GMRS 2-Way Radios
GMRS for use with GENOAK
Any local individual, neighborhood group, CERT Team or community hub with a “repeater-capable” GMRS 2-way radio (see below) and FCC GMRS license is welcome to participate in the GENOAK network for emergency communications.
GENOAK operators are also encouraged participate in the regular monthly check-in net.
FRS/GMRS Service and Radios
FRS (Family Radio Service) and GMRS (General Mobile Radio Service) are FCC-regulated radio services in the UHF frequency band designed for short-distance, 2-way communications. Radios that work with both of these services were called “FRS/GMRS” radios, and new (2017) FCC rules reclassify these as “FRS-only” (FRS) and “GMRS-only” (GMRS) radios, based on their features and capabilities.
2-way GMRS radios are available in portable handheld and mobile/base station versions. Handheld 2-way radios can also be called walkie-talkies, handie-talkies or just HTs (handheld transmitters/handie-talkies). Mobile radios can be installed in vehicles or used as home base stations and often have more features and can transmit with more power than handhelds. Handhelds have the advantage of being portable and are usually less expensive.
Anyone in the local area with an FRS or GMRS 2-way radio can listen to (monitor) GENOAK communications on Channel 17 (462.600 MHz) with the “Privacy Code” set to 0 or “Off”.
Click Here for Details on FRS/GMRS Radio Frequencies and Channels
Two-way radios by definition transmit and receive voice/data via electromagnetic radio waves. FRS and GMRS are FCC-regulated services that utilize designated radio wave frequencies around 462 and 467 MHz in the Ultra High Frequency (UHF) FM band.
These FRS/GMRS frequencies are assigned to channels numbered 01 – 22. There are 8 additional channels/frequencies for GMRS repeater input use only. The FCC updated FRS/GMRS channel/frequency assignments and associated rules in 2017 and all FRS and GMRS radios sold today should adhere to these new rules.
Note that FRS and GMRS share channels 01 – 22. Individuals with a GMRS license are allowed to transmit at a higher power on channels 01 – 07 and 15 – 22. “GMRS-only” radios typically support both FRS and GMRS transmit power settings and they usually allow their antennas to be upgraded (see below). GMRS-only radios can also support short data messaging applications including text messaging and GPS location information.
Two-way radios can only communicate with each other (direct radio-to-radio/simplex or via a repeater) by being on the same frequency. Be aware that older FRS-only, GMRS-only or FRS/GMRS radios may not adhere to all of the 2017 FCC channel/frequency assignments. For example, older Motorola P1225 and ICOM IC-F21GM radios do not. This can cause confusion and users of these radios need to understand the channel/frequency assignments that their particular radios use.
GMRS Radio Recommendations
As of January, 2023, the following repeater-capable GMRS handheld radios are recommended for use with GENOAK. New GMRS radios are introduced regularly, and as individuals may have different needs or constraints please feel free to contact us for a radio recommendation.
Note that there are other radios on the market that have the ability to communicate with the GENOAK repeater, but these may not be legal to use. The FCC has a “Part 95” certification that FRS/GMRS radios must adhere to.
We can program most of these recommended radios for you to access the GENOAK and other local GMRS repeaters.
1. Wouxun KG-805G/KG-905G
The Wouxun KG-805G/KG-905G are “business quality” GMRS-only handheld radios. They deliver 4 to 5 watts of power, are repeater capable and have good audio quality. They are durable, FCC Part 95 certified, very simple to use (no keypad) and can be programmed using free Wouxun software and a programming cable. They receive commercial FM radio stations and UHF (Ham) frequencies, but they do not receive VHF (Ham) frequencies or NOAA weather channels. Current price (January, 2023) is $100 for the KG-805G and $120 for the KG-905G. For more information and to purchase, check out BuyTwoWayRadios.com.
GENOAK provides a Quick Reference and User’s Guide for the Wouxun KG-805G radio here.
Wouxun also provides higher-end KG-935G, KG-UV9G and KG-S88G GMRS-only handheld radios. These are excellent, high-quality radios at a higher price than the 805G/905G. They have full keypads and more features that may include a color screen, VHF reception and better weather protection.
For a feature comparison of all Wouxun GMRS radios, check out this blog post on BuyTwoWayRadios.com.
2. Baofeng UV-9G
The Baofeng UV-9G is a 5 watt GMRS-only handheld radio with a full keypad and an IP67 water resistance rating. It can also monitor (receive) a second channel as well as VHF/UHF frequencies (e.g. 2m Amateur/Ham) plus NOAA weather and commercial FM radio (although some have shipped without FM radio capability), which can be useful. This is an inexpensive and quite capable FCC Part 95 certified radio. It can be programmed using free software (CHIRP) and includes a programming cable. Current price (January, 2023) is $45.
