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New Radios for Burning Man

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#1
...I have been tasked with researching and finding suitable radios for use at "Burning Man" by "Mobility Camp". We are a camp whose purpose is to assist those with mobility handicaps while at Black Rock City. One of our main gifts to the mobility challenged is that we have an "Art Car" capable of taking up to 12 people plus 3 wheelchairs on tours of the artwork out on the playa.
...Several years ago, we tried simple FRS radios (what a joke) and found that regardless of the claims of miles and miles of distance, they really did not go much beyond ½ mile. In 2015, we tried MURS radios, but with their 2w limit, they too, did not do that well. This past burn (2016), I brought a couple of GMRS radios and found that (on high pwr) we could successfully communicate from camp out to our "Dragonfly" art car in the "deep playa" (at the fence or, as we call it, "the edge of the known world"). Unfortunately, the alkali dust is so corrosive and invasive that one of the radios stopped working within a couple of days. (I think some dust got into the PTT button, since it would not TX, but would still RX.)
...Our main goal is to be able to communicate from camp to our art car in the deep playa (which we seemed to be able to do using the GMRS radios), while also being able to resist the harsh conditions of the Black Rock Desert, plus still be affordable. Secondary goals (if possible) would also to be able to call EMS and other entities within the Burning Man organization.
...My research has found some reasonably priced GMRS radios (i.e. Uniden GMR5095-2CKHS) which are advertised as "water resistant" so my assumption is that if water can't get in, neither will the dust. Plus it should be fairly easy to wash the dust off the radios as needed.
...I have also found some more complex radios (i.e. Baofeng GT-3WP and the Retevis RT6) that can be programmed to use the GMRS frequencies (to use 5 watts and only require a simple FCC license) plus will be able to 'talk' to less expensive FRS radios for short distances within our camp.
...I have abandoned the idea of being able to call any of the Burning Man entities (such as the Black Rock Rangers), since it appears that they all use very sophisticated, digitally encrypted radios. However it does appear that we might be able to talk to the EMS people since it looks like they may monitor MURS channel 5 (154.600 MHz). Unfortunately, that may be outdated information.
...What I am asking is for your opinion on whether the std GMRS radios might be a good choice for us, or should we consider more sophisticated, programmable radios? Also, if anyone knows if the EMS people still monitor 154.600 MHz or not. In addition, if we go with GMRS radios (or any radios that require it) how difficult is it to get the license? Is the license for the camp?, or for the radio?, or for each person using the radio? Please educate me.
...Thanks for indulging me and reading this overly-verbose post. -Mr. Habilis in Indiana
 
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#2
Each radio user needs a $65 GMRS license unless they are related by family. You can probably get a part 90 business license for the event. You can buy mil 810 spec Motorola radios on the used market. A repeater set up can improve your coverage. Or use high power mobiles for base and vehicle operations. Mil 810 and JIS are specs which have options for dust intrusion. If the equipment isnt well sealed dust and water will get right in.
 
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#3
I would go down to Sierra Electronics in Sparks and Rent there Radios for the weekend you are there. They have motorola DMR radios that are the best way to go and you get digital with Security cuz of ENCRYPTED talk groups they can set up.
 
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#4
Another option to consider if you'd rather not rent is the TYT MD-390. They do DMR (with encryption capability) and analog, so you could talk to the GMRS radios you already have, and have secure comm capability if you needed it. Build quality is robust, and they are IP67 rated, which means that they will withstand submersion in 1 meter of water for 30 mins without malfunctioning. That would solve the dust issue.

Seller letsgetready has the ones with built-in GPS (handy if someone gets lost in the desert) for $140 on fleabay. The programming software and cable is included in that price. Then all you need is freq licensing.
 

NC1

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#5
I really have no idea of what kind of distance we are talking about here. You mention locations, but I doubt anybody has a clue as to how far these radios need to talk.

Also, is this open flat land? Are there large open areas? Hills?

Basically we need a lot more information.
 

N4GIX

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#6
I really have no idea of what kind of distance we are talking about here. You mention locations, but I doubt anybody has a clue as to how far these radios need to talk.

Also, is this open flat land? Are there large open areas? Hills?

Basically we need a lot more information.
Black Rock City is in Nevada, so pretty much desert and flat I suspect...
Burning Man
 
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#7
I really have no idea of what kind of distance we are talking about here. You mention locations, but I doubt anybody has a clue as to how far these radios need to talk.

Also, is this open flat land? Are there large open areas? Hills?

Basically we need a lot more information.
Amazing what you can find when you use Google.
Burning Man is an "Art Show", held on a a 3,800 acre ranch in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada.
To answer the OP, you would need intrinsically safe radios to protect them from the dust. It might be wise, as someone else posted, to rent radios from the event itself. It would be cheaper in the long run. GMRS licenses are $85 dollars, and is licensed to individuals. It's not a one covers all license.
Best find out from the people who run the show if they can supply you with radios.
Contacting EMS and other agencies on their system may not be a good idea.

You're going to have to do a lot more investigating than asking here on RR. You will get all sorts of non useful information.
HTH,
Larry
 
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KC8ESL

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#8
You really aren't kidding when you talk about the conditions of the sand.

That stuff is HORRIBLE. I just spent an entire weekend along with 20 other people at our shop cleaning sand off of speakers that went to Burning Man 2016. Our chain hoists (which were tarped and secured as well as possible) are still white from the sand and we've put our chains in the tumbler twice each, still have sand stuck to them.

