Ready to buy Walkie Talkies. Some basic questions

Hello Forum,

I would like to buy my first set of walkie talkie and I am confused about the use of channels. I know I am asking a lot of questions but I will be happy with any help. Thanks in advance.

From what I read, these devices operate in the UHF spectrum. Each different channel corresponds to a different frequency band (centered about a specific frequency). For two or more users to communicate, their walkie talkie must be on the same channel.

a) Other people with walkie talkies set on the same channel and in the proximity can be part of the conversation can eavesdrop or participate even if uninvited, correct?

b) There are usually 22 channels to choose from. Which channel should we pick? The one over which the communication is most clear? I am also not clear on the overlapping of channels and FRS/GMRS. Are FRS and GMRS different modalities (standards) to communicate? Should we choose FRS or GMRS channels? What about those channels that are both FRS and GMRS?

c) Should the channel be agreed ahead of time with the other users?

d) The privacy codes perform filtering letting the users hear only those users with the same privacy codes. But anybody else can still here the conversation if tune on the same channel (just not as crisp)…

e) Can a single frequency carry multiple channels? Or does it channel has one specific frequency?


If you do NOT have a GMRS license:

You may use the FRS only channels.

You may use the shared FRS/GMRS channels… but ONLY on LOW power.
**IF, however the shared FRS/GMRS channels are NOT narrow band like FRS rules require, then you CANNOT use those channels at ALL. Consult the radio manual to make this determination. Most consumer-grade stuff is set to narrow band.

You CANNOT use the GMRS only channels at all.

If you get a GMRS license, then you can use the FRS/GMRS channels on any power setting you want and the GMRS/only channels. You may continue to use the FRS only channels also.

It also depends on where you live. In Canada, no licence is required for GMRS so users can transmit on any of the 22 channels they want.

You and your friends decide which channel to talk on. If you find there are other users in the same area, let your friends know to switch to another channel. In busy areas like certain large theme parks, it will be difficult to find a clear channel, but that is the downside to these common frequencies which have been set aside for unlicenced (or minimally licenced, in the U.S.) users.

Keep in mind all communication is basically line-of-sight, so in real world conditions, don’t expect more than half a mile or so in range.

Each channel has its own frequency. You don’t need to know the frequency; just set the channel to that number. Almost all manufacturers today use the same channel numbers for the respective frequencies.

If there are a lot of users in your area, you can filter out some calls by using sub-channels or sub-tones. This basically tells the radio to ignore any calls that don’t have the certain tone number that you set. Manufacturers differ on sub-channels, so if you mix manufacturers, you will need to consult their manuals to find the matching sub-tones. Plus, they do NOT make the conversation private; anyone on that channel can hear everything you say if they are within range. All they do is filter out radios without that sub-tone (often call CTCSS) and in busy areas, you need to turn off CTCSS to make sure the channel is clear before you start transmitting.

The reason FRS and GMRS works is precisely because the range is very limited (line-of-sight.) This is why 22 channels is enough for millions of users across the country because it is only in very limited places that users would not be able to find a clear channel.

The radios themselves vary in quality. Aside from outrageous range claims that you can basically ignore, you generally get what you pay for. More expensive radios do not give much longer range but can be better audio quality because of larger speakers and greater audio output; weatherproof; splash resistant, or simply more features. But a $20 radio can still talk to a $150 radio.

If you decide privacy is an issue or you want more professional-level quality than most consumer-oriented FRS/GMRS, there are other licence-free alternatives in most countries. You get what you pay for.

There are also some higher end GMRS radios and even good quality mobile GMRS radios to install in vehicles.

I hope this answered most of your questions. Read through this forum and nearly everything will be answered.

Thanks everyone.

Great answers. I will continue reading.

My walkie talkies are made by Motorola MD200TPR. I can surely switch the channels but I cannot control the power. I guess the radiated power is controlled automatically when I switch to GMRS (I am not licensed so I will not use those channels)…

What does it mean that a channel is for both FSR and GMRS? Does it mean that the there is a single frequency but the power can be adjusted so that for higher power it becomes GMRS and for lower it is FSR?

thanks again,


You mean FRS. Yes, the channels for both FRS and GMRS would be used under FRS rules only on low power. On GMRS, you are allowed full power.

Thanks again!

Learning a lot and fast on this website.

The radio I have does not have privacy codes and its power is ~1 Watt and I cannot adjust it. I am actually thinking about returning it…

In essence, I guess I should not use the GMRS channels or the mixed FRS/GMRS channels since I don’t have a license and should limit myself to use the FRS channels only.

Yesterday I also realized how easy it is to hear other people conversations by using the scan function ( I didn’t mean to). The scan seems to go through all 22 channels and stops when it detects someone speaking on any of those channels. The scanner shows that channel and allows us to possibly respond…
A professional scanner, I have read, can even intercept police or medics communications. I would have hopped they were all crypted…why not? Isn’t that dangerous to broadcast so openly?


Returning those radios if they are working for you may not give you much more. I can’t find the power output for your radio but in reality, output power has little to do with range anyway.

Some radios will automatically go to higher power on GMRS channels. Some have provision for manually switching power. Some go to low power on FRS but allow both low and high on GMRS. I can’t find any specs on your radios but it is safe to assume it will be relatively low power on FRS channels and possibly all channels. So you are okay on FRS channels and I think you would be safe on the combined channels without a licence, considering the cost of those radios and the relatively low power they output.

Not having CTCSS tones is not really an issue because they only filter out radio traffic on your radio from others without the appropriate tone. They don’t add any more frequencies; all users share the same frequencies. In busy areas, if you have CTCSS tones enabled, you still need to turn them off (usually by opening the squelch button) before transmitting to make sure the frequency is clear anyway.

You don’t need a licence to scan any of the 22 channels just to listen.

As for police and EMS scanning, many agencies have gone to trunk-tracking, digital trunk-tracking and encrypted communication for security and privacy reasons. More and more are going fully encrypted every day. Some more expensive scanners can scan trunk frequencies, a few can scan digital trunk frequencies but no consumer scanner can listen to encrypted transmissions.

Therefore, you can spend a lot of money on trunk-tracking scanners but then find out you will lose more and more police agencies in the next few years.

(Trunked frequencies are basically a lot of users in an area all sharing a few channels. When a call is initiated, a control frequency will assign an empty frequency to that call for the duration. On the next call, the frequency might be completely different. It doesn’t guarantee an empty channel every time but it increases the odds of finding one, all without the user needing to do anything except push the button. It is great for commercial and business users, but is essentially a stop-gap for police and EMS. In five years, i doubt there will be hardly any unencrypted police communications.)

If you are going hunting with it pick a radio that when jostled and pocketed doesn’t decide to reprogram itself. Avoid the “touch” buttons. When our group goes out a few duck tape the controls to insure the radio doesn’t move off settings (vol, chan, sq, …)

A couple of things that weren’t mentioned regarding licensing in the US. If you wish to use GMRS and obtain the necessary license, all members of your immediate family may also use GMRS under your license. however, if you are out with hunting buddies that are not members of your family, they will have to obtain their own GMRS licenses.

If you hunt with the same people on a regular basis, you might want to consider getting amateur radio licenses. This would give you many more options in radios, frequencies and transmitter power. Again, all of you would have to obtain your amateur licenses.

You did not describe the purpose of buying radios. There is also another a license free band called M.U.R.S. (VHF) and some digital radios that are license free. What is your specific use?