For when you just want to talk…
There are three major license-free radio services available in the US that are of interest to us: CB, FRS, and MURS. Using these, well, you don’t need a license and nobody needs to know who you are. Thus, they may be Anon Radio.
This was the first service. Back in ancient history it did have licenses, call signs, and all that stuff. Now it effectively just comes out of a blister pack at Sprawlmart. CB uses the frequency range of 26.965 to 27.405 Mhz, divided into 40 channels each spaced 10 KHz apart. Yes, all of them end in .xx5, which is weird as hell but who cares.* The signals are usually amplitude modulated; single sideband (SSB) is also allowable on this band.
Notable channels: In many municipalities, channel 9 is monitored by local law enforcement, REACT team volunteers, truckers, and roadside assistance personnel as an emergency call channel. CB radios may have a switch or button to quickly jump here if needed. The frequency is 27.065 Mhz and it may be interesting to leave it in your scanner.
Channel 19 is often used by truckers. Channels above 30 are often used for SSB. If you have a basic AM only radio you may hear distorted sounding transmissions up here. Radios capable of SSB transmission and reception will have an LSB / AM / USB switch to set the mode to match other users on the channel. SSB tends to be more efficient in terms of how far away you can still continue to talk as signal levels become marginal.
These signals tend to get out best in open spaces and get blocked pretty badly by buildings. However, when the earth’s ionosphere becomes charged up appropriately, you can get “skip” which will carry your signal hundreds of miles by bouncing it back to earth from a high altitude.
The wavelength of the radio signal down here is around 11 meters long, meaning that the common 1/4 wavelength antenna would be taller than you are. CB is most useful communicating between vehicles and/or base stations where you can easily mount a fairly tall antenna. Handheld CB radios do exist but the antennas are either very inefficient or impractically long!
Channel recommendations: ? (any suggestions?)
FRS is a somewhat more recent service, it was initially opened up in 1996. It used to be totally polluted in most urban areas before everyone and their cat got cell phones with unlimited minutes and text. It operates around 452 Mhz and the radios and antennas are quite pleasantly small. Hell, some smartphones are now bigger than the FRS radio and antenna. There are 14 channels here.
BULLSHIT ALERT: On most FRS radios there are ‘subchannels’, ‘sub codes’, or whatever the manufacturer chooses to call them. They might like you to believe that the radios on both ends have to be set to the same channel and subchannel to receive a transmission. THIS IS NOT TRUE and no privacy is offered by this feature. What it is, basically, is that the ‘subcode’ is a “CTCSS” or “PL” tone. If you set the code to 00 or OFF on a radio, or hold the monitor button, it is in “carrier squelch” operation and it no longer matters what tone or DCS code the radio on the other end is sending, you will hear anyone on the channel as long as the signal’s strong enough to detect. The only use for these tones/codes is just basically to keep the radio from bugging you unless someone’s transmitting the same tone with their audio. It’s just a selective calling/muting feature. It is, however, useful just to make sure the radio doesn’t bother you with transmissions you aren’t interested in or random noise bursts.
Irritating Bullshit Features: Turn off the “roger beep” (a pointless beep the radio sends after you let go of the push to talk switch) and never press the CALL button or I will use radio direction finding techniques to track you down and pour Elmer’s Glue down your airways. On some radios the roger beep is turned on and off from the menu, on others you hold one of the buttons while turning it on to disable it. The call button just sends an irritating ringing noise for a couple of seconds. Why the HELL is it even there?!
Channel 1 is recommended to be monitored as an emergency use channel, if you’re gonna talk like /b/, stay to 6 / 9. 🙂
Recommended channels here: 6 / 9 for what the hell ever. 4 / 2 for more technical discussion, 3 / 14 pi (22 / 7 on a GMRS radio, *almost* pi). I usually monitor 6 / 9. I guess we could come up with our own band plan for this but honestly who cares? 😀
Now here’s where it gets weird! MURS is a license free service, five channels in the 151 and 154 Mhz VHF range. I have not seen any radios specifically made just for MURS use. Since MURS was “recycled” out of a rarely used business radio service that once did require licenses, the FCC chose to allow any type accepted radio for that band to be used there.
The frequencies are 151.820, 151.880, 151.940, 154.970, and 154.600. Note that if you are near a Walmart store, you will probably find at least one of the channels in use by the store. This is because they are too damn cheap to license proper business class frequencies for their stores. (The frequency and PL may vary by store.)
The least expensive option for a radio here is probably something like the Baofeng UV-3R, Wouxun KG-UVD1P, or similar. Note that these radios are also very useful for ham radio frequencies should you decide to get a license for that.
* I’m guessing this has something to do with the common 0.455 Mhz receiver IF frequency but the Nobody Gives A Damn alarm just went off.