Two-Way Radios: A Beginner’s Guide

A two-way radio is a device that transmits and receives voice signals over the air. They work like a telephone, but since they do not require a central network, they can be used anywhere. With two-way radios, two or more people can have a conversation no matter where they are, sometimes while they are miles apart! Another common name for a two-way radio is “walkie talkie.”

The most common type of two-way radio for ordinary consumers is the FRS / GMRS two-way radio. These are the radios you normally see in big box stores. FRS and GMRS are the different frequency ranges, or channels, in which these radios can operate. FRS channels are 8 to 14 and GMRS channels are 15-22. Channels 1 to 7 are shared and used by FRS and GMRS systems.

All radios in your group must be set to the same channel before you can communicate. For example, if your radio is set to channel 7, it will send your voice on that channel when you speak, and it will listen and allow you to hear other people speaking on channel 7. It is always important to remember that these channels are public! Always be careful what you say on a two-way radio, because you can never be sure who is listening.

When choosing a channel, privacy and reach should be your top concerns. If you are using a FRS-only channel, due to government regulations, your radio will only transmit at a maximum of .5 watts of power. Typically this wattage will give you between a half mile and a mile of range. If you use a GMRS channel, you can get maximum power output and range outside of your two-way radio. However, if you are using a GMRS channel, the FCC requires you to acquire a license to operate on those frequencies.

Regarding privacy, if you choose a channel and notice that others are using the same channel, you should switch to a different channel to avoid confusion. Sometimes, like in a crowded amusement park, 22 channels just aren’t enough to provide privacy. Because of this, most mid-range and higher radios also provide “Privacy Codes,” which divide a single channel anywhere between 38 and 121 sub-channels. When listed in privacy codes, many radios offer over 1000 individual channels that you can choose from.

Some two-way radios run on AA or AAA batteries. You will also find that many of the radios come with rechargeable batteries and desktop chargers. If you buy a model with a rechargeable battery pack, you will get the convenience of rechargeable batteries, plus you will still be able to operate them on normal batteries if your battery packs run out before you return them to their chargers.

There are many good uses for a two-way radio, but they can be especially useful on family vacations or outings. Have you ever taken a trip to an amusement park or a ski trip and somehow got separated from your friends or family? A two-way radio would have been helpful in locating each other. How about taking more than one car on a road trip? A two-way radio would be an excellent means of communication between vehicles.

Another popular sport in which two-way radios can play an important role is hunting. Hunters always need some kind of communication device to keep in touch with each other throughout the forest. The avid hunter can now even find two-way radios in camo color!

Top two-way radio brands include Motorola, Cobra, Midland, Kenwood, and Uniden. You can find radios from these manufacturers in different ranges of power output and distance. There are also different types of features that you can get with your two-way radios. Many two-way radios even support NOAA weather channels. There are also many accessories that you can find for your two-way radios, including headsets, handheld speakers, headphone receivers, and throat microphones. Many of these can be operated hands-free as long as they and the radios are VOX compatible. Now you can even buy car chargers for your two-way radios!

There is no doubt that two-way radios have come a long way over the years. Most people find it impossible to live without them, just like cell phones! From starting with a maximum range of about 2-5 miles, you can now find them with maximum ranges of up to 14 miles! The next time you’re on the road with friends or family, make sure you’re prepared and take a two-way radio with you. They can be quite useful.

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