New FCC Rules May Change FRS/GMRS Walkie Radios

Post by blogger | April 16, 2018      
Midland X-tra Talk GTX series, good example of FRS/GMRS blister pack radios.

Midland X-tra Talk GTX series, good example of FRS/GMRS blister pack radios. Decent quality, recommended.

“We’re from the government and we’re here to help.” Could those be the scariest nine words in the English language? While of course that’s not always so, the quip struck a chord when spoken some years ago by one of our former presidents.

Consider the Federal Communications Commission (disregard “net neutrality” for a moment) and the 2-way “FRS/GMRS” radios that are as common as shoelaces for everyone from restaurant workers to SHTF preppers.

As of late, with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) one has to wonder if they’re intent on scaring us with those dreaded nine words. Announced this past May, beyond all the recent controversy about net neutrality, they have changed the rules for FRS/GMRS radios, and while most of what they’re doing with radios is in my view either neutral or even beneficial, the details are confusing and a few things might be detrimental.

Luckily we’ve got the preppers to help make sense of it all. They logically figure that when the stuff does hit the fan, handheld radio communication will be key. Among those still living, anyway. Same thing for avalanches and general backcountry safety; radios are useful, perhaps even as important as your avalanche transceiver.

I hopped to the FCC first and got the helpful offical word, then bopped over to prepper site CodeGreen to get the expert interpretation. (I’ll admit to getting sidetracked by an article describing how close one can be to a nuclear bomb blast and still survive, but I refocused and got it done.)

If you don’t care to read this entire “geek download,” main takeaways from this post and the world of 2-way consumer type “blister pack” two-way radios, now might be the time to buy FRS/GMRS radios as the specification is being split. Newer specific FRS designated radios will have less optional transmit power than current FRS/GMRS units. Higher power specific “GMRS” handheld units may not be all that different than what’s presently available, but I can see their prices rising as an upsell item. That said, the BCA BC-Link, is getting an upgrade (available this fall) and could still be the best of all, though jury is out on that until we can physically test.

Explication: Don’t let all the “FRS” “GMRS” chatter drive you insane. The acronyms simply refer to radio frequencies (channels) that are regulated by the FCC. FRS frequencies are limited to lower power and don’t require a license, GMRS allows for higher power and technically requires a license, but up till now that’s generally not been commonly adhered to nor meaningfully enforced. Most of the inexpensive “blister pack talkabout” radios sold these days include frequencies that are both FRS and GMRS.

Gist is the following:

You might have noticed that radios touted as “FRS/GMRS” include in their fine print that you need a GMRS license to operate all but channels 8 through 14. This was a ludicrous situation as people who bought these radios rarely purchased a license.

Thus, to “help” reduce ludiocrity, FCC’s new regulations mandate the specific “FRS” radios will not require a license, but as mentioned above will unfortunately drop transmit power for what could formerly be much higher power channels (when they were “FRS/GMRS” radios). Their remedy to this is they’ll still allow for “GMRS” radios to be sold (with similar channels only higher power), but these will indeed require a license and perhaps that license might be more aggressively enforced, though we doubt it.

Incidenally, regarding confusion, note some current FRS/GMRS radios, e.g., Midland X-tra Talk, are sold with “50 channels.” Those actually provide the standard 22 frequencies with the extra 28 channels being preset combinations of the standard frequencies with privacy codes.

So here it all is restated in a few elevator spiels

– In my read of this there will eventually be no “FRS/GMRS” radios. BUT, makers will provide what will be called “FRS radios” that will use 22 frequencies, as before, only limited to lower power settings. Separate radios with GMRS power settings will presumably be available from many brands, and will probably be the wise purchase, along with a license (good for years, covers whole family). From a lot of experience, for “real” backcountry use we recommend obtaining radios that allow the full 5 watts where legal (see chart below), and using them at full power for all but the most casual close proximity chatting. Higher power does deplete batteries, that’s easily mitigated by learning and practicing good radio protocols such as short transmissions and beginning each day with full batteries.

