FRS/GMRS Buyers Guide
The choice of a FRS or GMRS radio can be bewildering. Manufacturers do not help the situation. Here are a few tips to help you get started.
Shopping Guide for FRS/GMRS radios
- Don’t pay much attention to claims about transmission distance. These claims are for perfect conditions, such as over water and from mountain peak to mountain (line-of-sight). NET members are rarely so lucky. For the highest power GMRS radio, plan on a range of between ½ mile to 2 miles at best in an urban environment. Remember, transmission power is not as important as using a good location and proper operating technique.
- Plan on paying as much if not more for necessary accessories as for the radio. Most radios come with a charging station, a single rechargeable battery, and an earphone. Here are some other accessories you will want to add. Count on paying about $15-$20 for each one of these.
- An acoustic earphone/microphone – The earpieces that come with the radios are typically not very good. You need a good earphone/microphone to operate hands-free in search and rescue situations.
- Extra rechargeable battery and possibly an additional charger.
- An adapter for AA batteries if the radio does not accommodate AA batteries.
- A “battery eliminator,” which permits you to run your radio off of a cigarette lighter or automobile battery.
- If you have a GMRS radio, you may need an adapter from your radio’s antenna connector to the standard PL-259 UHF connector to use an external antenna.
The Ideal Radio
Manufacturers offer a range of FRS and GMRS radios. The selection seems to change monthly as models come and go. Prices range from $25 to $150. How to choose? While Portland NET program cannot officially recommend any particular radio, the RTLs (Radio Training Liaisons) have come up with the following suggested feature set and a list of radios that come close to meeting them.
Questions to consider:
- Supports both low and high power, to provide battery demand flexibility?
- Weather resistant or waterproof?
- Supports multiple battery options, particularly AAs, rechargeable as well as alkaline?
- Includes earbud/mic and desktop charger?
- Supports FM and NOAA weather reception?
- How good is its receiver? Some inexpensive radios become relatively deaf when they are operated within a few miles of a commercial broadcast tower.
- Is it FRS or GMRS? FRS radios don’t require a license but you cannot upgrade their antennas GMRS radios can be upgraded and offer higher power on some channels but require a family license although there is no test required to obtain one.
- If it is a GMRS radio, does it allow using repeaters? When repeaters are used transmissions go farther, particularly in hilly areas but thre are very few GMRS repeaters in the Portland area.
|Motorola T4xx/T6xx series||Wouxun KG-805G||Midland GXT series|
|Supports low/high power||yes||yes||yes|
|Weather-resistant or waterproof||T4xx weather-resistant
|Supports AA batteries||yes||no||yes|
Others use wallwart
|FM and NOAA reception||T480 FM+NOAA
|not without programming||NOAA|
|Notes||FRS||GMRS, repeater capable||FRS|