How to get a GMRS license

General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) is a land-mobile UHF radio service in the United States, near 462 and 467 MHz. GMRS shares the same frequencies with the Family Radio Service (FRS), however output power is limited to 0.5 or 2 watts on FRS, depending on the channel. A license is required to operate on the GMRS band, and the licensee is allowed up to 5 or 50 watts of output power (also depending on the channel). A GMRS license also grants permission to operate on the repeater input frequencies.  Both the increased output power and the repeater access granted by a GMRS license can dramatically increase the effective range a GMRS radio has over a FRS radio.  Because they share the same frequencies, GMRS radios are allowed to communicate with FRS radios via simplex.

To obtain a GMRS license and call sign, you must file an application with the FCC and pay a $70 fee.  No exam is required, and the license is valid for 10 years.  The FCC’s Universal Licensing System (ULS) is is an online portal to manage your FCC applications/licenses, and pay any applicable fees via a single account. The ULS eliminates the need for paper applications and submitting via snail mail. You may also view the status of pending licenses in the ULS.  Once registered with the ULS, you will receive an FCC Registration Number (FRN).  This is a 10-digit number that is assigned to a business or individual registering with the FCC, and is used to identify the registrant’s business dealings with the FCC.  Once you have this ID number – save it!  This will be your user name to log in to the Universal Licensing System.

Before continuing, I want to highlight one very important consideration when dealing with FCC licenses.  Your call sign and license information is public information and is easily searchable in FCC databases and other records.  Should you choose to register with your home address, this will be visible to anybody if they have your call sign.  Exposing personal information on the internet is a concern now more than ever, so one approach to limiting the amount of personal information in FCC databases is to use a P.O. Box as your contact address.  Here is what my GMRS license information looks like when queried in the FCC database – WRAA720:

I use this P.O. Box address in the center of my local metro area as my primary contact location for all FCC forms and dealings. My actual home address is not associated with any of my FCC licenses and will not be in any FCC databases or in other databases that use FCC data such as QRZ.com.

Step 1: Create an FCC Universal Licensing System account

If you are a first time user, create a new ULS account here (skip this step if you have an existing ULS account).  Select “Register” to be issued a new FCC Registration Number:

Some questions are asked before proceeding, then you can fill out an application with your name, address, password, etc:

Step 2: Log in to the ULS

After creating the account, or if you have an existing ULS account, log in here.

Once you are logged in, you will be taken to this screen which shows your current and applied for licenses:

Step 3: Begin application for a GMRS license

Now we can apply for a GMRS license and pay the fee.  On the left hand side menu click “Apply for a New License.”

On the next screen, select “ZA-General Mobile Radio Service” from the very bottom of the drop down menu and click Continue.

The next step is to answer these applicant questions.  Most people can leave “no” selected for each:

Click continue after these questions, and on the next screen supply the licensee name and address:

Once this is complete, click Continue.  The next step is to answer the following question, then click Continue again:

The next step will show you a summary of the application.  Verify all the information supplied is correct, and click “Continue to Certify.”

Step 4: Submit the application

The final step before submitting application is reading all the certification statements, which summarize the rules you are agreeing to follow as a GMRS license holder.  Electronically sign the application and submit:

When you submit the application, you will be prompted to complete payment.  After that, all you can do is wait!  Applications will appear in ULS Application Search in about one or two businesses days after the application is filed. If you made an error in the application – don’t worry!  You can file an amendment to the application.  See the Applying for a New License in the Universal Licensing System FAQ for more information about the application process for FCC licenses.

I have read posts online where people have reported getting their license within a day, and I’ve read posts where people said it took three weeks, so I can’t give an accurate answer to the “how long until I receive my call sign?” question.  I applied for my GMRS license around the holidays and it took two weeks to receive my call sign.

Step 5: Receive call sign and download authorization documents

Check back to the Universal Licensing System daily, and when you see the call sign under “My Licenses” you are ready to get on the air!  To download or print a paper copy of the license authorization, click Download Electronic Authorizations:

Select your GMRS call sign from the “Filter by Radio Service” box and add it to the “Authorizations to Download” box then click Download:

The GMRS Authorization looks like this:

 

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The history behind 462.675 MHz and the travel tone

I came across the North Shore Emergency Association’s website recently and found their club history page interesting:

nsea.com/nseainfo.htm

This link briefly discusses how the “travel tone” of 141.3 Hz and the national calling/emergency frequency of 462.675 MHz came to be. NSEA was one of the very first adopters of GMRS in the early 1970s, then the Class “A” Citizens Band. Here’s a quick snippet from the link

NSEA members were instrumental in bringing UHF technology to other public service groups in CB, especially R.E.A.C.T. (Radio Emergency Associated Citizens Teams). Beginning in 1976 key NSEA members spent extensive time meeting with REACT teams in more than a dozen-and-a-half different states, bringing a portable repeater, together with a number of mobile and portable units for field demonstrations…As a result, over 200 personal use repeater systems (all on the same frequency [462.675 MHz]) were set up throughout the United States. In recognition of this trend of explosive growth the Federal Communications Commission formally recognized our frequency [462.675 MHz] as the national emergency and traveler’s assistance channel in the Part 95A Rules and Regulations.

Here is another good quick read about the travel tone, written by Doug Smith, KAF9830:

http://web.archive.org/web/20130320034445/http://www.popularwireless.com/gmrs1413.html

Pretty cool slice of radio history!

