Civilian Comms - School up a Newbie

mkollman74

Quo Vadis?
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  • Nov 5, 2009
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    WA, USA
    Alright fellas, here is the deal... I am a lazy SOB. I would appreciate your help with comms for my young family. I am not a HAM operator, and I don't know if I should be. We spend a bunch of time in the backcountry, and I would like info on how best to proceed with providing for comms for my wife and two young daughters. Be warned, I am no particular fan of technology, So I do not speak geek very well. In short, I am looking for the lowest hassle - highest return way for my family to communicate in the backwoods.

    As always, I respect the knowledge of the 'Hide.
     

    Gunfighter14e2

    Rusty Nail
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    Jul 9, 2002
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    Alright fellas, here is the deal... I am a lazy SOB. I would appreciate your help with comms for my young family. I am not a HAM operator, and I don't know if I should be. We spend a bunch of time in the backcountry, and I would like info on how best to proceed with providing for comms for my wife and two young daughters. Be warned, I am no particular fan of technology, So I do not speak geek very well. In short, I am looking for the lowest hassle - highest return way for my family to communicate in the backwoods.

    As always, I respect the knowledge of the 'Hide.
    2 meter, 1.25 or 440 is you best choice but all require the very basic Ham ticket called a tech. Very easy to get, many clubs put on a one day cram course then test the same day while it's fresh. The cheapest radios for carry will be the Baofengs about 40 bucks a pop. The range will be based upon TX power setting, antenna installed, an terrain. All UHF is LOS + about 15%. I've tripped the clubs repeater with my VX6R HT from 245 miles away using only 5 watts. You can set the radios up anyway you want, to keep most others out. The bulk of family radios that do not require a license are junk and can be hacked quick. Marine radios are an option but there is issues there as well. Ham is your best bet for what you want, and once you learn how to operate the radio properly help from others is closer at hand then any other comms.
     

    MtnCreek

    Sergeant
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    Jan 6, 2012
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    If you're looking at the little motorola 2-ways, understand their range will be drastically less than the advertised range. That's been my experience in hilly, heavily wooded terrain anyway. Inside their realistic range, they're handy for the kids to carry around in the woods and not too expensive if one gets lost or damaged. Edit: FCC registration is still required (legally suggested?) for some of the channels.
     

    plong

    Gunny Sergeant
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    Nov 13, 2010
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    Cough... Standard Horizon HX370s on MURS... Cough Buy a pair, stop by the Yahoo forum of the same name to download the programming software (CE68), pick-up a programming cable on Ebay, program the five MURS frequencies (unlicensed) and you're in business.
     
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    Luke

    Sergeant
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    May 29, 2002
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    Colorado
    Best: Technician class amateur radio license and 2m handheld radios (Yaesu FT-270R)
    Good: The post above about the Standard Horizon's on MURS
    Simplest: Bubble pack FRS radios from Walmart/Cabelas

    I'm a big amateur radio fan, but like long range shooting, it can quickly become a big money sucking hobby if you get really involved in it. The advantages of amateur radio are huge though. With a handheld radio I have nearly full statewide coverage via repeaters, and with a radio the size of a MTM ammo box I have worldwide coverage on HF.
     

    missed

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  • Feb 21, 2013
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    I have been wanting to get in to the amateur radio gear for years. Biggest thing here is a big storm can knock out communications where we live. I just bought a Yeasu VX3R and looking for one more handheld, and a mobile to setup at the house. There are a few radio groups in the area, just haven't had the time.
     

    Stpilot12

    Killed a guy with a Trident...
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    Jul 18, 2012
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    Baofeng uv5rs are cheap and easily programmed
    If you're a licensed ham radio guy, the UV5's or the F8's are really hard to beat for the $$ I have several, been using them for years with no issues and if you break one or lose one.. your only out a few bucks, $30-50.. not $300-500
    you can easily upgrade the antennas for $10-15 and use repeaters if you're so inclined. You can even get a small ground based antenna and a hand mic and set up a quick base station. I have what's called a Slim Jim antenna that I can sling up in a tree with paracord and get really great performance, even with 4watts. Also, get the $20 cable and download the free software and programming multiple radios is easy..