Consider instead of GMRS a business license to keep you legal and you have a wide range of frequencies to choose from - so long as you're licensed for the channel(s) you want to use. With a business license it is best to get the license prior to buying the radios. You may want one band but end up with another. Vhf might not be a bad idea for the desert. Better range than UHF.

For those not familiar with Burning Man it is a week long festival in the middle of NO WHERE out in the salt flats of Nevada. The conditions are insanely harsh and basically, if you don't bring it with you (toilet paper, etc...) you're HOSED.
 
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#9
Hi again unless you guys have a lot of money to burn. I would really call the people at Sierra Electronics in Sparks Nevada. They set up an Digital Radio system every year for the police and fire and security at the event. They are the best people to talk about getting an set up there next year. And you can also ues there Radios in which you don't have to worry about the dust and the water destroying equipment you just bought
 

Rred

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#12
There's sand and there's sand. Loess soil, a fine dusty grit that sometimes is mistakenly called sand, also blows into your socks & underwear & literally stops a clock, at least mechanical ones. It will still try to get past water resistant or "intrinsically safe" seals, those don't last forever.

The best way to keep that stuff out is to put the entire handheld radio in a waterproof pouch, like an EWA marine VHF pouch. That's basically a vinyl condom for the entire radio and antenna, with a big flap that seals it tight. (You'll find a lot of that type sold for cell phones at the beaches.)

But those bargain radios on eBay? Think twice about that. If the radio is not certified for use as a GMRS or FRS or MURS, sure, you can use it. But not legally. No one may care out in the desert, but then again...it might be just as simple to find a fully legal way to do the job.
 
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#14
But those bargain radios on eBay? Think twice about that.
The MD-390 is several steps up in price, quality, and ruggedness from the basic Baofeng UV-5R and suchlike.

If the radio is not certified for use as a GMRS or FRS or MURS, sure, you can use it. But not legally. No one may care out in the desert, but then again...it might be just as simple to find a fully legal way to do the job.
The suggestion was to get a license to use a business frequency, which would be legal to use encrypted digital.
 
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#15
The suggestion was to get a license to use a business frequency, which would be legal to use encrypted digital.
Encryption only Legal IF the emission IS on the license.

A once a year event,

I would go with rental or event radios from the mentioned event radio provider.
 
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#16
Encryption only Legal IF the emission IS on the license.
Encryption doesn't change the emission designation. If you get a license to use DMR on a business freq, I don't see anything in the rules requiring anything additional to encrypt the digital you are already licensed to use.

Whether the OP decides that route is cost-effective or desirable vs renting radios from the event organizer is a separate question.
 
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#17
Thanks to everyone who offered their knowledge, shared their experience and gave of their expertise. Every reply is much appreciated and I learned a lot.

Yes, the Black Rock Desert is harsh and nasty and deadly to electronics and mechanical devices. (It's not friendly to people, either). The desert surface is actually a fine alkali dust leftover from a lake bed contaminated by volcanic debris over 15,000 years ago.

The distance that we are wanting to communicate is about 2½ miles, since that is the typical distance from our camp. out to the furthest point at the fence. During most of the year, I am guessing that a 2-watt MURS radio would be able to talk to another MURS radio at a distance of almost 3 miles (maybe more), since the desert is flat and empty. However during the event, it is packed with 70,000 inhabitants, with all sorts of electronics, other radios, generators, buildings and structures (all temporary, but nonetheless there), so our experience is that the same 2 MURS radios can barely hear each other just short of a mile.

We had never considered renting but that is now a consideration. None of the people within our camp reside in the Reno area (most are from California, I am in Indiana, and this last year we even had a couple from the east coast and 2 from Germany), so the logistics of arranging for rental radios might be an issue, but still within the realm of possibility. I don't thank that (expensive) business class radios would meet our needs as we are all casual users only related by the "Burning Man" event for a little over 1 week out of the year.

Again, thank you all, you have been most helpful. -Phil K. in Indiana
 
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#19
...I have been tasked with researching and finding suitable radios for use at "Burning Man" by "Mobility Camp".
I've never been to Burning Man, but I work with a number of people that do go. I've supplied some equipment in the past for them, and some of it actually came back.

I'd second the suggestion to rent, if they will rent to you. I wouldn't send radios out into that without making sure I was covered if they didn't return in serviceable condition. In other words, see if you can rent, but if they find out where they are going, don't be surprised if they say "no".

2 1/2 miles isn't a stretch for VHF on the playa. You should be able to do that no problem, however you are going to have to change the way you are doing things.

Hand held radios using the flexible antennas, and then using that inside a car, that's about the worst scenario you can put a radio in. The vehicle body is going to block a lot of your signal.

I'd recommend these two things as a cheap and reasonable solution:
1. Use an external antenna on the car. This could be a mag mount for a temporary situation like Burning Man. That will get the RF energy out of your radio and to an antenna that is outside the metal enclosure that is likely causing your issues.
2. At your base camp, get an external antenna and raise it up as high as you reasonably can. A Marine VHF antenna would be an easy to obtain option.

With those two antennas you shouldn't have any issues. Even with the higher antenna at your base camp, you shouldn't have any issues talking to portable radios anywhere in BRC.

As for congestion on the limited number of MURS channels, can't help you there.
 
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