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GMRS / FRS - Discussions related to GMRS (General Mobile Radio Service) and FRS (Family Radio Service) communications

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Old 11-29-2015, 4:28 PM
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Default Light weight, small, 5 watt, durable GMRS walkie talkie?

Looking for a something I can take skiing, so it can't be bulky, somewhat weather resistant, and be able to cover a mile or two in mountainous terrain.

You can recommend a big bulky radio to me but I will never get my wife to carry it.

I started researching bubble packs before I found this forum and was trying to learn the transmitting power of various models. Open to other selections. Have paid my $65 licence fee. I see people here discussing commercial solutions but in the brief investigation I did they all seemed quite bulky.

At first I was looking at Midland GXT1000 variants owing to their 5 watt transmitters, but I saw a review here that questioned their quality. Motorola is a popular choice but has a weak under 2 watt transmitter. Cobra is another with a similarly weak transmitter. It seems that although GMRS is line of sight a stronger transmitter might punch through snow, trees, etc, a little better? But maybe quality of the parts matters more.

Some of those weak transmitter radios are very small, under two inches thick and less than six inches tall, similar to the size of a cell phone, which is appealing. Cobra CXT645. 2 watts I believe. Midland has a new physically smaller X Talker line but they don't advertise the wattage so I suspect they nerfed it.

What would you recommend?
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Old 11-29-2015, 6:07 PM
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Bf888. Really good little radio, especially for the price. You must program. It comes with a bunch of illegal freqs in it.

There are those rhat will go on about type acceptance, legalities, ect. No one cares about part 95 rules regarding what radio is type accepted. ...

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Old 11-29-2015, 7:08 PM
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There are those rhat will go on about type acceptance, legalities, ect. No one cares about part 95 rules regarding what radio is type accepted. ...
True, but if you've gone through the effort to get properly licensed, no reason to not go all the way and do it right. It isn't hard to find a proper radio, but many are not willing to put the effort into it.

1 or 2 miles on it's own shouldn't be an issue. UHF tends to be line of sight, in other words, it doesn't bend around ridges very well. Probably not an issue on a ski slope where you'd be talking from top to bottom, or somewhere along the visible slope.

Don't get too hung up on the wattage ratings, here's why:
1. They are mostly bunk. The wattages listed are "designed" parameters and usually measured at the transmitter output. Most of them going down the assembly line don't get adjusted to anywhere near their rated output.
2. You need to be more concerned about ERP, effective radiated power, or the actual amount of energy radiated by the antenna.
3. You can be pumping out 50 watts, but if the receiver on the far end is crap, it's not going to matter. Receiver sensitivity is just as important as ERP.
4. Higher wattage means faster battery drain.

The big limiting factor on most of these consumer grade FRS/GMRS radios is their antennas. Most of them are designed for looks/convenience and not performance. A poor antenna will result in limited ERP and poor receive characteristics.

Placing the radio in a jacket pocket and against the body reduces performance even more. The human body can absorb a lot of RF energy. Getting the antenna away from the body will help performance a lot.

As for batteries, if you only use these radios occasionally, you'll have issues with the batteries not being charged when you need them, or having to wait for them to charge. A radio that will take standard alkaline batteries can be a lot more useful. Being able to swap out batteries in a few seconds, rather than waiting an hour or more to charge can be a problem.
Also, try to find radios that will use AA sized batteries. They have more capacity than the AAA batteries, which means longer run time between battery replacement.

The trouble with the consumer grade FRS/GMRS radios is the antenna is permanently attached. This is a requirement of the FRS rules. Getting away from consumer grade FRS/GMRS radios can make life a bit easier.

I'd suggest finding a suitable consumer grade FRS/GMRS radio and not being too concerned about power output. Pay more attention to getting a radio that your wife will carry. Keep the radio away from the body, like in an external pocket, or clipped high up on the body, preferably with the antenna sticking straight up and down and in the clear. A handsfree ear piece will make use a lot easier.
The benefit of these radios is that they'll do what you want without having to program them. They are inexpensive enough that if you lose one on the slopes, you are not out a bunch of money.

