FRS Radio Primer

The Family Radio Service (FRS) is a radio system that uses walkie talkies. As the name implies, it is specifically for families or small groups to use because of its short range capability. Communication is easier on this service than on other frequencies, such as citizens’ band (CB) or cordless phones that do not have an ultra-high frequency (UHF) band like the FRS does.

FRS was proposed in 1994, but many people were against it. It was approved by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 1996. There are seven other Citizens Band Radio Services besides FRS that operate on UHF. The General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) is at 460 MHz and is one of these. All are part of the Personal Radio Services according to the FCC. Family Radio Service (FRS) channels range from 462.5625 to 467.7125. These numbers represent MHz. One of the great things about the UHF band is that it does not have interference that citizens’ band radio at 27 MHz or 49 MHz that is used by baby monitors, cordless phones, and other radio-operated devices.

A permanent antenna must be attached to the walkie talkie or radio, although base stations that sit on a desk or table are available. These have whip antennas that can pick up many channels. A license is not required unless a user is representing a foreign government, but the FCC can take away a person’s right to use the FRS. The federal Communications Act allows citizens to use the service, and Family Radio Service users are obliged to adhere to the rules for operators.

Businesses may also use Family Radio Service, and some small businesses do use it for interoffice communication purposes. Their ability to use the FRS is controversial, however. Some believe that businesses should use only channels that are reserved for their particular communication rather than those assigned to the FRS.

Certain communications are prohibited over the FRS such as broadcasting music over the radio. It must be used only to communicate with another person or to provide traveler assistance, send a message in an emergency, or for brief tests.

Channels on FRS are shared with others, much like old-fashioned party lines that were used in the U.S. 50 years ago. When you turn the walkie talkie on, you need to first listen to see if another user is currently on. If so, you are obligated to get off the line until the current user is finished. If a person is on the walkie talkie and an emergency message comes over the line, emergencies always take priority.

In addition, Family Radio Service may be operated only from certain areas that the FCC has assigned. You should never operate an FRS walkie talkie on an airplane because it could interfere with communication necessary for the pilot with ground control stations.

FRS radios are fairly inexpensive and range from $10 to $100 in most places. Manufacturers often claim that their radios have wider ranges than are possible to get when there are trees and building in the way. If you happen to live in a clear area or on the top of a hill, it is possible to communicate with someone up to 40 miles away. This is the exception, and most people can expect to have a range of one-third of a mile to one mile.

It is possible to buy Family Radio Station radios or walkie talkies at specialty stores or websites that sell radio devices.

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