ideal for family and recreational use

• Has a fixed antennae

• Most economical option


• Offers 15 separate channels

• Ranges can reach up to 10 or more


• Requires no subscription fees

• Must be registered with the FCC to use GMRS


• Requires a small licensing fee

• Ideal for family and recreational use

• Can use both fixed and separate antennas


• Allows you to transmit over both FRS

  and GMRS frequencies

• Offers as many as 22 separate channels

• Ranges vary depending on the model,

  and usually fall between 1 and 12 miles

• Most popular option

• Must be registered with the FCC to use GMRS


• Requires a small licensing fee

• Used for both short distance and long range


• Affordable and functional


Incoming Call Alerts: An audible tone, such as a ring or a beep, lets you know when you are receiving an incoming transmission.
Scanning: This feature monitors all available channels and lets you know when activity is detected.
Batteries and Chargers: Look for a long-lasting, lightweight battery that will keep you chatting for hours. Chargers are available both for home and car use and allow you to restore power to your two-way radio battery. Most units include a battery and charging station, though you may want to consider purchasing an extra battery if you intend to use your radio frequently.
LCD Screen: Most modern two-way radios have a digital display that lets you know what channel you are talking on, if you have any privacy codes activated and other information such as the time. Look for a backlit display and buttons for easier operation in low-light situations.
Weather Radio: Two-way radios with special channels dedicated to receiving NOAA weather broadcasts help you stay alert to pending changes in the forecast, a feature that’s particularly handy when you’re camping or engaged in a host of other outdoor activities.
Earpiece and Microphone: Purchase a unit with an earphone and microphone jack for more convenient use.
Voice-Activate Operation: For advanced operation, consider a unit that has voice-activation capabilities. With this type of functionality, all you have to do is start speaking and the unit will begin transmitting. Pair this with an earpiece/microphone headset and you have true hands-free operation.
Auto Squelch: Look for radios with an auto-squelch function that filters out unwanted static and noise.