– FRS/GMRS radios you presently own will function as before, will function in conjunction with newer models, and are grandfathered. If you’ve found these prior radios to work fine for your needs, there may be a firesale situation in coming months as the new regs come closer and companies have to unload mislabeled or otherwise misconfigured units, but that’s a wild guess. What is more, existing “FRS/GMRS” radios such as the Midland X-tra Talk do have better/higher power options (maximum 5 watts) than possible new “FRS” models (maximum 2 watts) that conform to the new regs.

(Reality check: the entire culture of FRS 2-way radios is based on the 1-22 channel numbering scheme that’s become an informal standard — and the power most such radios provide is so low it’s immaterial to any regulatory scheme when it is bumped up or down, using .5 watts, 2 watts or 5 watts. Where this does matter is GMRS is allowed to go to 50 watts, though you won’t see that in the inexpensive blister pack type radios. As an aside, out of curiosity I evaluated one of the in-vehical “mobile” GMRS radios. Midland makes some nice models. These units keep the standard 22 channel scheme going but simply eliminating channels 8-14, so when you step through the channels the unit skips from 7 to 15, for a total of 15 channels. My guess is they have to eliminate the FRS channels as those are only allowed in radios without removable antennas, and all the mobile units by default have a cabled antenna with a user operable connector. This is a pity, as a mobile radio with all 22 channels and better antenna would be quite nice.)

– Over past years the GMRS channels/frequencies could be programmed into various high performance handsets. When used as GMRS this sort of radio appears to be legal or at worst in a grey area of the regulations. Thus, if you choose to transmit on the GMRS frequencies using a programmable handset, at legal power limits, simply buy a license (and take care with your power output so as not to be impolite to other users you might “step on”). This is an excellent solution — with one challenge. With GMRS frequencies programmed, you still need the privacy codes, and it’s impossible to program all possible combinations. Only solutions for that: Program a few standardized channel/privacy combos (such as those used by the BCA BC Link radio), then keep a cheat sheet of all and memorize the radio keypad commands for setting a privacy code.

– While present options in FRS/GMRS radios have a poor reputation among radio hobbyists, good quality units have always been available. For example, the waterproof Motorola sets linked within this blog post are a bit pricey, but we’ve tested them for years and deemed them dependable. Likewise, the Midland GXT series radios to the right are excellent. Both the Motorola and the Midland include the 5 watt higher power option that will not be available in newer “FRS only” models we expect to eventually see. Reminder: We can’t help but recommend the BCA BC Link as the best option for a backcountry skiing radio (in new upgraded version out this fall) as it includes the waterproof shoulder mic/controller, perfect for radio use in inclement weather).

– Lastly, and this is important: Verbiage in the FCC’s new rules says something that could be interpreted to mean they’ll ban the importation of radios such as HAM handsets and in-vehicle mobiles (e.g., the Baofeng linked above) that can be programmed to a variety of frequencies (channels). This is a HUGE and scary proposition, as everyone from guide services to hobbyists have come to depend on the programmable radios making life much simpler, safer and more fun. We’ll see where that one goes (perhaps a non issue), but be aware you may want to purchase a few extra dual band programmable Baofeng units before they possibly become unavailable towards 2019. Likewise, I’ll state again that the current “blister pack” radios labeled “FRS/GMRS” often provide 5 watts of power for most channels, that will drop to a max of 2 watts with the new rules when you purchase an “FRS” radio. Thus, some of the current FRS/GMRS units could be very good values compared to what will be available in the future.

Considering all the above, as well as controversy regarding net neutrality, keep listening for someone chanting “we are from the government and we’re here to help,” and be ready fend off the commissars of confusion.

This website has a succinct explanation.

Wikipedia is current as well.

Midland’s explication of the new rules.

