Community Emergency Radios

First post, and forgive me if I don’t use proper terminology. I did scan the post hoping to avoid asking questions that have been asked and answered many times, but here goes.

First, we want to be legal with the FCC. We could get licenses if necessary.
Second, we are willing to pay for good communication.
Third, a repeater is a possibility.

We are about 10 families, some full time, some part time, who live in hilly, wooded terrain. Some live on hill, others in valleys. Some are on the grid, others not. Our longest distance apart is about 2 miles as the crow fllies. We communicate with FRS cheapo radio primarily about fire protection, intruders, and other emergencies, but some use our channel for blah, blah. Mobility is key, as we hike, ski, plow roads, etc.

During one emergency last year we had problems with range (lack of line of sight), low batteries, and lack of radio discipline. (Lack of discipline won’t be solved by equipment; we know it’s a training issue.) Most of our radios are quite frankly junk.

We do need help in coming up with better hand-held radios, better in reliabililty and range. Ideally, there would be an emergency only channel, and each family would have their own channel, but in an emergency the emergency channel would over-ride the family channels or at least notify the users to go to the emergency channel.

We have one house on a hill that can “see” virtually all the other houses. It might be ideal for a repeater, if I understand their purpose and function. I’m not sure it needs to be all that powerful, just something to re-broadcast so that non-line of sight people can communicate.

Can you recommend radios and/or repeaters for us? Any other suggestions appreciated.

Since this is for family use, not business, you need to go the GMRS route. You can get a repeater on the GMRS frequencies, and a low power (20 to 25 watts) should work from the hilltop using a good antenna. Don’t scrimp on the antenna and transmission line or you will lose too much power. An antenna of at least 5db should be the minimum because you will have loss through the transmission line, duplexer and connectors. I would look around and find a dealer close to your location that will be able to provide the radios and service after the sale. The enticement of cheap prices off of the internet won’t do you any good if you need service. Forming a relationship with a local deal can be beneficial to both parties. You will need 4 watt portable radios and most come with the Lithium-ion batteries now which should last all day (unless you motor-mouth). Any reputable brand, Motorola, Icom, Vertex, Kenwood will work. It depends on what the dealer offers and what fits your budget.

I hope this information helps.

Thank you, yes it’s a great help. A few more questions for you and others:

What is the most economical yet effect GMRS repeater? What would I expect to pay?

Are most GMRS radios programmable for the two frequencies that I understand repeaters require (one for sending, one for receiving)?

Is an FCC license required for the repeater?



Yes the repeater has to have a license. The FCC wants to know information about it: type of antenna, antenna gain, type of transmission line, length of the line, it the antenna is on a tower, etc. and the RF power of the repeater in watts. They come up with a formula to compute the ERP (effective radiated power) of the repeater.

You can buy used repeaters from a 2-way dealer, or you can even get them to make you one with two mobile radios, a RIC (radio interface controller) and a duplexer. Since you have several people involved, you can share the cost. A repeater can be purchased for around $1000.00, the RIC another $500 and the duplexer will vary depending on how close your transmit and receive frequencies are. (Since a repeater is transmitting and receiving at the same time, the duplexer acts as a filter to keep the transmitter from getting back into the receiver). On a mobile or portable radio, when you press the PTT (push to talk) button you shut off the receiver. Of course you will need a good antenna and transmission line (coaxial cable) to connect the antenna and repeater together. This is not the place to save money. If you buy a cheap antenna and cable your entire system will suffer performance.

Hope that helps.

Many thanks! You know what you are talking about!

A GMRS repeater does NOT need a license. The owner of the repeater needs a license. A GMRS license allows the licensee to own and operate a repeater.

You are looking at 4 figures for a GMRS repeater. Thay are NOT cheap.


have you considered Vertex

  • we’re doing all fine with them at our camping site.

Hope this helps!

Hi Phil705,
When considering your radio setup I agree with the previous posters about going the GMRS route. Every household will need a license but it will allow you to expand your system to do a lot of fun stuff in the future. A GMRS license costs $85 for five years and covers the license holder and their immediate family (children, spouse, mother & father, etc.). This will allow any family, including the one who owns the house on top of the hill that can “see” all other houses to set up a GMRS repeater on their property.

A great repeater for GMRS is the Ritron Liberty. It runs less than $1500 but the best part is it includes a duplexer and all necessary parts are self-contained in the unit. Just have it programmed for your GMRS frequency pair of choice, hook an antenna up to it, and give it power. The antenna connection is [N]. You can even plug it into a UPS power supply so when you have a power outage your repeater stays running for emergency communications.

Good GMRS portables I have used and sell are the Motorola RDU4100. They can be programmed to do a GMRS repeater pair of frequencies or simplex frequencies (radio-to-radio). I would program channel 1 as the emergency repeater channel in each radio and then keep channels 2-10 as chit-chat frequencies for individual families to use.

Good luck! Hope this helps