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  1. Hi everyone! With GMRS gaining traction out there in the offroad/overland arena, I figured it might be helpful to have an “all-in-one” post with information on how to get into GMRS. The basic approach to the post is for a newcomer to GMRS, or someone (like me) that gets a little overwhelmed with all of the options available. So, if you’re like me and want to just “get to the point” with GMRS, I’m hoping you can walk away from this post knowing how to: Get legal Get talking What is GMRS? There are a lot of different radio “services” out there, including Citizen’s Band (CB), Ham (amature radio), Family Radio Service (FRS), and others. It can get a little confusing keeping it all straight. Bottom line: GMRS is a “relatively new” range of frequencies set aside by the FCC for the General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS). Compared to some other services, GMRS is appealing because: It has competitive range/power Good quality transmissions Easy to install and use radios/antennas Easy to use (choose 1 of 22 different channels, similar to CB) No exam or technical requirement, just a paid license Repeaters. Similar to Ham, certain models of GMRS radios have access to special repeater channels that can allow you to transmit over pretty incredible distances. Some local repeaters here in AZ are pushing transmissions over 150 miles, depending on geography and conditions! Cool story bro. So what do I need to get started? This is a pretty easy section. You will need: A GMRS radio A GMRS license with a callsign That’s literally it. GMRS Radio Types There are a TON of different models/styles of GMRS radios. These include models that are highly portable walkie-talkies to hard mounted mobile units that you’d install in your vehicle. Here are a few links to help you with your personal research: Midland Rugged Radios Buy Two Way Radios Marine Approved BTech has a cheap handheld that is repeater capable **UPDATE** Check out this excellent post from @SonoranWanderer on building a GMRS radio kit on a Budget! There are a lot of options out there that fit a range of needs and budgets. My recommendation is to find a radio that provides you with access to the high-power channels. This will get you more range. That said, more power, more money. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with grabbing a cheap handheld unit to get you by on some trail rides. If you’re interested in what I personally bought, check out this thread and this post. So I Need a License? Sounds Intense. Yes. You need a license to LEGALLY TRANSMIT on GMRS frequencies. You can listen all day without one. But if you want to talk, you need the license. Here’s the great thing about the license: Its good for 10 years. Yes, 10 years. NO TESTS. It covers your entire family (immediate family) You get a sweet callsign (WRKC290 is mine, makes you feel official) Its affordable. But what about the evil government tax license fee? Today, a 10 year license is $70. That’s $7 per year. But wait, there’s more. The FCC recently announced that they are reducing the fee to $35. That’s $3.50 per year. At these prices, there’s literally no good reason to avoid getting one if you plan to transmit. Get one. Get legal. How Do I Get a License and Callsign? It’s relatively easy. Check out this article on the AZ GMRS Repeater Club website. It walks you through the entire process, step by step. To get started, visit the FCC website, click “register” and get going! My license was approved the next business day. My license and callsign arrived by email (PDF) the following day. My callsign was updated in their database that very evening. So, I Got My License. What’s Next? Install that radio and get transmitting! Read your manual, get to know your radio’s features, grab a buddy and test it. Some additional resources you’ll find interesting: Check out this great GMRS on a Budget thread! Repeaters – Repeaters will grab your transmission and rebroadcast it at higher power from (generally) a much taller/larger antenna than you’re working with. This can extend your range significantly when you need. MyGMRS.com is a fantastic resource for repeater information. Create a free account, punch in your callsign, and you’ll get access to a nationwide map of repeaters – complete with input/output access tones. It's important to note that MyGMRS hits the FCC license database before they'll let you create an account. If you don't have a license, you're not unlocking any of the repeater tones (more on this later). Get licensed. Get Legal. It’s important to note that this isn’t every repeater out there, some owners don’t have their stations listed here and operate their own club websites. AZ GMRS Repeater Club is another great group with really good information. They host a tower on the White Tank Mountains. You can catch this repeater on Channel 15 (462.5500). They also have a Tuesday night “Radio Net”, which is like a radio-based club meeting, which is fun to listen in to. They also report on the traffic and weather every workday during both the morning and evening commutes. It’s a LOT of fun to listen in on. Tucson GMRS Association – another repeater club. These guys have a few towers, including one on Mt. Lemmon. I’m able to pick up their transmissions from my house in Peoria. Etiquette – Like any form of communication, there are niceties and rules to be observed. Here’s a helpful blog article on some basic rules that apply to pretty much every form of radio communication. Tones and Codes – GMRS allows for privacy tones/codes to allow you to filter out any cross-talk that is occurring on your favorite channel. This allows you to talk to your buddies and not have to listen to some other operators complaining about their spouses. 