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

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  #1 (permalink)  
Old 07-09-2018, 10:49 AM
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Default New gmrs setup

Hello,

New to this site. Im looking to acquire aome gmrs equipment, but have some questions before I do.

First, what kind of range can I expect out of a gmrs system? Im hoping to increase distance from what I can get out of a few fra handhelds.

May pick up a used motorola mobile25 watt for base station. Will this antenna work as a base antenna?

https://www.amazon.com/BROWNING-450M...ustomerReviews

I know this doesnt need a ground plane, but how to i electrically ground the antenna/ protect from lightning strike? Is there a limit to how high I can mount it? I am planning on mounting to gable end peak of house.

Any recomendations for a handheld unit?
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Old 07-09-2018, 5:22 PM
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I just realized I posted this in the “Scanner” category. Please feel free to move this thread if necessary.
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Old 07-09-2018, 9:52 PM
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GMRS employs UHF frequencies and UHF is ALL about line-of-sight. In a nutshell, this means the higher you can get the antenna, the better it will work. It is also a well-accepted premise that the antenna (and coax) are the MOST important part of any radio system. Investing in a good, commercial-quality antenna and quality coax will pay the most dividends in terms of performance, durability and longevity.

If you're serious about GMRS, you should review the GMRS portion of Part 95 of the FCC rules. It will answer many of your questions as to antenna height, maximum power, frequencies, etc. Best of luck.

- John AC4JK / WPOL633
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Old 07-09-2018, 10:19 PM
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Also if Your Gonna Buy that Antenna -NOTE--You will have to Purchase the Connector Adapter--
*(Male-N- to Female SO-239) thats Offered in the Amazon Options

Here is a Link to the FCC Site as Chief21 was Writing About---Use the Tabs Below the Heading for Options

https://www.fcc.gov/general-mobile-radio-service-gmrs
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Old 07-09-2018, 10:49 PM
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Don't know how much range you are trying to get, but with a similar set up using the real version of that antenna (Laird), I could get 7-10 miles using a temporary repeater setup on business frequencies very close to GMRS, with 4 watt handhelds and a 30 watt repeater. The antenna was up about 20 feet.

I'm out in the desert with minimal obstructions (just some houses) and nothing that is higher than the antenna was.
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Old 07-09-2018, 10:52 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bterrier View Post
Im hoping to increase distance from what I can get out of a few fra handhelds.
I think you meant FRS handhelds?

Good news is that this isn't hard to do.
FRS radios are limited by a couple of restrictions. Some of those restrictions were intended by the FCC, some are because of the low quality.
- By rule, the FRS radios cannot have a removable antenna. This means you get what you get. Since FRS radios with long antennas are not favored by the general public, the stubby non-exchangable antenna is a big limitation to performance.
- By old FCC rules, FRS radios are limited to 1/2 watt of transmit power. Don't fall for the rookie mistake of thinking more power means more coverage, it doesn't work the way that many think. As Chief said, it's much more about the antenna and line of site than it is about transmitter power. Don't think that simply increasing transmit power will fix all coverage issues. With all other things being equal, it takes about 4 times the power to double range.
- By nature of cost savings, the consumer grade radios, like the FRS and FRS/GMRS radios have poor receivers. To save costs, the manufacturers use minimal quality parts. They don't spend much time tweaking the radios for best performance as they are going down the assembly line. Like antennas, receiver performance is a big factor in radio coverage. You can have a 50 watt transmitter, but if the receiver on the other end is deaf, it won't matter.

Quote:
Originally Posted by bterrier View Post
May pick up a used motorola mobile25 watt for base station. Will this antenna work as a base antenna?
Before you purchase a radio, you need to do some homework…
-By FCC rules, any radio you use on GMRS needs to have Part 95A certification. Finding this can take some work. Good news is there are lots of people here that can help you.
-Not all UHF radios will work for GMRS. Most commercial UHF radios come in several "band splits". In other words, often there isn't one model UHF radio that will cover the entire UHF band, so you need to be 100% sure you are purchasing a radio that will cover the 462 - 467MHz portion of the bands. Purchasing the wrong band split will result in disappointment. Not all sellers on e-Bay are willing to tell the truth, or understand the differences. Buyer beware.

