Being radio-active


My name is Roy and I have been radio-active for most of my life. For over thirty years I have been a professional in high-technology related industries working with sophisticated business communication systems. For the last decade or so I have also been a volunteer helping public service organizations plan, implement, test and deliver their emergency communication capabilities. You could say that I have been radio-active for fun & profit and in service to my community. This is probably why the founders of Warrior Times have asked be to blog about radio communications. So here I am and here we go.

Since I expect a wide variance in the experience level of the audience for this blog I will start off with more rudimentary topics before covering more advanced issues. And in the future we may allow comments and questions to help drive the topics discussed.

For the uninitiated the available resources that can be used to implement a radio communication solution is overwhelming. This is because there are many issues to consider and numerous available technologies that can be used to implement a solution. Even a simple objective like speaking from point A to point B can have a huge spectrum of complexity depending on factors like location (local, regional, national, global), surroundings (hills, water, buildings), proximity to other infrastructure (medical equipment, computers, sensitive environmental sensors), etc. As this blog expands I hope to be able to shine some light on the various radio communications technologies and techniques available and how to use them successfully.

Let’s start things off with information on some radio services available in the U.S. that can be used to satisfy a number of mission objectives. These radio services are defined and regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for specific purposes. With few exceptions you must obtain a license from the FCC before you can transmit on any frequency. The FCC regulates transmissions on all radio frequencies in the U.S. and is responsible for resolving issues of misuse. Here are three U.S. radio services that are very popular with the general public and are frequently used by public service volunteers.

Family Radio Service (FRS)
FRS was designed to provide short-range communications for the general public. FRS radios can only be of the low power walkie-talkie type so they have a very limited range. This is the main reason that the FCC does not require a license to transmit with FRS radios. Like all radio services FRS has a limited number of radio frequencies that can be used to transmit. These frequencies are organized into a limited number of frequency-specific channels. FRS radios have been included in the standard operating procedures for Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT) across the country.

General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS)
GMRS is like the big brother of FRS. It uses the FRS frequencies plus a few more that are adjacent. It was designed to facilitate short-distance communications between family members. A GMRS license is required to transmit on a GMRS radio. Only one member of the family is required to file for the GMRS license. All the family members then use the same GMRS call sign that is issued. They must use this call sign to identify their transmission as dictated by the FCC rules governing GMRS operations. Because GMRS radios can transmit with 10 times the power of FRS radios and can use detachable antennas GMRS communications are much more reliable than FRS and can cover greater distances. CERT and other public service volunteer organizations have been including GMRS radios in their operations.

Amateur Radio Service (ARS, Ham Radio)
Amateur radio operators (sometimes called “hams”) were the first people to create man-made radio transmissions. About 100 years ago they discovered radio waves and invented radio communications. These non-professional (amateur) tinkerers invented the devices that were the precursors to all of the radio equipment we use today. Once the value of radio became obvious for public safety and business communications the number of stations increased; as did chaos on-the-air. The U.S. Department of Commerce began coordinating the radio spectrum and issuing radio station licenses before the FCC was created. In order to bring order to the airwaves the radio spectrum was segmented and portions were allocated for use by interested parties. This included government, military, business and amateur use. The amount of radio spectrum allocated for use by amateurs was significant. Licensees in the Amateur Radio Services were recognized as valuable contributors to the advancement of the radio arts. And as such were granted frequency allocations across the entire radio spectrum. This was to foster, among other things, experimentation and invention which continues to this day. The vast array of available radio frequencies is one of the reasons the Amateur Radio Service is of such importance to public service communications. A skilled amateur radio operator with the right equipment can get the message through when other methods fail. This has been demonstrated time after time during real disasters. The communications capabilities of the Amateur Radio Service are vast and I will discuss some of them as well as what it takes to become a licensed amateur radio operator in future posts.

In the meantime here are some links to more information on each of these three U.S. radio services.




Until next time, best wishes.


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