2017 New FRS FCC Standards, know that all these channels are also used as GMRS, most at higher allowed power.
Channel (informal standard) Frequency

New max power standard for FRS

Old allowed max power for combo FRS/GMRS radios, will remain available as GMRS
01 462.5625 2 W 5 W
02 462.5875 2 W 5 W
03 462.6125 2 W 5 W
04 462.6375 2 W 5 W
05 462.6625 2 W 5 W
06 462.6875 2 W 5 W
07 462.7125 2 W 5 W
08 467.5625 no change, 0.5 W same, low power in any radio
09 467.5875 no change, 0.5 W same, low power in any radio
10 467.6125 no change, 0.5 W same, low power in any radio
11 467.6375 no change, 0.5 W same, low power in any radio
12 467.6625 no change, 0.5 W same, low power in any radio
13 467.6875 no change, 0.5 W same, low power in any radio
14 467.7125 no change, 0.5 W same, low power in any radio
15 462.5500 2 W 5 W
16 462.5750 2 W 5 W
17 462.6000 2 W 5 W
18 462.6250 2 W 5 W
19 462.6500 2 W 5 W
20 462.6750 2 W 5 W
21 462.7000 2 W 5 W
22 462.7250 2 W 5 W


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15 Responses to “New FCC Rules May Change FRS/GMRS Walkie Radios”

  1. Brandon Berg April 16th, 2018 10:55 am


    Do you have a list of freq for the roaring fork valley? I’ve got my ham and am putting together a list of known repeaters, emergency freq, fire depts, quarry ops, etc. I’m programming it for the GD-77 I picked up a few weeks ago but just having a curated list for the area could be helpful to some. Do you have anything floating around in CSV format?


  2. swissiphic April 16th, 2018 11:43 am

    Baofeng! Baofeng! Baofeng!

  3. Roger April 16th, 2018 12:06 pm

    Will the new BC Link 2.0 be more powerful than the original BC Link or is it mainly improved form factor/waterproofness?

  4. Lou Dawson 2 April 16th, 2018 12:14 pm

    Hi Brandon, some years ago I had a really nice list that I kept programmed into my dual band Yeasu, but with the 800 band having come into play, I have nothing useful. Have you talked to the guys at SCARC? I don’t even have an 800 capable radio, just dual banders that might get up to somewhere in the 500s UHF.

    In any case, I’ve been upping my involvement in some of this stuff, so perhaps eventually can come up with solutions. If you figure anything out let us know.


  5. Lou Dawson 2 April 16th, 2018 12:33 pm

    Roger, sadly, here is the deal, I got most of the details from BCA:

    Current BC Link transmits at 1.0W on channels 1-7 and 15-22, and 0.5 watts on 8-14

    New BC Link 2.0 will transmit at 2W on those channels and will continue to transmit at 0.5W on channels 8-14.

    So, the BC Link 2.0 will be exactly as I describe as an “FRS” radio under the rules. Though it does get increased power compared to older model, double the power in fact.

    With care in use, such as antenna orientation, a 2 watt power level will be ok, but if you tend to use your radios at fairly good distances, I’d advise getting a GMRS unit that goes to 5 watts,and has all 22 channels (which will be most going forward). This will of course be compatible with BC Link 2.0 and all previous FRS/GMRS radios.

    If you’ve had success with the 1 watt BC-Link, then I wouldn’t worry about all this.

    FRS/GMRS radio ranges have a lot to do with how much intervening stuff that’s in the way of your line-of-site, everyone using their radios with the antenna pointed vertically towards the sky, and somewhat on radio quality. For example the Midland X-tra Talk (5 watt GMRS) has an obviously better antenna than the X-talker. If BCA puts a decent antenna on the 2 watt Link 2.0, it could perform as good as a 5 watt junker with a crumby antenna. Also, remember that added power doesn’t help you receive better unless the person transmitting _to_ you uses higher power, for better reception no matter what the power levels, quality of antenna is the key.