    Good info and free software here: http://www.miklor.com/
     
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    STROP

    Napoleon Nitroglycerin
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    Feb 13, 2017
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    Alright fellas, here is the deal... I am a lazy SOB. I would appreciate your help with comms for my young family......
    What's the budget per person?

    What's the distance you want to talk reliably--the absolute minimum distance you need?

    What kind of build quality, weatherproof and dummy proof levels are you looking for? Accessories needed or wanted such as shoulder mics, ear pieces, etc?

    What mobility? Handheld/foot mobile only? Camp area, vehicle-to-vehicle over distance, extended property, across town or ?

    What is the most likely terrain? Or better yet--what terrain/mobility do you imagine when comms will be crucial?
     

    STROP

    Napoleon Nitroglycerin
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    Feb 13, 2017
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    The Standard Horizon HX370s radios are no longer made. They were replaced by the HX400, about $40 more than the HX370s were. The HX400 has bigger (longer lasting) batteries available and comes with the voice scrambler feature.
     

    plong

    Gunny Sergeant
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    Nov 13, 2010
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    The Standard Horizon HX370s radios are no longer made. They were replaced by the HX400, about $40 more than the HX370s were. The HX400 has bigger (longer lasting) batteries available and comes with the voice scrambler feature.
    You made me go looking, didn't realize the HX370 had been discontinued; been a few years since I purchased mine... It appears the most direct replacement is actually the HX380: "Building on the success of the HX370S, the HX380s handheld VHF has been upgraded by adding a 1600 mAh Lithium Ion battery..." Specs and features are nearly identical to the HX370, price too. The correct programming software for the HX380 appears to be CE138 Version 2. The voice scramble feature on the HX400 would not be legal for use on MURS. While none of the radios mentioned are truly type-accepted for MURS use (hence the cough... cough...) I doubt you'd ever run into any trouble if you followed the intent of the rules. Using a scrambler would be a sure way to draw unnecessary attention to oneself, signalling that non type-accepted radios were most-definitely being used.
     

    mkollman74

    Quo Vadis?
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    Minuteman
  • Nov 5, 2009
    1,414
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    WA, USA
    What's the budget per person?
    I am thinking maybe $100 or so per person...

    What's the distance you want to talk reliably--the absolute minimum distance you need?
    Not really sure what is reasonable to expect here. I am hoping for maybe a mile or two in mountainous and timbered terrain.

    What kind of build quality, weatherproof and dummy proof levels are you looking for? Accessories needed or wanted such as shoulder mics, ear pieces, etc?
    I probably need dummy proof more than the weatherproof, but I water resistant/proof would be a big plus.

    What mobility? Handheld/foot mobile only? Camp area, vehicle-to-vehicle over distance, extended property, across town or ?
    Handheld

    What is the most likely terrain? Or better yet--what terrain/mobility do you imagine when comms will be crucial?
    Mountainous timbered terrain.
    Please see my answers above.

     

    STROP

    Napoleon Nitroglycerin
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    Feb 13, 2017
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    You made me go looking, didn't realize the HX370 had been discontinued...
    I had no idea the HX380 was out! Thanks.

    PLong touches on some good issues, layman explanation is the best I can give:

    BLUF: The radio frequency spectrum--from radar to shortwave--is split up and rules govern What may talk Where on the spectrum and How they can talk to each other. It is ulimately your responsibility to verify you are operating within the rules.

    1. "Type acceptance" is a formal approval of a device (by the Federal Comm Cmssn or FCC) to operate on the given frequency and mode.

    The rules are highly coordinated to prevent normal communication disruption. The rule regulate the modes (analog, digital, voice, data), power levels, bandwidth, etc. You can imagine it would suck if you were rushed in an ambulance and EMS can't talk to the hospital on the radio because some schmuck is unkowingly using a wideband, illegally amplified signal on a frequency close to the EMS channel.

    Type acceptance is generally referred to by the FCC rules section, e.g., Part 80 of the rules delineates VHF maritime rules. Part 90 deals with commercial land mobile , Part 95 for personal radio such as FRS/GMRS, MURS, CB, radio control. Part 97 - Amateur "ham" radio, etc. SOME RADIOS like the HX370/380/400 and others have multiple type acceptance Part 80, 90, 97.

