5 Myths of GMRS and FRS Radios (Busted)

FRS GMRS on Wouxun UV6D

There are a number of different myths and sales gimmicks out there related to companies trying to sell radios.  Let’s clear up a few of these myths and clear up confusion faced by many users.

Privacy Codes Aren’t Private!

Myth: Privacy Codes Keep My Transmissions Secure

Privacy codes will help limit hearing the conversations of others on the same channel.  It basically limits the audio that your radio lets through the speaker.  The radio receives all the traffic on that channel but you only hear the audio from radios that are using the same privacy code as you.

This doesn’t mean your conversations are private!  It just means you don’t hear the conversations of others unless they are using the same code.  Anyone with the privacy code turned off on their radio can hear everything you are saying, you just won’t hear them if they talk back.  Remember, privacy codes don’t make things private, they just limit what you hear.

Range IssuesRanges Listed on the Box are a Load of Crap

Myth: My radio will reach the range the package says.

Many FRS/GMRS combination radios (known as “dual service” radios) that you find in retail stores often tout somewhere between an 18-36 mile range.  Let’s be realistic, you will never come close to achieving these distances in the real world. Expect no more than 2 miles on FRS channels and 3-5 miles on GMRS channels between handhelds.  When you are in urban areas these ranges will be significantly decreased due to buildings, cars, vegetation, etc.

Extra Channels Aren’t Really Extra

Myth: My radio says it has extra channels.

The FCC has only authorized 22 frequencies for use in the FRS and GMRS bands.  Period.  The 22 frequencies are assigned in most radios to channels 1-22 and you can set the privacy codes to that of your liking.  So what are the extra channels?  They are actually one of the 22 frequencies but it is using a preset privacy code that you can’t change.  See more details in this article.

FRS/GMRS Radio Can Be Used Without a License

Myth: I can use all channels on my radio without a license

Well kind of.  If you are concerned about legality, you can use the following without a license:

  • Channels 8-14 (FRS Only Frequencies)
  • Channels 1-7 but only on low power (FRS/GMRS shared frequencies)

To use channel 1-7 on high power or channels 15-22 at all, you must have a GMRS license to be legal.  Obviously, man people purchase the “dual service” radios from retailers and use all of the channels without any hesitation.  Although not legal, it happens.

Every prepper should get a GMRS license.  It is an easy process and allows you to access GMRS repeaters in your area with an off the shelf radio such as the Midland MXT400 or Motorola MS350R.

Check out our related article, Why Every Prepper Should Have a GMRS License, to find out more on how GMRS can serve your family communications needs.

power meterPower Output

Myth: My radio has high power on all channels
Many radios that tout the long ranges also advertise high power output, usually from about 3W to 5W depending on the radio.  They usually have two power settings you can choose from such as a “H” or “L” (High or Low) on the display.  What they neglect to tell you is you only have this high power output option on the GMRS channels (Channels 1-7 and 15-22).

Due to the FRS Band regulations, all “off the shelf” dual service such as the Midland or Motorola will only output ½ watt on the FRS Channels (Channels 8-14).  In most radios, this is the low power setting and channels 8-14 are locked on low power.  So yes, you get high power output, but only on the GMRS channels.  So don’t expect as much range or clarity on channels 8-14.

Myths Busted

Hopefully this helps clarify some of the confusion many run into with FRS and GMRS radios.  If you found this information useful or have another myth you would like to add, please leave a comment below.  Know others who would benefit from this information?  Share it on social media using the links below.


  • Tom

    This is very well written and should serve as a warning to those who count on these low end radios. It costs very little more to go to “ham” radio. The testing fee is generally about fifteen dollars and with just the entry level license and radios costing around fifty dollars you have huge capabilities and very few limitations. You can also test for a higher level license and have virtually unlimited communication capabilities. Whatever you do, do it now as there is a learning curve, and while you might be able to go without a license in a WROL condition, you can get in real trouble practicing during normal times without a license. The FCC and other radio operators watch for unlicensed stations.

  • Rocky

    Why waste time getting a license for these radios? GET your amateur ham radio ticket , get started with the Baofeng radios, will communicate 3-5 miles with the 18 inch antenna, even more with a wire j pole ,no problem with repeaters with in 10-15 mile range,
    between an 18-36 mile range is possible for the FRS/GMRS in line site, if you on a side of a mountain with a clear view of say a town 20+ miles.
    Just remember the radio is as good as its antenna and height, you can change the antenna on the Baofeng you can not on the GMRS.

    • Coz

      Yes you can change GMRS antennas.

      I have a 50 foot one in yard
      Both for GMRS for family snd
      Ham radio.

  • David

    It seems you may need to update your article information soon.
    There is fcc proposal for new gmrs and frs rules.
    see link example and search on your own.


    • Raven

      Thanks for the comment David. We are definitely keeping an eye on the proposed changes. The changes are to be brought up for consideration by the FCC in the next few weeks (May 18, 2017). If approved, they will then be effective 30 days from the approval date. The current proposal also allows for an 18 month extension before the manufacture/import/approval of radios under the current rules are no longer permitted, so it may be a while. We will definitely update if any changes are approved.

  • With the coming changes by the FCC (expect to take effect early July 2017), some of this info will change.
    1. FRS will now have a maximum power out of 2W in the 462MHz band, but in the 467MHz level it is still 0.5W. The rest of the limits like non-removeable antenna, Part 95 approval, and FCC ID on all radios will still be required.
    2. All “combo” FRS/GMRS units that put out 2W or lower will be redesignated as FRS units and not legal for GMRS use,
    3. All “combo” radios that have over 2W power will be designated as GMRS only handsets, and no longer legal to use without the GMRS license, but the new rules means it is still legal for narrowband use when talking with other unlicensed FRS users (who will be limited to 2W or 0.5W).
    4. The FCC will no longer approve certification for any “combo” units, it must be set as FRS only, or GMRS only, it cannot be both/combo.
    5. FRS gains new channels in the 462MHz band, centered in the previous GMRS only channels, and they changed the power allowed in the 462MHz band to 2W, but FRS is still limited to narrowband, and most other existing FRS limitations.
    6. GMRS gains some channels in the 467MHz band that were previously FRS only, allowing for 5W power GMRS (and 0.5W FRS), but both are still limited to narrowband with these new channels.

  • Adam Huffnagle

    The FCC really didn’t change the rules that much on GMRS. However, the license term went from Five to Ten year term. As far as the channels, there’s still 8 repeater pairs plus 7 simplex channels shared with FRS. Repeaters are still restricted to 50 watts ERP and Portables 5 watts ERP
    Mobiles 10 to 25 watts ERP

  • Mel

    The rule changes have made this niche a more desirable one. Though I’m a licensed amateur I maintain a GMRS repeater and feel it is great mode for local communication. All Amateur repeater jockeys should consider putting up one (or converting an unused site.) Maybe have scores of people using it vs a handful of hams?

    Because the FRS radios can now talk on GMRS repeater outputs (legally) you have situation where weak simplex radios can have traffic relayed by repeater capable GMRS operators. Even seen 6 mile FRS to FRS communication.

    Two things look like oversights in new rules new rules : why does FRS need to be narrow band in the 462 high power area? And for GMRS where do find a radio that does 20 khz wide band vs 25??

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