3. Radioddity GM-30
The Radioddity GM-30 (and similar TIDRADIO TD-H5, Retevis RT76P and Baofeng GM-15 Pro) is a 5 watt GMRS-only handheld radio with a full keypad and a very readable screen. It can also monitor (receive) a second channel as well as VHF/UHF frequencies (e.g. 2m Amateur/Ham) plus NOAA weather and commercial FM radio, which can be useful. This is an inexpensive and quite capable FCC Part 95 certified radio. It can be programmed using free software and a programming cable. Charging is via a USB cable. Current price (January, 2023) is $40. Check prices as the TIDRADIO TD-H5 2-radio bundle may be less per radio. The Baofeng GM-15 comes in several colors (including more visible orange, yellow and red) and at a lower cost.
4. Baofeng G11S
The Baofeng G11S (and similar Retevis RB27) is a low cost, solid and very easy-to-use GMRS-only handheld radio. It can monitor (receive) VHF/UHF frequencies (e.g. 2m Amateur/Ham) plus NOAA weather and commercial FM radio, which can be useful. This is a 3 watt radio that is FCC Part 95 certified and repeater capable. It can be programmed using free software (CHIRP, as a Retevis RB27) and a programming cable. Charging is via a USB cable. Current price (January, 2023) for a pair of G11S radios is $60.
5. BTECH GMRS-V2
The BTECH GMRS-V2 is a GMRS-only handheld radio with a full keypad. It can also monitor (receive) a second channel as well as VHF/UHF frequencies (e.g. 2m Amateur/Ham) plus NOAA weather and commercial FM radio, which can be useful. This is a 5 watt Baofeng radio that is FCC Part 95 certified and repeater capable. It can be programmed using free software (CHIRP) and a programming cable. Current price (January, 2023) is $55. For more information and to purchase, check out BaoFengTech.com.
The BTECH GMRS-PRO is customizable GMRS-only radio with Bluetooth, GPS (uses downloadable maps) and a compass for $155 (January, 2023.) The PRO can send text messages and share locations with other PRO radios (simplex only).
6. Baofeng UV-5X GMRS
The Baofeng UV-5X GMRS is an inexpensive GMRS-only handheld radio with a full keypad. It can also monitor (receive) a second channel as well as VHF/UHF frequencies (e.g. 2m Amateur/Ham) plus NOAA weather and commercial FM radio, which can be useful. This is a 5 watt Baofeng radio based on the UV-5R that is FCC Part 95 certified and repeater capable. Current price for a pair of radios (January, 2023) is $60.
7. Wouxun KG-1000G/KG-1000G Plus Mobile
The Wouxun KG-1000G/KG-1000G Plus is a mobile/base station GMRS-only radio. While much more expensive ($370/$390 as of January, 2023) than a handheld GMRS radio, it also has more features and power (50 watts). The KG-1000G/KG-1000G Plus needs an external 12v power supply (like this) or to be mounted in a vehicle and powered by the 12v battery, and it requires an external antenna and coax cable. This radio is FCC Part 95 certified, can receive VHF/UHF frequencies (e.g. 2m Amateur/Ham) plus NOAA weather and commercial FM radio, and can be programmed using free Wouxun software and a programming cable.
The Wouxun KG-XS20G is a compact, less powerful (20 watts) and less expensive ($200 as of January, 2023) version of the KG-1000G. It requires the same type of external power supply, antenna and cable. For more information check out BuyTwoWayRadios.com.
There are other mobile/base station GMRS-radios that may work well, including the Radioddity DB20-G/DB25-G, BTECH Mobile GMRS-50X1, Midland MXT400/MXT500, Retevis RA25, etc.
Berkeley’s BeCERTAINN program has published a comprehensive list of GMRS radios. Most of them will also work with the GENOAK repeater. And the Richmond/Marina Bay CERT group provides an excellent review and their recommendations of various GMRS radios.
What about my older FRS/GMRS radio?
Prior to 2017 many manufacturers made combination FRS/GMRS radios. These were often sold in a “bubble pack” of 2 radios. Brands include Motorola, Uniden, Midland and Radio Shack. Unfortunately, with the exception of a couple Motorola models (MS350R and MR/MS355R only), none of these FRS/GMRS radios are repeater-capable, and therefore none will work with the GENOAK network. They are, however, still usable for FRS communications. Midland still sells the GXT1000/1050 FRS/GMRS radio, but it does not work with a repeater and therefore does not work with the GENOAK network.
What about those inexpensive 2-way VHF/UHF radios?
The Baofeng UV-5R and UV-82HP are examples of popular, inexpensive and quite capable VHF/UHF radios that transmit on FRS/GMRS channels/frequencies and work with repeaters. These, however, are not FCC Part 95 certified (as of January, 2023) and as such, they are not legal for FRS/GMRS use and thus cannot be recommended by GENOAK.
Also, these radios have the ability to transmit on some Amateur (Ham) bands/frequencies (VHF/UHF). If you do not have an Amateur (Ham) FCC license, do not transmit on those frequencies! Violators can be subject to seizure of equipment, fines and other civil and criminal penalties by the FCC.
What about MURS?
