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Author Topic: Recommended handheld radios  (Read 1883 times)

scottydl

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Recommended handheld radios
« on: December 28, 2016, 09:10:54 PM »
I'm looking for a quality set of 2-way handheld radios (walkie talkie style) mostly for camping, nature walks, etc.  Most often I'd probably hand one radio to one of my older kids when they want to go out exploring, and keep the other radio in the house or RV.

I ran across this pair of BaoFeng BF-888S on Amazon, highly rated and labeled as "Amazon's Choice" in the walkie talkie category.  However several reviews/questions/answers mention that these operate on radio frequencies that require a Ham license... and then others claim there is no problems with using them and/or they can be programmed to be used on "safe" frequencies.

Can anyone with knowledge of these issues advise?  And/or recommend a good set of 2-way radios that won't break the bank?
Scott, wife, 3 boys... and the dog
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- 1995 Chevrolet Suburban C2500 tow vehicle
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Racerham

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Re: Recommended handheld radios
« Reply #1 on: December 28, 2016, 09:33:35 PM »
Whoever said you needed a license is correct.

The FCC allows only certain radio types to be operated with the power output of those radios without a license. FRS radios, for instance, are licenseless, but operate at 250mw, with a fixed, built-in, specifically designed antenna. The Baofeng radios do not meet that definition. Even GMRS require a license, and is limited in power to 1/2 of the radio's high power output.

There is a lot of confusion since these cheap devices have hit the market, but the bottom line is, in China, they can manufacture devices that operate outside the limits of the law here in the US. Since they seem to also be able to convince the FCC that they can and will be operated by people knowledgeable in the arcane rules of the FCC, and will operate them in a licensed, lawful manner,  the FCC lets them sell the devices.

Sorry, GMRS is your best option - Get a license (it will apply to your immediate family), and use the licensed GMRS channel (Read the book) for your best communications.

Or, get everyone a HAM license - It's cheap, easy, and useful in emergencies or out in the wilds.

Michael Soots, KD7YPY, Amateur Radio Instructor and Public Safety Radio System manager.
1987 Sunflyer
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HappyWanderer

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Re: Recommended handheld radios
« Reply #2 on: December 28, 2016, 09:47:46 PM »
We have a couple pairs of Motorola TalkAbout FRS radios. About $50 a pair with rechargeable battery and drop-in charger.

I also have a BaoFeng UV-5R, quite a radio for 35 bucks. At that price, who cares if you break it or lose it?
I don't have gray hair. I have wisdom highlights.

scottydl

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Re: Recommended handheld radios
« Reply #3 on: December 29, 2016, 07:48:45 PM »
I also have a BaoFeng UV-5R, quite a radio for 35 bucks. At that price, who cares if you break it or lose it?

I ran across that one too, and currently priced at $24.86 (each) on Amazon.

How would a GMRS radio (and being a licensed user) be superior to an "over the counter" walkie talkie bought from some retail store?  More power and better range I assume?
Scott, wife, 3 boys... and the dog
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Larry N.

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Re: Recommended handheld radios
« Reply #4 on: December 29, 2016, 08:15:13 PM »

How would a GMRS radio (and being a licensed user) be superior to an "over the counter" walkie talkie bought from some retail store?  More power and better range I assume?

I presume that by "walkie talkie" you're referring to an FRS (Family Radio Service) radio? GMRS allows more power and (if not on an FRS radio) it also allows better antennas, which can be more important than power.
Larry and Mary Ann N.
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HappyWanderer

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Re: Recommended handheld radios
« Reply #5 on: December 29, 2016, 08:54:40 PM »
The rules are very confusing, which is probably why they are so frequently ignored.

FRS (Family Radio Service) is limited to 1/2 watt and cannot use detachable antennas. No license is required.

GMRS (General Mobile Radio Service) requires a license, and 50 watts is allowed on eight certain channels, as are repeaters.

There are seven other GMRS channels limited to 5 watts with base station antennas no taller than 20 feet. Unlicensed FRS radios are also allowed to use these seven channels, but with the FRS power and antenna restrictions.

