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Another Alternative to CB

Another alternative to Amateur (Ham) radio and CB is General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS). GMRS is in the UHF range (462MHz) and is not as flexible as Ham radio is, however it is simpler and is pretty much a "plug-and-play" system.

The market is flooded with small hand-held units you have no doubt seen in sporting goods stores, but Midland also manufactures a line of small mobile units marketed towards the Off-Road crowd.


Here is a model that is similar in concept to the popular Cobra 75.

Advantages are:

1. Most of the kits (with the exception of their top of the line model) includes a 1/4 wave magnetic antenna.

2. Only requires 6 inches of ground plane instead of 8.5 feet for CB.

3. A full 1/4 wave antenna is only 6 inches tall, much more manageable to deal with.

4. Uses FM instead of AM, less susceptible to interference, noise and better audio quality. (Think AM radio when driving past power lines vs FM radio.)

5. UHF has a lower noise floor than the frequencies that CB runs at. This means weaker signals can get through better.

6. Higher power. The FCC allows greater power than they do for CB. The Midland line has units that run 5 watts, 15 watts and 40 watts whereas CB is limited to 4.

7. Unlike Ham radio, no exam is required. However, a 10-year license will cost $70.00 compared to Ham's 10-year license cost of $10-$15 and CB cost of $0.
Please note that the Ham license is for an individual whereas the GMRS license is good for the entire family, including his or her spouse, children, grandchildren, stepchildren, parents, grandparents, stepparents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and in-laws.
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I've seen those, and considered getting a few for our fleet of Jeeps in the driveway, since we have several hand held units already.
My problem with the GMRS is the signal strength. The manufacturers boast 35 Mike range on the set my son has. They suck at just 1 mile from tree stand to tree stand through the woods on level ground.
We have a set of 35mile Uniden, and 25mile Cobra. Both sets get about the same reception.
I use very strong rechargable batteries, so it's not a power issue, and we have tried using them on the lake with minimally improved results.

Is it something were doing wrong?
If the mobile units are actually better I would be inclined to get 3 or 4 of them.
You are not doing anything wrong. One of the earlier lessons I learned in life is to believe only half of what marketing says, and then scale that down by 50% and then keep a skeptical eye upon what remains. I have no doubt those little bubble-pack radios are capable of transmitting 35 miles as long as you are standing on top of a tall mountain peak that is in the middle of a desert.

No matter what the radio system you are using, generally speaking, the hand-held version is always going to be on the lower end of the performance spectrum. Those bubble-pack GMRS/FRS combo radios widely available in retail stores used are still limited to 5 watts on GMRS channels 1-7 and 0.5 watts on FRS channels 8-14. GMRS channels 15 - 22 are allowed 50 watts which is impractical for a handheld due to power requirements. Also, the antennas on handhelds are inherently not the best performing. Most handheld use is done in areas of close proximity and manufacturers usually compromise convenience for performance.

Here in SC we have a lot of trees, trees have a lot of water in them and water does a great job of blocking electromagnetic radiation, i.e. radio signals. If you have only 0.5 watts on a suboptimal antenna you will not get far. I have never been able to get more than a mile or so with a bubble-pack radio. I have been able to get 2-3 miles with a UV-5R handheld with a better antenna though, but mostly 2 miles reliably.

Now, for a mobile application, you would be able to mount a proper antenna with a proper ground plane for the radio signal to reflect off of. There's that phrase again, ground plane. Essentially, an antenna needs two elements to effectively radiate its signal properly. If you were to have a center fed 1/2 wave antenna one element would be the "reflector" and the other would be the "radiator." Due to size restrictions, a 1/2 wave antenna is not always practical. (Could you imagine a 17-foot antenna sitting on top of your Jeep?) This is why many mobile applications use a 1/4 wave antenna, which is still 8.5 feet for the frequencies a CB operates wrong. In a 1/4 wave antenna system, it uses the metal of the vehicle as the "reflector" for the radiating element of the antenna. Keep in mind that an antenna needs approximately 1/4 wave of ground plane 360 degrees for it to perform properly. So, for a CB you need roughly 8.5 feet of metal in each direction for it to work right. The VHF frequencies for Ham radios need about 19 inches and the UHF frequencies available for Hams and GMRS need about 6 or 7 inches.

I assume you are still awake. If so great! Now, those are neat little plug-and-play kits, but there are a few better options out there if you want to go the GNRS route.