Quote:
Originally Posted by bterrier View Post
Browning is a low tier Chinese antenna.
It'll probably work for what you need, but you can -easily- do better. If your budget is tight, you really need to consider a few options.
If your budget isn't too tight, really, spend the money on a better antenna.
Might last a few years, and that might be all you need, but you'll want something better eventually.

And don't forget the coaxial cable. At UHF frequencies, cable losses can be a thing, so you need to weigh your budget against your expectations. Longer cable means more losses. Losses impact your received signal AND your transmitted signal. Cheaper cable has more loss than more expensive cable. Finding a happy medium is the trick.

Quote:
Originally Posted by bterrier View Post
I know this doesnt need a ground plane, but how to i electrically ground the antenna/ protect from lightning strike?
Proper grounding won't protect the antenna from a lightning strike. What it will do is help get some of the energy to the ground, which is where it wants to go. You want to give the energy a better path to ground than passing through your radio.

The way to do that involves running a cable straight down to a ground rod under the antenna.
- The grounding cable needs to be large. 6 gauge or larger.
- You may need more than one ground rod, this will depend on the soil conductivity. None of us can accurately guess that over the internet.
- The grounding cable needs to be as straight as possible. Sharp bends can be jump off points for energy.
- The ground rod(s) for the antenna need to be bonded to your house ground. This is a requirement of the National Electric Code. Don't ignore the code.
- You can ground the antenna and the mounting clamps.
- In addition, you need to protect the cable where it enters the home. That means a device like a Poly-Phaser. That's going to add $50 or so to your costs.
- There really needs to be some professional input on grounding. If you want it to work well, you don't want to be guessing, or doing what a bunch of random strangers on the internet told you to do.
- There is a LOT of bad information out there on antenna grounding. If you want good info, you need to consult the National Electric code and it's a good idea to look at the Motorola R56 document.
- Don't let someone tell you that grounding your antenna will "attract" lightning. That's B.S.
- Direct lighting strikes are not the only thing you need to be concerned about. Even a nearby strike and induce enough energy to damage, burn, injure, kill, etc.


Quote:
Originally Posted by bterrier View Post
Is there a limit to how high I can mount it? I am planning on mounting to gable end peak of house.
There are limitations on how high you can mount the antenna, but gable peak won't exceed that. If you are looking at mounting locations, putting it on the end closest to your electrical service entrance is a good idea. That makes it easier to bond your antenna ground to the home ground, which is usually near the meter.

Quote:
Originally Posted by bterrier View Post
Any recomendations for a handheld unit?
Lots.
Depends on your budget and exactly what your needs are.

Kenwood TK-390 is a good inexpensive/used option. Older radio, but only recently went out of production. Capable, lots of options.

Some older Icom models will work, too.

Stay away, FAR AWAY, from the low buck Chinese models. If you cannot pronounce the brand name, you are probably looking at the wrong stuff. Cheaper is not better. Poor receivers, lack of proper filtering, many of them do not meet the FCC Part 95 certifications (they'll try to hide that fact), and you'll have no end of frustration.
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Old 07-10-2018, 2:45 AM
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If you want to operate on the 7 GMRS channels that are shared with the FRS, there is an antenna height limit of 25' above the ground, or above the structure on which it is mounted. There is also a 5 watt transmitter ERP limit on those channels. To figure out ERP, take the transmitter power output, multiply it by the antenna gain, and subtract the coax cable loss. All of those numbers are easy to figure out in the documentation for the antenna, the coax, and of course the radio.

If you only plan on operating on the 8 main GMRS channels, there are no FCC restrictions on antenna height, unless you are within a few miles of an airport or heliport.

However, you may need to check with your HOA, if you have one, and with your city or county zoning department, for any restrictions that they may impose.

Do your homework before installing anything, and it can save you headaches later.

