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Articles

  • Spookywoods: A Case Study Using Radios For Haunts

    Haunted attractions, or haunts, as they are called, are big business. While many of them are small, mom and pop operations, some are much larger; collectively they generate millions in revenue each year, creating an entire industry that is all their own.

    Tony Wohlgemuth knows the haunt business inside and out. Tony and his wife, Donna, own and operate Kersey Valley Spookywoods, a haunt located on a 55 acre farm in High Point, North Carolina. It is huge compared to the typical haunt and bills itself as "North Carolina's largest haunted attraction". Spookywoods employs 150 actors during the haunt season.

    Tony uses up the whole farm. "Most of your haunted houses are going to be inside a grocery store, a vacant store, or a warehouse setting", Tony says. "We're really unusual as far as the size goes and being outdoors."

    Kersey Valley Spookywoods features numerous attractions, such as The House of Darkness, Corn Maze, and of course, the famous Spookywoods. With 150 actors and so much going on at once, quick and reliable communication is critical to the entire operation. To keep things running smoothly and on cue, Tony and his crew rely heavily on their arsenal of two way radios.

    To keep things organized, the staff and radios are divided up into groups and Tony has managers who monitor everybody. "There's a lot of chatter, especially, you know, trying to get the show started; a lot of communication going on", Tony explains. "Our biggest challenge is, there's just so much talking going on, you know, that it's just hard to get through." To minimize the traffic, he constantly stresses a company policy of radio use during radio meetings: "don't talk unless you've gotta talk... don't talk unless you have to."

    Typical haunts operate after dark. Spookywoods is unusual in the sense that they operate both day and night. The long hours have an impact on their radio communications strategy. "Battery life is so important to us", says Tony. "We open at night, obviously, for the haunt but we use the same radios during the day at our corn maze. So these radios are on from, say, 11 in the morning all the way to 11 at night."

    While battery life is an issue, Tony doesn't let it affect the show. He says, "Some of our managers have two radios, so when one dies they just pick up another."

    Although two way radios are important to the operation, it is equally important that they are not seen and certainly not heard by the guests. Almost every radio operator, guy and ghoul alike, is a visible part of the haunt and more often than not in character or costume. A two way radio in the hand of a spook can certainly ruin a scare or effect. For this reason the radios need to be small, lightweight and easy to hide. A hidden microphone and headset are critical. Tony makes this point perfectly clear. "Earphones are important because we don't want the customers to hear what's going on."

    When it comes to mics and headsets, a surveillance earpiece with a PTT mic is ideal. "We like to be discreet and have the cables coming up behind our neck and you don't even notice we've got a radio on", Tony says. "Which I think is great; you know... we're quiet... you don't hear a bunch of chatter and the customers respect this. They don't know that we're in communication. And it's great when trying to catch somebody doing something."

    Safety and security concerns also make the radios an indispensible part of the haunt. Guests can get out of hand and people can become unruly. "It's kind of nice to have that discreet communication", Tony says. "Like I could talk to our sheriffs and they don't even know I'm talking to the sheriff."

    Kersey Valley Spookywoods utilizes two way radio communications in nearly every part of the operation to make the haunt entertaining, safe, secure and profitable. At the end of the night, it seems Tony considers his radios well worth the investment.

  • Two Way Radios For Haunts

    Each year, as autumn sets in, the air begins to cool, the leaves begin to die, and the night comes early to cast its eerie shadow upon the earth even before the day is done. The world becomes cold, bare and dark.

    Then the haunts begin.

    From mid-September to the end of October, thousands of haunted houses and spooky amusement attractions, or haunts, open across the country. Some are small, home-grown amusements or events operated by local charities, churches and civic groups. Others are larger, commercial attractions that feature professional performers and slick, high tech shows. Small or large, they all offer one thing in common: a unique experience derived from devious diversions and fun filled frights for those who like to be scared silly or out of their wits, just for kicks.

    Some haunts are simple shows with inexpensive props and volunteers dressed in home-made costumes performing improvised scares. Others are high tech, carefully orchestrated events with actors, effects and gadgets to add a touch of virtual reality and heighten the fright. But there is one item nearly all respectable haunts rely on besides the costumes, make-up and fake blood: two way radios.