    2. There is a legal provision in radio rules which allows violations in an emergency. Violations are related to licensing and intended usage, e.g., a non-Ham using a Ham radio in an emergency. It's a lot like the rules of the road for driving, letter of the law vs. spirit of the law. Everyone needs to drive at a safe speed but people/police understand if you're transporting a medical emergency. No one will understand if you regularly operate without due regard to others. Make sense?

    I personally know someone who amp'd their personal FM radio station so neighbors around the lake could listen to his playlist. It is legal to run a 50mW personal FM station but not amplified beyond 50mW. The FCC sent him a violation letter, he ignored and then they made a personal visit to his house. Turns out his cheapy amp had strong harmonic broadcasts on Int'l airport approach freqs. He wasn't fined but was told further violations would be handled aggressively.

    3. SHTF a lot of things would change. Frequency agile, weatherproof + other benefits may be very helpul. Keep in mind some radios such as the HX370/400 can be cloned from radio to radio with just a cable, no computer needed.
     

    STROP

    Napoleon Nitroglycerin
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    Feb 13, 2017
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    >> I am thinking maybe $100 or so per person...
    >> Not really sure what is reasonable to expect here. I am hoping for maybe a mile or two in mountainous and timbered terrain.
    >> I probably need dummy proof more than the weatherproof, but I water resistant/proof would be a big plus.
    >> Handheld
    >> Mountainous timbered terrain.

    Sounds like you already have a good idea about the limitations your terrain induces.

    I would buy a GMRS radio pair and test them with the family next time you are out in that environ. If the power level works then license the family (I think it's now 5yrs/$65 with FCC). That would be the most cost effective, weather resistant, dummy proof, easily replaced but still have option to add decent accessories. Use the higher power GMRS channels for testing vs. the lower powered FRS (FRS doesn't require the $65 FCC family license).

    If they don't work then it's not a huge expenditure... and the radios are still very useful around the house, town. There may also be vehicle radios with 50 watts power legal for some GMRS channels (not the interstitial channels): http://wiki.radioreference.com/index.php/FRS/GMRS_combined_channel_chart

    I recommend a speaker mic for the radios. First, it allows you to hold the radio up/away from body when you're at the fringe of radio coverage. Wearing it down by the hip is fine and works most of the time but your body will block/absorb a good bit of the signal you need at the fringe. The option to remove the radio and hold high above your head is very good. Second, some speaker mics allow for earphones to be plugged into the mic. GREAT when you NEED to hear in high noise environs (under a bike helment or under ear pro) or hunting/quiet to keep from disturbing game.

    Practice optimum techniques:
    - Talk ACROSS the mic element or mic face, not direcly into it; talk across the front of the radio or mic, not directly into the face of it. It will eliminate the voice puffs that hamper intelligibility.
    - Find out where the mic is and how to talk in windy conditions. Cup your hand over the mic/turn your body to block wind from that direction all without covering the mic element. Turn the shoulder mic over in the rain so water doesn't pool in the mic hole.
    - Keep antenna polarity the same--if both parties keep their antennas vertical it can help at the fringe of reception. Going horizontal while someone else is vertical has an effect. Easy to forget in casual or stress use.
    - Brush, trees, intervening terrain all affect your line-of-sight propogation with these radios. Get to the highest point.

    I tend to break belt clips. There's a guy on eBae that's been selling milsurp RLCS pouches cheap compared to the Voodoo and other knockoffs.

    If you find those GMRS radios don't work so well then take the plunge into ham radio. It is the best legal bang for the buck with the best power and accessory options. Dummy proof, simple radios or multi-feature radios you can grow with. Simply adding a roof magnetic mount antenna to your handheld radio can do wonders.

    You will see a ton of people talking about Baofeng, Wouxun, Puxing, etc. radios on MURS. MURS was moved to Part 95 and most of those mentioned radios are Part 90, 97 accepted. MURS is 2 watts max, most of those radios do 1 watt and then jump to 4 watts and up. Also, you get what you pay for with those radios and their accessories. If you choose to buy one, the Wouxuns are generally better quality. There are a lot of counterfeit Baofengs out there too.

