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Global Skywatch

two-way radios

can be indispensable in emergencies and other times normal communications tools are not working.

For my current amateur radio Technician Class students, I just bought 7 of the make/model I feel gives the best cost/benefit for ham radio operators. The TYT MD-UV390 operates on both the ultra-high-frequencies (UHF) of the FCC’s family radio service (FRS) and general mobile radio service (GMRS), it also transmits and receives on the very high frequencies (VHF) commonly used by hams, public and private agencies for regional communications.

Their MD-UV380 is the lower cost version of the same radio without the water-proofing. TYT, also known as Tyterra builds well-reviewed radios in relatively affordable price ranges. The transmitters, receivers, speakers, microphones, displays, controls and antennas all work as well as any and better than most radios anywhere near their price range.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulates use of radio frequencies within the USofA. Until recently, all FRS transmissions were legally limited to 0.5 Watts of power output, for rather short-range communications without cluttering up the airwaves of the entire region. Nearly all FRS radios sold today are designed around that 500 milliwatt limit.

The next level up from that are the GMRS two-way radios. The FCC wants you to get a license for that, but they require no testing and cover the whole family. How to get a GMRS license. I think it costs around $70 for a ten-year license. GMRS radios are limited to 5 Watts, or ten times the power of their FRS cousins. GMRS radios can transmit at the high power setting or through user selection, the lower 0.5 watt power for closer-range communications.

While transmitter, receiver and antenna properties will make significant differences between range and clear communications capabilities of each radio, there is no magic. I was looking around the marketplace today and found a 500 milliwatt FRS-only radio advertised under the headline
Long Range Walkie Talkie 2 Set 50 Mile Two Way Radio Charge Headset Waterproof.

That is a complete lie. Nowhere on Earth under any conditions will those radios go 5 miles, let alone 50. Half a mile line-of-sight is realistic. Much beyond that will take really good conditions. A inexpensive big-box-store two-pack 5-watt GMRS radio will reach two miles … better ones more like 5.

In your shopping, pay attention to these crucial details:
FRS vs GMRS is a 0.5 watt limit in radiated power vs 5 watts.
Those magical 50-mile FRS radios I found actually list their power down a ways in their advertisement … where most of their online customers won’t see it or know what it means: “Output power: 0.5W”

I am not against FRS radios. I even program several 500 milliwatt low-power channels into my 5-watt GMRS radios because we do not always need or want the greater range. But you should know the difference and choose what you want, not buy disappointment from an online snake-oil salesman.