    Good radio communication is very important to haunts for several reasons. The first is safety. Attractions of any sort where patrons gather for entertainment always present safety concerns. Attractions intended to scare those patrons increase them. A situation in which an actor gets assaulted, a patron has a heart attack or gets hurt, something catches fire or some other emergency occurs requires immediate attention, communication and response.

    Security is also important. Patrons may become unruly or a fright can get out of hand. Patrons may vandalize sets and props or otherwise take advantage of dark surroundings to engage in other inappropriate activities. Communication is important to ensure property is protected, liabilities are limited and everyone enjoys themselves appropriately.

    Third, no matter what, the show must go on. Ensuring actors act on cue, props perform as they should and effects execute on time ensure the haunt itself will have the desired effect and not drop dead during delivery.

    Communication can be important or even crucial for other operations as well, such as parking, ticketing, concessions and crowd control. In short, the ability to communicate quickly, efficiently and collectively can make the difference between the overall success or failure of a haunt. To ensure success, two way radios are a practical means to that end.

    If you're thinking about creating a haunt or currently operating one, choosing the right two way radio is important to consider. Will your haunt be located indoors or outside? Does it encompass a small or large area? Do you need to communicate with only a few key operators or an entire cast and crew? Will it operate for a just few hours a night or all night and all day? How your haunt is set up and how it will operate will largely determine the type of radios you need. There are several types to consider.

    Small lightweight business radioscls-1410_l.jpg
    These are generally a prime choice for haunts. Small radios can be hidden more easily in costumes and are lightweight, yet durable. Business class radios also use commercial UHF/VHF frequencies that can be assigned for use specifically for the haunt, ensuring more direct communication between those radio operators and at greater range. Batteries used in business radios typically last longer as well, allowing the radios to be used in haunts with long hours without the need of a recharge. The most popular business class radios for haunts are Motorola CLS1110 and CLS 1410 two way radios. They are very small, extremely lightweight radios and have a long battery life. The Kenwood TK-3230 is also a good choice and is particularly rugged for its size.

    900 MHz digital radiosTSX300-2VP_l.jpg
    if you are buying all new radios and need them to communicate with your cast and crew on separate, multiple channels, 900 MHz digital radios are an option. The advantages? Radios such as the Motorola DTR410 and DTR550 offer direct, one-to-one calling over multiple channels. This allows you to call either an individual radio or an entire group (20 for the DTR550 and 25 for the DTR410). TriSquare 900 MHz radios take it to the max: the TSX100-2VP features 1,000 channels and the TSX300-2VP has 10 billion.

    These radios utilize Frequency Hopping Spread Spectrum (FHSS) technology, offering more privacy and greater security than FRS, GMRS and some other UHF/VHF radios. The best part? Since these radios operate at 900 MHz, anyone at any age can operate them for either consumer or business use without the need to purchase a license from the FCC. So, whether you operate a small haunt for charity or a large one profit, these radios have you covered.

    Consumer grade radiosMH230TPR-1-l.jpg
    For small, non-commercial haunts on a tight budget such as churches or civic groups, consumer grade radios may be acceptable. These radios are generally small, lightweight, and inexpensive. They are not as rugged and durable as business class radios, but if they do break they are a lot less expensive to replace. Consumer radios are not intended for private communication. They operate on FRS/GMRS frequencies, which are open, shared channels; the radios will operate fine, but don't be surprised if you receive interference from other area radio users or your conversations are overheard.

    Consumer radios also have shorter battery life than most business radios and the range is usually not as good. However, some consumer radios are more durable than others and there are ways to work around some battery issues. If you have limited funds and resources and your haunt is not a large commercial operation, a good consumer radio can still be worth the investment. Radios such as the Midland GXT1000VP4 and the Motorola MH230TPR Three Pack are a good value at a good price as they include headsets, batteries and charger. The MH230TPR radios are also small, compact and lightweight, allowing you to carry and conceal them easily.

    Base stations and intercomsJBS-446D-1-l.jpg
    Wireless radio base stations, intercoms or callboxes that are strategically placed throughout the perimeter can provide instant or emergency communications in situations where it may not be economical, practical or even feasible to provide portable handheld two way radios to individual staff members. These intercoms can usually be mounted to a wall or post in central areas or zones and programmed to specific frequencies to talk with other intercoms or two way radios in a group. They can also often be programmed with prepared messages and alerts to act as emergency callboxes. The Ritron Jobcom Base Station/Wireless Intercom is a perfect example of such a device. Larger, permanent attractions and perennial haunts may find this solution to be both desirable and cost effective.

