I have been a ham (amateur radio) operator since 1999. I have used it for everything from just talking to friends to providing weather reports to the weather service and local EOCs, location beaconing to providing email services over the radio. I love it. I love the study of radio. I love teaching classes for new hams and being around like-minded people that enjoy the same.
Very Brief History
Even with all that said, I have gotten into a non-ham, but very similar service called GMRS. GMRS has been around for a while. It was started in the 1960s under the name Class A Citizens Radio Service. You did (and do) need a license and it was open for both individuals and businesses, so the airwaves were constantly busy with business activity, but that was changed later in the 1970 and the business band was born. This freed up the Class A Citizens Radio Service to be used by individuals and families.
Skipping ahead 50 years, the Class A Citizens Radio Service has been renamed GMRS and many updates have been put in place. Many things are simplified, making it easier to understand how to use for those that do not want to know about wavelengths, modulation, or any other technical jargon.
Hams have said for years that we are better prepared for emergency communications needs. Well, the snowstorm in February 2021 may have either shown that to be true for some or false for others. I did hear multiple reports on the TV about cell sites going down within 24 hours of the power going out. This left a lot of people without the ability to do basic communications with friends or family to report their status. Many hams were fine. A lot of us have backup battery systems to keep us on their air, but most of the rest of the populous have nothing like that, so they are up a creek in a time of need. This is where GMRS can come into play for those that are not technical but want to have some way to get out during a situation as we had.
I think that many people did see the need to have something. I read about some going and buying satellite phones, some trying other things, and some discovering the benefit of a GMRS radio. With amateur radio, you must read, study, and test to legally get on the airwaves with a license. In the GMRS world, the only requirement is to buy your right to use our free airwaves for $70 ($35 next year) for a 10-year license. This gives you access to a very usable area of the radio spectrum that works very well. Something simple as this would provide common users the ability to communicate with others in their local area, allowing for simple welfare checks with those around you. This is a common service that hams have had access to for years; now GMRS licensees can too. There are multiple reasons that GMRS is growing like a weed now:
- Off-road enthusiasts are migrating from CB to GMRS because it provides a better service than they have had in the past
- As people watch the headlines, people are starting to realize that in a disaster, it is common to be on your own for a duration. People are now understanding that you are responsible for your safety and wellbeing during an emergency or disaster, and you cannot wait on the government or someone else to save you. They are busy saving themselves too.
- It is a very inexpensive method of communication. A person can go to their local big box store and find blister pack radios. Now, these are usually very feature-limited and cannot take advantage of some of the services that GMRS offers, but they will allow basic communications.
I have a set of Radioddity GM-30 handy talkies (walkie-talkies) that allow for the use of all the GMRS services including repeaters. These are going to be better quality than anything you can buy from a big box store, but they do have a bit more complexity to use them all. It is not more difficult than someone watching a couple of YouTube videos to learn about though.
Why it is so awesome to have?
Other than what I said earlier regarding a one-time fee, and the radios can be very inexpensive, why is it so nice to have a GMRS license? One license covers your ENTIRE family. Read what the FCC has to say about what a family is:
FCC part 95E, §95.1705[c]2: Any individual who holds an individual license may allow his or her immediate family members to operate his or her GMRS station or stations. **Immediate family members are the licensee’s spouse, children, grandchildren, stepchildren, parents, grandparents, stepparents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and in-laws.
That’s broad. One license for multiple users. You could communicate car-to-car on a road trip as an example.
My final thoughts
It is my opinion that there is finally a very easy method out there to keep yourself connected to others in your area during an emergency or just a weekend vacation. Turning on the radio and coordinating channel 7, or any of the 22 channels available, is easy for everyone. It provides reassurance that when a time of need comes, you can stay connected. It is a nice tool to have in your toolbox.