Aren't you glad you asked?
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scottydl

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Re: Recommended handheld radios
« Reply #6 on: December 29, 2016, 09:49:13 PM »
No antennas would be exchanged with my use... ;)  I'm just talking just about using these handhelds around campgrounds (no base stations or repeaters), but for wooded areas it would be nice to have something with some extra power/range capabilities.
Scott, wife, 3 boys... and the dog
- 2008 Forest River Wildwood 32BHDS
- 1995 Chevrolet Suburban C2500 tow vehicle
- 1994 Thor Residency motorhome... owned 2007-2012

jsetti

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Re: Recommended handheld radios
« Reply #7 on: December 30, 2016, 09:47:33 AM »
We use 22-channel Cobra's that we bought at Walmart.  If you are not talking about more than a couple of miles, these work great.  I think we paid about $50.00 for them.
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denmarc

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Re: Recommended handheld radios
« Reply #8 on: December 30, 2016, 01:28:24 PM »
Most often I'd probably hand one radio to one of my older kids when they want to go out exploring, and keep the other radio in the house or RV.

We use 22-channel Cobra's that we bought at Walmart.  If you are not talking about more than a couple of miles, these work great.  I think we paid about $50.00 for them.

Which brings me to my question...
When you hand a handset to one of your kids and they run out into the woods, what kind of distance are we talking? Do you really need to get a ham license for anything inside a mile?
Sounds like overkill to me. A simple 11 meter (CB) handset should work just fine. Unless you're camping in the mountains.

Besides, I thought all parents bought their kids cell phones now days?!  ;)
Mark

1994 Jayco Eagle 370FB on 24 acres of paid off paradise in Michigan.

You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.
Dr. Seuss

scottydl

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Re: Recommended handheld radios
« Reply #9 on: December 30, 2016, 02:22:59 PM »
Sounds like overkill to me. A simple 11 meter (CB) handset should work just fine.

It probably is.  What even got me on this topic was that original set of cheap (but very highly rated) BaoFeng radios on Amazon, that I was about to buy until I ran across the user comments about needing a license to operate them.

Besides, I thought all parents bought their kids cell phones now days?!  ;)

That's an option... but not free.  My son's phone is a prepaid Tracfone, and he knows he is responsible for keeping track of his minutes/texts (which are not unlimited.

Additionally we've been in plenty of campground areas that have little/no cell service.
Scott, wife, 3 boys... and the dog
- 2008 Forest River Wildwood 32BHDS
- 1995 Chevrolet Suburban C2500 tow vehicle
- 1994 Thor Residency motorhome... owned 2007-2012

Terry A. Brewer

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Re: Recommended handheld radios
« Reply #10 on: December 30, 2016, 04:40:26 PM »
Scott

Probably more than you want to spend...https://www.amazon.com/Icom-IC-F4011-41-RC-Two-Way-Radio/dp/B002UEXYQG

They have a good 2-3 mile range, unlike those cheap FRS radios

Larry N.

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Re: Recommended handheld radios
« Reply #11 on: December 30, 2016, 05:47:38 PM »
Those require licensing, too, just as the BaoFengs do, either ham radio or business band, depending on the freqs you use.
Larry and Mary Ann N.
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Lou Schneider

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Re: Recommended handheld radios
« Reply #12 on: December 30, 2016, 07:09:55 PM »
Unless you get a ham license, you're going to be legally restricted to either CB with it's long, ungainly antennas or the little 1/2 watt FRS radios.

Anything bigger than that requires a license of some kind - either a ham radio license or GMRS (fill out and send in the license form along with $70 for a 5 year license).  The no-code Technician class ham radio license isn't that hard to get and would be a good exercise for your kids.

If you want to be 100% legal without getting ham licenses, I recommend a licensed GMRS radio with a good antenna mounted on the RV, then give each kid a little FRS radio tuned to one of the combined GMRS/FRS channels.

They'll be able to talk among themselves, and the GMRS radio and good antenna on the RV will let you call out a good distance to them.  Their little FRS radios might not make it back with a reply, but the superior antenna on the RV will pull out the weak signals over a longer distance than trying to talk directly from one FRS handheld to the other.

