TWO-WAY RADIO BUYERS GUIDE **UPDATE 10/25/11**

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TWO-WAY RADIO BUYERS GUIDE **UPDATE 10/25/11**

Post by Downtown » Wed Dec 28, 2005 6:14 pm

Hello Everyone,

Over the past 10 years I have becomes sort of the Radio Guy here in the MAA. Being in the Public Safety Field has given me the ability to play with some of the coolest radio gadgets that are out there today. I have also become somewhat of a self taught radio technician. Working on radio's on various types, but mostly the Motorola Brand. Every day I field questions about the different radio's out there and what is the "Best" radio that someone should get. So with that in mind, I am going to give you a little guide in what to look for when you start your quest away from the cheaper Wal-Mart radio's.

Below is a list of questions you should be asking yourself. Once you have all of these questions answered, you will be set to buy your radio! But if you need some help, I will walk you through the above questions.

1. How much money do I have to spend?
2. What brand do I get?
3. UHF or VHF
4. Professional Grade, Commercial Grade, or Ham/Amateur Radio's.
5. LEGALITY
6. Clones/Chinese Radio's
7. New or used?
8. How many channels do I need?
9. What about sub-codes (AKA Privacy Codes)?
10. What kind of accessories do I want (speaker Mic, Headset)?
11. Replacement parts?
12. Programming?


HOW MUCH AM I GOING TO SPEND?
This all depends on the quality and condition of the radio. For example, A new Motorola HT-1000 will cost you around $1000.00. A good used one on E-Bay will run around $150.00 (with Charger and well used battery). My radio current radio(s) (Motorola Astro Sabers/Saber 2/Saber 1/HT1000) new sold from $800 - $4500.00 each! But today on E-bay you can find them for as low as $50. The general rule of thumb is: The older the radio, the cheaper it is going to be. The newer the radio, the more expensive it might be. Personally, I tend to stick with Motorola as I am aware of their build quality and there inner workings. But other radio manufactures make EXCELLENT products too and they might be a little bit cheaper for the first time buyer.


WHAT BRAND DO I GET?
The big names in commercial radio's are: Motorola, Yeasu/Vertex, Kenwood, Icom, Allinco. It is all a matter of personal preference. But I would recommend going with a Motorola or a Kenwood. They have the most accessories and aftermarket parts. But do a little research on the model that interests you the most. Another thing to consider is size. Motorola Radio's tend to be bigger and heavy duty. Other brands tend to be smaller and lighter. In all of my dealings with Professional, Commercial, and ham radios here is a list of the models that will be the best:

MOTOROLA
Saber 1, 2, 3
Image
Astro Saber (Much Taller than the units above) **But newer Version**
XTS Line (1500, 2500, 3000, 3500)
HT-1000
Image
MTS-2000
Image


YAESU/VERTEX
VX-150
Image
VX-10
VX-160
FTH-2070 *32 Channel Dual Band Radio VHF/UHF


UHF or VHF
UHF! You want a radio that will transmit and receive on the 460mhz band. So if you find a radio that is UHF and has a frequency range that 460mhz is within the stated range. these radio's will work with FRS. If you see radio's with a freq range of 403 - 433mhz, 470-500mhz, or 800mhz, those WILL NOT with FRS Freqs.

JUST A REMINDER VHF (150mhz) WILL NOT WORK WITH FRS/GMRS


PROFESSIONAL GRADE, COMMERCIAL GRADE, or HAM/AMATEUR RADIOS?
What is the difference you might be asking yourself. Well here is a run down of what I consider each radio:

Professional Grade - These units are made to the highest standards. They are designed for rugged EVERYDAY use. They are meant to be dropped, rained on, get muddy, and will function flawlessly. These radio's are used by Military, Government Agencies, and Public Safety.

Commercial Grade - These radio's are the ones that you see all over the stores (Wal-Mart, Target, Gander Mountain, and Ebay). These radio's are used by the everyday consumer and businesses alike. They are lower quality and do not offer a lot of options. These units sometimes can be programmed with the proper software or have fixed features. The over build quality is good, but not on par with the Professional Grade units.

