Why do government agents use two way radios? Because they work! One of the most useful tools I’ve ever purchased, is my handheld two way radio. I had first bought a couple of them when I was living in New York and was going kind of crazy with the whole prepper thing. I quickly realized they were basically useless because I didn’t know anybody else with a two way radio.
That all changed when I got to Keene, New Hampshire, and saw how powerful these devices could be. They were mostly using marine band VHF radios at the time, and I realized I could tune my VHF radio into those frequencies. The libertarian community there uses these radios regularly, along with a group text messaging system they call “Keene 411?. The ability to instantly communicate with other activists proved to be very useful, and built a sense of community and comradery that I have yet to see elsewhere.
They have become so effective at “Robin Hooding” that parking enforcers actually run away from them. They use the radios to track down the parking enforcers, and alert other activists to their location, so they can put coins in parking meters before the meter maid can write a ticket. Additionally, if someone is pulled over, or otherwise harassed by government agents (or anyone else for that matter) you can simply radio for help, and activists will show up with cameras.
At its most basic level, this is so easy to replicate, it’s a wonder more people haven’t already done it. Just buy a radio for yourself, and encourage a neighbor to do the same, agree on a frequency/channel, and talk. The most difficult part is getting people to buy the radios and monitor them on a regular basis. Once they are in regular use however, once people see their friends using the radios, everybody is going to want one, and they will become a regular part of your daily life.
The question everybody jumps to, is range. “How far can these radios communicate?”. There’s no easy answer to that question. It depends on frequency, transmit power, interference, topography, antenna type, antenna height, construction, trees, the curvature of the earth, weather, and more variables than I care to list. There’s a website that can help you estimate the potential distance of your transmission, called CloudRF. They also make a very useful android app called RFSignal, which I have purchased. This is more for repeaters and towers though, we’ll talk about repeaters later.
If you go to Target/Best Buy/Walmart and buy a walkie talkie, it’s probably a 22 channel GMRS/FRS radio. This stands for General Mobile Radio Service and Family Radio service, respectively. They will tell you that the radios have a maximum distance of 2 to 50 miles, and that’s almost complete nonsense. Unless you have line of sight, as in, no obstacles between you and the person you’re communicating with, these radios will not communicate very far at all. I’ve tried to use them on job sites, and been unable to communicate with coworkers inside the same building.
FRS legally requires no license, is limited to 500 miliwatts, and must have a fixed antenna.
GMRS legally requires an FCC license, which you can purchase for $85, but there is next to zero enforcement on this, and the FCC has proposed to remove the licensing requirement. With an FCC license, you can legally transmit on these frequencies at up to 50 watts, and use pretty much any antenna you like, so long as the antenna is not more than 20 feet above the ground, or above the tree to which the antenna is mounted.
This just in… As I was writing this article, and browsing the FCC website for regulatory information, they shut down the website, because of the government shutdown. Now, they haven’t actually gone dark, they just put this silly message on their site. “We regret the disruption, but during the Federal Government-wide shutdown, the FCC is limited to performing duties that are immediately necessary for the safety of life or the protection of property. FCC online systems will not be available until further notice.”
The funny thing is, for that message to display, they have to keep their servers up and running, which is what incurs the expense. They just made their content unavailable, I guess to “punish” us for not going along with their incessant demands for greater and greater funding. How childish… Good thing I have absolutely no intention of complying with any FCC regulations, shutdown or no shutdown.
In any case, the radios that you buy in retail stores, while they are capable of communicating on GMRS frequencies, do so under FRS standards. They are half watt radios with fixed antennas, even if you buy a “high power” radio, they usually only transmit at one watt. The upside to these devices is, they are widely available, many people already have them. The downside is, they don’t communicate very far, and some of them can be very expensive.
The other type of hand held radio you can buy in some stores is a marine band radio. These are usually 5 watt radios, and will communicate much further than the FRS/GMRS radios. The downside is, these are illegal to use on land, and very few people have them. You also might run into a lot of interference if you live near the water, as I do when I’m in New York, and these radios don’t use privacy codes. You can also buy a more high power marine band radio for your home or vehicle, but these will often cost upwards of $200, and transmit at 25 watts.
The ultimate answer, for handhelds, is to buy an open dual band hand held two way radio. I have two of these, a Baofeng UV5R, and a Puxing PX-888k.
These radios transmit at 5 watts on the VHF frequencies, and 4 watts on UHF. You can tune them into the GMRS frequencies, or marine band frequencies. They can use privacy codes to eliminate interference from other radios in the area. They can also use repeaters, which the retail radios cannot.
I prefer the Puxing to the Baofeng, it has some extra features like voice scrambler, the belt clip is also more sturdy, and the newer ones can act as a cross band repeater. The Baofeng however, is a lot cheaper, about half the price.
Either one will suit your purposes just fine. Yes, these are affiliate links, I get paid if you buy them from here. But that’s not my motivation for displaying them, I really want more people using these radios. The more of us who have them, the more useful they are.
Once you have the radios, you can manually tune to the frequency you want to use, or you can program in channels. To program channels using a computer you will need a special programming cable, and programming software. The software is free. You can download the Puxing programming software here (Just find your model number). You can download the Baofeng programming software here. Below you will find a link to the programming cable, unless you’re using an ad blocking plugin for your browser, in which case, buzz off. This cable will work for both of these radios, and many others as well.
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