Nothing is more frustrating than purchasing a two-way radio set that says, “up to 30 miles” on the box, and then discovering you are having trouble even getting one mile of range. Unfortunately, this is just par the course with two-way radios. Sadly, radio manufacturers are allowed to market this way, but you would only ever get 30 miles if you were standing in line-of-sight with the other person in a completely flat, unobstructed field (even then you probably would not). You should be happy if you can manage to get around two to three miles of reception in most circumstances. What can you do to boost the range of your signal and get the most out of your two-way radios?
- Replace your antenna. This is not always possible. Most FRS radios have fixed antennas, and so do many GMRS radios. Some however allow you to replace the antenna with a better one. Longer antennas are typically stronger. This is usually the biggest single factor in improving the range of your radio.
- Boost the power. The next big factor in your radio’s range is the power. The more power your radio is designed to use, the better the reception will be. While you may have no control over the maximum amount of power that your radio uses, you may still have some control over the power you actually do use. If your radio can use standard AA or AAA batteries or a rechargeable set, you will typically get 20% more voltage out of the standard batteries. Using the standard batteries can therefore boost your signal. Using the GMRS channels instead of the FRS ones will also allow you to maximize your power usage. The FRS channels confine you to a lower voltage, which can reduce the reach of your transmission.
- Choose a good position. Try to stand in a high, unobstructed location when you transmit and receive. Hold the radio over your head if you have to in order to receive. Attachments like a microphone can help you to transmit more effectively. Do not block the signal with your body. Hold the antenna between your body and the direction you are trying to transmit. Try to avoid putting buildings or trees between you and the person you are speaking with.
The reality of the matter is this: if you are in an urban area or a heavily wooded area or there are hills or mountain peaks in your way, you are going to have a tough time with range issues. Walkie-talkies work best if you are in relatively clear, unobstructed areas like plains, deserts and valleys. No matter where you are though, you can boost your signal by making the most of your power, antenna and position. If you still haven’t purchased your two-way radio set and are trying to narrow it down, choose a set which features long antennas and GMRS channels. This will ensure that you are able to get the best range for your location!