BTECH GMRS-V1 Review

I recently wrote a review of the BTECH GMRS-V1 handheld radio for my club’s forum, but I would like to share it here as well.  I was in the market for a handheld GMRS radio to be used primarily for outdoor recreation – mountain biking, camping, hiking, fishing, etc. I had a few requirements of the radio before purchase: the radio should be affordable (< $100), have keypad programming, have a lightweight and compact design, and most importantly, the radio should be FCC Part 95 certified. After scouring the interwebs and reading about all sorts of different HTs, I settled on the BTECH GMRS-V1 (FCC ID: 2AGND-GMRS-V1):

The cheap Chinese radios that have flooded the market in recent years have elicited mixed feelings from hams and other radio folks, so I was a bit skeptical at first. Because some of these radios lack any type-acceptance and can be capable of transmitting all across the VHF and UHF spectrum, they are often associated with illegal activities – on both sides of the law. But the BTECH GMRS-V1 is not one of them, it is a purpose-made GMRS radio. It is actually a Baofeng UV-82 re-purposed for transmitting on GMRS frequencies only. GMRS Channels 1-7 and 15-22 are hard coded into the transceiver. An additional 8 channels with a +5 MHz repeater offset are also hard coded into the radio. Here is the complete list of pre-programmed frequencies and channel assignments in the radio:

Programming this radio is done via the keypad, the manufacturer’s software, or via 3rd party software, CHIRP.  The manufacturer’s software works, but is a bit clunky to use. CHRIP is an excellent alternative, and has a large user base to provide support and help answer questions. I had zero issues programming this radio using CHRIP and a programming cable found on Amazon. Unlike some of the newer Uniden GMRS offerings, this radio will do split TX and RX tones. The included user manual for this radio is actually useful, unlike some Chinese radios. The manual was written in English (not translated) and clearly explains every feature of the radio. Some reviewers have reported the user interface to be unintuitive and/or difficult to use compared to other manufacturer’s radios, but I did not find this to be the case. I’m the type of person who always RTFM, so I had no problems getting up and running with the radio very quickly.

The fact that the channels are pre-programmed and cannot be modified can be a turn-off to some users, but this appears necessary to gain the FCC Part 95A certification. This is not a huge drawback for me, however. When I’m using this radio I’m usually just on a single channel for simplex or monitoring a single repeater. The TX and RX tones can be easily set from the keypad, and I’m ready to go. As far as the construction of the radio goes, it is made of plastic, but it does feels solid. There are no parts on the radio that look particularly cheap or may easily break. The belt clip could maybe be a little beefier, but it works just fine. It’s definitely not heavy duty like a top of the line Motorola HT, but I think this radio could survive a couple falls to the ground should I drop it or it pops off my backpack on a bike ride. And if the radio does break, I’m only out $50.

Radio performance I’ve found to be excellent. Reception with the included antenna was surprisingly good, though audio does get a bit distorted at the highest volume. I was sitting on top of a butte in Papago Park in Tempe a few weeks ago, monitoring the PHX 550 repeater with my Uniden BC125AT and the BTECH GMRS-V1. The Uniden scanner has a fairly decent antenna, a Diamond dual band high gain antenna, but the 550 repeater would often not break the squelch. The GMRS-V1 however, was receiving the 550 repeater loud and clear all over the park. Transmission was also equally impressive. From the top of South Mountain I was easily able to hit all the area repeaters. I have received signal reports from a few AGRC members and others that my transmission was loud and clear. The HT also works surprisingly well from inside my truck. With a relatively clear line of sight to the White Tanks from various spots on the freeways, I’m able to transmit and receive from the 550 repeater with ease. Outside the vehicle at ground level the radio also performs well, though as with all VHF and UHF radios, a clear line of sight is best. Battery life is excellent – I took the radio camping for 3 days, using it for several hours each day and did not need to recharge the battery during the trip. Other reviewers have tested the power output, and verified it is putting out the full 5W as advertised on high power. Low power is said to be at 1.8W. See miklor.com’s review.

A feature I enjoy on this radio is the dual display. The radio has two PTT buttons and can be configured to monitor two frequencies simultaneously, and transmit on either frequency using one of the PTT buttons. I prefer to use the “Display Sync” feature, however. This allows the radio to display the channel alpha tag on the top line of the display and the frequency on the bottom line. Pressing either of the PTT buttons will transmit on the single frequency. The GMRS-V1 also has 105 receive-only VHF/UHF channels that can be programmed with any frequency. I like this feature, but I don’t have much saved in these channels other than NOAA weather frequencies. The scan feature on this radio (and many other Chinese radios) is pretty slow and leaves a lot to be desired. I don’t make too much use of this, but the flexibility to store additional RX channels is nice. Rich Carlson of scannermaster.com has a great blog post about (not) using these types of radios as a scammer.  Perhaps the most annoying feature of this radio is FM broadcast radio receive capability. This is accessed my pressing a button on the side of the radio, but I noticed I would sometimes accidentally hit this button when I meant to press the monitor button right next to it. Fortunately this feature is easily disabled via the CHIRP programming software.

Overall I’m impressed with this radio. It’s definitely not a cheap toy/bubble pack radio, and offers a great bang for the buck. I’m getting great reception and transmission, I didn’t break the bank, and I won’t be too upset if I smash the radio after wiping out on my bike. Definitely would recommend! Here are some photos of the radio:

Here are some links with additional info about the BTECH GMRS-V1:

https://baofengtech.com/gmrs-v1
http://www.miklor.com/BTGMRS/
https://www.amazon.com/BTECH-GMRS-V1-Repeater-136-174-99mhz-400-520-99mhz/dp/B01LWOLZ8L