John
WPXJ598
Peoria, AZ
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Old 07-10-2018, 4:36 AM
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Originally Posted by bterrier View Post
I just realized I posted this in the “Scanner” category. Please feel free to move this thread if necessary.
Done.
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Old 07-10-2018, 8:40 AM
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Thanks everyone for the advice. I have some homework to do!
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Old 07-10-2018, 9:13 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mmckenna View Post
Before you purchase a radio, you need to do some homework…
-By FCC rules, any radio you use on GMRS needs to have Part 95A certification. Finding this can take some work. Good news is there are lots of people here that can help you.
-Not all UHF radios will work for GMRS. Most commercial UHF radios come in several "band splits". In other words, often there isn't one model UHF radio that will cover the entire UHF band, so you need to be 100% sure you are purchasing a radio that will cover the 462 - 467MHz portion of the bands. Purchasing the wrong band split will result in disappointment. Not all sellers on e-Bay are willing to tell the truth, or understand the differences. Buyer beware.
I have been looking into the motorola radius sm120, cm200, cm300, m1225. I will have to look into whether these can cover the gmrs band.



Quote:
Browning is a low tier Chinese antenna.
It'll probably work for what you need, but you can -easily- do better. If your budget is tight, you really need to consider a few options.
If your budget isn't too tight, really, spend the money on a better antenna.
Might last a few years, and that might be all you need, but you'll want something better.
Okay, can you recommend a decent quality gmrs antenna? My budget is itight right now because I will be purchasing multiple pieces of equipment.

Also, what type of coax should I be using? rg6 lile the coaz for cable tv? RG8x? or something different?


Quote:
Proper grounding won't protect the antenna from a lightning strike. What it will do is help get some of the energy to the ground, which is where it wants to go. You want to give the energy a better path to ground than passing through your radio.
]

Thanks. Yes I undersatnd grounding wont protect the antenna, I may not have phrased that properly. I want to protect the equipment and my house. Thanks for the advice. I will do some research based on the information you have given


Quote:
Lots.
Depends on your budget and exactly what your needs are.

Kenwood TK-390 is a good inexpensive/used option. Older radio, but only recently went out of production. Capable, lots of options.

Some older Icom models will work, too.

Stay away, FAR AWAY, from the low buck Chinese models. If you cannot pronounce the brand name, you are probably looking at the wrong stuff. Cheaper is not better. Poor receivers, lack of proper filtering, many of them do not meet the FCC Part 95 certifications (they'll try to hide that fact), and you'll have no end of frustration.
I will look into the kenwood tk-390, thanks. I was looking at the bearcom bc95/bc130 because they can be puchased relatively inexpensively used. However I have been reading that it will be difficult to program. Can you tell me if these are possible to program? is the software available?
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Old 07-10-2018, 9:17 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by alcahuete View Post
Don't know how much range you are trying to get, but with a similar set up using the real version of that antenna (Laird), I could get 7-10 miles using a temporary repeater setup on business frequencies very close to GMRS, with 4 watt handhelds and a 30 watt repeater. The antenna was up about 20 feet.

I'm out in the desert with minimal obstructions (just some houses) and nothing that is higher than the antenna was.

Thanks I will check out that antenna. The antenna will be mounted at the peak of my house about 25ft. Im also at he peak of a large hill/mountain with an altidue of about 520ft. Only trees as obstructions, so Im hoping for decent range. Most of where I am tryin to reach is around 250-400ft.

Havent measure distance in miles yet, will have to check that soon
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Old 07-10-2018, 9:30 AM
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Is it feasible to think that I can cover most of a small city with gmrs?
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Old 07-10-2018, 9:08 PM
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Any opinions on the motorola sm120 vs M1225 vs cm300? Ca these be programmed for repeater use? I understand the issues/debate over utilizing other people’s repeaters, but I just want the option if I decide to go that route at some point.

Do these require software to program? If so, is the software available?

Also any recommendations for an antenna would be appreciated. Looking to mount it at the peak of house.
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Old 07-10-2018, 10:20 PM
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For coax, I wouldn't use anything less than LMR-400. Using a lesser-quality or smaller coax will result in significant signal loss at UHF frequencies. And again... the higher, the better!
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Old 07-10-2018, 11:02 PM
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§95.1741 GMRS antenna height limits.
GMRS station antennas must meet the requirements in §95.317 (b) regarding menaces to air navigation. See §95.317 and consult part 17 of the FCC's Rules for more information (47 CFR part 17).

