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Sacramento Newbie Wondering About Hand-Helds and Repeaters


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#1 Curtis in Sac

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Posted 24 February 2014 - 02:48 AM

Even though I am on my second GMRS license, I am a total newbie to this.  I let my previous license expire because I never did anything with it.  In fact I don’t think WQAB931 was ever uttered on the air.

 

So we recently “upgraded” from a pair of FRS radios to now having four FRS/GMRS units, two of which have “repeater capability.”  My wife actually took care of the online app for a new license when I mentioned that, “we ought to have one if we want to legally use these extra channels.”

 

So after using them a bit, what I am wondering; is a one-watt handheld going to be enough to really be able to use any repeaters in the Sacramento area?

 

I am not a very active ham anymore, but I remember that 1 watt on 2m and 70cm was enough to get you into a local repeater, or even good regional high elevation machines in northern CA (pre PAVE-PAWS)  But at the same time, the trunked 450/460 system we operate for my employer is dismal for low power handhelds.  All depends on the equipment and the engineering.  Hams always seemed to be better at building boxes that can actually hear.

 

My wife has no interest in the technical aspects of radio so I won’t be taking the family to the amateur service.  She also is not going to go about town with an HT on her belt (like I used to do when I was . . . a radio nerd).  But we used the FRS radios (and recently the GMRS side) near the house and on trips/activities, and she would use GMRS enough to stay practiced for emergencies, etc.

 

But is it practical?

 

Thanks for hosting this forum.

 

 



#2 PastorGary

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Posted 24 February 2014 - 05:48 AM

Hello, Curtis and welcome to the Forum.

 

As with all repeater systems, height, antenna gain and receiver characteristics all play a part in accessability.  Since there are a few open repeaters listed in the MyGMRS main website for your area, perhaps you can do some testing with the owners of those systems to see which might be best for you regarding coverage, both in and out of the system. 

 

In a dire emergency, cell phones are all but useless, so a personal communications plan is always a good idea as back-up.   What you may wish to consider, as your finances allow, it to get a couple commercial handi-talkies and program them for GMRS as well as for any amateur repeaters in your area.   4 or 5 watts from commercial equipment will make a difference in reliability.

 

Thanks for posting and I'm sure that as time permits, others may have suggestions for you.



#3 JeremyM

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Posted 24 February 2014 - 01:52 PM

Welcome to the forum!

 

Those 1 watt radios work well for what they are and what they were intended to be used for. As long as the repeater you are trying to access isn't using the frequencies backwards (repeater input using the band plan output and repeater output using the band plan input) then they should work. Those bubble pack radios work with repeaters which are configured to the suggested frequencies, they will not work with any odd-ball configurations.

 

The benefit to using equipment specifically part 95 or if you so choose part 90, is the ability to customize Tx and Rx frequencies, as well as CTCSS and DCS encodings (I like to leave squelch open just in case). These units also have higher Tx power options equaling those part 97 HTs you seem to be more familiar with (4 watts for UHF and 5 watts VHF, and yes a lot of part 90 HTs which are not technically for GMRS will transmit on VHF).

 

Many of the Chinese HTs work really well (part 90). Many users here have had great success with Baofeng, I have used Wouxun with great success as well. Baofeng will typically run you anywhere from $30 to $50 depending on the seller. Wouxun will typically run you between $70 and $150, again depending on the seller. I still have a Wouxun KG-UV6D that I use as a beater radio. It works on FRS, GMRS, 70CM, 2M, Marine channels, etc. Keep in mind these radios are part 90 and the Tx is wide open (if you can dial it in on the LCD, then you can transmit), it is also technically against the rules to use these on GMRS part 95 but many, MANY people do.

 

If you would like more information on these or my experiences with them, feel free to ask or PM me. I will help any way I can.


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#4 Curtis in Sac

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Posted 24 February 2014 - 09:27 PM

Jeremy/Gary:

 

Thanks for the welcome.  Your answers were the ones I kind of expected.  Except for the part about odd/reverse repeater splits.  Are those very common?  I wouldn't expect to see much of that that with the way the ways the relatively small number of available frequencies between 462 and 467.

 

I am down to having only three or four or radios in my ham collection, stored in the garage.  440 was my band of choice for local comm when I lived in the bay area.  Somewhere in that garage or a closet I have a UHF Motorola Saber - - a total brick, but an awesome piece of PLMR hardware.  I recently turned down a couple of MSF5000 repeaters because I didn't know what to do with them.  Probably not suitable for GMRS, so not likely going to kick myself (wife would have killed me if I had brought them home).

 

My ham activity dropped off when we moved to Sac with a new baby, new house, then a new car or two that never got radios installed...  then my favorite band was essentially shut down by Beale AFB...  i just slowly went off the air.