If you're not concerned about being strictly legal, a pair of the Baofengs tuned to the FRS/GMRS frequencies will work well, especially if you have one connected to a good external antenna on the RV.  Program it and lock it down (via the front panel keyboard button) so you don't stray from the GMRS/FRS frequencies and you should be OK unless someone asks about it.  Kind of like being a little bit overlength / overweight in an RV.
« Last Edit: December 30, 2016, 07:22:32 PM by Lou Schneider »

denmarc

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Re: Recommended handheld radios
« Reply #13 on: January 01, 2017, 04:18:18 AM »
There is another aspect to this. If you got the radios you want and didn't get the license, you don't really think the FCC police are going to track you down and throw your family in jail? Do ya?

I'm not condoning breaking the law. But sometimes common sense and practicality just seems to trump sending the gubment more money.
Mark

1994 Jayco Eagle 370FB on 24 acres of paid off paradise in Michigan.

You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.
Dr. Seuss

scottydl

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Re: Recommended handheld radios
« Reply #14 on: January 01, 2017, 08:28:49 AM »
I'm curious as to why certain radio bands require licensing (especially where no particular skills are required, i.e. no test or increased knowledge are needed), when not used/protected for use by emergency services such as police, fire, rescue, airline traffic, etc.
Scott, wife, 3 boys... and the dog
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- 1995 Chevrolet Suburban C2500 tow vehicle
- 1994 Thor Residency motorhome... owned 2007-2012

HappyWanderer

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Re: Recommended handheld radios
« Reply #15 on: January 01, 2017, 08:38:41 AM »
I'm curious as to why certain radio bands require licensing (especially where no particular skills are required, i.e. no test or increased knowledge are needed), when not used/protected for use by emergency services such as police, fire, rescue, airline traffic, etc.

Can you imagine the choas if it wasn't this way? A free-for-all where anyone could do as they wanted.

Most bands have a detailed process of frequency coordination to limit interference.
I don't have gray hair. I have wisdom highlights.

scottydl

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Re: Recommended handheld radios
« Reply #16 on: January 01, 2017, 08:48:23 AM »
Can you imagine the choas if it wasn't this way? A free-for-all where anyone could do as they wanted.

Is this sarcasm?  (I honestly cannot tell.)

I asked my question because it really doesn't seem like problems would result from limited public use of certain radio waves.  I say "limited" since radio communication (by voice, i.e. Handheld or console radios) is fairly rare these days.  I can't imagine any particular kind of chaos ensuing.
Scott, wife, 3 boys... and the dog
- 2008 Forest River Wildwood 32BHDS
- 1995 Chevrolet Suburban C2500 tow vehicle
- 1994 Thor Residency motorhome... owned 2007-2012

HappyWanderer

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Re: Recommended handheld radios
« Reply #17 on: January 01, 2017, 09:03:38 AM »
Is this sarcasm?  (I honestly cannot tell.)

I asked my question because it really doesn't seem like problems would result from limited public use of certain radio waves.  I say "limited" since radio communication (by voice, i.e. Handheld or console radios) is fairly rare these days.  I can't imagine any particular kind of chaos ensuing.

No, very serious. Competition for radio spectrum space is fierce, just the opposite from how you describe it.
I don't have gray hair. I have wisdom highlights.

scottydl

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Re: Recommended handheld radios
« Reply #18 on: January 01, 2017, 09:57:52 AM »
Competition for radio spectrum space is fierce, just the opposite from how you describe it.

How so?  I'm seriously interested in learning here.

And just to reinterate, I'm not talking about the airspace related to commercial aspects like cell phone communication, etc.  Obviously there are millions of dollars at stake there, so I can see how competition would be a huge factor.

But GMRS?  You are magically licensed by mailing a check.  There are no other standards or requirements in place.  Heck even my dog has to have proof of the annual rabies shot before my county will license her.  ;)
Scott, wife, 3 boys... and the dog
- 2008 Forest River Wildwood 32BHDS
- 1995 Chevrolet Suburban C2500 tow vehicle
- 1994 Thor Residency motorhome... owned 2007-2012

Lou Schneider

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Re: Recommended handheld radios
« Reply #19 on: January 01, 2017, 10:55:05 AM »
Like HappyWanderer said, competition for radio spectrum is intense.  Cellular and data comms are merely the latest fad - there's a deep, entrenched network of users including military and public safety that depend on reliable use of conventional radio spectrum.  To the point where the government is shuffling the deck and re-assigning TV station frequencies at a cost of billions of dollars to free up more spectrum for voice and data use.

