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gear comments
Riding The Storm Out
Tuesday, 19 August 2008
Thoughts on communications gear
Mood:  chatty

I am astonished by how many people act as if phones will always work.  For those who  even consider the fact that phones might become unusable due to an outage of whatever nature, most seem to think that the only way to talk to someone becomes face-to-face.  If the two of you aren't right there together, then you have no way to communicate.

 Then there are folks who know ham-radio exists and can be used to communicate around the world in an emergency.  Most seem to assume that is only an option for long-distance communication.

 But some folks know a few acronyms.  2m. FRS. CB. GMRS.  These are all local communications options - and there may be others I don't know about.

Currently, we are testing out CB and FRS/GMRS around our areas.   With that in mind, I'll ramble on a bit about what we've used, encountered, and had problems with.

First, CB.  I got a pair of handheld CBs off ebay, made by GE.  They sport rubber-ducky antennas of about 8" length.  We tried them out in the Louisiana piney hills.  We tried them out on a pipeline right-of-way.  Almost totally worthless.  Honestly, the FRS radios had more range. (that's not saying much)  On the open ROW, the CBs would reach something like 1,000 meters at *best* with line of sight.  Toss in a dip and they were useless.

What about FRS/GMRS?  FRS seems to be eaten by the trees.  Our Midland LXT350s had trouble reliably reaching a quarter-mile through the trees and hills.   That is what occasioned the CB purchase.  We tried a test of the GMRS channels over the same route and were having better luck.  The distance test was terminated when a local bobcat took an interest in my radio operator.  We'll be trying again soon.

As it is, we have:

CB: Royce base-station, Midland mobile, 2x GE handhelds

FRS/GMRS: Midland LXT350 22ch, Uniden FRS1400 14ch, Audiovox FRS 14ch, Realistic 12vdc FRS 14ch

IMO, Audiovox is not worth the money.  The Uniden radios were good, reliable units.  The Midland GMRS units are awesome.  Haven't tried Motorola ones yet.  Think I might have some Cobra FRS units lying around, if I didn't give them away.   Midland makes a "base" unit that I plan to get, as well.  Multiple power options, including a hand-crank and picks up AM/FM/TV.

I suggest that everyone who is in any way figuring on riding out the storm buy some GMRS units.  You can get small, simple ones at Academy for $20 a pair.  I know - I held them in my hands Sunday.  I would encourage you to get Midland GXT models, but that's because I have the older LXTs and am very pleased with them.  Get you an optional recharging station and battery pack so that you can have fresh power as needed.  That, way, during an event, you can leave your unit on round the clock to keep a neighborhood radio net active.

I also suggest getting some sort of headset to go with them.  I won't make recommendations on these yet, as I've not yet found one that is comfy for me.

Talk to your neighbors.  See who already has radios.  Encourage those who don't to invest a little in some.  They make life a lot easier.

Posted by outlands at 8:56 PM EDT
Updated: Tuesday, 19 August 2008 9:42 PM EDT

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