Ham/Amateur Radio - These units are usually smaller in size and can be built to the same standards of the Professional Grade Radio. They can also be built to the Commercial Grade as well. A good buyer will seek the more sturdy radio as it will be able to take the abuse the operator can throw at it. Most ham/amateur radio's can be programmed from home with a computer or in the field from the key pad on the unit.

LEGALITY
The FCC has some pretty clear cut guidelines when it comes to the FRS/GMRS Radio channels. These are not guidelines, they are indeed LAW. If you decide to violate the law, I cannot and will not be held liable for your actions. For an FRS Radio to be "Legal", it must have a fixed antenna and not transmit over .5w (w=watts). FRS Does not require any license from the FCC to broadcast/transmit. FRS Radio's only have 14 channels.

GMRS - This is where things start getting tricky. If you have a radio that has GMRS Channels on it, you are REQUIRED to have a license with the FCC. Radio's that have 22 channels are the ones that have GMRS on the radio's. Channel's 15-22 are usually GMRS Channels. GMRS Channels are also allowed to have a higher wattage rating (3watts I believe).

Ham/Amateur Radio's - It is ILLEGAL for anyone to own a Ham/Amateur radio that is not licensed as a "Technician". Most shops will not even let you buy a ham radio w/o showing your license. But on the flip side, they are cheaper and you can program them yourself. They have variable transmit power (.5, 1, 2, 5 watts). Most FRS radio's operate with .5-1 watt of power. The more watts, the more distance.

So what does this all mean? If you decide to get a Professional or Commercial Grade radio, be prepared! Does this mean the FCC will be hunting you down with one of their many triangulation vans? Highly unlikely! Could it happen? Sure it could. But the FCC has bigger issues on their hands. But just be aware that they are out there and they can be watching. They can also confiscate your radio's on a drop of a hat if they feel you are breaking the law.


CLONES and CHINESE RADIOS
Here is where I will probably get the most flack from people. But again, these are my experiences with these radio's as I tend to get them in all time for Trial and Evaluation.

Clones - These units are stripped down radio's that are made to look like high end military or Professional Grade radio's. Most of them are Kenwood or Icom radio's that have been stripped and placed into a new case. Problem is they tend to break easily, the software does not work properly, they do not have many features, and they are expensive. But they sometimes do look pretty bad ass. These too are usually made in China.

Chinese Radio's - These are the TNT's, Puxing, TXR's, VGC, etc... These units are made in mass qty's and can usually be bought here in the USA for about $150 with programming software and accessories. Many MAA Members have used these radio's and swear by them. Again, I would put these on par with a Commercial Grade Radio and not even close to a professional grade radio. These units typically offer a lot of bells and whistles and are priced to move. If you want a brand new radio and the software, these are not a bad deal.


NEW OR USED?
Most new Professional Radio's will run you $200 - $8,000. Most Commercial Radio's will run you $20 - $1,000, New ham/Amateur radio's will run you $100-$500 for a dual band transmitter. Like stated above, most grade radio's will run around $500 - $1500 depending on the model and features. If you are looking for a Professional Grade radio. My suggestion would be GO USED.


HOW MANY CHANNELS DO I NEED?
With standard FRS Radio's you will get 14 channels. Most Commercial grade radio's will vary from 1 - 200 channels. A Ham radio will have approx. 100 channels that a user can input. As a rule of thumb, DO NOTget anything with less than 12 channels. Most of the Motorola Saber 1's have only 12 channels. Some of the HT1000 radio's have 16 channels. For 12 Channel radio's, I typically program 1-12 on the FRS band and the last 4 are a wash.


WHAT ABOUT SUB-CODES (AKA PRIVACY CODES)?
This is totally up to the user. With an amatuer radio these are very easy to program right from the radio. On a commercial grade radio though, they have to be programmed with the special software. Typically, I have never used sub-codes as they are a pain in the butt to coordinate at large events. This is because some people have radio's that have them and others do not. So to be on the safe side, do not have the programmer put in sub-codes. If you get a radio similar to a Saber 2 or MTS2000, there is a feature that you can program that allows the user to turn on/off the selected privacy tone. You just need to find out the common codes that motorola uses on their FRS/GMRS Radio. Again, this needs to be installed with the technician that is programming your radio.


