One thing you'll notice about all of our event pages is that they encourage you to bring 2-way radios if you have them. We use FRS/GMRS radios to communicate while driving. This could be anything from amusing banter to important instructions along the route. While certainly not required, they definitely enhance the enjoyment of our drives.
We operate on channel 20, sub-channel 3. Historically the club used channel 2, sub-channel 3 as a nod to Z3's, but we've migrated away for a very specific reason. Channel 20 will allow radios that support it anywhere from double to ten times the transmit power that channel 2 will. More on that in a moment.
The radios that we use, as of the most recent FCC rules, are just called FRS for "Family Radio Service". A radio you buy at Walmart today will be allowed up to 2 watts of power. They require no license to operate and generally get a 1-3 mile range, regardless of what the packaging states. Prior to these changes, the exact same radio had 2 ranges of channels. The low numbers had a limit of 1/2 watt and high numbers had a limit of 5 watts (though most models weren't actually that powerful). You needed a GMRS (General Mobile Radio Service) license from the FCC to legally use the higher channels. Because no one ever obeyed those rules and they were largely unenforceable, the FCC has now grandfathered all of those radios as FRS-compliant, and even for those higher powered channels no license is required anymore. The important thing here is that a FRS radio you buy today is most likely less powerful than one you bought 5 years ago as part of this compromise. There are still GMRS radios being made, but now they are a different class of device and can have power up to 50 watts. They still share some channels with FRS and they still require a license. For our purposes, FRS and GMRS are 100% interoperable. It's also worth noting that the new rules are equally as unenforceable as the old ones...
Midland has a great explainer if you want to dig deeper on this.
There's lots of different options depending on your budget and how much you like to tinker. We recommend Midland brand radios for most people. Any of their radios will be fine, but below are some of the best choices.
Midland X-Talker T71 VP3 - If you're not sure, buy these.
|Baofeng Tech GMRSv1|
If you want to tinker, there are prosumer grade GMRS radios to be had. These will give you a full 5 watts of power on channel 20, and they'll have a removable antenna which can be upgraded if you desire. At handheld power levels, a good antenna is way more useful than another watt of power.
For when you absolutely must be heard and you're willing to figure out how to run some wires. This supports an external antenna which is more important than the power it provides.
We have some members that own other models of Baofeng radios than the one listed here. Previously these were a great option although they could be confusing to set up. However, because these models are ham radios, they are illegal to use on GMRS or FRS channels, period. Even though it's illegal (remember, unenforceable), old models worked nicely as FRS radios. However, in an effort to crack down on this, newer models are blocked from transmitting outside of allowed ham frequencies, so if you buy one today, it will likely be useless to you unless you're a licensed ham radio operator. A good way to cover yourself is just look at the picture. If it's not the exact Baofeng radio listed above and it has a numeric keypad on it, stay away.
While we can't go into the specifics for every radio on the market, here are the key steps to look for in your user manual: