Radio & Communication Myths
Misinformation has a tendency to run rampant. We are often times part of the problem by accepting what we are told by not fact checking. Overlanding, adventure travel, and off roading has a lot of opinions stated as fact but ultimate we can decide on what is best fit for our needs. Whether we are talking about the differences between lockers and LSD (limited slip not a colorful trip!), after we do our research the information becomes clearer and we can then filter out the good from the bad.
Although radio communications has been studied, theorized and written down in rules, there is still an issue with what is fact vs opinion vs fiction. Now, opinion based information is not something Axles and Antennas is will to tackle. Much like the types of tires you use, there are many different brands of radio that people gravitate to for personal reasons. Facts and fiction, in this case, are much easier to deal with because of basic math/ physics and rules laid out by the FCC.
Before going further, lets be clear about something; Axles and Antennas makes no claims to be the “end all, be all” when it comes to radios. All this information is out there free to glean and gather to use in information such as this website. Rules have a habit of being added to and becoming stricken from the record. It is up to you to make sure that due diligence is practiced before you make a potentially costly mistake. In other words, I am not a lawer.
So let’s address some of these:
Radio users need/don’t need a license to operate.
A license depends on a few things. You do not need a license to 1) purchase a radio and 2) to listen to a radio. In this case, think of a scanner. You buy it, tune to a freq and then just listen. If you do that with any commercially available radio, you do not need a license. You also are not required to have a license to purchase any commercially available radio. Some individuals and business might make a stink about you needing a Amateur Radio license in order to buy a ham radio, but that is a personal or business decision, not a FCC ruling.
For transmitting on the types of radios presented on Axles and Antennas, you will need a license for the Amateur Radio bands and the GMRS bands. CB radio, FRS, and MURS radio are described as license by rule. Simply stated, when you operate on one of those radios, you agree to the rules as defined by the FCC in terms of mode, power output, range, etc.
Amateur Radio requires a FCC license to transmit on any of the ham radio bands. The license from the FCC is free but you typically will pay the test administrators about $15 to give you the test. There are three levels of license that grant the user varying frequency and power usage. For mobile users, the most basic Technician Class license will give you most of what you are wanting. All licenses are granted for 10 years
GMRS requires at least one person in the immediate family to be licensed and the cost is $70 and valid for 10 years. There is no test, but the holder of the license must be 18 years of age.
The FCC does not enforce rules
The FCC is lacking in the enforcement department, but when they do enforce, it is very severe. Fines are often in the neighborhood of $10,000! The problem is the staffing. There are millions of radio users in the US and the FCC cannot catch all the radio riff raff. So will you be caught? Probably not. But if you operate within the scope of the law, you will not have anything to worry about. If you operate with willful malice and make it your hobby to cause malicious interference, the FCC will find out, even if slowly.
Ham radio is one exception. Hams are more or less self-policing and even have “official observers” that listen to the ham bands and will actively report offenders.
GMRS/FRS radios sold in the bubble packs are often times operated without license because of uninformed users. The FCC has modified the rules on these radios and in 2019 will make it unlawful to sell or import radios that are dual use.
One radio for them all!
Radios have to be type accepted. CBs, MURS, GMRS/FRS all fall under type 95 certification and ham radios are type 97. This means that whatever band you use, license or not, your radio must meet the criteria set forth by the FCC. In practice this is much less daunting than it sounds. Buy a radio from a reputable dealer from a major brand and you are good to go.
Axles and Antennas also discourage so called 10 meter specific radios from use. These radios are sold to fit the 10 meter ham radio band but in practice they are used on the CB bands after a very easy modification to extend coverage. The radios are sold all over the internet and have good reviews and characteristics. Unfortunately, they are not type accepted for CB use.
I need more power!
Actually, you probably need a better antenna. After all the money and time spent on a really nice radio system, don’t scrimp on a good, externally mounted antenna system. Excluding FRS, which does not allow removable antennas, all other radio services allow some time of external antenna. Even if you are using a hand held radio, getting your antenna outside the vehicle will improve your coverage dramatically.
CB radio operates on the 27 MHz range and is susceptible to atmospheric interference along with not being able to bend around mountains. Even if you could do so legally, if you cannot talk to a station on the other side of the mountain with 4 watts of power, 100 watts will not likely help either.
Because of the characteristics of VHF and UHF, even a few watts of power flowing from an external antenna can yield miles of communication range.
All coax is equal
Specific to vehicles, this is not entirely false, but with a caveat. Since your run of coax will probably be in the neighborhood of 20 feet, go ahead and spurge on some premium coax. Axles and Antennas recommends RG-8x, which is discussed in the Antennas section. At most you are looking at $1 per foot of the really expensive kind. This will give you less transmission loss, more physical toughness, flexibility, and better connectors.
The Amateur Radio test is hard
Hard is a relative term. What is difficult for one may be easy for another. But since most of you are looking for a challenge when it comes to traveling, you are most likely up to the challenge of the ham radio test. There are scores of kids who have taken the test and passed the first time. Matter of fact, there are lots who have taken the tests for all three classes in one sitting and passed (or came close!). For the Technician Class, as long as you can do a little basic math, understand a few terms, and remember a few basic rules and operating procedures, you will be good to go.
X type of radio is superior to Y type of radio
This type of comparison is always hashed to death. Like any tool, it really depends on what you need out of it. Basic trail communication but don’t want a license? MURS! Trail comm but lots of flexibility? Ham Radio! Lots of road traveling and love to hear some weird stuff? CB! So make an informed decision and decided what is best fit, not what is best.
I need a 1:1 SWR reading or my finals will blow
Without getting super technical, Standing Wave Ratio (SWR) is the measure of how well the transmitter is matched to the antenna. Painting with a large brush, a SWR reading of less than 2:1 is considered fine for most modern radios. Trying to chase down a 1:1 reading is difficult enough on one channel or one frequency. It can be maddening when you have a spread of frequencies as wide as 4 Mhz or more. Just find the channel or frequency you and your group of friends plan on using the most and adjust your antenna there. If it’s easy to get below 2:1, then go for it. But fiddling with the settings until you hit 1:1 is time consumed in a task that is simply not worth it.