Here is the Part 95 Link for You--- Scroll down to *( Sub-part E -- General Mobile Radio Service)*
https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-id....5.95&rgn=div5

Last edited by ipfd320; 07-10-2018 at 11:08 PM..
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Old 07-10-2018, 11:42 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bterrier View Post
I have been looking into the motorola radius sm120, cm200, cm300, m1225. I will have to look into whether these can cover the gmrs band.
I don't recall if those have the necessary Part 95A certification from the FCC or not. To figure that out, you would need to take the FCC ID off the back/bottom of the radio and run it through the FCC OET search page. https://www.fcc.gov/oet/ea/fccid

But, yes, that's the kind of radio. But like I was saying, there are different sub models of the UHF models. Some of the UHF sub models will cover the GMRS frequencies, some of the UHF sub models will NOT cover the GMRS frequencies, so you need to be 100% sure you are getting the right specific UHF sub model.

Quote:
Originally Posted by bterrier View Post
Okay, can you recommend a decent quality gmrs antenna? My budget is itight right now because I will be purchasing multiple pieces of equipment.

Unity gain: https://www.theantennafarm.com/catal...es-fg4500-1057

3dB gain: https://www.theantennafarm.com/catal...es-fg4503-8027
https://www.theantennafarm.com/catal...es-fg4603-8028

5dB gain: https://www.theantennafarm.com/catal...es-fg4605-8029

7dB gain: https://www.theantennafarm.com/catal...es-fg4607-8031

However, which antenna you pick depends on a lot of variables. More gain is not always the best solution. There are situations where a lower gain antenna will work better than a higher gain antenna.
You can get into things like the radiation pattern, as in where the energy is directed. Is it directed towards the horizon, down a few degrees, directional, etc. There's a lot of science and experience that goes into picking the correct antenna. Since the antenna will be a very important part of your system, you need to select carefully.


Quote:
Originally Posted by bterrier View Post
Also, what type of coax should I be using? rg6 lile the coaz for cable tv? RG8x? or something different?
You'll need a 50Ω coaxial cable. Which type you need will depend on how long your run is. Since all cable has an inherent amount of signal loss in it, you need to choose carefully. Cheaper cable will have more loss, as in less signal will make it between the radio and antenna. It works both ways, so higher loss coaxial cable will not only impact your transmitted signal, but also your received signal.
LMR-400, as was mentioned, would be the absolute minimum I'd recommend for a run less than about 50 feet. If you have a longer run, more money, etc. then get better coaxial cable. It's worth the investment if you compare loss figures. Less lossy cable will cost more. More expensive cable also means more expensive connectors.
Consider LMR-600, 1/2" heliax, etc. These are larger, more expensive, lower loss cables, but they are also stiffer and more difficult to route.

Often, when building out a radio system, the antenna and coax will cost as much or more than the radio that's connected to it. That's the norm for commercial systems, and is a good indication of how important these components are. If you spend $500 on a radio for your home, but hook it up to $20 worth of coaxial cable and a $40 Chinese antenna, you have a system that's going to perform at the $60 level, no matter how good the radio at the other end is. Personally I'd rather have a $500 antenna system and a $60 radio.
Think of it as an investment, though. A good antenna and coax, all properly installed, will last a long time.

Quote:
Originally Posted by bterrier View Post
I will look into the kenwood tk-390, thanks. I was looking at the bearcom bc95/bc130 because they can be puchased relatively inexpensively used. However I have been reading that it will be difficult to program. Can you tell me if these are possible to program? is the software available?
Bearcom are often rebadged low tier Chinese radios. I'd steer clear of them. I think for a while they were selling some really bottom end rebadged Motorola stuff, but that was a long time ago. Looks like these are rebadged Vertex radios.
While these will work, for $199 new, you can get better radios on the used market that you will probably be happier with in the long run.
When buying portable radios, it's also important to consider the longer term costs. Take a close look at the accessory, replacement battery and charger costs. Eventually you will need accessories and replacement batteries, and those can get expensive quickly.