    AccessoriesEB200_l.jpg
    Choosing the right type of radio also includes choosing the right accessories. The type of headsets, mics and other equipment attached to your radios depend largely on your haunt and the effect you want to achieve. Simply operating a radio in your hand in full view of the guests can ruin a good scare and possibly the whole show. Chances are, there will also be a lot of noise and the radio operators on both ends need the ability to both speak and hear clearly above the shrieks, screams and other cacophony.

    If your radios need to be hidden but headsets are not that critical, a D-Ring type of earpiece with a PTT mic attached could suffice. Our XLT DR100 D-Ring Earpiece with PTT Mic is a stable, flexible earpiece with a "D" ring that loops around the left or right ear. The earpiece rests against the ear instead of inside it, making the DR100 a good option when sharing an earpiece with several people.

    For something a little more discreet, yet easy to wear, an earbud with earclip is an ideal solution. The XLT EB200 Earpiece with PTT Microphone is lightweight, comfortable and features an adjustable height earbud style earpiece to accommodate almost any, er, human ear, left or right. The push-to-talk button/microphone can be clipped onto your lapel or hidden inside your pocket.

    If you want the radios to be completely hidden inside or under a costume with no easily discernable wiring, a surveillance earpiece with PTT mic would be the way to go, such as the XLT SE200 2-Wire Surveillance Earpiece with PTT Mic The clear, "surveillance-style" eartube is difficult to see in the dark. It also features a quick release style mushroom tipped surveillance earpiece. The Push-to-talk button/microphone is on a separate wire that can be linked to your lapel, placed in a pocket, or slipped down a sleeve. Think "men in black" and you'll have the idea.

    Our Recommendations
    For most commercial haunts, the recommended solution is the Motorola CLS1110 or 1410 radio and XLT EB200-MT earpiece with PTT microphone. For larger haunts, a Ritron Jobcom Base Station/Intercom placed in one or more strategic locations around the haunt is also recommended.

    Behind every scary haunt is a scary spook. More often than not, such old fashioned terror is brought to you by modern technology. The next time you visit your favorite haunt, watch out for the ghoul creeping up behind you. Aside from the normal paranormal baggage or props, He, she, or it(?) may just be packing a two way radio.

  • All About ARTS

    Let's talk about ARTS. No, we're not talking about music, movies, impressionist paintings or the theatre; we're talking about Vertex Standard ARTS. Vertex radios and ARTS?, you ask. What's that all about?

    ARTS™, also known as Auto-Range Transpond System, is a type of technology used in two way radios - more specifically, Vertex two way radios. In fact, Vertex Standard built ARTS as a standard feature in all of its portable radios, such as the VX-231, VX 351 and VX 354. That's great, you say. But what is ARTS? What does it do?

    The Auto-Range Transpond System (ARTS) is a feature used to detect and alert you when you and another ARTS-equipped radio station are within range of each other. When ARTS is in use, your radio will transmit for one second every 55 seconds in an attempt to handshake with the other radio. If no signal is received or your radio is out of range of the other for more than two minutes, it will emit a beep alert or tone. Once you and the other radio station are within range of each other again, your radio will receive a transmission from the other radio and beep to acknowledge the reconnection.

    From an operator's perspective, ARTS is a simple concept and a feature easily explained and understood. But that's only the beginning.

    Then there is ARTS II.

    ARTS II takes ARTS to a whole new level. It uses MDC 1200 encode/decode for selective signaling. MDC (Motorola Data Communications) transmits data on a radio's voice channel in bursts at a rate of 1200 baud (hence the term MDC 1200). This data includes information about the radio doing the sending, such as its Unit ID, status and pre-defined messages. By utilizing MDC1200 signaling, ARTS II allows each radio user to know exactly which specific radio or radios are in or out of range. ARTS II is a standard feature in the Vertex VX-450 Series portable radios (including the VX-451 and VX-459) and VX 4500 and 4600 Series mobile radios.

    Although the technology used to bring ARTS to the world of two way radios is a bit complicated, the concept itself is rather simple and the feature is easy to set up and use. Such a feature can also be a very important tool when you need to stay in touch or monitor employees, team members or other radio operators in your group. The video below demonstrates ARTS and ARTS II in action to help you visualize the potential uses for and value of this feature.

