GMRS 2-Way Radios
FRS/GMRS Service and Radios
FRS (Family Radio Service) and GMRS (General Mobile Radio Service) are FCC-regulated radio services designed for short-distance, 2-way communications. Radios that work with both of these services have been called “FRS/GMRS” radios, although 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, mobile (often installed in vehicles) and fixed (base station) versions. Handheld 2-way radios are also called walkie-talkies, handie-talkies or just HTs (handheld transmitters/handie-talkies). Mobile and base station radios often have more features and can transmit with more power than handhelds. Handhelds have the advantage of being portable and are usually less expensive.
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, the Motorola P1225 and ICOM IC-F21GM radios noted below do not. This can cause confusion and users of these radios need to understand the channel/frequency assignments that their particular radios use.
Anyone with an FRS or GMRS 2-way radio can listen to GENOAK communications on Channel 17 (462.600 MHz) with the “Privacy Code” set to 0 or “Off”.
Any individual or neighborhood/CERT group with a repeater-capable GMRS 2-way radio (see below) can talk (and listen) on the GENOAK network if there is an emergency, and is welcome and encouraged to participate in the regular check-ins.
Repeater-capable GMRS radios include consumer GMRS radios and re-purposed commercial radios. See below for recommendations of 2-way radios that will work with the GENOAK repeater and how to set them up for use with the repeater.
GMRS Radio Recommendations
As of March, 2021, the following repeater-capable GMRS handheld radios are recommended for use with GENOAK. Note that there are other radios on the market that have the ability to communicate with the GENOAK repeater, but these may not be ideal or they may not be entirely legal to use. The FCC has a “Part 95” certification that FRS/GMRS radios must adhere with to be legal to use.
GENOAK can program any of these radios for you to access the GENOAK repeater.
1. Wouxun KG-805G/KG-905G (Top Recommended)
The Wouxun KG-805G and newer 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, with the “feel” of a professional radio, are FCC Part 95 certified, very simple to use and can be programmed using free Wouxun software and a programming cable. Current price (March, 2021) is $80 (KG-805G) and $110 (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.
2. Radioddity GM-30 (Recommended)
The Radioddity GM-30 (and similar Retevis RT76P) 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, which can be useful. This is an inexpensive FCC Part 95E certified and repeater capable radio. It can be programmed using free software and a programming cable. Charging is via a USB cable. Current price (March, 2021) is $40.
3. BTECH GMRS-V1 (Recommended)
The BTECH GMRS-V1 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 and NOAA weather), which can be useful. This is a 2 watt BaoFeng radio that is FCC Part 95A certified and repeater capable. It can be programmed using free software (CHIRP) and a programming cable. Current price (March, 2021) is $55. For more information and to purchase, check out BaoFengTech.com. *This radio does have a limitation that one should be aware of.
4. 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) and NOAA weather, 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 (April, 2021) is $60. *This radio does have a limitation that one should be aware of.
5. ICOM IC-F21GM
The ICOM IC-F21GM is a very basic, solid, commercial GMRS-only handheld radio. It lacks the features of the Wouxuns and the BTECH, but it is very simple to use for GENOAK once programmed. This radio has been out of production for several years but can sometimes be found used for sale. The Oakland CORE program gave these out to neighborhood groups in 2007. If you have one and it still operates (new replacement batteries are available) it can be programmed via software and a cable–GENOAK can help you with this.
6. Motorola Radius P1225
The Motorola Radius P1225 is a very basic, solid, commercial GMRS-only handheld radio. It lacks the features of the Wouxuns and the BTECH, but it is very simple to use for GENOAK once programmed (programming via software and a cable is highly recommended–GENOAK can help you with this). This radio has been out of production for several years but decent ones can be found used for sale.
7. Garmin Rino 750/755T
The Garmin Rino 750/755T is a handheld GPS/GLONASS receiver featuring a repeater-capable 5 watt GMRS radio, built-in Topo maps, a 3” sunlight-readable touchscreen and NOAA and Active Weather forecasts. While much more expensive than the other handheld radios noted, the GPS mapping and routing capabilities could be useful in an emergency. The Garmin Rino has not been tested by GENOAK, but as of March, 2021, it is still available for purchase.