😅 How's this work? In simplest terms, a privacy tone/code simply allows a transmission to breath through your squelch so you can hear the transmission. If you have the tone/code active on the receiving end, you won't hear any chatter on that channel until your radio picks up the appropriate tone/code. Then it lets that piece of traffic through. Pretty simple. Radio to radio (or ship to ship communication): Essentially, if you're using a tone, when you transmit your radio will simultaneously transmit a preset tone. If your friend's radio is preset to listen for that same tone, your message will be heard by them. Think of it like a backchannel chat occurring away from a much larger group chat. However, it's important to note that these "privacy tones" are not necessarily keeping your conversation private. People that are monitoring the same channel can hear you. The tones are more for you to be able to filter out the garbage that might be occurring on a highly active channel. Radio to repeater communication: The use of a tone triggers the repeater to pick up your transmission and retransmit it. Pretty simple. Note: Some repeaters use a dual-tone system, with a difference tone for the input, and another for the output. Some radios (like my Midland 275) can't do dual tone. I can use an input tone to get the repeater to repeat my transmission, but I won't natively be able to hear a response from anyone that responds to me. This doesn't mean I can't hear them though - the workaround is to hit your Monitor Button, which allows all of the grimy static to come in as it removes your squelch so you can hear all transmissions on that frequency, regardless of privacy tones. It's also important to state than many repeater operators rotate their access tones. They do this to keep morons off the airwaves, or help prevent abuse by folks breaking the rules for the repeater. It is also worth noting that almost every locally-based (AZ) repeater uses a tone or code to allow you to transmit on the repeater. These tones/codes come in 2 flavors, including CTCSS and DCS. Here are some detailed articles on the subject, if you’re interested. Continuous Tone-Coded Squelch System Digital Code Squelch (DCS) CTCSS and DCS Tones -- What's the difference? The Travel Tone - It’s also worth noting that there is a “national travel tone”. This is on CTCSS 141.3 Hz. The idea here is that “most” repeaters will accept the travel tone and allow you to broadcast for travel or assistance related transmissions. This is pretty nice, since you don’t need to know a ton of specific tones for specific repeaters for specific needs. This is reminiscent of Channel 14 on CB, which was a largely accepted “travel channel”. Note that not ALL repeaters are set up this way. Most repeaters are privately owned, and their owners are able to configure them however they wish. If you have access to a repeater via a travel tone, DON’T abuse that privilege. Frequency Chart – Here’s a handy freq chart that @theksmith found. I like this as it shows you the cross-over frequencies where you're able to talk to FRS radio users. Jeep Jamboree - JJUSA had an excellent article about why they're moving from CB to GMRS - it's very well written for the layman to understand the advantages. I believe it is also a tipping point towards GMRS when a larger organization like JJ makes such a dramatic shift to a new method of comms. But What About My Baofeng Radio? Nothing that follows in this post constitutes legal advice. So you have a cheap Baofeng radio, like a UV-5R. It's a Ham radio, but can also program in GMRS and transmit. It's easy to see the appeal, you can pick up a Baofeng for like $25. Well, while you CAN, doesn't mean you should. You are able to use the radio to LISTEN to any channel you'd like. However you shouldn't transmit, even if you have a GMRS license. This is due to the radios not being certified by the FCC to broadcast on GMRS frequencies. That said, there's something to be said about grabbing the cheapest radio you can find to be able to listen in (which is legally fine). You also have it on hand in the event you need to transmit in an emergency. Confused? Yeah me too. Here's a great video on why you CAN transmit on GMRS with a Baofeng-type Ham radio, but probably should not due to the legal ramifications. Here's another video on the topic worth watching: If you're interested in programming your Baofeng to pick up transmissions on GMRS bands, here's a great how-to video:
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