  6. Brandon Berg April 16th, 2018 1:34 pm

    Number Name Rx Freq Tx Freq Ch Mode Power Rx Tone Tx Tone
    0 Weather1 162.4 144.025 Analog High None None
    1 Weather2 162.425 144.125 Analog High None None
    2 Weather3 162.45 144.255 Analog High None None
    3 Weather4 162.475 144.325 Analog High None None
    4 Weather5 162.5 144.425 Analog High None None
    5 Weather6 162.525 144.525 Analog High None None
    6 Weather7 162.55 144.625 Analog High None None
    7 Quarry1 451.825 451.825 Analog High None None
    8 Quarry2 456.825 456.825 Analog High None None
    9 Quarry3 461.5 461.5 Analog High None None
    10 Quarry4 466.5 466.5 Analog High None None
    11 FRS 1 462.5625 462.5625 Analog High 0 0
    12 FRS 2 462.5875 462.5875 Analog High 0 0
    13 FRS 3 462.6125 462.6125 Analog High 0 0
    14 FRS 4 462.6375 462.6375 Analog High 0 0
    15 FRS 5 462.6625 462.6625 Analog High 0 0
    16 FRS 6 462.6875 462.6875 Analog High 0 0
    17 FRS 7 462.7125 462.7125 Analog High 0 0
    18 FRS 8 467.5625 467.5625 Analog High 0 0
    19 FRS 9 467.5875 467.5875 Analog High 0 0
    20 FRS 10 467.6125 467.6125 Analog High 0 0
    21 FRS 11 467.6375 467.6375 Analog High 0 0
    22 FRS 12 467.6625 467.6625 Analog High 0 0
    23 FRS 13 467.6875 467.6875 Analog High 0 0
    24 FRS 14 467.7125 467.7125 Analog High 0 0
    25 GMRS15 462.55 462.55 Analog High 0 0
    26 GMRS16 462.575 462.575 Analog High 0 0
    27 GMRS17 462.6 462.6 Analog High 0 0
    28 GMRS18 462.625 462.625 Analog High 0 0
    29 GMRS19 462.65 462.65 Analog High 0 0
    30 GMRS20 462.675 462.675 Analog High 0 0
    31 GMRS21 462.7 462.7 Analog High 0 0
    32 GMRS22 462.725 462.725 Analog High 0 0
    33 MURS1 151.82 151.82 Analog High 0 0
    34 MURS2 151.88 151.88 Analog High 0 0
    35 MURS3 151.94 151.94 Analog High 0 0
    36 MURS4 154.57 154.57 Analog High 0 0
    37 MURS5 154.6 154.6 Analog High 0 0
    38 K0ELK+ 449.725 444.725 Analog High 179.9 179.9
    39 KE0TY- 147.39 147.99 Analog High 107.2 107.2
    40 N0SWE- 146.76 146.16 Analog High 107.2 107.2
    41 K0VQ- 147.3 146.7 Analog High 107.2 107.2
    42 K0VQ+ 447.15 442.15 Analog High 136.5 136.5
    43 K0VQ+ 447.05 442.05 Analog High 136.5 136.5
    44 GrndJunct 449.3 449.3 Analog High 107.2 107.2
    45 BlackRidge 449.575 449.575 Analog High 131.8 131.8
    46 Uncompaghre 449.4 449.4 Analog High 131.8 131.8
    47 AbajoPeak 447.1 447.1 Analog High 107.2 107.2
    48 BaxterPass 447 447 Analog High 107.2 107.2
    49 BaldMesa 449.1 449.1 Analog High 107.2 107.2
    50 WaterdogPK 447.2 447.2 Analog High 107.2 107.2
    51 Sunlight 449.6 449.6 Analog High 107.2 107.2
    52 Grayhead 449.7 449.7 Analog High 107.2 107.2
    53 Calahan MTN 449.8 449.8 Analog High 107.2 107.2
    54 LookoutMTN 449.85 449.85 Analog High 131.8 131.8
    55 ColCON GWS 146.85 146.25 Analog High 88.5 88.5
    56 Vail 146.61 146.01 Analog High 107.2 107.2
    57 SnowmassBigBurn 146.67 146.07 Analog High 107.2 107.2
    58 Sunlight 146.88 146.28 Analog High 107.2 107.2
    59 GlenwoodSprings 146.88 146.28 Analog High 114.8 114.8
    60 AnvilRifle 147.15 147.75 Analog High 107.2 107.2
    61 Sunlight/GlenwoodHUB 447.6 442.6 Analog High 156.7 156.7
    62 FireDept 155.88 155.88 Analog High 136.5 0
    63 FireDeptTAC 154.325 154.325 Analog High 79.7 0
    64 FIreDeptTAC2 154.205 154.205 Analog High None 0
    65 MarbleFire 154 154 Analog High 186.2 0