8. Motorola Talkabout MS350R and T7200
The Motorola Talkabout MS350R (and MS/MR355R) and T7200 consumer handheld radios have been out of production for several years. These were some of the few FRS/GMRS “bubble-pack” radios that are repeater-capable. While not nearly as high a performer as the Wouxuns, Radioddity or BTECH, if you have one it can be manually programmed to work with the GENOAK repeater.
9. Wouxun KG-1000G Mobile (Recommended)
The Wouxun KG-1000G is a mobile/base station GMRS-only radio. While much more expensive ($320 as of March, 2021) than a handheld GMRS radio, it also has more features and power (50 watts). The KG-1000G 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 95E certified, can receive VHF/UHF frequencies (e.g. 2m Amateur/Ham and NOAA weather) and can be programmed using free Wouxun software and a programming cable. For more information and to purchase, check out BuyTwoWayRadios.com.
*The BTECH GMRS-V1, BaoFeng UV-5X GMRS (and probably others) have one limitation of potential concern. They do not allow additional GMRS channels, including repeater channels, to be programmed for transmit. So, for example, there are several repeaters in our Bay Area with some using the same channel but different PL/DCS codes, and you cannot program them all to transmit on. The Wouxun GMRS radios and the Radioddity GM-30 (firmware v2.06) do not have this limitation.
Berkeley’s BeCERTAINN program has published a comprehensive list of GMRS radios. Most of them will also work with the GENOAK repeater.
What about those inexpensive 2-way VHF/UHF radios?
The BaoFeng UV-5R and UV-82HP are examples of inexpensive and capable VHF/UHF radios that transmit on GMRS channels and work with repeaters. These, however, are not FCC Part 95 certified (as of March, 2021) and as such, they are not legal for GMRS and thus cannot be recommended by GENOAK.
Also, these radios have the ability to transmit on 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.
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 PTT buttons, like the BTECH, for transmitting on separate channels. Some radios have additional controls to learn about, such as a channel lock, squelch control, an LED light 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 or that supplied by the manufacturer (as for the Wouxuns) is easier to use once you get the hang of the application. The ICOM radio requires the programming software to work with GENOAK. You can save the settings in the software application so that you can go back and easily make changes or additions. Programming cables are available from the manufacturers; the Wouxun KG-805G/KG-905G, Radioddity GM-30, BaoFeng UV-5X and BTECH GMRS-V1 use the same programming cable.
Note that to use GENOAK you will first need to program your repeater-capable GMRS radio with specific transmit and receive codes. If your radio is not configured please contact us for this access/programming information.
Getting the most out of your GMRS Radio
Keep your batteries charged. If your radio uses alkaline batteries and you don’t use it often, remove them so that they don’t leak and damage the radio. Note that some radios lose their programming if the batteries are removed. 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.
Some radios still draw a little current from the battery even when turned off, so learn how to avoid having a dead battery when you need it in an emergency. And always have spare batteries or charged battery packs on-hand. Extended battery packs with larger capacities are available for the Wouxuns and the BTECH and are recommended.
If your GMRS radio is having trouble hearing or being heard by another operator or the repeater, there are some things you can try to improve the chances of getting your message through:
- If possible, transmit from a place that minimizes any hills, terrain, buildings and foliage between you and the other operator or repeater. Usually the higher in elevation you can be, the better.
- Hold the radio between you and the operator or repeater you want to reach, with the antenna 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.
- Consider upgrading your antenna as this can have a large impact on performance. Most GMRS-only radios allow you to replace the stock “rubber duck” antenna with a better (usually higher gain) after-market antenna. Be sure to get an antenna that’s tuned for the GMRS frequencies (around 462 to 467 MHz), and has the correct connector for your radio (be aware of SMA versus reverse-SMA connectors).
- Increased transmit power can also improve performance, although generally not nearly as much as a better antenna or location. It’s amazing how distant a few watts of power will travel with the right antenna. However, if you do feel you need more transmit power, mobile GMRS radios such as the Wouxun KG-1000G, the BTECH Mobile GMRS-50X1 and the Kenwood TK-880 (out of production but available used for sale, however not Part 95 approved) can output up to 50 watts. They also require a 12v power supply. Coupled to a “J-pole” or “Slim Jim” GMRS antenna (mounted as high as possible) with coax cable, this setup will provide the most range and clarity, all other things being equal.