    While I am a big fan of commercial/marine quality radios from Vertex Standard, Standard Horizon, Icom... the Tytera radios have really grabbed my attention. Decent quality and they offer analog AND digital for the same price as other radios. I used P25 mode radios in public safety and really appreciate the clear audio quality from close by all the way to max range. If I were going into Ham radio I would give them a hard look for the dollar. Might not be the most dummy proof though.
     

    plong

    Gunny Sergeant
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    Nov 13, 2010
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    >> I am thinking maybe $100 or so per person...
    >> Not really sure what is reasonable to expect here. I am hoping for maybe a mile or two in mountainous and timbered terrain.
    >> I probably need dummy proof more than the weatherproof, but I water resistant/proof would be a big plus.
    >> Handheld
    >> Mountainous timbered terrain.

    Sounds like you already have a good idea about the limitations your terrain induces.

    I would buy a GMRS radio pair and test them...
    There is a ton of good information in that post!

    I am, however, going to respectfully disagree with your recommendation. GMRS is not going to be OP's best option for use in hilly terrain. MURS (VHF) will offer significantly better performance than GMRS (UHF) in those conditions (I have and use both, am licensed for GMRS). GMRS will penetrate buildings better than MURS, but outdoors, in hilly terrain MURS would be the better option.

    OP: for your criteria "dummy proof" once you have the HX380 programmed for the 5 MURS frequencies (and only those frequencies) that option is going to be about as "dummy proof" as you can get. Since those radios do not have a keypad, you cycle through the programmed frequencies using the up or down arrows, there is no way a user can accidentally go "off-channel". Sure the programming will require a little study and work up front, but once complete you're good to go.

    One further thought: I strongly agree with Strop's caution against Baofeng/Pofung, Puxing, Wouxun, ChiCom et al. for your stated purpose. Those radios are fine for an experienced or even semi-experienced hobbyist (can you say "HAM"...), however they're about the furthest thing from "dummy proof" you can get. As he said: if you insist on going that route the Wouxuns are going to offer, by far, the better build quality of the ChiCom radios. There's even a Wouxun model that is purported to have Part 95 type acceptance (at least for now...) that is being sold by PowerWerx.
     
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    LeftyJason

    Thumbnail-les
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  • Mar 8, 2017
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    You will never regret having more range than you think you need. With your stated terrain you will have better performance with any of these the higher you go in altitude. The closer to line of sight the better.

    Sent from my SM-G930T using Tapatalk

     

    txfireguy2003

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    Feb 11, 2017
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    I have a similar issue being my hunting land is in an area where cell service is spotty at best. I still haven't figured it out.

    On one hand, I could go the HAM route, which would inevitably become another expensive hobby, since you need to use it to maintain proficiency. Add to that the fact that I would get licenced, but that wouldn't help my wife if I was incapacitated, nor allow us to communicate between ourselves, unless she got licenced as well.

    The FRS/GMRS (which we've head fore years) option allows us to communicate between ourselves, but I'm doubtful that I would be able to summon help with them if needed, for example in the case of a traumatic injury or illness requiring an ambulance.

    For now, we use the FRS radios, and have catalogued the areas where cell signal can be counted on. Planning to add a cell booster in the camp area ado we can count on it more there.

    Sent from my SAMSUNG-SM-G891A using Tapatalk

     

    STROP

    Napoleon Nitroglycerin
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    Feb 13, 2017
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    I have a similar issue being my hunting land is in an area where cell service is spotty at best. I still haven't figured it out. ...
    Ever look into the satellite messaging devices like Delorme (Garmin) inReach? Pricey peace of mind. ;-)
     

    missed

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  • Feb 21, 2013
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    I'm going to get my licence in May, I have a Yeasu VX3R, VX6R, I'm going to buy a dual band mobile this summer.
     

    TheGerman

    Oberleutnant
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  • Jan 25, 2010
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    For unit comms, Baofeng UV-5R and get the GMRS 'license' for the 5 years or whatever it is. HAM is nice but if your pals don't want to get HAM licenses, well, that won't really help.


    Baofeng UV-5R
    Extended battery
    Longer 'whip' antennae because UHF/VHF is primarily LOS
    Cheap PTT mic OR a real PTT mic that isn't plastic and you dont have to scream into. Look at the metal OTTO or Impact mics; I have the nicer Impact and its clear and takes abuse.

    Where I am in the desert, it has rises and rock walls everywhere (think mini mountains) and you can be in a valley or stuck on 1 side of the rock wall pretty easily. While this isn't for emergency use (if you're going to be somewhere that you may need emergency services, get a PLB) we've tested it and with the setup above, we can get 4 miles on flat ground and 2.5 miles in the shitty high/low/valley terrain out here which is more than enough.