TK-390s can be programmed and the software and programming cable are pretty inexpensive. Lots of accessories and OEM as well as after market batteries.


Keep in mind that as you learn more about GMRS and what it can do, you'll want to make changes to your radios. Being able to reprogram them easily will be important.


You are asking really good questions, and that's a good sign. Getting the right stuff now will make for a happier experience overall.
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Old 07-10-2018, 11:47 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bterrier View Post
Any opinions on the motorola sm120 vs M1225 vs cm300? Ca these be programmed for repeater use? I understand the issues/debate over utilizing other people’s repeaters, but I just want the option if I decide to go that route at some point.
Yes, they can be programmed for repeater use.

Quote:
Originally Posted by bterrier View Post
Do these require software to program? If so, is the software available?
Yes, they require specific programming cables and software.

The issue with Motorola is that if you go the legal route, the programming software is quite expensive ($300+). Add in the programming cables, and you can blow your budget pretty quickly.

As for non-legal route for software, yeah, that's an option, but I won't go there. Some of those are older radios and Motorola no longer sells the software, so there is a challenge in all this. Not that it can't be done, but can be challenging.
Some of the software -requires- a very slow PC running DOS. Not a DOS window, it must be booted up in DOS. Newer radios will use software that works under Windoze.

Don't get hung up on Motorola. Make sure you look into Kenwood, Icom, Vertex, etc. There's good stuff out there.

Also, if keeping the costs low is necessary, Midland makes some low tier GMRS mobiles that can be had pretty cheap. Not stellar radios, but a good way to get your foot in the door. A low cost radio now, spend more on the antenna and coax, and upgrade the radio later on when you know more about what you are going to specifically use it for.
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Old 07-10-2018, 11:50 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bterrier View Post
Is it feasible to think that I can cover most of a small city with gmrs?
Depends.

Depends on your definition of "feasible".
Depends on your definition of "small".

Depends on your exact location in relation to the rest of the city.
Depends on the terrain around you, around the city, between you and the places you want to talk.
Depends on if there are tall buildings that will get in the way.


UHF is line of site. If your antenna at your home can "see" the entire town, then likely you'd have good outdoor coverage. Coverage in buildings is a big "maybe" as it depends on the construction materials.
If your antenna cannot see the locations you want to cover, then usually the answer is "no". This is where a repeater in a high location makes a big difference.
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Old 07-11-2018, 2:51 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mmckenna View Post
I don't recall if those have the necessary Part 95A certification from the FCC or not. To figure that out, you would need to take the FCC ID off the back/bottom of the radio and run it through the FCC OET search page. https://www.fcc.gov/oet/ea/fccid

But, yes, that's the kind of radio. But like I was saying, there are different sub models of the UHF models. Some of the UHF sub models will cover the GMRS frequencies, some of the UHF sub models will NOT cover the GMRS frequencies, so you need to be 100% sure you are getting the right specific UHF sub model.
Okay, thanks I will take a look at that link and run it through the search.


Quote:
Unity gain: https://www.theantennafarm.com/catal...es-fg4500-1057

3dB gain: https://www.theantennafarm.com/catal...es-fg4503-8027
https://www.theantennafarm.com/catal...es-fg4603-8028

5dB gain: https://www.theantennafarm.com/catal...es-fg4605-8029

7dB gain: https://www.theantennafarm.com/catal...es-fg4607-8031

However, which antenna you pick depends on a lot of variables. More gain is not always the best solution. There are situations where a lower gain antenna will work better than a higher gain antenna.
You can get into things like the radiation pattern, as in where the energy is directed. Is it directed towards the horizon, down a few degrees, directional, etc. There's a lot of science and experience that goes into picking the correct antenna. Since the antenna will be a very important part of your system, you need to select carefully.
Seeing that higher gain does not necessarily equal greater distance, what can I do find out which would work best for my terrain?