If you want something higher end, take a look for some of the older radios, specifically the Icom F-21gm radios. They are a radio specifically designed for industrial use and will stand up to a certain amount of abuse. They are pre-programmed for GMRS (not FRS) and do put out 4 watts. They have better receivers and best of all have a removable antenna. As they come from the factory, the included antenna is a much better design than what you'll see on a consumer radio. You can swap them out if needed.

Trouble with FRS/GMRS is that a lot of other people on the slopes will be using them. They won't care if you have a license or not, they'll interfere with you. Might be worth looking into MURS radios. They use 2 watts VHF and they tend to work better in the outdoors. Trouble is they are hard to find suitable ones.

The low buck Chinese radios will work, but there is the type acceptance issue that technically makes the illegal to use on FRS and GMRS. Many ignore this, the choice is yours. The performance specs on these radios are rarely much better than the consumer grade FRS/GMRS radios, so be cautious. The benefit with them is that they can be programmed for other uses, so if you ever decide to get your amateur radio license, they may be a good choice.

Good luck, it's a hard process to settle on something.
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Old 11-29-2015, 8:08 PM
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I would look into the Icom and Kenwood line- icom f21, has gotten good reviews, I have not used the 21 but own the f40gs which is in the same family , In the Kenwood line the Tk3130/3131 is a great choice and comes standard with rechargeable battery pack or can be run with AAs with no additional parts needed I have used these in the past and been very happy with them, sold them to buy a tk3140 because of the need for LTR trunking.
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Old 11-29-2015, 8:36 PM
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Powerwerx sells a GMRS part 95 Wouxun with removable antenna


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Old 11-29-2015, 10:25 PM
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The F21 is a good radio. Uses Icom's standard antenna connector which is very similar to the Motorola MX connector. You can use a Motorola MX antenna on an Icom radio but not an Icom antenna on a Motorola radio with MX connector. Anyway, back to the F21. The F21GM is field programmable and preprogrammed to GMRS (it can be programmed as a regular F21 using CS-F11 but field programming will overide). Last F21GM I bought was $50 used. Regular F21's I've never paid more than $20 (minus battery and antenna). I'd go after either an F21 or F21BR (2 channel model) as they can be had for less (allowing you to acquire the programming software and spare antennas).

I haven't played with modern Kenwood TK series handhelds.

I usually run Motorola radios (love the GP300 though I'm setup to program most older Motorola radios).

In the past when I've gone skiing, I've taken a GMRS repeater (based off of Motorola Radius series mobiles) with me running split DPL tones and just a mag mount antenna for the truck at 10W. Using that setup I've had 100% coverage at Monarch, Wolf Creek (there is a ham who works in the rental shop there and is jealous when you bring a repeater with you) and Ski Apache.

Anyway, I'm trying to get into commercial itinerants now (VHF P25 has been on of my more recent flings) and with my father's and my involvements with TxDOT and DPS it just makes more sense to only keep VHF equipment to keep radio clutter cut down.
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Old 11-29-2015, 10:26 PM
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If you are getting the radios to talk to the ski patrol, first find out if they monitor anything. If uhf, 450+-, expect rabge of maybe 3 miles, course on top of the mountain, range will be increased, conversely at the bottom, not so far. UHF is very line of sight, meaning it does not bend around the mountains. If the radios are protected, clothing or pockets, you shouldn't have to spend on intrinsically safe, submersible, be able to withstand drops of 100 feet. You get the picture. I have some kenwood UBZ-LH14 UNITS. They are drop in chargers, can run a 3 aa batteries if needed, what makes then unique is they have frequency hopping and voice scramble. If the desire to maintain contact with your group is high on your want list, and privacy, then these fill the bill, Each time to are ready to talk the radio samples the airwaves, determines what is clear, they send a short burst to other radios in your group, and all radios electrically change to the new frequency. In addition, the voice is scrambled. You generaly send out a dead carier for maybe 1/2 second to allow the radios to adjust. So pretty secure for the size. The radios are about 4" tall, 1 3/4 " wide and 3/4" thick.My postal scale shows they weigh 7 oz's . You wife should not complain about 7 oz's.These are FRS, not GMRS but they give me 1 to 1/5 miles , this is ht to ht on reasonably level ground. A unit that my locfal county CERT unit got were the Motorola T5500. They are frs an gmrs. They come with a dual drop in charger..They do not to frequency hopping or voice scrabble but they have GMRS BUILT IN. Both have tones to help avoid listening interference. The Kenwood was the most expensive. The antennas are fixed, though the Kenwood has a fold down antenna. I have carrired it in a breast pocket, with the antenna folded down and reception has not been noticeably reduced. The Motorola weighs 6 oz's. About the same dimensions though alittle thicker. Another radio you might consider is http://www.amazon.com/Cobra-MR-HH450...ds=gmrs+radios. This is a vhf/uhf gmrs radio, witrh detachable antenna, 6 watts, speaker vibrates water and snow out of it, It appears very sturdy, with a 3 year warranty.
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Old 11-30-2015, 1:38 PM
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How can you use FHSS on FRS? Does it use all 14 FRS channels? Is that even legal? I know voice scramble isn't.