    Get a PC transfer cable and download CHIRP to program your unit for the MURS/GMRS frequencies.

    You can upgrade with fancier 5W sets from Yaesu or Motorola and you can start integrated mics into headsets, etc. For me, a radio pouch for the Baofeng on my rack and the PTT mic work great.
     

    Anchor Zero Six

    Problem Solver
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    Nov 11, 2007
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    Those are good antennas, and can be made for about 10-12 bucks
    True I didnt buy from that link but rather the supplier for much less without the pouch/bag and throw line. Think I paid $15.00 shipped. Not worth the time to roll my own to atempt making myself. If you have a link to a DIY that would be great info to share.

     

    Gunfighter14e2

    Rusty Nail
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    Jul 9, 2002
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    . If you have a link to a DIY that would be great info to share.
    This is the easiest for most folk out an about, but you can build a beam just as easy. The beam is great for fixed station or mobile being used as a NCS or control but the one linked will do a lot and is very lite an compact for the field. Only draw back is if trees an such are not about. We did a trail down in a canyon here and it worked much better than the std or aftermarket HT antennas, but once we went above the canyon walls into a tree it worked perfect, as you might except.


    http://www.k6ria.net/antenna/Emergency antennas.pdf
     

    plong

    Gunny Sergeant
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    I would not recommend a Part 97 radio (UV5R, et al.) for GMRS or MURS. At least with a Part 90 radio one could argue that the radio in question honors the intent of the law, if not the full letter. With a Part 97 radio no such argument can be made, the radio just does not, in any way, comply with the requirements for either service. Use at your own risk, particularly with a licensed service such as GMRS.
     

    Gunfighter14e2

    Rusty Nail
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    For those who are in the fence about Ham radio.
    The amount of knowledge you will gain with even the lowest level license is well worth the time invested. Learning how to make/build your own gear out of other folks throwaways is very rewarding let alone cost effective. Yes you can dump money into radio like guns or other costly hobbies but as your knowledge base expands unlike guns, it gets much cheaper.
    I'm glad I went the route I did, for when things happen in the world like last nights strike in Syira I can turn on gear an talk to others across the pond on their thoughts. Then during the QSO you are told the Freq were folks have gathered to get first hand info from a guy that was 3 miles away when it all started. Ham Radio is worth any ticket level you want to achieve but to talk (save CW) far set your sights at/on the top.
     

    STROP

    Napoleon Nitroglycerin
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    Feb 13, 2017
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    The N9TAX Slim Jim/roll-up is very affordable as well. I've bought from him several times over the years. He's also made some custom cables and adapter cables for me. I've had much better experiences with them than the cheap chinee crap.
    http://www.2wayelectronix.com/

    I'll make another HX series post later this weekend.
     

    missed

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  • Feb 21, 2013
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    Finally got off my ass and took my test passed it last week, got my call sign today!

    My FT-8800r is sitting in the shop antenna less until tomorrow. I tried to hit the local repeaters with my HT tonight. Not sure if I was getting them, thought I was getting tone back, but nobody on tonight.
     

    Stpilot12

    Killed a guy with a Trident...
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    Jul 18, 2012
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    Finally got off my ass and took my test passed it last week, got my call sign today!

    My FT-8800r is sitting in the shop antenna less until tomorrow. I tried to hit the local repeaters with my HT tonight. Not sure if I was getting them, thought I was getting tone back, but nobody on tonight.
    Awesome! Welcome to the club. Now while all that stuff is fresh in your brain, grab the general class book and go knock out the test... Its easy. Then if/when you get the bug for HF you're already there.
     

    missed

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  • Feb 21, 2013
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    I have been planning on it, and studying for it already. Got my antenna parts in yesterday, hopefully I'll have time to throw it together for the local net tomorrow night
     

    plong

    Gunny Sergeant
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    Nov 13, 2010
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    Where does the Motorola CP200d fit in with these other suggestions?
    If in reference to recommendations for either MURS or GMRS "d" = Digital, not allowed for MURS (VHF) or GMRS (UHF), must be good ol' analog voice. I understand it can be operated in analog mode, or there is an analog version available, (I'm certainly no expert on this radio), if so it would be a viable option, after proper programming, for either service.