Reply To: Radio Q&A

  • Farm-Ranch-Homestead

    March 1, 2024 at 5:56 pm

    I bought radios that are supposed to have a 20 mile range, but they don’t work at that distance. Why?

    Don’t fall into the trap and believe all the hype on radio (or any other) packaging. Radios, especially the FRS radios sold in “bubble” packs, are often advertised as having a range of 10, 15, 20, 30, or more miles, when in reality, you may not even have an effective range of a single mile. The outrageous claims of multiple miles of range are in ideal conditions, which are rarely experienced by the people actually using the radios.

    The reality is that most FRS, GMRS, MURS, and Amateur (Ham) hand-held radios operate in the VHF (~150 MHz) or UHF (~440 to 470 MHz) frequency ranges, and these frequencies work best in a line-of-sight application. Any obstacles between radios will diminish or eliminate the radio’s effectiveness. Interference from other radio traffic and electrical noise will also diminish the effectiveness of the radio.

    To achieve the advertised range, you would likely need to be talking from one mountaintop to another mountaintop somewhere in Alaska. Why Alaska? Because that’s where you’d need to go to avoid interference from all the “noise” that exists on the airwaves in more populated areas.

    FRS and MURS radios are limited to a maximum of 2 watts output, and normally will only have an effective range of about a mile, or even less, in most circumstances. While longer range communication is certainly possible, it should not be expected.

    GMRS and Amateur (Ham) radios can have higher output power than FRS and MURS, and sometimes this can provide for greater range, but they, too, are still affected by obstacles in the transmission path. The advantage to GMRS and Amateur radios is that they can be used with repeaters.

    A repeater is a type of radio that receives a signal on one frequency and retransmits it on another frequency. Most repeaters are placed in high locations, and typically have higher output power, allowing the signal to be transmitted over a wider area. When a repeater is placed on a mountaintop, for example, the radio signal can often be received in most areas where there is a clear view of the mountain. This often provides for reliable radio communication from one side of the mountain to the other, sometimes even at ranges exceeding those advertised by radio packaging.