Radio Recommendations

Mike97

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My volunteer fire department issues very old radios. A few of the guys have better radios issued from other jobs (police, EMS). I’m thinking about just buying my own radio; does anyone have suggestions?

Thanks!
 

PotatoMedic

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Don't. If the one issued works then use it. Otherwise you might buy a radio but then you have to get it programmed and that is if the agency will be willing to let it be programmed. If they say no then all you have is a fancy paperweight. (Not completely true but it would be useless for what you got it for).
 

mgr22

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I agree with PotatoMedic. I realize you and the others are trying to do the right thing by buying radios that work, but it's really up to your agency to solve that problem. If they can't or won't, maybe you should look for someplace else to volunteer.
 

EMDispatch

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If... you were to purchase a radio it would depend on several factors specific to your public safety radio system. They aren't a 1 size fits all item. Then there's the issue of getting it programmed, flashed, etc. Also the initial cost for a new one actually guaranteed to work would vary between safely $2-8k dollars without setup. An APX6000XE, the water resistant, safety green radio many fire departments use cost around $6k.

Stick with what is provided.

There's also likely to be issues getting it added if the system is closed, etc.
 
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ffemt8978

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Kind of surprised no one has mentioned FCC licensing restrictions yet. Each agency is given a license for a certain number of mobile and fixed radios on each frequency they operate on. Buying your own radio and operating on those frequencies could cause your agency to run afoul of FCC licensing if they are found to be operating more radios then they are licensed for.
 

EMDispatch

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Kind of surprised no one has mentioned FCC licensing restrictions yet. Each agency is given a license for a certain number of mobile and fixed radios on each frequency they operate on. Buying your own radio and operating on those frequencies could cause your agency to run afoul of FCC licensing if they are found to be operating more radios then they are licensed for.


I figured costs and local hurdles would be big enough. But yes at the FCC and also local level there are subscriber limits. You are less to get your agency in trouble than yourself. That's especially true if your caught with a amateur radio someone has set into the public safety bands.

Also just another discouragement... maintenance and repair. Our new system is a little over a year old. My volly departmenta are not that busy, most are 100-200 calls a year. They've still killed an impressively large number of radios in that span... Speaking as one who manages a public safety radio network, I'd never personally own one.
 
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Mike97

Mike97

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Well, I had no idea radios were so involved. My radio knowledge basically includes turning it on and selecting a channel. Also, I may have a newfound respect for that old radio lol!
 

PotatoMedic

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It's always (usually) more complicated than it seems
 

Akulahawk

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Well, I had no idea radios were so involved. My radio knowledge basically includes turning it on and selecting a channel. Also, I may have a newfound respect for that old radio lol!
Yeah, it's quite involved. The FCC is the agency that issues the license that your department operates its radios under. The department could very well be the licensee or they could contract with a radio provider that is the licensee. The radio system could be open or it could be closed. In an "open" system, any radio that transmits the appropriate code or tone(s) on the correct frequency/channel will activate the system and will be allowed to access it. In a "closed" system, the radio must transmit an appropriate code that also includes a radio ID. If the radio ID is unknown to the system, the radio will not be allowed to access that system. Furthermore, licensees are provided a maximum number of fixed stations and "mobile" stations. "Fixed" means the radio and antenna system do NOT move anywhere. "Mobile" means the radio and antenna system is either installed in a vehicle or it is a portable (handheld) radio. If the number of stations is exceeded (and that is *active* radios in service), the FCC can impose significant fines upon the licensee and/or upon the person found to be operating an "unauthorized" station.

Additionally, the radios that are to be used must be type certified by the FCC. Commercially purchased Ham Radios are type certified for use in Ham Radio service ONLY. If you modified one for use outside that service, that radio is NOT certified for use and could cause problems because the spectrum used could be too wide or narrow or generate spurious signals or interfere with adjacent frequencies. The radio could be completely fine and actually meet specs but without that "Type Certificate" for use in the appropriate band, it's technically quite illegal to use.

