How to Select a Walkie Talkie

Two-way radios help you stay in touch with the touch of a button

Walkie Talkie - Select a Walkie Talkie

Two-way radios are a simple, convenient and affordable way to stay in contact. Also known as walkie talkies, two-way radios transmit across special federally regulated radio frequencies, allowing you to communicate within short ranges without being dependent on external equipment such as cell phone towers.

These devices are popular because they let families and small groups keep in touch while on camping excursions, on a busy worksite and much more.

This guide will teach everything you need to know about walkie talkies.

Tip: While two-way radios carry no monthly subscription costs, some may require registration with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and a one-time fee.

FRS & GMRS Channels

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.

The FCC maintains a number of dedicated radio frequencies for the use of two-way radios. Recreational users will typically make use of the Family Radio Service (FRS) or General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) channels.

Since both channels 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 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.

Two-Way Radio Type Features Points to Consider


  • Choose from UHF, VHF or combined operation
  • Can designate private channels dedicated for business use
  • Requires a larger investment
  • Offers privacy for more sensitive communication
  • Used for construction, security, building-to-building communication, lumber yards, warehouses and more


  • 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 miles
  • Requires no subscription fees
  • Must be registered with the FCC to use GMRS channels
  • 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 channels
  • Requires a small licensing fee
  • Used for both short distance and long range communication
  • Affordable and functional

Use and Privacy

FRS and GMRS radios operate on set public channels. FRS devices can transmit across 14 channels while GMRS radios have 15. Of the GMRS channels, seven are shared FRS frequencies.

Hybrid units can transmit and receive on the entire range of FRS and GMRS frequencies, offering as many as 22 separate channels. Even with that many options, however, the popularity of two-way radios may make it difficult to find a free channel, especially in crowded environments.

Thanks to the addition of privacy channels or codes and squelching functions, it is possible to have hundreds of unique channels. Privacy codes do not guarantee a private channel, however. 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 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.

Range and Power

The listed range of a two-way radio tells you over what distance you will be able to communicate under ideal circumstances.

The actual range may be significantly less than indicated on the packaging. 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 0.5 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 1 to 4 watts. They may work over ranges of up to 10 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.


Incoming call alerts, scanning and LCD screens can customize your walkie talkies to meet your exact needs.

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. 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 outdoor activities.

Earpiece and microphone: Purchase a unit with an earphone and microphone jack for more convenient use.

Voice-activated operation: 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: Filters out unwanted static and noise.