2-Way Radios

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.

Ok, just tell me what to buy

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.
Get this if you just want something that works and requires nearly no setup. Highly recommended.

  • Rechargeable batteries, should last more than a day
  • Comes with USB-powered charging station
  • 2 watts of power on Channel 20
  • Pairs really nicely with AVPH3 headset accessory, especially if you have a convertible
  • Buy them on Amazon or Midland, or locally at Academy or Best Buy

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.

  • This radio is a "locked down" version of Baofeng's handheld ham radio. It only supports GMRS frequencies for transmit, but can listen to a wide range.
  • You can program the radio with your computer and a USB cable (easier than doing it by hand), but it will require some tinkering out of the box
  • Rechargeable battery lasts forever
  • Removable antenna
  • Available readily on Amazon
  • Note, only comes with one radio, not a pair

Midland MXT-275

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.

  • 15 watts of power on channel 20
  • Radio unit can be mounted under a seat or in the trunk
  • Handset connects with Ethernet connection so easily extended / coupled
  • Comes with a magnetic mount external antenna.
  • Works with AVPH3 headset from Midland
  • This is an advanced setup!
  • Available from Amazon or Midland

Anything to steer clear of?

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.

How do I set it up?

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:

  • If your radio has "channels", use channel 20
  • If your radio has "frequencies", use 462.675MHz
  • If your radio has channels, use sub channel 3. This may be referred to as a privacy code, a PL Tone or CTCSS in your manual. They all mean the same thing. This is NOT the same as "DCS".
  • If your radio has frequencies, the CTCSS frequency is 74.4Hz
  • When in doubt, bring your radios and ask someone with already-set-up units to help you program them and do a radio check