What Radio is right?

Hello, so I hope that someone could perhaps get me going in the right direction. I am looking for some kind of radio communication for disaster situations. It was not to long ago, we had an ice storm here in Kentucky and cell phones, as well as landlines were out, the only means of communication at this point would have been radio had I owned any. However, I am not just looking for any radio. I hope to have someone perhaps point me to the best option for my family and me. I was interested in commercial grade GMRS radios, but am not familiar with them. I noticed with these they can achieve longer ranges due to the repeater system. However, with the commercial radio I believe it was going to cost extra monthly for repeater use. I also see many two-way radios, such as Motorola’s Talk about and Midland radios. So it all comes down to what will give me the best range (with repeater use perhaps) and best performance overall. Any response would be great thanks.

You need to explain a bit more about what you mean by communication. Are you looking at being able to talk to someone a block away, a mile away or half a continent away?

During natural disasters, when power is out, phone lines are down and cell phone service is out, repeaters will undoubtedly be out too. ANY handheld VHF/UHF radio, including FRS, GMRS or business radio, is limited to line-of-sight only. This means that you are talking about a few blocks at most. Don’t believe the advertised range on these radios; you can’t repeal the laws of physics with advertising.

If you are hoping to talk between family members a few blocks away, then a good FRS or GMRS would be a good choice. Perhaps look for one that can take AA cells as well as rechargeable cells because power may be out for a while. (You can always use solar chargers but they are VERY slow, or car chargers if your car is working.)

If you are looking at communicating to farther distances, or perhaps communicating to people outside the natural disaster area, you should start looking at amateur (Ham) radios. In nearly every world disaster, Ham operators have been on or near the scene and been able to pass messages, sometimes half way round the world. However, amateur radio is a hobby and one does not simply buy a radio, turn it on and start talking.

If this is more like you are looking for, check out the amateur radio threads in this forum.

What Chickenhawk said…

Have no idea if this is legal or not… ICOM’s F21GM (I think that’s the model) has an antenna one can remove and put a BNC adapter on it. With a “loaded” UHF antenna that you could strap to the chimney, you could get a few more feet outta that radio.

If you’re looking to get miles instead of feet, and I think you are, HAM is the answer… And again, as was stated before, HAM is not sumpthin’ you just plug-in and key up…

I appreciate the responses. I have looked into Ham before, but I was looking to stick with two ways like Motorola or Midland etc. Which one would be the best for my family to use? I understand Ham is probably something I need to get into, and I find it interesting. Of course, that takes time and testing to get your License. For now, I am curious on what two ways radios would be best, such as Garmin, I saw one by them that was expensive. In addition, how big of a difference do watts make? I notice Motorola’s models are below 2 watts, and the Garmin reportedly had 5 watts. My main goal is a way to communicate back and forth with my family members. In this case, Ham would be out of the question, unless they all wanted to cough of the money and time to learn it. Not likely, so this is why I am asking about the two ways. They would be hassle free so to speak. Thanks

There is very little difference in actual range as far as wattage figures. The reason is that line-of-sight is still line-of-sight. A 5-watt transmission is still going to get blocked as effectively as a 2-watt transmission.

Repeaters increase range because they have very high antennas, and they take a weak signal from the fringe of their area and can retransmit it, so to speak, to the outer fringe of the repeater’s line-of-sight, thus potentially increasing your transmission distance dramatically.

This is essentially how wide-area transmissions are done with VHF/UHF business radios and public service agencies. They have tall antennas and multiple repeaters located throughout their area.

If you are looking at only communicating a few blocks, read the many reviews on this site for a good FRS or GMRS radio. They are very helpful. Some of the better radios are also reasonably weather-proof.

You also have the option of 900MHz radios such as the TriSquare radios. There range is no more than a really good FRS radio, but you will at least get about the most range possible. They also work good in areas where FRS and GMRS channels may get overwhelmed by many users in one area all trying to use the available channels at once.

The ultimate 900MHz radio is the Motorola DTR radio, which is not only weatherproof but built to mil-spec standards. But this industrial-grade radio is very expensive.

But just to show you how little power matters as to range, my Motorola DTR radios have about the most one can expect with the absolute best range of any UHF radio on the market … and they are only 1 watt.

(Mind you, the clarity of the pure digital transmission and the 1000mW of audio output, together with business-grade speakers, make for very nice clear transmissions!)

Yes… ham radio requires a license, which you get by studying and taking a test. You operate an amateur radio without a license, you can bet someone will be knocking on your door in short order.

BTW: GMRS also requires a license. You simply apply and pay for that. ($85)

GMRS systems can legally use external antennas, which with a handheld with an external antenna attached, can easily get you several miles.