Boosting signal on a budget

Hello! I am new here and way out of my league. With that being said I am trying to bail my 9 year old son out of a jamb. He bought three Cobra ACXT145 handheld radios with his hard earned money to talk to his friends that all live within less than a mile of our house. He thought a hyped up 16 mile max radio would be more than enough range but I think by now we know why I am here. I am trying to find a way to boost his range for a minimum investment. I have heard of repeaters and stuff that can help but I am looking for knowledgeable advice. Experience saves time and money. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance!
Jim Leland

Hi there,

There is a nice video on this topic here:
(Made by the hosts of this forum)

You won’t be able to use FRS radios with repeaters (That is only allowed on GMRS, which requires a purchased license). The range your son desires is certainly possible with FRS radios though. The key will be where he is at in or around the house, and what is in-between. I get this type of range with my FRS radios, but I need to either be in a window at the corner of my house or on the deck outdside.

Additionally, that model is a very basic model, and it’s FCC ID reports that it transmits at about 1/3 of a watt. Some FRS radios can transmit at up to 6 times that power, and have longer antennas, so that can be a factor as well. Honestly though, I think that it’s once again what is between your son and his friends that is hampering reception, not the power level (I’ve gotten several miles through town at less than 1/2 watt plenty of times).

I’m a giant kid myself, and what I have done in your son’s shoes is call my other radio nerd friends and walk around our houses until we can hear each other (done this successfully up to nearly 3 miles across my home town) :slight_smile:

You may not need to spend any money. Just experiment a little :wink:

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Hi Jim, welcome to the forum! The range question is one of the most frequently asked, so we have a lot of resources available off the bat to address them here in the forum, our blog, our videos and our podcast. Here are a few that should answer most of your questions.
GMRS Radio Range Chart
30 Miles? The Truth About Range
Getting The Most Range From Your Radio
The Two Way Radio Show TWRS-05 - Radios in Range
The Two Way Radio Show TWRS-45 - The Truth About GMRS Radio Range
How To Optimize Range for Motorola Talkabout Two Way Radios

The ACXT145 is a decent FRS radio, but is also well under the 2 watt power limit allowed for FRS, so that is something to consider. The maximum wattage on all channels is less than half a watt. However, it’s a pretty rugged radio for the price and a good choice for outdoor activities around the neighborhood.

FRS radios cannot be used on repeaters, and are therefore not designed to use them.

Having said that, there are ways to maximize range even with the low wattage, such as proper holding techniques when transmitting, line-of-site vantage points, etc.

LOL Whippurwhil posted while I was still typing this.

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Thanks a ton for narrowing my future reading material. Our town is on a relatively flat elevation. Not sure how much that helps… We do have a decent sized Co-op grain operation with big steel grain bins between us and his furthest radio toting friend which is 1.5 miles out. I will definitely venture through the reading to see what we can currently do to aid in his plan. Worst case scenario and I purchase him a new 3 pack set what units would either of you highly recommend to possibly pull this off?

If any of the BuyTwoWayRadios fellas makes a recommendation, I’m gonna yield to their experience (they have just about anything you would want, and I just have a few radios in my drawer here :)) Anyways, from my humble hillbilly experience, you have a slight chance of success with more power and a better antenna (the terrain, obstacles and height of the antenna are still king). A better antenna is rough in the FRS space, as virtually no radios have more than a 3 inch helical stubby antenna at best (however they are engineered to do their job well for the trade-off of fitting in your pocket, or on your belt without poking you). Midland makes quite a few higher powered models, but I am personally most familiar with the Motorolas because that’s what I have (too many of, LOL). Their T400 (EXCEPT the T400 and T402), T600 and T800 lines have relatively large antennas compared to their other models, and offer higher power. I have had a few situations where the higher power was just enough to make the difference between a squelch blip and intelligible speech, but it’s not a sure bet.

I have some people I can reach 3 miles away from inside my living room (near a window) on 1/2 watt, and some friends down a hill in our neighborhood I can’t hit at all on nearly 2 watts unless they stand in a very particular spot. Radio can be quirky like that (they are in “shadows”, just like with visible light, but we can’t see it).