The Kenwood TK-380 is another option.

Are those Icom F21's only 2 channel?


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Old 11-30-2015, 2:32 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Seven-Delta-FortyOne View Post
How can you use FHSS on FRS? Does it use all 14 FRS channels? Is that even legal? I know voice scramble isn't.



The Kenwood TK-380 is another option.



Are those Icom F21's only 2 channel?





Delta

Icom made 2 channel, 4 channel, 8 channel and 16 channel variants. The two channel models have a switch similar to Jedi series ABC switches but two position only. Everything else has rotary channel select.


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Old 11-30-2015, 6:30 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Seven-Delta-FortyOne View Post
How can you use FHSS on FRS? Does it use all 14 FRS channels? Is that even legal? I know voice scramble isn't.

The Kenwood TK-380 is another option.

Are those Icom F21's only 2 channel?


Delta
The Icom F21gm's were 16 channel radios. Basically a stock F21 with pre-programmed GMRS channels. If I recall correctly (it's been a while), they had the 7 intrastitials, 8 primaries, and the 16th slot was scan.
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Old 11-30-2015, 8:11 PM
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The Icom F21gm's were 16 channel radios. Basically a stock F21 with pre-programmed GMRS channels. If I recall correctly (it's been a while), they had the 7 intrastitials, 8 primaries, and the 16th slot was scan.
Correct. The first 8 channels (550-725) were set for repeater use and 9-15 were the shared service frequencies with 16 being scan. Without looking it up in the manual I couldn't tell you whether or not TA was enabled in the field programming mode or with a function button.
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Old 11-30-2015, 9:47 PM
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At first I was looking at Midland GXT1000 variants owing to their 5 watt transmitters, but I saw a review here that questioned their quality. Motorola is a popular choice but has a weak under 2 watt transmitter. Cobra is another with a similarly weak transmitter. It seems that although GMRS is line of sight a stronger transmitter might punch through snow, trees, etc, a little better? But maybe quality of the parts matters more.



For the one guy once couldn't figure out the Midland, the rest of us who have one like it just fine. Nice to have one that you can at least change channels and codes in the field in case someone else chooses the same ones as you.
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Old 12-01-2015, 2:39 AM
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So far most of the suggestions here have been quite a bit larger than anything you would want to ski with.
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Old 12-01-2015, 6:18 AM
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SEVEN-DELTA-FORTYONE:THE RADIO MANUAL SAYS SCRAMBLE AND FHSS HOPING. Now two units must be setup exactly for this to work. I have monitored several frs signals, that had scramble available, its not encryption but reasonably secure. Now the Kenwood scramble mode is not receivable on an Anytone 5888, which has 12 different scramble modes, though the TYT 7800 has a mode that is receivable on the Anytone 5888.
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Old 12-01-2015, 9:01 AM
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I'm with stmills on this about the kenwood TK3130/3131 Protalk XLS

