Which Radio System is Best for Me?

Hey all! I’m brand new to this forum and need some help. But first, I should add that I don’t usually do forums because too often they degenerate to arrogance and bickering by the third post. If that happens here, I’ll simply give up and move on. I’m a newbie and don’t know what I don’t know, so be patient and kind, please.

I’d like to learn a bit more about two-way radio use. I’ve had handheld FRS/GMRS units before, but would like something that allows me to communicate with my family across town (approximately 10 miles), and FRS/GMRS won’t do it. I’d like to not have to get a license, but the more I read, the less convinced I become that doing what I want to do without a license is possible. Furthermore, I’d rather not have to spend $500 and license my wife and son to do this. Frankly, I’m a bit confused by all the options (business radio, amateur/ham radio, VHF, UHF, MURS, etc.). I wish someone could give me pros/cons of the different options. What’s possible and what’s not and what’s the best and most economical option available to me?

GMRS requires a license, so if you are using GMRs frequencies, you are operating illegally.

You will require an outside antenna, mounted on the roof, or in a high attic to even attempt the ranges you are looking at. A GMRS license and powerful enough base station will work. If there are GMRS repeaters that are open, or require fees, you could try that.

Without a license, only MURS is an option. 2 watts with a high enough antenna, may get you where you want to go.

Hi, welcome to the forums!

I understand that you would like to learn more about two way radios in general and if they would be a solution for what you need without the need to spend hundreds of dollars on a license. You also want to know what radio service would be best for family use.

First, there are a lot of advantages to using radios for communications, some obvious and some not so obvious. However, two way radios do have range limitations, and it becomes more confusing when you look at all of range claims from radio manufacturers.

While it may be possible to get 10 miles or more from a set of walkie talkies, that is more the exception than the rule, as no matter what type of radio you use, it will depend a lot more on your specific location, terrain, and circumstances than the radios themselves. A more reasonable expectation using any handheld would be one to two miles on open land, and much less in urban areas.

A mobile radio or base station with higher wattage and a detachable, external antenna will give you more range, but that will limit you to a mounted radio, rather than a handheld. In any case, don’t decide on a handheld radio based on the range posted on the package. Unless you are on top of a mountain, you will probably not even come close to those numbers.

Don’t be intimidated by the cost of a license. Some radio services do not require you to purchase one. There are radio services that license by rule (i.e. no application for a license is needed). Stick with those types of radios if licensing is an issue.

Having said that, there are a lot of radio services, but not all of them are intended for consumer use, so your options are really not all that confusing.

Business radios are intended for business use. The license is somewhat expensive, but it isn’t for general consumer use anyway, and when operating directly from radio to radio, the range isn’t going to be much better than on any other radio service.

FRS/GMRS radios are intended for consumer use. The radios generally operate on both FRS and GMRS frequencies. Although these radios require a license to operate on GMRS, you don’t need one to operate on FRS. Stay on the FRS frequencies and you will be okay. The only downside is that FRS is low power, so your range will not be as great as GMRS.

MURS can be used by business and consumers, and it is a somewhat underused and highly underrated service. The power is limited to 2 watts, but it works well outdoors and the frequencies are not crowded, so you will have a little more privacy, so to speak. MURS is also license free.

For greater range, CB radios are really not a bad way to go. The CB radio service has been used by consumers for decades. It gets a bad rap because of its reputation for crowded frequencies and some users who abuse the airwaves with bad behavior and salty language, but if you are in a heavily populated urban area, technically you could hear that on FRS and GMRS frequencies as well, so it’s somewhat moot. There are some CB handhelds available that offer good performance and reliability. CB is also license free.

There are also digital radios available that operate on 900 MHz frequencies and are also license free. While some are intended for business use, technically they can be used by anyone and all things considered, the range isn’t too bad. They also offer a little more perceived privacy and have great sound clarity.

Amateur or ham radios are really intended those who want to operate a radio as a hobby rather than a utility. A license is required, and although a small fee is paid to take a test, the real cost is the time and effort expended to study and take the test. Anyone can become a ham operator, and entire families have become licensed hams. You can get significantly greater range from the use of handheld radios with local repeater systems, and it can be a very rewarding pursuit that can bond a family together.

Here are some resources that may help you decide the best and most economical option for you and your family:

Types of Two Way Radios
A Beginner’s Guide to CB Radio

Podcasts - The Two Way Radio Show
TWRS-11 - All About MURS
TWRS-40 - Fun With FRS
TWRS-69 - Amateur Radio as a Family Friendly Hobby
TWRS-75 - Types of Two Way Radios

Radio 101 - The truth about FRS / GMRS two way radio range
Radio 101 - The difference between UHF and VHF radios

I think you’re way too worried about getting a Ham licence. The fee is only 15 dollars for a lifetime. The tech licence test is super easy. It allows you to use 2 meters and 10 meters for the most part, and with a nice 2 meter repeater in your area, can allow you to talk as much as 50 miles apart with ease, further on good days and nights.

Handhelds are cheap, as low as 40 for a bottom of the line model, a nice mobile for your car can be around 150 or so, with an antenna another 20. I think this would suit your needs perfectly.

Ham radio allows for a true 50 mile range.