The more I learn about the FCC's General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS), the more I am fascinated by RF in general. It touches everyone's lives every second of every day, yet few people pay much attention. How cool is it that after 42 years and 14 billion miles away, the 22-Watt radio on Voyager 1 is still sending data back to earth every day (how important is that antenna?). So why aren't more people interested in GMRS or RF in general? There's no test to get a license like amateur (ham) radio. It's $70 for a 10-year license, and is really easy to get started. So here are some theories.
People don't know:
- GMRS exists
- Why GMRS exists
- Why they'd want to use GMRS
- How to envision themselves participating in GMRS
- What it takes to get started with GMRS
- What it takes to continue and improve with GMRS
- Technical information they should know about GMRS
- Etiquette when transmitting (TX) on GMRS
- What a GMRS "Net" is and why
Most people within the GMRS community are helpful once you're in, but the community is very inviting in a go-figure-it-out-yourself way, and no one has assembled everything you need to know about GMRS all in one place.
We GMRS people are putting the onus on outsiders to sift through thousands of painfully esoteric webpages with a winnowing fork, separating useful info from useless, poorly written, or incomplete info.
When I first heard about GMRS on a 4x4 trip, I arrived home and Googled around and settled on a Midland MXT-275 because it seemed perfect for mounting on my truck dashboard. At the time, I had no idea that Midland doesn't manufacture a GMRS radio capable of operating on split-tone repeaters (Dear Midland, I know you're reading this: why do you squander so much potential?). I didn't even know what "split tone" was or even what "tone" meant, or carrier or squelch or hundreds of other little things you all take for granted. Since then, I realized that if the big, bad manufacturers like Midland, Kenwood, Motorola, and iCom can't even invite the public to learn more and provide useful content for each stage of the customer journey—Awareness, Consideration, Purchase, and Loyalty—the 2-way radio industry has much deeper problems and aren't there to help guys like me.
As we get involved deeper into GMRS, there's little-to-no hand-holding going on at each level of knowledge. I ending up relying on the Ham community here and there and a guy who is basically a saint at a little radio shop in Phoenix, Arizona (hope Tim over at Procomm and the others at the nonprofit AZGMRS.org don't mind me giving them a shout-out).
Edit 4/14/2020: By the way, AZGMRS made this awesome list of FCC-approved GMRS radios that they recommend. If you live anywhere near Arizona and are reading this, now would be a great time to become a member. Their repeater network covers some 100 miles around Phoenix with more and more repeaters joining the network (check out their sweet coverage map).
But it's still frustrating.
I wish a GMRS expert—presumably a manufacturer—would just come out and say exactly what a total newbie needs at each stage of their involvement or level of need. Two-way radio manufacturers should stop wasting time trying to sell, and start marketing and branding, which means educating the public about the 5 W's (Who, What, Where, When, Why [+how, +how much]) without trying to sell to them.
Most new users don't know what they need because they don't know what's possible. For example, I wish I knew that manufacturers don't typically include the best antenna on their radios right out of the box. It took me over a year to realize that the best bang for the buck for a portable base antenna to include in my go bag is N9TAX's Slimjim and that Smiley Antenna makes the best bang for the buck antennas for hand-held radios (which by the way, everyone just assumes newbies are supposed to know that hand-held walkie-talkie radios are called "HT" for "Handy-talkie" and what a "QSO" is).
How would a newbie know that the cheap Nagoya 771 "upgrade" antenna for Baofengs that everyone talks about actually isn't the best bang for the buck for the GMRS frequency band of 462–467? How would a newbie know that antennas work best when tuned exactly to what they call a "center" frequency that accommodates 5 Megahertz in each direction (+5 and -5 Megahertz) at the expense of hearing other frequencies?
I learned the hard way that in order to properly install an NMO antenna mount on the roof of my truck, I would need a drill bit specifically made for drilling NMO antenna mount holes, and that yes, it is worth the money to do it right the first time.
I'm still in the middle of learning how a "quarter-wave" or "5/8 wave" antenna works, the difference between dB gain vs. dBi gain, mic gain, antenna gain, because again, everyone seems to just assume I already know what all this means. I still don't understand what antenna "tuning" means and why you have to "cut" an antenna to "tune" it. Can I make my own antenna right now in a pinch with a copper wire in my garage? Ok, show me! How do I measure it or test it? What is SWR? Can I measure it myself? What do I need in order to measure it? Is one SWR meter better than another for my level as a newbie? Is there something I should learn to make it worth buying the better meter that opens up a whole new world of capability? Is it worth learning all that?
This graphic did a great job beginning to explain what dBd gain means for those of us who know next to nothing about it, but now I need to go find out on my own and sift through a thousand webpages to find out if dBd is something new I need to know. Speaking of dB, I know that "dB" is a decibel, but is it the same as my stereo volume? Why do I see manufacturers saying that the microphone and cable have a dB rating? What is going on here? This is madness! We can Google things all day, but which info is true and correct and the most helpful?
I think that the entire industry is sitting on a Gold Mine of consumers sitting at home for weeks on end who would love to buy GMRS equipment and communicate via GMRS to friends, family, neighbors, and other GMRS users. Whoever provides the most useful, relevant, and engaging content that stops making assumptions about what people know or don't know will win.
STOP ASSUMING. START EDUCATING.
- Logan5, Jones, WRAA720 and 11 others like this