    And that's basically all there is to it. Congratulations! You are now a Master of ARTS.

  • Are You Prepared for a Hurricane?

    We are now in the middle of the 2011 hurricane season. Hurricane Irene recently stormed across the Atlantic, hitting the Bahamas and the Eastern seaboard of the US. Another storm is currently forming off the coast of Africa and has a 70% chance of becoming a tropical depression within the next 48 hours. If you live or work in areas prone to hurricane activity, there is only one question to ask. Are you ready?

    Do you have a Hurricane Preparedness Kit? If not, FEMA has a checklist of Recommended Items to Include in a Basic Emergency Supply Kit so you can build your own.

    The first two items on FEMA's list are obviously the most critical: water and food, in that order. The third item on the list? A Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert and extra batteries for both.

    Radios that meet the requirements suggested in FEMA's list include the following:

    Two Way Radios

    Midland GXT1000VP4 Radios With Headsets and Charger - The GXT1000VP4 is a powerful 5 watt radio designed for use in all types of weather. It is durable, water resistant, supports NOAA weather channels, NOAA weather alerts and includes a 3 year manufacturer warranty.

    Motorola TALKABOUT MS350R Two Way Radios - The MS350R is a brand new high performance radio from Motorola. The MS350R is designed specifically for use in extreme weather conditions. It also features 11 weather channels and a built-in flashlight. The MS350R operates on rechargeable and disposable batteries, is submersible and also floats. The package even includes an Emergency Preparedness Checklist Sheet.

    Motorola TALKABOUT T9680R-SAME Two Way Radios - The Motorola T9680R is one of Motorola's most powerful consumer two way radios. It is built as a Hazard Alert radio and features Specific Area Message Encoding (SAME) technology, adopted by the National Weather Service to alert the public to emergency events in their specific area. SAME monitors the NOAA weather stations for you pro-actively and alerts you to emergency weather and hazard conditions. Like the MS350R, The T9680R operates on both rechargeable and alkaline batteries.

    Midland XT511 Base Camp Two Way/Emergency Crank Radio - The Midland XT511 is a powerful, all-in-one two way radio that is the perfect choice for any emergency kit. It is, for all intents and purposes, the "Swiss army knife" of radios. It features an FRS/GMRS radio, flashlight, an AM/FM clock radio with an alarm, and NOAA weather alerts. The Midland XT511 offers five power options, including an AC wall power adapter, DC vehicle adapter, rechargeable battery pack, alkaline batteries and can be powered and charged using the Dynamo hand crank. The XT511 also includes a USB connector so you to charge your USB enabled devices (including many cell phones) in case of a power outage.

    NOAA Weather Radios (receive only)

    Midland WR-120 Weather Radio - The WR-120 is a basic All Hazards Alert weather radio and supports the Public Alert system and SAME technology. When a weather or civil emergency alert is issued in your specific area , an alarm goes off and a text alert is displayed. The WR-120 also features an alarm clock with snooze, a blue backlit display, battery backup, color coded alert light, and external antenna jack. The WR-120 is also tri-lingual and supports English, Spanish or French languages.

    Midland WR-300 Weather Radio - The WR-300 offers many of the same features as the WR-120. In addition the WR-300 allows you to choose between an alarm alert, an LED alert, or both.

    Midland HH54VP2 SAME Handheld Weather Radio - The Midland HH54VP2 is a small, portable handheld radio ideal for use when travelling. The HH54VP2 supports all NWS hazard alerts utilizing S.A.M.E. technology. The HH-54VP2 also provides other emergency alerts such as Amber Alerts, biological hazard warnings, civil emergency messages, nuclear power plant warnings, fire warnings and landslide warnings. The HH-54VP2 also features an alarm clock with snooze, a large, backlit display with continuous backlighting option, user selectable alerts, color coded alert indicators, and battery backup.

    Midland HH-50 Pocket Weather Alert Radio - The Midland HH-50 is an extremely compact weather radio that easily fits in your pocket and auto scans for emergency and weather alerts from the moment you turn it on. The HH-50 supports all hazard alerts issued by the National Weather Service as well as other types of emergency alerts, messages and warnings. Its extremely low cost, light weight and small footprint make it a good choice for a small emergency kit in the car or on the go.

