A Look at FRS/GMRS Radios.
I wanted to follow up on the post about communications with my thoughts on some of the gear I use personally. Before I get into the main subject, I want to take a minute to fill everyone in on the goings on at Surviving Modern Life. I haven’t been as productive as I would like to be on getting articles up and published. I was on a pretty good roll when I managed to herniate a disk at work. I highly recommend that you do everything you can to avoid injuring your back! I’m the type to avoid going to the doctor or take medication unless necessary, but it became very necessary. I think I’ve been to the doctor more in the past two months than the rest of my life combined. On top of that, prescription pain medication makes me a zombie. I’ve been the walking dead for several weeks, so my writing ability and motivation have taken a serious hit. I’m on the mend, so I hope to get back to publishing articles a lot more frequently.
I’d also like to point out that I’ve added links to the Blogroll on the right side of the page. A new addition is a link to the website of Dr. Bones and Nurse Amy. I’ve been a fan of theirs for a few months now. Their specialties are medicine and gardening (and a combining of the two). Dr. Bones is an MD and Nurse Amy is a Nurse Practitioner and a master gardener. They offer an incredible amount of GREAT medical advice geared toward the prepper community. Check it out, you won’t be disappointed. I also added a link to a new blog from a member of the prepper community. Prepper Gal is just getting started in the world of blogging. Stop by her site and say hi!
I’ve added a “Gear Sources” page at the top of the main page. In there are links and descriptions of places to buy any gear or supplies you might need. Those are personal endorsements from places I’ve done business with, not paid advertisers. The list will grow as I give my endorsement to other companies that offer good value and great customer service.
Now on to the Communications!!
A few months ago I decided to add FRS and GMRS radios to the comms I have available. Sarah and I were walking through Academy Outdoors and I found a set of radios on clearance. I read over the features and they looked pretty impressive. They were on par with radios from other brands that cost a hundred dollars or more, all for the low price of $55. So I bought a set of Cobra CXR920 radios. The two features that made my mind up were rechargeable battery packs and multiple security options. The rechargeable batteries are a big deal since higher power radio transceivers can really go through AA or AAA alkaline batteries. That ends up being a pretty significant operating cost over the long run. THe Cobra radios use Lithium Ion batteries, much like modern cell phones. They hold a charge for a long time and won’t develop as much memory as NiCD or NiMH batteries. I’m still not sure how long the batteries will last because I’ve never had them die on me yet. Granted, we haven’t used the radios in an all day situation yet, but so far it looks very promising. The security settings are nice in that they can help in areas with crowded frequency use. Any major event will find a lot of people using FRS and GMRS radios. Because of this, finding an available channel can be iffy. By using one of the 38 CTCSS or 83 DCS codes, you have a lot of options on getting your own slice of the frequency pie. Just to be fully honest, I wouldn’t really call this security as anyone with a comparable radio can listen in on your conversations. They might have to scan through a lot of channels and codes, but it can be done. Any time you use radio communications, you should have no expectation of complete privacy. Now on to the nitty gritty with these radios…
The packaging promised a 30 mile range, but as I covered in my last article, I knew better than to expect that. These radios operate via UHF frequencies, which means line of sight. If two people are standing on perfectly level ground with no obstructions, the best you can hope for is 6 miles. Physics won’t allow an more range. You can always increase range by increasing the height of the antenna of the radio, but to get 30 miles, you would need one radio to be 360 feet in the air and still have no obstructions. This is theoretically possible, but not likely in most situations. In a real world situation with terrain and obstructions doing their best to block communications, I’ve gotten about 3 miles out of these radios. Anyone that claims to do much better is dealing with better conditions or is exaggerating.
One of the best features these radios offer is probably worth their purchase price by itself. They receive all 10 NOAA Weather Radio channels. This lets me kill two birds with one stone. I’m a firm believer that everyone should have a battery powered weather radio available to them, and if possible, one in the bug out bag. Now I have one with me any time I have one of these radios with me, which is pretty much all the time. Being able to keep up with what the weather is doing can make the difference between a normal outing and a true survival situation. Reception of the weather radio is nothing spectacular, but it is clear enough to understand.
Transmit power isn’t much of a problem with these little radios. They have 3 power settings that are user selectable. FRS channels are locked in at low power since FRS radios are very restricted on power by law. GMRS allows for higher power, so those channels can be selected. Of course, you always want to use the lowest possible power to get your transmission out. Not only is this good radio etiquette, it will also greatly extend your battery life. As a disclaimer… Using the GMRS channels requires a license from the FCC. I believe the cost is $80 annually for the license. There is nothing to prevent unlicensed use other than threat of penalty. This always stand true unless there is an emergency situation. In a real emergency, you can use any means available to place a call for help.
Some other features the radios have that I haven’t used yet include VOX (voice activation) and handfree use, memory for storing channels and security settings, A LOCK feature to keep keys from being pressed my accident, and “Maximum Range” which turns off the auto squelch. This will increase the range of the radios, but at the expense of a lot of interfering noise.
Overall I like the function and operation of these radios. The quality of the construction is top notch. I’ve owned Cobra CB radios and have always been pleased. It looks like Cobra has scored again. I would recommend these radios to anyone needing short distance communications. At the bottom of the article, I’m posting a link to the user manual for the radios. It’s a PDF file of some size, so be warned if you have a slow internet connection.