MURS (Multi-Use Radio Service) is a separate FCC-regulated 2-way radio service in the VHF frequency band (151 – 154 MHz). MURS-only radios cannot communicate with GMRS and they do not work with repeaters, including GENOAK.
Using and Configuring your GMRS Radio
Familiarize yourself with the basic functions of your radio, including how to turn the power on and off, how to change the channel and adjust the volume and how to operate the Push-To-Talk (PTT) button. Note that some radios have dual channel displays so know how to switch between them. Some radios have additional controls to learn about, such as a keypad lock, squelch control, an LED light, an FM radio and a settings menu.
Most radios can be programmed manually but it is usually not an easy process as it may require tedious menu selections and button presses. Programming software such as CHIRP (recommended to make a donation if you use this excellent app) or that supplied free from the manufacturer (as for the Wouxuns) is much easier to use once you get the hang of the application. You can save the settings in a file (often called a “code plug”) so that you can go back and easily make changes or additions.
Note that radios such as the Wouxun KG-805G/KG-905G and Baofeng G11S require programming software to configure them as they don’t have a keypad with which to enter values. Programming cables are available from the manufacturers. The Wouxun KG-805G/KG-905G, Radioddity GM-30, Baofeng UV-5X/G11S/GM-15, BTECH GMRS-V2 and others all use the same programming cable–a “K” (Kenwood-style) 2-prong connector/USB cable that fits into the port on the side of the radio. The Baofeng UV-9G uses a different style programming cable that is included with the radio.
Note that to access GENOAK you will first need to program your repeater-capable GMRS radio with GENOAK-specific transmit and receive codes. If your radio is not configured and if you are in the Oakland/East Bay area, please contact us for this access/programming information. We can also program your radio for you.
Charging your GMRS Radio
Keep your batteries fresh or charged. If your radio uses AA/AAA batteries and you don’t use it often, remove them so that they don’t damage the radio if they leak. If your radio has a rechargeable battery pack, determine from the manufacturer or user manual whether it can be left sitting in the charger long-term, or if it’s best stored out of the charger. If unsure, remove it from the charger when it is fully charged.
Some radios may draw a little current from the battery even when turned off, so regularly refresh the charge to avoid having a dead battery when you need it in an emergency. And always have spare batteries or charged battery packs on-hand. Higher capacity battery packs are available for several of the radios and are recommended.
Improving your Ability to Communicate
If you are having trouble hearing or being heard through the GENOAK repeater or directly with another operator via simplex (aka “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate!”), here are some things you can try to improve the chance of getting your message through (from least to most cost):
- Hold the radio between you and the general location of the GENOAK repeater or other operator you want to reach, with the antenna pointing straight up. Don’t touch the antenna when you are using the radio.
- Hold the radio close enough that the microphone can pick up your voice, about 3 to 10 inches in front of your mouth. Talk across the microphone, rather than directly into it. And avoid noisy environments if possible.
- Know that hills, terrain, buildings and even dense foliage between you and the GENOAK repeater or other operator can hinder or block the radio signals. You can use an application such as RF Line-of-Sight to map your location and the GENOAK repeater (at 37.8468, -122.1999) or another operator to see what terrain may be in the way. A clear line-of-sight is always best but is usually not possible.
- Since you can’t do much about terrain or objects in the way, you may need to move to a different location. Sometimes just walking to the top of a nearby rise or hill may be enough to improve your signal. Generally the higher in elevation you can be, the better.
- Stepping outside of a home/building may help too. Try not to have the structure in-between you and where you are trying to reach, e.g. the GENOAK repeater. If you can’t step outside then being next to a window may help.
- Consider upgrading the attached antenna as this may improve your signal. Most GMRS-only radios allow you to replace the stock “rubber duck” antenna with a better (“higher gain”) after-market antenna. Be sure to get an antenna that’s tuned for GMRS frequencies (462 to 467 MHz), and has the correct connector for your radio (be aware of SMA versus reverse-SMA connectors). Note, don’t expect a big improvement with an attached after-market antenna, but it may just be enough.
- An external, tall pole- or roof-mounted antenna (e.g. a “J-pole“, “Slim Jim” or a base GMRS antenna) though can noticeably improve radio communications. You will need an appropriate length of quality coax cable and appropriate connectors for your radio. Fixed antennas do limit your ability to move to different locations, although an extendable “painters pole” can be a great mobile antenna mount.
- Finally, increased transmit power can also improve radio communications, although generally not as much as an external antenna and/or better location. It’s amazing how distant a few watts of power can travel. However, if you do feel you need more transmit power, mobile GMRS radios such as the Wouxun KG-1000G, Wouxun KG-XS20G, BTECH Mobile GMRS-50X1, Radioddity DB-25G and others can output 20 to 50 watts. They can be used indoors or in a vehicle (with a “mag-mount” antenna).
These mobile radios require a separate 12v DC power supply, such as from Powerwerx. Or they can be connected to a vehicle’s 12v battery. Coupled to an external antenna (mounted as high as possible) with coax cable, this setup will provide the most range and best clarity, all other things being equal.