    Whether at home or away, on land or water, a radio is an indispensable item for any emergency preparedness kit. When a weather emergency hits your area, alerts and updates on ever changing weather conditions can be vital to your safety or survival. Two way radio communications can also be critical in such emergencies, especially if you lose your landline, cell phone service or power. For more information on emergency weather radios, listen to The Two Way Radio Show Episode 13 - Emergency and Weather Radios.

    Don't be caught off guard during the next weather alert. Assemble your Hurricane Preparedness Kit now.

    UPDATE: We now carry a complete line of emergency preparedness and survival kits, including the Emergency Zone Severe Weather Emergency Kit. Add your choice of two way radio and be ready for an emergency or weather disaster now!

  • What is an Intrinsically Safe Radio?

    If you spend a lot of time shopping around for two way radios, at some point you may have come across the term "intrinsically safe". If you're somewhat new to the world of walkie-talkies, you probably have a few questions. What is an intrinsically safe radio? What does it do? What makes an "intrinsically safe" radio different from any other radio? Why would I want one? Why would I need one? Why would I even care?

    The word intrinsic refers to the essential or real nature or value of something. In electronics it refers to the very nature of an electronic device as being electrical; an item that operates using electricity. Any electronic device, by its very nature, carries and electrical current or charge, therefore the chance of an electrical spark or heat eminating from the device is inherently present or a possibility at all times.

    Intrinsically Safe means the device is safe to use in hazardous environments where the presence of a potential spark, heat or flame could potentially create a safety hazard. In the case of two way radios, this is especially important. Since radios are electrical, they do have the potential to generate sparks and heat, and there are many situations in which a radio may need to be used in potentially hazardous or explosive environments.

    Such environments include oil rigs and refineries, gas mains, coal mines, engine rooms of seafaring vessels, chemical plants, factories, emergency scenes involving First Responders, and other environments where there are potentially explosive or hazardous materials.

    Hazardous environments fall into different divisions and classifications. The details are outside the scope of this discussion, but essentially they fall into three basic classifications:

    • Class 1: flammable vapors and gases
    • Class 2: flammable dust
    • Class 3: flammable fibers

    In such environments, two way radio communication can be very important and even critical to operations, yet standard two way radios should not be used because they can make a potentially hazardous situation even more dangerous.

    These situations require the use of Intrinsically Safe radios.

    In order to be designated Intrinsically Safe, radios must be designed and housed in such a way as to prevent or eliminate the possibility of generating even the tiniest little spark. They must also limit the amount of heat produced by the radio. The batteries used in the radios must also be specially designed to prevent sparks and eliminate short circuiting. Even the radio housing itself must be designed and constructed of materials to prevent or eliminate friction, which can create static electricity and generate sparks.

    In addition to the radios, any accessories used, such as microphones and headsets, need to be intrinsically safe.

    Intrinsically safe two way radios are manufactured according to strict codes and regulations set by the National Fire Protection Association. The manufacturing facilities and processes are supervised by Factory Mutual, an insurance and loss prevention company approved by the US government to oversee enforcement of the NFPA codes.

    Due to these more stringent manufacturing requirements, Intrinsically Safe radios are considerably more expensive than their standard counterparts. However, the safety considerations built into these radios are worth far more than that. After all, you can't put a price on safety.

    Radios manufactured as Intrinsically Safe carry the FM (Factory Mutual) Approved certification mark. Icom, Motorola, and Vertex are major brands with one or more models of intrinsically safe two way radios.

    This chart lists popular makes and models of intrinsically safe radios currently available from Buy Two Way Radios.

    Intrinsically Safe Radios
    Manufacturer Model Band Mode
    Icom F4161/F3161 UHF or VHF Analog or Digital
    Kenwood TK-2360IS/3360IS UHF or VHF Analog
    Motorola VX-451 UHF or VHF Analog
    Motorola VX-454 UHF or VHF Analog
    Motorola VX-459 UHF or VHF Analog

    Questions? Leave us a comment below. You can also give us a call, e-mail us or enter our live chat from 8 AM to 6 PM Monday through Friday!

  • Getting Started with Marine Radios

    One of the most important things to have with you when you are out on the water (besides something to keep you afloat) is a means of two way communication, such as a radio. If you are a boater, you probably already know how important it is to have a radio on board.

    Marine VHF radios are commonly used on seafaring vessels both large and small to communicate ship-to-ship or ship-to-shore for everything from routine contact with ports and marinas to emergency distress calls. These radios operate using VHF frequencies from 156 to 174 MHz.