You'll need a 50Ω coaxial cable. Which type you need will depend on how long your run is. Since all cable has an inherent amount of signal loss in it, you need to choose carefully. Cheaper cable will have more loss, as in less signal will make it between the radio and antenna. It works both ways, so higher loss coaxial cable will not only impact your transmitted signal, but also your received signal.
LMR-400, as was mentioned, would be the absolute minimum I'd recommend for a run less than about 50 feet. If you have a longer run, more money, etc. then get better coaxial cable. It's worth the investment if you compare loss figures. Less lossy cable will cost more. More expensive cable also means more expensive connectors.
Consider LMR-600, 1/2" heliax, etc. These are larger, more expensive, lower loss cables, but they are also stiffer and more difficult to route.

Often, when building out a radio system, the antenna and coax will cost as much or more than the radio that's connected to it. That's the norm for commercial systems, and is a good indication of how important these components are. If you spend $500 on a radio for your home, but hook it up to $20 worth of coaxial cable and a $40 Chinese antenna, you have a system that's going to perform at the $60 level, no matter how good the radio at the other end is. Personally I'd rather have a $500 antenna system and a $60 radio.
Think of it as an investment, though. A good antenna and coax, all properly installed, will last a long time.


Quote:
Bearcom are often rebadged low tier Chinese radios. I'd steer clear of them. I think for a while they were selling some really bottom end rebadged Motorola stuff, but that was a long time ago. Looks like these are rebadged Vertex radios.
While these will work, for $199 new, you can get better radios on the used market that you will probably be happier with in the long run.
When buying portable radios, it's also important to consider the longer term costs. Take a close look at the accessory, replacement battery and charger costs. Eventually you will need accessories and replacement batteries, and those can get expensive quickly.
I was under the impression that the bearcom bc95/bc130 are re-branded Vertex radios. Can anyone confirm or deny this? If they are vertex, is there a way for me to program?

Quote:
TK-390s can be programmed and the software and programming cable are pretty inexpensive. Lots of accessories and OEM as well as after market batteries.
Thanks for that and info. What is your opinion of the tk-380 and tk-3360? also found some vertex vx-10 radios pretty cheap. Can these be used with repeaters? Are these easily programmed?

Also what is trunking? I have been reading comments where people are stating some radios can do trunking....I am not sure what they are referring to.

Quote:
Keep in mind that as you learn more about GMRS and what it can do, you'll want to make changes to your radios. Being able to reprogram them easily will be important.
Yes I agree. I am trying to find some handhelds that can be easily programmed. Or at least be able to find the programming software.
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Old 07-11-2018, 2:58 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mmckenna View Post
Yes, they can be programmed for repeater use.



Yes, they require specific programming cables and software.

The issue with Motorola is that if you go the legal route, the programming software is quite expensive ($300+). Add in the programming cables, and you can blow your budget pretty quickly.

As for non-legal route for software, yeah, that's an option, but I won't go there. Some of those are older radios and Motorola no longer sells the software, so there is a challenge in all this. Not that it can't be done, but can be challenging.
Some of the software -requires- a very slow PC running DOS. Not a DOS window, it must be booted up in DOS. Newer radios will use software that works under Windoze.

Don't get hung up on Motorola. Make sure you look into Kenwood, Icom, Vertex, etc. There's good stuff out there.

Also, if keeping the costs low is necessary, Midland makes some low tier GMRS mobiles that can be had pretty cheap. Not stellar radios, but a good way to get your foot in the door. A low cost radio now, spend more on the antenna and coax, and upgrade the radio later on when you know more about what you are going to specifically use it for.
Yes I would like to find radios that can be easily programmed, but I was curious about the motorolas because I have seen the sm120 and m1225 selling cheap. So it all comes down to programming and the expense associated. I have seen an aftermarket program called “radio doctor” designed to work well for programming
the gm300. Unsure if there is something similar for the sm120.

What about power output? I get that a 1 watt difference may not be very noticeable, but what about a jump from 25 to 40 watts? Should I be searching for radios with higher power output? Or should I focus on features and ease of programming?
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