FRS Radios

In the event of a major disruptive event such as an earthquake, tsunami or even a bad windstorm, use of cell phones and telephone land lines may likely be unavailable. This means when you most need help, calling for it may be most difficult. Because of this, a group of dedicated amateur radio operators have organized to offer their service in emergency situations. These ham operators maintain radio communication with emergency services through the Department of Emergency Management when the 911 system is not available.

During a major disaster, if you need to communicate with these hams, you could connect face to face with them, but conditions might prevent you from doing so. The alternative is to use an FRS walkie talkie type radios. We strongly advise everyone on the island have this option by purchasing one or more FRS radios, become familiar with their use, drill with island hams regularly to hone radio skills, and keep your radios fully charged or have fresh non-rechargeable batteries on hand and ready to use at a moment’s notice.

Two-way radio systems

    1. FRS/GMRS radios are relatively inexpensive.
    2. FRS channels require no FCC license to use. (GMRS channels require an annual FCC license)
    3. Learning to program and use an FRS radio is relatively easy.
    4. FRS radios have multiple uses in non-emergency situations.
    5. FRS radios are independently powered when the PUD power is out.
    6. FRS radio channels 8 through 14 are for exclusive use by FRS operators.
    7. FRS radios are line of sight and limited to 0.5 watts of output, meaning the risk of interference from other users is also limited.
    8. Ham operators within our emergency response network monitor FRS frequencies during emergency events and are available for practice and drills.
    9. Go here to Compare FRS Radios. All radios are not quite equal. Look for ones with the tallest allowable (permanently affixed) antenna and dual power (battery and rechargeable pack). Consider the warranty period.

Recommendations by local hams

  • Kurt Steinbach: Midland GXT1000 and Midland XT511. Three year warranty and battery packs are interchangeable between models. The XT511 is very versatile, with 5 power source options and a USB port for charging a cell phone or other device. Plus the XT511 has a built in LED flashlight.
  • Pete Hubbard: I use a Motorola “Talkabout” T5710. I use the Midland XT511 as a base station (it is always on and tuned to Ch.8.8). Also, someone else recommends Uniden’s GMR3040-2CKHS because it also has NOAA alerts. They are $60 for pair.
    • Motorola Talkabout T461 $70 at Costco. Not recommended because instructions are not clear.
  • Owen Mulkey: Most of the listed radios do the job. The listed price is probably for two radios.
  • Mike Coffeen:
  • Dick Illman: Midland XT511 because of AM/FM/WX/FRS channels, hand crank power, and remote microphone so that the radio can be held overhead for extended coverage.
  • Patricia Earnest:
  • John Comstock: Midland XT511 because of AM/FM/WX/FRS channels, hand crank power, and remote microphone so that the radio can be held overhead for extended coverage. Also a few pairs of Midland LXT 630P units. Can use either AAA or rechargeable batteries.
  • Jenn Prime:
  • Pat McNerthney:

Where to buy

    • FRS Radio shopping will lead you to a Google page with many good options for FRS radio purchase.
    • Costco often has good deals on pairs of FRS/GMRS radios if you are a member.
    • EBay and Amazon offer good deals as a third option.

Using your FRS radio

    • Tune your radio to the Marrowstone Island hail channel 8 subchannel 8. If unsure how to do this, consult your owner’s manual, or contact one of our island Ham operators. (Some radios have different CTCSS code designations. If you cannot connect with other radios on 8.8, try using channel 8.9)
    • Please review this document for basic radio skills, proper radio etiquette and a description of a typical drill.


Island Ham operators are available to test your equipment. Please contact one to set this up.

Periodic Island-wide Drills

Hams (with FRS radios) in your neighborhood are available to do periodic drills with you via your FRS (walkie-talkie) radio. Drilling develops and maintains good radio skills for when you might want to connect with them to get/give help and information in the event of an emergency when telephone/cell infrastructures are overwhelmed, damaged or destroyed. Please click here to learn more about how you can join Marrowstone Island's Ham/FRS network and participate in future drills.

Join the Nextdoor MI Emergency Radio Group

This community group is designed to keep you connected with the latest developments in island radio communications, announcements of import and scheduling of periodic FRS/Ham drills.

Join our local FRS Emergency Radio Facebook Group.

Other resources

(GD | Last modified: 8/12/2017)