It's not that conventional radio use has become more "rare" but that wireless communication has become ubiquitous.  Cellular is just a way to slice the frequency pie more thinly, allowing more users to share the spectrum.

That magic GMRS license enters you into a database that makes it easier to find the responsible party if there's a problem.  Pretty much the same way vehicle and drivers licenses make it easier to identify who's responsible for that multi-ton vehicle careening down the highway.

FRS radios are like the bicycle or moped of the airways.  The don't need a license because they're pretty much foolproof, without the power or frequency flexibility to interfere with other licensed users.

GMRS takes it a step further, still pretty much foolproof to operate, but with more power comes more potential to create interference over a wider area.  The license makes it easier to locate the responsible party if there is a problem.

Ham radios can transmit over virtually unlimited frequencies, including those used by public safety and commercial users.  As such, users have to pass a knowledge test showing they know how to use them without causing interference to others.  Note that the GMRS license is issued to a particular radio, while a ham license is issued to an individual who is then able to use any radio.

All of this may not be much of an issue deep in the woods where there's no one else within range, but how about in the middle of a crowded city?  Or maybe there's a repeater tower hidden in the woods that retransmits your off-frequency signal to half the state?
« Last Edit: January 01, 2017, 11:30:20 AM by Lou Schneider »

HappyWanderer

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Re: Recommended handheld radios
« Reply #20 on: January 01, 2017, 11:35:14 AM »
... Ham radios can transmit over virtually unlimited frequencies, including those used by public safety and commercial users. ...

This is not correct: amateur radio operations are limited to specific frequencies. There are further restrictions based on license class, and still more limitations on power output and modes of operation on certain bands. Frequency coordinators approve repeater system installation and operations.

Amateur radio is an excellent example of efficient spectrum management.
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Larry N.

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Re: Recommended handheld radios
« Reply #21 on: January 01, 2017, 12:02:17 PM »
Is this sarcasm?  (I honestly cannot tell.)

I asked my question because it really doesn't seem like problems would result from limited public use of certain radio waves.  I say "limited" since radio communication (by voice, i.e. Handheld or console radios) is fairly rare these days.  I can't imagine any particular kind of chaos ensuing.

Perhaps you don't recall the early CB band, right after the FCC dropped licensing requirements (but not tech standards, such as max power out, etc.). Unrestricted use with more than a watt or so, and especially if it also allows more efficient (and even remote) antennas, can be a problem over more than a few hundred feet. Even today, CB can be chaotic, at times, though the long antennas required still don't give portability quite as easily as the FRS.

Lou pretty much has it right above, except that what Happy points out is a statement that, while it is often technically correct, certainly needed clarification, since many ham radios are CAPABLE of transmitting well beyond the ham bands, but there are many legal restrictions on hams as Happy points out, including the specific frequency ranges on which they are allowed to operate and what type of transmission is allowed (AM, FM, sideband, CW, digital, etc.) in any particular band segment, even how much power a license type and/or freq band allows.

Note, too, that amateur radio is a "radio service" that specifically allows experimentation on any of its allocated freqs (some of which are secondary allocations), and has very specific requirements about what may be transmitted (i.e. no music, no "commercial" traffic, restrictions on 3rd party operations, and much more).

But, as Lou so carefully points out, the big reason is to maintain some semblance of order and usability on the various spectrum segments.

And even FRS has specific rules that must be followed, though I suspect that few know much about that.
Larry and Mary Ann N.
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Lou Schneider

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Re: Recommended handheld radios
« Reply #22 on: January 01, 2017, 12:06:01 PM »
This is not correct: amateur radio operations are limited to specific frequencies. There are further restrictions based on license class, and still more limitations on power output and modes of operation on certain bands. Frequency coordinators approve repeater system installation and operations.

Amateur radio is an excellent example of efficient spectrum management.

Absolutely, ham radio is limited to specific frequencies but it depends on the knowledge and skill of the radio operator to stay within those boundaries.  There's nothing specific in a modified or home-built ham radio (which is allowed by a ham license) that guarantees it stays within the ham bands.  That is the responsibility of the operator.

