Radio Corner by Roger Williams

The need for inexpensive short-range communicators, enabling writers and photographers to operate as teams, has not been available to the industry until recently. The days of waving, screaming and missed signals causing lost opportunities is over.

The Federal Communications Commission recently set aside 14 channels in the UHF (ultra high frequency) band for short-range communicator use. Because of advances in technology these units can be made inexpensively and small. In fact, they are pocket-sized and easily  concealable. Tiny concealable speaker mikes or small headsets are available.

In addition, they will operate all day on 2 or 3 AA batteries. On top of all this, these little radios are clear as a bell, running FM signals just like music on the radio. There are even masking devices, CTCSS (Control Tone Continuous Squelch Systems), which allow the radio to mute the receiver at all times unless one of 38 predetermined and changeable privacy signals is heard by the device. The radios are virtually immune from "skip interference" (long range radio noise caused by sunspots).

Do they work? You betcha. Living in Las Vegas I can now find my wife in the vast machine complex at the MGM Grand. No more trolling the machines hoping the next blonde head is the right one.

Working a fight at the MGM Grand is no longer the panic situation it used to be---wondering if my partner upstairs got that shot, and running between rounds for a quick meet. The film runners whereabouts are no longer a mystery, and the trailer outside can tell me "you blew it. Do it over."

On top of many of the radios is a non-removable flexible antenna and in one case, the Kenwood, the antenna folds down along side the unit. The radios have a liquid crystal display for channel number indication, and a busy light if the receive masker is being used (CTCSS).

Most of the radios have a simple button arrangement for changing channels and some will even scan all 14 channels to see who else is there watching the same guys you are trying to catch.

What a bonanza for the press! One might think these little guys must cost a fortune. Well, how  about $130--$140 range, at the discounters. Don't pay the list price, which may be as much as $200 on some models. We are the press---we deserve better.

Well, there must be some drawbacks to this heavenly creation, and there is one big one. Power! The federal regulators decided that a maximum of 1/2 watt at the antenna was the limit for these unlicensed devices. That limits the range. Watch out, some manufacturers will tell you that there is a range of 1--2 miles on 1/2 watt power. Experience tells us a mile a watt on UHF band. On top of this the rule is 1/2 watt maximum---no rule on minimum.

So, what to buy, and what to leave on the shelf, with the new FRS (Family Radio Service) radio. There are many of these units on the market. This review is limited to the most effective radios. Here is the evaluation with **** as the highest:

Kenwood FreeTalk UBZ-LF14 (as shown in picture) ****

- Full power
- Fold down antenna
- Speaker mic and headset mic available
- Privacy receive
- Yellow or black colors.
- 34 hrs. operation, 100 hrs. plus on Standby---1/2 mile to 1 mile range
- Average price $125

ICOM  IC-4008A ****

- Full power
- Drop in charger available for rechargeable batteries. (Re-chargeable batteries would drop output 15%)
- Low battery indicator
- 30 hrs. operation, 100 hrs. plus on standby---1/2 mile to 1 mile range
- Rotary fold down antenna.
- Call-ring function (like a phone ring for alert)
- Privacy receive
- Average price $135

Cherokee FR-465****

- Full power
- 5 AAA batteries
- Incoming call ringer
- Speaker mic and headset available
- Drop in charger available for rechargeable batteries (negligible power drop using 5 AAA batteries)
- Channel scan
- Smallest unit available
- 47 privacy receive tones (others have 38)
- Rigid antenna is only drawback.
- 1/2 to 1 mile range
- Average price $120

Maxon FRS-114*

- 80% power
- 4 AAA batteries
- Rigid antenna
- No speaker mic
- No channel readout
- Single channel operation (manual change to any of the other 14 channels---1/3 mile to 1/2 mile range.
- Average price $90

Midland 75-510**

- 90% power
- Speaker mic available
- Power saver feature (non essential)
- 30 hrs. operation, 100 hrs. plus on standby---1/3 to 3/4 mile range.
- Privacy receive
- Average price $115

My Recommendation: Cherokee FR-465

Roger Williams, 63, is the owner of Mud Shack Communications in Las Vegas and San Diego and has been supplying 2-way communications gear to the media for 20 yrs.

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