I just got into GMRS and HAM so I'm a rookie here but I have done a lot of homework. I bought 10 Kenwood TK-3130 to play around with. With a cable and software you can set them up for 15ch FRS/GMRS simplex or GMRS for repeaters with the default dat file. You can also choose to custom program each frequency at a loss of 1 ch (ie 14ch max), by choosing the TK-3131A handheld type.
Why I love them is they are cheap (bought 10x for $140 and used my baofeng cable for programming), and can use rechargeable battery packs or AA batteries by default.
They are part 90, 95 accepted. + they are small.

at <$15ea they beat the pants off any store bought bubblepack.
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Old 12-01-2015, 9:57 AM
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Well FRS scramble appears legal, gmrs scramble does not appear legal. The radios are not allowed to have built in scrambling that work on the GMRS frequencies (scrambling on FRS frequencies are OK from what I understand though). I believe that with this "Notice of apparent Liability for forfeiture" http://www.fcc.gov/eb/Orders/2009/DA-09-2374A1.html that the FCC sent to Uniden for including "Voice Scramble Security" on some of their GMRS radios validates that. They indicate "Section 95.183(a)(4) of the Rules prohibits GMRS operators from transmitting coded messages and messages with hidden meanings."
Now with the FCC not enforcing gmrs rules, and new gmrs radios not having scramble function, appears not a big deal. The units I have were purchased on 2001 so maybe the rules were different at that time. I know that the ubz-lh14 is not made anymore.
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Old 12-01-2015, 10:41 AM
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I'm with stmills on this about the kenwood TK3130/3131 Protalk XLS

I just got into GMRS and HAM so I'm a rookie here but I have done a lot of homework. I bought 10 Kenwood TK-3130 to play around with. With a cable and software you can set them up for 15ch FRS/GMRS simplex or GMRS for repeaters with the default dat file. You can also choose to custom program each frequency at a loss of 1 ch (ie 14ch max), by choosing the TK-3131A handheld type.
Why I love them is they are cheap (bought 10x for $140 and used my baofeng cable for programming), and can use rechargeable battery packs or AA batteries by default.
They are part 90, 95 accepted. + they are small.

at <$15ea they beat the pants off any store bought bubblepack.
They don't use a Baofeng programming cable...Baofengs simply use a Kenwood programming cable. Kenwood has been using that cable for 20+ years now.
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Old 12-01-2015, 10:46 AM
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Fair enough, I know its the K1 (kenwood connector), i was just stating the cable I have for my baofengs worked and was already free to me.
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Old 12-01-2015, 10:50 AM
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So far most of the suggestions here have been quite a bit larger than anything you would want to ski with.
Most Ski Patrol's I've seen (New Mexico/Colorado) are either using Jedi series radios or CP200s. Those are bigger radios (though not Saber sized).

I usually carry bigger radios (Astro Sabers, HT1000s, HT750s, etc) but when I go skiing I usually have a backpack/camelbak with me so usually I keep the radio in a radio pouch attached to that.

Occasionally I ski without one, keeping the radio off my hip (I ski so chances of falling on the sides are higher than front or rear). I always use a PSM or RSM though.
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Old 12-01-2015, 10:33 PM
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While I might be willing to carry a bigger radio the thread subject line called out small as a requirement because there is no way my petite style conscious wife is going to kid a brick around and the goal is to communicate with her. A radio she refuses to carry is ineffective.

One interesting strategy might be for me to carry a larger and more powerful radio while she carries a smaller one that is compatible? What would the impact of that be?

If I gave her a tiny little COBRA or something equally small, and then carried a big Baofeng, how much would we lose?

Another option would be for us both to carry small radios capable of repeating, then install some more powerful base unit in our car that can both repeat and ultimately be used as an end point. What options do I have then? What would I choose as small bubble packs and what would I need for a repeater?

I'm willing to get my HAM if that helps. She will laugh at me if I ask her to. So I could maybe rig up something in the car to augment the solution.

A truly winning solution here would be something comparable to the size of a mobile phone.

Of course when we go skiing there might be an actual mountain between us and the car park, so a solution that didn't entirely rely on a car base station would be ideal.
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