Even a Baofeng UV5R can transmit and receive far outside the amateur frequencies ... which is why you need a ham license to legally use it.
« Last Edit: January 01, 2017, 12:17:37 PM by Lou Schneider »

denmarc

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Re: Recommended handheld radios
« Reply #23 on: January 01, 2017, 02:10:02 PM »
Putting the legalities aside...
If scottydl bought the BaoFeng radios and thumbed his nose at the license, and knowing how he would be using the radios, would anyone here think any less of him? Does it really matter? I mean, who really cares?

Again, I'm not against the rules. But heck, I still have an old Palomar 300A modulator around the house somewhere from the old CB days. As well as 2 or 3 mobile linear amps I used to use. It was nothing to pump up an old CB, clip the modulation limiter, add a couple hundred watts and talk away. And everyone knows how rude and crude the 11 meter band can be! Did I mention that I still have a couple modified 10 meter radios that work on 11 meter too? OH NO! The FCC police are going to get me!  :o ;)

My point is if I were in scottydl's shoes, I wouldn't worry about it. Get the radios he wants and teach the kids to respect the use of them.   
Mark

1994 Jayco Eagle 370FB on 24 acres of paid off paradise in Michigan.

You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.
Dr. Seuss

scottydl

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Re: Recommended handheld radios
« Reply #24 on: January 01, 2017, 07:36:14 PM »
Perhaps you don't recall the early CB band, right after the FCC dropped licensing requirements (but not tech standards, such as max power out, etc.).

I don't, because I was probably an infant around that time.  Born in 1977.  ;)  Which is mostly the reason why I (probably) have little understanding of this issue, because I grew up a bit after the heyday of the CB craze.

Putting the legalities aside...
If scottydl bought the BaoFeng radios and thumbed his nose at the license, and knowing how he would be using the radios, would anyone here think any less of him? Does it really matter? I mean, who really cares?

Again, I'm not against the rules...

That kinda sums up my wonderings too... I have a much better understanding of the licensing requirements now from this thread, but my usage would pretty limited to rural camping areas with the two radios less than a mile apart.  A few times per year at that.  But I do consider myself a "rule follower" by nature, and I'll pay for the GMRS licensing privilege IF there is any advantage to using that type of radio for my purposes.  Otherwise I'll just buy some new FRS radios.  (I have a cheap set now that I've used for camping, but they don't transmit too well anymore which is what led me to start shopping.)
Scott, wife, 3 boys... and the dog
- 2008 Forest River Wildwood 32BHDS
- 1995 Chevrolet Suburban C2500 tow vehicle
- 1994 Thor Residency motorhome... owned 2007-2012

Isaac-1

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Re: Recommended handheld radios
« Reply #25 on: January 01, 2017, 08:12:04 PM »
One thing to keep in mind on this topic there is a certain class of mostly HAM radio operators that live for going around and turning people in who are "misusing" FRS and GMRS radios.  For example FRS radios are licensed for personal use only, it is a license violation to use them for business purposes, even though lots of people do it.  I know around here they are often used by contractor road work crews for example.  This is where the above mentioned people come into play they love going around catching people who are technically in violation of the license and turn them into the FCC. 

I know of a case where this happened to a vendor at a flea market, the guy had a side business selling stuff, but also wanted to roam the flea market in search of stuff and so had the people manning his table call him over the FRS radio if he was needed at the table, this is until one of these self elected mattress police HAM operators turned him into the police officers who were working the festival and made a big stink over his misuse of FRS spectrum.
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HappyWanderer

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Re: Recommended handheld radios
« Reply #26 on: January 02, 2017, 08:53:58 AM »
I know of a case where this happened to a vendor at a flea market, the guy had a side business selling stuff, but also wanted to roam the flea market in search of stuff and so had the people manning his table call him over the FRS radio if he was needed at the table, this is until one of these self elected mattress police HAM operators turned him into the police officers who were working the festival and made a big stink over his misuse of FRS spectrum.

I would be shocked if the cops spent more than 30 seconds investigating.
I don't have gray hair. I have wisdom highlights.

 

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