Does this radio look familiar at all? Yes, it IS the Midland MXT400! Well, not exactly, but it is the base radio that Midland purchases in bulk and then install their own firmware onto it before doubling the price.

And here is an even better performing antenna. It is a 5/8 wave for GMRS at only 19" tall.

And you will need this cable to connect the two.

Don't worry about the connector, I have a few laying around and a soldering iron. It'll save you ten bucks.

So that setup with the cable and antenna is cheaper than the Midland MXT400 alone. Just food for thought.
So I was looking around, and I see the 15w & 40w radios.
What would you realistically rate the distance of the 15w mobile units?
Their pricing is around $75-100 for a 15w radio. That's a reasonable addition to the CB's we already have.
On simplex (point to point transmitting) maybe 4 miles depending upon terrain. VHF and UHF are what are know as "Line of Sight" frequencies, meaning they travel in pretty much a straight line so they are pretty much limited by the horizon and hills can block them. GMRS does have repeaters available, but they are not nearly as prolific at ham radio and don't dare try to get on them without a license.

This is one of the reasons why I try to encourage people to get licensed for Amateur Technician, for which there are free classes near you this week and the exam is only $10 and the license is good for 10 years. Also, that $10 doesn't go to the FCC or the government at all, it stays with the volunteer 501(C) organization that sets this up and volunteers for other emergency communications work for the state. (http://www.offroadsc.com/showthread.php?6152-Free-Amateur-Radio-Classes-in-September). It is the entry level Ham radio license and you have access to the 2m VHF and 70cm UHF frequency allotments. The advantage of this is there are literally THOUSANDS of repeaters across the country you will have access to once licensed, some of which have a radius of 30-50 miles. There is a repeater on Sassafras Mountain that I can get into 70+ miles away.

It really isn't as expensive as one would think to get started. For example, here is the hand-held that I referenced earlier that has a simplex range of about 2 miles, has no extra features but has everything you need to get started. At only $25 it is almost disposable so if you drop it in the mud or run it over you are only out $25. Keep in mind, this is a $25 Chinese radio that is worth $25 and not a penny more. It does have a broadband receiver with low selectivity so it can get a lot of noise, but it is a cheap place to start.

Here is an inexpensive dual band mobile radio I found on Amazon. I have no experience with this brand, so I cannot vouch for it's quality though.

Here is what I run in my Xterra.

Kenwood is one of the "Big 3" names in Ham radios. Kenwood, Yaesu and Icom are the three Japanese companies that are known to have good quality products. In the rare event that something goes wrong, there are usually no worries getting it done under warranty. If the warranty has ran out, there is usually not any problems getting parts and schematics to do your own repairs or just have someone else do them for you. Since they are a bit premium, they come at a premium cost, however you can usually find a lot of good quality used radios from The Big 3 at Hamfests, swap meets and clubs.
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But seriously, if you can make it, try to get to those free classes that start tomorrow night. They are a great group of people who do amazing work. I'm actually amazed they are still doing this class this week after all the hours they logged working the hurricane the past week. They have decades more experience than I do and can do a way better job at explaining that what I can in this forum and they LIVE to teach people about this stuff.

If you get bored, you aren't out any money and you only sacrificed a bit of time. Judging from your questions, I doubt you will get bored.
[emoji54][emoji54][emoji54] Holy [emoji90][emoji90]
That's a $400 radio!
I would be so scared, I would be sleeping in it!
Not to mention I have 4 vehicles with radios!
I got mine used with the extra cables, remote mounts and accessories for $260.
That's a little better.
I was thinking a $400 radio, $75-100 antenna, and cables ect....
$275ish for a setup isn't bad.

I might do something with that in my Rubi. No one else in the family is interested.
Probably still be a little while before I jump. I got allot of projects going, and still looking for another job.
If we got enough interest I could put together a testing session. My dad is a VE and has enough buddys that would come together. We could even do a cram session followed by a test. Tech is not a hard test to pass.


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That's a little better.
I was thinking a $400 radio, $75-100 antenna, and cables ect....
$275ish for a setup isn't bad.

I might do something with that in my Rubi. No one else in the family is interested.
Probably still be a little while before I jump. I got allot of projects going, and still looking for another job.
Here are a few that are more affordable. This first one is a Kenwood single band VHF unit. https://www.hamradio.com/detail.cfm?pid=H0-011362

And here is an Alinco single band VHF unit that is a bit more compact. https://www.hamradio.com/detail.cfm?pid=H0-008739

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