WHAT KIND OF ACCESSORIES DO I WANT?
At a minimum you should think about getting at least one spare battery and a speaker mic. These are usually very easy to find. Again, depending on your budget, used is usually the best way to go. The better the radio you buy, the more accessories are available. Such things like, Bone mics, head mics, headsets, CIA Mics., etc......


REPLACEMENT PARTS?
If it breaks, can it be fixed? All radio's need to be fixed internally by a technician. This will cost you some money. In most cases it is better just to buy another radio and sell the damaged one for parts. But there are a wide array of resources for spare parts. Again, E-bay is the best! but recently I have found that Craig's List has radio's on their site as well. Either way, do some research.


PROGRAMMING?
Older Professional/Commercial Grade Radio's need to be programmed by a technician with a computer that can run at slow speeds and in DOS. But if you have a slow ass computer, the programming cables, and a RIB box, you can do all of your own programming. Newer Professional, Commercial, and Ham radio's are the easiest to program. They can be programmed via a newer computer using the software and a USB Cable. They can also be field programed via the key pads on the front. But if you are not sure about it, ask an expert. Last thing you want to do is "BRICK" your new radio.

If you buy a radio from E-Bay, check to see if the person has the ability to program the radio for you. Otherwise you might have to find a local radio shop that will charge you $50 - $250 (Most recent data from some local metro shops) to do it.

I do have the ability to program many different commercial radio's. I can program most Motorola and some vertex units. Chances are, I can get the software if you supply the cable(s).

An Added note: Many radio shops will not program FRS Freqs onto a commercial radio. This is due to commercial radio's being able to transmit above the legal .5watts required on FRS radio's.


CONCLUSION
Be happy with whatever you purchase! Whether you go Professional, Commercial, or if you decide on a Clone/Chinese Radio. In the end you are the one that is going to use it. Hell, if you do not like it, you can always sell it and get a new one.
Last edited by Downtown on Tue Oct 25, 2011 1:25 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Post by WhiteFox77 » Fri Jun 08, 2007 7:19 pm

A NOTE ON LEGALITY (yes, I do have the audacity to make a post on legality :) )

Unless FCC regulations has changes since I got my license, it is NOT illegal to own a HAM radio without a license, it's illegal to transmit on any HAM band (including 70cm 420-450mhz) without a license.

Addendum: After doing some research on the use of HAM radios for GMRS, I've determined that this could also be problematic. FCC regulation requires GMRS radios to be FCC Part 95 certified. HAM radios do not require Part 95 certification. As a result, many HAM radios aren't certified. To determine if a specific radio is Part 95 certified, you can contact the manufacturer or the FCC (1-888-CALL-FCC).

To use a HAM or commercial radio on FRS/GMRS channels, you must have a GMRS license. At present, the FCC charges $85, and the cost licenses you and your entire family. You can purchase this license on the FCC website. This license requires none of the testing involved with a HAM license. If you are going to shell out $500+ for a high-end commercial radio, please set aside the $85 for the license. If you going to put out the money for a HAM radio, join the HAM family, and get you Technician license, it's not as hard as you might think.

A note on FCC fines. I should point out that getting caught for transmitting illegally (aka on any frequency you are not licensed for, or with equipment that does not conform to the standards of the band you are using), is VERY unlikely. However, the fines range between $500-$10,000, and ALWAYS include the confiscation of the illegally used equipment. It's up to you to decide if the risk is worth $85.

Personally I'd like to see everyone become a HAM. 6 meters and 2 meters works so much better in the woods than FRS/GMRS.

More technical information on FRS/GMRS here.

Sincerely
WhiteFox
Technician class HAM: KC8AJY

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Re: Commercial Radio Buying(Complete Guide)**UPDATE 5/09/10*

Post by Downtown » Sun May 09, 2010 7:17 pm

Updated!
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Re: TWO-WAY RADIO BUYERS GUIDE **UPDATE 10/25/11**

Post by Downtown » Tue Oct 25, 2011 1:26 am

UPDATED!

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