  7. Brandon Berg April 16th, 2018 1:37 pm

    Formatting isn’t the best on here but this is what I’ve been able to come up with from Ski Country Amatuer Radio, Grand Mesa Repeater Association, Marble Quarry, Weather, Carbondale Rural Fire Protection District, Roaring Fork Amatuer Repeater Cooperative, FRS, GMRS, MURS.

    Theres no guarantee that any of this is accurate, or even works. But its a start and I’ll keep plugging away at it until I can make sure it works and is accurate.

  8. Roger April 16th, 2018 3:21 pm

    Lou, thanks for the details. Sounds like it isn’t worth upgrading my BC Links to the new 2.0 in the Fall.

  9. Lou 2 April 16th, 2018 7:25 pm

    Roger, yeah, I wouldn’t exactly call it an upgrade, but it’s definitly improved and will be really nice for a lot of users. The shoulder mic is killer. Lou

  10. Jernej April 17th, 2018 12:01 am

    In summary, FRS will equal PMR in Europe. We’ve been stuck with non licensed frequencies at 0.5W since forever. I find it adequate for skiing/climbing use as you’re never that far away from your partner. But it would be nice to have higher power so you could talk to someone at the other end of the mountain (e.g. spouse) to pick you up wherever you end up going down the unknown line.

  11. See April 17th, 2018 8:44 pm
  12. Brandon Berg April 17th, 2018 11:09 pm

    And theres so many people out there that think that the government is the only thing out there trying to swindle them. Humans be trying to take advantage of other humans, in all places in all times. That much hasn’t changed.

  13. Altech April 23rd, 2018 9:38 am

    Super helpful post. People are so afraid of governing bodies like the FCC but when you explain things simply like you did in this post it all makes sense and calms a lot of nerves. Being knowledgeable about laws and licensing is crucial in our industry.

  14. Upnorth October 1st, 2018 9:58 am

    Good info! Yes, sale of combination FRS/GMRS units will be prohibited as of Sept 2019. All 22 channels were re-designated as “FRS”, meaning no personal license necessary unless transmitting at more than 2 watts.

    Also, some sellers of non-certified multi-band radios (rhymes with Baofeng) have now (Aug 2018) been served with an FCC order to quit selling them to people as anything more than a ham radio — NOT legal to use (transmit) on any FRS/GMRS/MURS, commercial or marine VHF frequencies. Operating “without a license” can get you a big fine (when you’re caught), and you only get a “license by rule” if your non-ham equipment is certified for compliance in a particular band. Aug 2, 2018.

    Still legal to get a GMRS license and set up a temporary repeater of up to 50 watts for coordinating your adventures if you can’t afford a set of sat-phones.

    –Former EE, PNW ski patrol and USFS rescue guy

  15. Suspicious Mind April 6th, 2019 6:54 pm

    Unless some new iterations have been added, all so-called “Privacy Codes” are actually the opposite, effectively. That is, two versions of a sort of filtering that helps make your conversations clearer, when there is a lot of other use going on, on the same channel. Anyone scanning can pick up your specific privacy code, or just eavesdrop by listening to the primary channel w/o any privacy code setting. Most outdoor users can probably just pick a channel no one else is using, and ignore the privacy codes altogether. Reception is identical, basically, regardless of power setting or channel. The GMRS/FRS distinction only matters for transmit strength. Last, if one has a combo unit the FRS channels may suffice in normal use, but in any real emergency anyone can transmit on the full GMRS power/channels, most notably 10, that apparently is a de facto emergency channel any repeater within reach may receive, greatly extending range, without a license. Penalties are waived in emergency usage, so just carrying a combo unit may be a safeguard.

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