 

Can't see myself collecting a bunch of GMRS gear. Maybe I'll want one better handheld and possibly something in my wife's car, otherwise I'll likely keep it simple.  I'll never get permission to make it an expensive hobby.  Though radio is nothing compared to airplanes and boats.... been there, done that!

 

I have done some monitoring and I am not sure if I should be surprised at how little GRMS traffic I hear in the Sacramento area.  I put "Sacramento" prominently in the subject line to see if any locals would reply.  Trying to get a feel for the on-the-air culture, but so far I only heard one conversation between two guys that were just yaking about driving home from work and going to Home Depot.  Same stuff I use to hear on 440 - only less of it. 

 

I hope I can get familiar soon and become a regular contributor here.  I was a pretty active ham after getting my ticket in 1992, until about 2002 (getting married can do that to some hams from what I hear).  I got my general radio telephone operator license for employment reasons in 1989.  I have been a telecom tech for over 25 years.   Worked in telecom for a major oil company for many years.  Before that I had a job in cellular (in it's retail infancy of the late 1980s), and little time with a company that made RF tracking gear for wildlife.  I did a five year stint in management, and now work as a tech for a major northern CA utility company.  I am thinking GMRS might make me interested in working with radios after work again.   :)  Never really gave GMRS much thought until I got a hold of these blister pack radios and looked into licensing.

 

Thanks again

Curtis



#5 Radioactive

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Posted 27 February 2014 - 05:40 PM

Hello, I'm new here but not new to radio comms at all. My advice, get one of the Chinese dual band radios like a Wouxun or Baoefeng, you can easily get 2 Baofengs for $88 bucks brand new online. These are great for GMRS and Ham, as well as for monitoring several other hands including, FRS, Marine, MURS and Public Safety. They are around 4-5 watts, so you can't legally transmit on MURS or FRS with them, but for Ham and GMRS they will do 100% better than any bubble pack radio. They are as small as, if not smaller than, your current bubble pack radios so your wife can put it in her purse and won't have to "wear it around town", but it will be readily available and be much more useful than what you currently have. Also they will work fine with what you have now, so other family members covered by your GMRS license can use those and talk to you on the radio if need be, you are in California and we know what an earthquake can do to communications, so at least they would have something to possibly contact you with.
Just a few days ago I was in my truck driving the opposite direction from my brother in his truck, both of us were using these Baofeng radios and we talked reliably and clearly for about 6 miles simplex, which is great considering we were inside the trucks using only the stock rubber duck antenna on 4 watts, in hilly Southwest Virginia terrain as well. Just thing what a 25 watt mobile with a 1/4 or 5/8 antenna with some gain could do! Good luck and glad your back into radio somewhat, I have seen the benefits of reliable 2 way comms many many times in my life, it is worth a little time effort and $ to have something to supplement the cell phones and land lines with.

#6 PastorGary

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Posted 27 February 2014 - 07:28 PM

Stephen - Welcome to the Forum and thanks for your feedback and advice.



#7 Radioactive

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Posted 27 February 2014 - 07:52 PM

Thank you, PastorGary, glad to be here!

#8 blastco2

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Posted 05 March 2014 - 02:56 AM

Hello Curtis
I concurs with what the guys have said about getting something better than the blisters that you have. I have been playing with the baofengs for a little over a yr now. Have yet to use through a repeater. I'll tell you my experience with them to maybe save you some frustration. The uv3r and uv5r are great radios that come with rather crumby antennas and the receiver is wide open, no freq rejection at all! Not good in busy rf places like probably central ca. There is a 100kw FM transmitter 2 miles from my house, it tears up the 3r and 5r vhf. Renders them useless on vhf. That interference runs to about 5 miles from the offending transmitter. And a little bit of intermittent SQL braking on UHF. The little time that I have use my bf888, it seems to have no problem with rejection. Never breaks SQL until it hear a valid signal. After all of that, I would recommend the uvb5. It has better rejection and comes with a better antenna. Also the speaker audio is some less harsh than the 3r and 5r. Battery life is decent on all of them. Runs all day. If you are just going to use uhf, maybe get one of the 888's to play with. Little dude doesn't look like much but, it will program 16 channels to do whatever you want it to. I think it even has audio inversion. I need to look into that and find out for sure. Go to miklor.com, has more boafeng info than anyplace else. I bought all 8 of my baofengs off of amazon, mostly cause I like their review system. Wow that a lot of typing for me... Hope there's at least something usaful in all that.

#9 Curtis in Sac

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Posted 06 March 2014 - 06:37 PM

Blastco, and everyone else, thanks for the input.