One agency I worked for (non EMS) has their own station licenses for use in the business bands and in a public safety pool (think groups of frequencies) and is assigned the exact frequencies that it may use for given purposes. That license now serves to back up the system they're currently using. The County's 800 MHz radio system is what they use now and the County provides the radios and programming. The County is the licensee and my old agency is an authorized user of the system under the County's license. The upside of this is my old agency no longer has to maintain their radios as the County's radio shop does that and the agency can access other parts of the radio system so they can talk directly to any other user of the system - including fire and police/sheriff services, among probably 40 other system users. The downside is that all those other radios can't talk directly on my old agency's channel without having their programming updated. As each system radio visits the shop, it's updated. Under their own license, my old agency could have something like 5 fixed stations and 25 mobiles. For them, that's not a problem as they only had 2 fixed stations and something like 8 mobiles (3 in vehicles and 5 portables) typically. For a VFD, chances are good they'll be using every bit of that license... I wouldn't push my luck with the FCC as $10,000 fines aren't unheard of.
 

hometownmedic5

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The FCC has basically zero capacity to actively monitor the number of transmitters programmed for a given frequency overall. They could, in theory, determine the number of active transmitters in use at a given time, but I have never heard of a public safety agency or member being fined for being overlimit on transmitters. Overpower, sure. Cursing etc, happens all the time; but I have never even heard a story of an agency being fined or disciplined for having 152 radios on a 150 unit license. The purpose of specifying a number of authorized transmitters is too charge appropriate licensing fees. Don't get me wrong, the technology exists, it would just be a pointless endeavor the overwhelming majority of the time.

Programming many radios, most notably Motorola, requires licensed software and strongly encourages licensed cabling. You can get bootleg software that may work and may brick your radio. Bootleg cables may work, but OFTEN brick radios. This is usually worth the risk when you're talking about obsolete radios, as paying a radio shop to program something like an HT1250 will cost as much as the radio is worth, everytime; but is a terrible idea when you're talking about a current radio. Current radios(P25, dual/multi band, Bluetooth, encryption etc) cost thousands of dollars. That's a huge gamble on an eBay cable.

I've owned and programmed my own radios for both amateur and public safety purposes for pushing twenty years. I've done it with factory software and cables, commercial knockoffs and homebrews. I've bricked a few, saved thousands on programming fees, and always had a radio I know works. This doesn't matter so much at my current job, as my issued radio far exceeds my best personal; but was a big deal when I worked for crappy privates who didn't think having a portable radio was required.

One option for you could be a hybrid idea. Ask your superior if you were to assume all associated costs and have the programming done by a licensed technician/shop, would they officially authorize you to acquire a personal radio. This is the exact mechanism I used to acquire my first radio. I paid for it, sent it to the towns contracted shop for programming, and it was totally legal. When I left the agency, I could have had the programming wiped and kept the radio, but I ended up selling it to the agency instead.

When you work for an agency that gives you the tools you need to do the job they're asking you to do, it's easy to say "that's your bosses responsibility". It's different when you're dealing with low budget organizations just trying to keep fuel in the tanks and paychecks covered. I'm not personally going to castigate you for having the idea. Just keep it legal and authorized.
 

Akulahawk

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What @hometownmedic5 says is basically true. The FCC doesn't have the ability to monitor ALL transmissions from ALL radios everywhere that they control. However, given the right complaint, they can listen for YOUR radio. Each radio gives a unique signature chirp every time it transmits and this is caused by the slight individual variances in each radio's hardware, it's not intentional but it does happen. Given sensitive enough receivers, it is possible to "fingerprint" each radio so you can tell when each individual radio transmits, and if you're looking for a specific one, it's possible to alert to that particular radio.

The primary reason I provided the caution above is that you do NOT want the FCC to pay attention to you because if they determine that you're using a radio illegally, the fines can be quite substantial.