    Marine radios operate very much like your typical land-based two way radio, but with some differences in channels, wattage, range and features. VHF marine channels are different than those used for land based radios and are specifically for use in marine environments. They are allowed to operate between 1 and 25 watts. Because transmissions primarily occur over open water, their range will generally be much greater than land-based radios.

    Marine radios also offer many additional features not found on most land-based radios, such as emergency weather alerts and weather-proofing. It is not uncommon for marine radios, particularly handheld units, to be submersible in water and even float.

    One important feature often found in a VHF marine radio is Digital Selective Calling, or DSC. DSC is part of the Global Maritime Distress Safety System (GMDSS). A Class-D (DSC) Digital Selective Calling-capable VHF radio has a second receiver to monitor Channel 70 (DSC channel) activity at all times while receiving another channel. DSC allows the user to send a distress signal at the push of a button without using a microphone to exchange position information with other boats or stations. As of March 25, 2011 marine radios are now required by the FCC to be Class-D DSC complaint.

    The FCC has set specific requirements for users of marine radios operating within US jurisdiction. The FCC states: Depending on the size, purpose, or destination of a ship, its radio station must meet certain requirements established by law or treaty.

    On October 25, 1996, the FCC released a Report and Order in WT Docket No. 96-82, 11 FCC Rcd 14849, FCC 96-421 (pdf), eliminating the individual licensing requirement for voluntary ships operating domestically which are not required by law to carry a radio. Voluntary ships are those that are not required to have a radio. WIth a few exceptions, most recreational vessels are considered voluntary.

    According to the FCC, domestic vessels are those that do not travel to foreign ports. If your vessel travels to ports in other countries, you will need to have a license. The FCC rules require certain vessels to be equipped with radio equipment for safety purposes. These rules are set in accordance with international agreements.

    Marine radios typically have 88 channels, however not all of those channels are allowed to be used by everyone. Certain channels are reserved for specific types of communications or for specific groups, such as commercial ships and the Coast Guard. For instance, Simplex channels, 3, 21, 23, 61, 64, 81, 82 and 83 CANNOT be legally used in U.S. waters by the general public. Channel 16 and Channel 9 are emergency channels and are reserved specifically for emergency communications. Channel 16 (for voice) and channel 70 (for digital DSC) being monitored 24 hours a day by the US Coast Guard.

    In addition to the other requirements, there is one other very important rule to note: Marine radios are specifically intended for marine use. It is illegal to operate a marine radio on land.

    There are two basic types of VHS Marine Radios, fixed mount and handheld. Fixed mount radios are installed or mounted in your vessel. Handheld radios are carried with you like any other handheld two way radio or walkie-talkie.

    Examples of fixed mount VHF marine radios are the Icom IC-M412 (available in black or white) and the Cobra Marine MR-F80B-D Class-D Fixed Mount Submersible VHF Radio. Examples of handheld marine radios are the Midland Nautico 3VP, and the Icom IC-M36 VHF Marine Radio. Cobra, Icom, Midland and Uniden are all popular brands of marine radios.

    When shopping for a marine radio, it is important to note that while antennas are typically included with handheld radios, an antenna is not included with fixed mount marine radios and are purchased separately. This is because the antenna will be mounted somewhere externally on the vessel itself. Marine radio antennas vary in size, length and type and your choice of an antenna may vary depending on where and how it will be mounted on your vessel.

    For more information about the basics of choosing and using a marine radio, listen to The Two Way Radio Show Episode 16 - An Introduction to Marine Radios.

  • Charging Two Way Radios in a Vehicle

    Charging a handheld two way radio is, for the most part, a universal concept. It requires a radio equipped for charging, a charger, and rechargeable batteries. Charging is generally accomplished using one of three methods: plug the charger into the radio, drop the radio into the charger, or drop the batteries into the charger to charge the batteries directly.

    While charging methods may vary according the make and model of radio you are using and the type of battery or charger used, they all have one thing in common - the charger cable or station typically plugs into a wall outlet and recharges the battery from a stationary source of AC power.

    But what if there is no AC outlet available? What if you are away from your home or office, in a remote location, or on the road? What then? How do you keep your radios powered up and your batteries charged when you are on the go? These are questions frequently asked by customers in our blog, forum and on The Two Way Radio Show.

