FRS/GMRS Buyers Guide

by | Jun 27, 2018

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.

  • Stick with Motorola or Midland – These are reputable manufacturers with extensive selections, and the NET program has pretty much standardized on them. If you have another make of radio, be advised that some manufacturers assign different channel numbers to same radio channel.  For example, Midland channel 1 is ICOM channel 9.

Shopping Guide for FRS/GMRS radios

  • Don’t pay much attention to claims about transmission distance (see, for example, the figure above) – 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 will need an adapter from your radios antenna outlet to the standard OS-239 UHF connector found on most antennas.

Note that you can purchase all of these through Amazon and other online stores, which gives you many opportunities to do comparison-shopping.

The Ideal Radio

Manufacturers offer a huge range of FRS and GMRS radios. The choice is staggering and the selection seems to change monthly as models come and go. Prices range from $25 to $150. How to choose? While Portland NET cannot officially recommend any particular radio, the RTL (Radio Training Liaisons) have pooled their collective wisdom and come up with the following suggested feature set and a list of radios that come close to meeting them.

Suggested features:

  • 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 reception
  • Is repeater capable, if GMRS
Motorola T4xx/T6xx seriesMotorola MS350R/MS355RMidland GXT series
Supports low/high poweryesyesyes
Weather-resistant or waterproofT4xx weather-resistant
T6xx waterproof
WaterproofWeather-resistant
Supports AA batteriesyesyesyes
Desktop chargerT480
Others use wallwart
yesyes
FM and NOAA receptionT480 FM+NOAA
Others NOAA
NOAANOAA
Repeater capablenoyesno

 

 

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