In my case, as a licensed HAM, I can have a CB radio in my car, an RF amplifier, and my HF mobile rig in my car all at the same time. As long as my HF amp isn't connected to my CB radio, there's no technical violation. If I wasn't a licensed HAM, just having the RF amp in the car along with a CB radio is considered a violation (constructive possession) of using the amp with the CB radio and it doesn't matter that the amp isn't connected to the CB rig. For the record, I don't have an RF amp. Yet.
 

PotatoMedic

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It is all reminding me I need to renew my HAM license.
 

Akulahawk

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FrostbiteMedic

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hometownmedic5

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The primary reason I provided the caution above is that you do NOT want the FCC to pay attention to you because if they determine that you're using a radio illegally, the fines can be quite substantial.

Absolutley correct. You should never, ever, ever violate the law. Laws exist for a reason. There are very important, very strictly enforced laws; and other laws that exist for reasons other than primary enforcement. The number of transmitters on a particular frequency is one of those “serving another purpose” laws.

Lots of other good, correct information here though. You shouldn’t go into business for yourself. Find an approved manner to get what you need.
 

Peak

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I’ve never been inspired to purchase a radio outside of work, and it shows the alias of who has keyed up anyway so I’m not sure how well people who bring in their own radios would really go.

In reality 95% of my communication is done with a cell phone, sat phone, or pager. Unless you are on an encrypted frequency there is a lot of operational risk to most of our radio communication.
 

Akulahawk

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I’ve never been inspired to purchase a radio outside of work, and it shows the alias of who has keyed up anyway so I’m not sure how well people who bring in their own radios would really go.

In reality 95% of my communication is done with a cell phone, sat phone, or pager. Unless you are on an encrypted frequency there is a lot of operational risk to most of our radio communication.
Even if you're on an encrypted radio, the keyup "chirp" that happens with ALL radio transmitters uniquely identifies individual radios, even if the radios do not send out a discrete ID packet. None of my ham radios will transmit any "alias" when I key up. Same goes for a lot of business band, FRS, GMRS, CB... Unless the radio is programmed to transmit a discrete ID/Call Sign, most listeners won't know who keyed up. Someone that has receivers good enough to discern individual key-up chirps is going to be either in government or is doing some kind of espionage. That equipment is NOT cheap... way beyond what most without DEEP pockets can afford.
 

hometownmedic5

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Even if you're on an encrypted radio, the keyup "chirp" that happens with ALL radio transmitters uniquely identifies individual radios, even if the radios do not send out a discrete ID packet. None of my ham radios will transmit any "alias" when I key up. Same goes for a lot of business band, FRS, GMRS, CB... Unless the radio is programmed to transmit a discrete ID/Call Sign, most listeners won't know who keyed up. Someone that has receivers good enough to discern individual key-up chirps is going to be either in government or is doing some kind of espionage. That equipment is NOT cheap... way beyond what most without DEEP pockets can afford.

Not *ALL* transmitters. It’s a feature. MDC, GeStar, DTMF, etc are all types of this signaling, but if I turn signaling off in the programming, no such “chirp” is transmitted.

Commercial radios can also transmit many types of signaling, including MDC-1200, the standard in most common usage. Signaling is used to uniquely identify a radio. That feature has applications broader than public safety. Decoding MDC isn’t particularly hard or expensive. Encoding MDC is more complicated, but also not egregiously expensive and is a baked in feature for most commercial/PS transceivers of the last forty or so years. I have a couple of early 80’s HT1000s that are MDC capable. Without a display, they won’t display the decoded MDC, but they encode and transmit it.

For under 200 bucks, you can buy a radio “good enough” to have MDC built into it. You can buy/donate for a bootleg copy of the programming software for <50 bucks. Another 20 spot covers a bootleg cable and RIB and for <300 bucks you have the capability to encode and decode the “chirps”.
 

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