    The answers to such questions depend a lot on your choice of radio. Some radios and/or their supplied chargers do not inherently support charging on DC power. Some do. However, even for some that don't, there may be a solution.

    There are many brands and models of consumer two way radios with DC charging options included or built right in. Midland, Motorola and Uniden offer consumer FRS/GMRS radios with DC charging options. Motorola offers several radios with a 12v cable for their drop-in dual chargers. Several TalkAbout radios, such as the MH230R, MJ270R, MR350R and MR355R have a built-in mini-USB port to charge the radios via USB. The MR350R VP also has the mini-USB port and a min-USB car charger is included in the package. Uniden offers an optional 12v charging cable for the GMR2838-2CK, GMR2240-2CK and other Uniden radios (sold separately) so you can charge them by plugging the radios directly into the cigarette lighter in your vehicle.

    Most manufacturers of consumer radios require you to turn the radios off while charging them in your vehicle. This means that you generally will not be able to use the radios to receive and transmit while they are charging. However, Garmin offers an optional Auto Power Adapter and PC Interface Cable with Auto Power Adapter to directly power the Rhino Series radios while in a vehicle. Garmin radios are more expensive than many other FRS/GMRS radios, but if you specifically need to be able to operate a radio while it is plugged into your vehicle for power, this may be the way to go.

    Business radios are a little different. Although Icom does offer a DC adapter for its drop-in chargers, as a general rule most chargers for business radios are AC only.

    However, Impact manufactures a line of universal chargers for business (and some consumer) radios that work using DC power. The Impact DC-1 Universal Single Rapid Vehicle Charger is compatible with a wide range of radios by utilizing an interchangeable cup system. Simply choose the cup that fits your make and model radio, drop it in the charger and it is ready for your radio. The charger also includes a mounting bracket to mount it in your car, truck or van.

    If you have more than one radio to charge, Impact offers the AC/DC Universal Rapid 3 bank and 6 bank chargers. These chargers utilize the same cup system as the DC-1, allowing you to charge multiple radios of different makes and models all at the same time. Not every radio out there is supported, but there are cups available for a lot of them, and they are listed on a Charger Cup Chart. Impact offers 3-bank and 6-bank quick release vehicle mounting brackets for these chargers as well, but they are optional and are purchased separately.

    Charging two way radios while on the go can have its challenges, but with a little planning and research you can find the right solution to charge your radios for full power whenever you need it, where ever you may go.

  • Motorola DTR550 Still Going Strong

    DTR550-5-l.jpgWe have heard from several customers who have been told that the Motorola DTR550 radio was discontinued. This is not true. Just to clarify, the DTR550 is still current and isn't going away anytime soon!

    So, what happened? The truth is, Motorola stopped making this unit available to a large number of their dealers. As an Authorized Radio Reseller for Motorola, we still have the DTR-550 and will continue to have access to them for the foreseeable future.

    So, fear not, digital two way radio fans. the death of the Motorola DTR550 has been greatly exaggerated.

  • A Beginner's Guide to CB Radio

    The Citizens Band Radio Service, or CB, as it is commonly called, is a type of radio communication under the category of Personal Radio Service. As with the other types of PRS, such as FRS, GMRS, MURS, and LPRS (Low Power Radio Service), CB is intended for both consumer and business use. CB is covered under Part 95 of the FCC rules. A CB radio does not require a license to operate.

    CB service operates on 40 shared channels in an AM mode or Single SideBand (SSB) mode. SSB offers less noise and greater range than AM mode and is usually found on higher end CB radios. SSB has two modes, Upper Sideband and Lower Sideband. You can only communicate with other SSB CB radios when in SSB mode.

    There is no minimum age requirement to operate a CB radio. In fact. almost anyone can use CB. According to the FCC rules (95.403) "you are authorized to operate a CB station unless:
    (a) You are a foreign government, a representative of a foreign government, or a federal government agency; OR
    (b) The FCC has issued a cease and desist order to you, and the order is still in effect."

    CB channels and frequencies are not assigned to any specific individual or organization. For the most part, you can operate a CB radio on all 40 channels and frequencies designated by the FCC for CB, but there are some caveats.

    First, you can use CB only on those 40 channels and frequencies. Channel 9 may be used only for emergencies or for travel In addition, however, any channel can be used for emergency communications or traveler assistance. In addition, as these channels are shared, you must always give priority to emergency communications on all channels.