 

I’ve never touched a Baofeng radio and have had only limited exposure to Wouxon .  It was over a year ago that someone in our organization showed me one.  They loved all its “capability” but also noted that they came with compromises, such as, “yeah they are cheap wide band radios, and the receivers are where you notice it in noisy environments.  The intermod can get pretty bad.” 

 

I have four of the Motorola FRS/GMRS radios.  Two MT350R, and two MS350R.  The MS series have the repeater capability but they are otherwise near identical in performance as far as I can tell.  I have not taken them to some of my heavy RF environments yet to see how they hang with it.

The “quality” of the radios is not really an issue.  For what they are sold to do, they do it well.  I am not a stranger to two-way radio, being a ham and having 25 years in the part 80, 87 and 90 worlds as a tech and a user.  I am quite happy with how these little yellow boxes on simplex (which is how I have used them almost exclusively except for a couple of test contacts on a couple of repeaters).  They actually exceeded my expectations for 1.5W radios.  Some things I have noted…

 

The MS units’ mics are not very sensitive.  So much that I marked the mic location on the “grill” with a Sharpie so my wife and daughter know where to talk.  They work fine as long as you talk directly into the hole.  Probably a compromise of the unit being waterproof.   Even with the best mic position, the deviation seems a bit low.  I looked at it with a service monitor and couldn’t yell more than 3.4KHz dev with the CTCSS on, 3KHz with the buzz turned off.  What is the typical deviation for GMRS gear?

 

I like that I can split the tone on the repeater channels, allowing me to listen with carrier squelch.  I thought I would be locked on transmit and receive.  Was happy to see the ability in the instructions.

 

I wish they had non-volatile config.  If the battery dies during use, of if you don’t change the battery fast enough, all the settings to go back to factory config.  Easy enough to redo, just a little nuisance.

 

But I am realizing that the GMRS world is designed more like the part 90 world than part 97, and yes, some extra horsepower might help.  I have a couple of Kenwood TK-3101s (not the Freetalk FRS models) and they are only 2 watt – but every dB counts.  I also have a TK-3160 for 4W.  I am trying to scrounge up another 3160.  The problem at the moment is not being able to find my programming cable for these things, but I will get them on the air one way or another.  Then I will ease into shopping for a mobile or two later.

 

Thanks again to all.  I am looking at the forums regularly since I discovered them.  I like this entire site.



#10 LAMBSONB60

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Posted 01 April 2014 - 05:39 PM

All respondents have great input & info here so I won't presume to pre-empt anything said, merely add a little.A more pricey addition to the bubble pack and\or Chinese radios mentioned is the Garmin GPS+GMRS combos out there. Ebay tends to have the best prices & these aren't cheap but the added fun or the GPS, location tracking between like-unit (can locate within a few feet where Bubba is each time he transmits..and he - you) & now even one with built in 5 or 6MP geotracking camera...cool stuff & repeater capable (again except for the oddball reversed TX\RX freqs or using DCS Vs CTCSS for the enable)

I do have a couple 1 Watt Moto units that I recently tried with a local solar power repeater here in southern AZ...I found I had to be high enough with relatively few LOS obstructions to hit it from >2mi but on the RX side it performed marvelously some 15+ mi from the repeater which I think is set @ ~15W on the TX side. 

My own experiments getting ready to find a home for 2  home-built repeaters have shown that if I forgo using a duplexer & use the two Moto GM300 mobiles tied together with two 5+dB gain omnis that I boosted the RX performance some 30% with the little 1watt as my test radio by adding a GAsFET 25dB gain .7dB noise figure pre-amp @ the RX antenna...and the non-LOS (line of sight) performance was upped a good 40-45% over the previous barebones configuration...despite the added expense of a second coax & antenna I'm thinking I'm going to go this was....it does make those little bubble radios a lot more useful when a repeater is needed & available

Anyhow, 1st time posting in the forum although I've been in the GMRS world 20+ yrs off\on. Howdy to you all...

If anyone in the Tucson or Oro Valley area has a nice high tower or Mt Lemmon spot that I could access I'd love to give one of these repeaters a home...solar powered so no need for AC off a pole..

I've got a son\daughter-in-law in Sac so maybe I'll talk to you on a repeater out there sometime as I visit frequently...

Cheers

Al-WQRS220


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#11 PastorGary

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Posted 01 April 2014 - 05:52 PM

Al - welcome to the Forum and thank you for the tech details.



#12 leitung

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Posted 28 June 2015 - 10:33 PM

Used to live and play with GMRS in sacramento. The only thing I kinda miss about Sacramento is the great GMRS repeaters they had, unlike the ones here in Western WA. 






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