    The maximum power levels for CB operation depends on the type of signal you are transmitting. AM signals are allowed a maximum of four watts. SSB mode is allowed up to 12 watts Peak Envelope Power, or PEP. According to the FCC, you are not allowed to raise the power output of your CB unit, attach any type of power amplifier, or modify the unit internally. Also, according to the FCC, you must use an FCC-certified CB unit in the United States. FCC-certified CB units have an FCC-certified label placed on the radio by the manufacturer.

    CB is intended for short range, local communications only, but there is a way to increase range considerably by bouncing or "skipping" the signal off the ionosphere. This method is called 'shooting skip". Some CB users can skip a signal thousands of miles. The FCC prohibits attempts to communicate with CB stations over 155.3 miles (250km) away; however, signals can skip naturally depending on tropospheric conditions, so it is not unusual to send or receive CB transmissions across the country - or even around the world - unintentionally.

    Because the 40 CB channels are shared with other users, some common etiquette is required. users must never talk with another station for more than 5 minutes continuously and must wait at least one minute before starting another communication. In the early days of CB the FCC did require users to have a license and a call sign. While neither is no longer necessary, it is still common practice to have a "call sign" in the form of a pseudonym, or CB "handle". The FCC allows users to create their own handles.

    CB users also have their own lingo and codes. 10 Codes are the universally accepted standard for CB transmission in AM mode while Q Signals are generally used for Single Side Band and by skip-talkers. For more information, download our FREE list of CB 10 Codes and Q Signals.

    CB radio equipment is also standard. Popular brands include Cobra, Galaxy, and Uniden. Cobra is one of the most recognized and established brands of CB radio equipment in the world. There are two basic styles of CB Radios from these manufacturers: mobile (usually mounted in vehicles) and handheld (as with standard two way radios or walkie-talkies). Mobile units cost between $40 and $200. The Uniden PC68LTW, Galaxy DX 959 SSB, and Cobra 148 GTL SSB are all mobile CB radios offering many premium features for seasoned CB users on the high end. For the beginning CB user, equally mobile Uniden PRO510XL is a good, basic, entry-level radio priced at only 39.99. Handheld CB radios, such as the Cobra HH-Roadtrip and HH 38 WX ST CB Radios, usually cost between $40-$180.

    When purchasing a CB radio, one thing that must not be overlooked is the antenna. While antennas are often included with handheld CB radios, they are not included with mobile units and must be purchased separately. Whether it is an entry-level unit or one on the high-end, performance will depend a lot on the type of antenna purchased and where it will be mounted. Consider your options carefully before purchase.

  • What is the Most Solid Feeling Consumer Radio?

    We get asked a lot of questions, either by phone, email or over on our two way radios forum. One question that comes up a lot is which consumer radio "feels" the most solid and durable. We all know this is rather subjective, but there was a conversation here about this just the other day and I thought some of you might like to know what we think.

    Now, most people would never put their radios through the kind of abuse that it would take to break them. They are not that fragile and are made to be dropped and knocked around a bit.

    At the top of our list (and big, tough and heavy) are Garmin Radios, though Danny thinks they should instead be called Awesome Garmin GPS Map Devices that Just Happen to be Very Good GMRS Radios as Well. (Garmin, feel free to call us for permission to use that). They are heavy radios so they might weigh a bit too much for some people. They are also one of the coolest bits of tech we carry. If you spend a lot of time camping and hunting you should seriously consider a set just for the GPS functionality. They remind me more of commercial grade radios in quality.

    Next would be Midland radios. Sure, they are boxy, but they have a nice heft without being too heavy and are very tough. There is something about a simple "works no matter what" design we like.

    Cobra, Motorola, Uniden and TriSquare get lumped together. While they are far from fragile, they just do not have the same "solid" feeling. Uniden radios do feel a bit tougher that the others. I would not want to drop any of these radios too often on pavement, though. A few of the Motorola radios feel like I could squeeze them and break the shell even.

    All of this is, once again, very subjective. In fact, many of you could easily argue that we are crazy and wrong. Also, none of these are as durable or tough as a commercial grade radio. Most consumer radios use a thin plastic shell and plastic frame. Many commercial radios have a shatter proof shell and a metal frame. That is also one of the reasons there is a price difference. Consumer radios are designed to be a compromise between having a lot of features, durability and price. And in truth, most of the time they do a very good job balancing all of this.

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