Thinking about Radios for your camp? Read Me First!!!

Questions, answers, tips & tricks for newbies and veterans alike
pop_rocks
Posts: 10
Joined: Fri Aug 05, 2016 3:56 pm
Burning Since: 1999

Thinking about Radios for your camp? Read Me First!!!

Post by pop_rocks » Fri Aug 05, 2016 4:15 pm

Radios at Burning Man: A Guide for the Confused

Overview
Maybe you've been to Burning Man before or maybe you're a virgin. Either way, you may have been considering buying some two-way radios to take out to the playa. In this write-up I made about 6 years ago (I’ve made some edits as it was more a brain-dump instead of as concise as I wanted it to be) I talk about some of the choices you'll need to make and hopefully help you avoid some costly mistakes.

My Goal with this write-up is to get the reader to take a step back and think about what they need for communication at an event like Burning Man, instead of being an uninformed consumer. I’m not trying to sell anything, but more appeal to your common sense so you aren’t wasting your money or time with solutions that just don’t work.

Glossary:

PTT = Push-to-talk - the act of depressing the transmit button on a radio and holding it down while speaking. You must "release to listen" on the channel. i.e., you can't talk and listen at the same time. This isn't a telephone, so you can't "interrupt" what someone else is saying as they'll never hear you while they're talking.
Transmit = The act of emitting a signal from a radio in order to send a message or signal to one or more people.
Privacy Code = A consumer-made name for sub-audible tones that are used in analog radio transmissions. The 2-way radio world and Amateur Radio refer to these as "CTCSS" (continuous tone coded sub-audible squelch) and "DCS" (digitally coded squelch).
Simplex = A method of radio transmission where one frequency is in use between one or more users, and physical range of the transmission is limited by the antenna height and location.
Repeater = A device that can take radio transmissions and increase their range, often exponentially, due to the repeater and it's antenna being located at a high-altitude point... tall building, hill, mountain-top or tower.

Why would I want to have a radio at Burning Man?
If you've never been to Burning Man and are thinking of going, there are a few things you should know. First and most important is the size of the event. Burning Man encompasses approximately 6 square miles of area over the lake bed known as the Black Rock desert. Granted, this area isn't absolutely out-of-control larger than life, but when you transplant the event itself, hundreds of theme-camps, about 30 miles of roads, art and structures of nearly every shape and size and over 50,000 people into an area of that size -- well, let's just say that things can get a little confusing. 6 square miles is a huge event site.

Now, bring a group of your closest friends with you to the event and try to keep your camp logistics, ice runs, exploring and partying all in order for a solid week. Finally add in that wonderful phenomenon of time and space shifting known to veteran burners as "playa time" and things can really get out of whack fast. Before you know it, it's Thursday of the event and you haven't seen or done even half the things you had hoped to, logistics in camp have gone down the tubes, or you're waiting around four hours for your friends to come back so you can all go out and meet up together, or your friend who took off more than a mile away to see something forgot his/her water, or dinner is going to be ready in 30 minutes and going to get cold, or someone gets hurt and it's nearly two miles back to medical -- and there isn't a Ranger or staff member in sight that can get help for you on their event radio. That's a VERY long bike ride and even longer walk or run -- especially if the person that needs help is in serious condition.

All of the "Talkabout" Family Radio Service (FRS) style radios that are sold by companies like Motorola, Audiovox, Kenwood, Midland, Cobra and several other off-brand names are probably just fine for regular day-to-day usage at places other than Burning Man. You'd probably do just fine with them for keeping in touch with the kids when they wander away from the campsite, or at the beach or amusement park for the day, and they're even not such a bad thing on the ski slopes. But the reality is that these radios, regardless of who manufactures them, are all limited in the exact same manner. They all have only 14 channels for you to use (some add in another 8 channels that require a license, which nobody bothers to get), and they all only transmit with about 1/2 watt of power. None of them will accept a larger or "better" antenna attached to them to extend your range, none of them can have their power "turned up", and none of them are going to get you talking 10, 15 or more miles under almost any circumstance, no matter how ideal.

And no, being on the same channel as someone else with a different “privacy code” isn’t going to keep you from being interfered with.

An example: you show up at a family picnic with a couple radios for you and your family to use. You all decide to set your radios to Channel 2 and use a Code of 21. Simple enough -- the display on your radio says Channel 2, Code 21. The other members of your family show up and want to use their radios with yours so you can all communicate. No problem you think, you just have them match the Channel and Code on your radios (Channel 2, Code 21) and before you know it you're all talking to each other!

As the crowds grow, over time you realize you're having an increasing amount of trouble talking to your kids that decided to go play on the other side of the lake. You could hear them before, but now their signals become garbled or unintelligible sometimes. After you get frustrated calling the kids for the 4th time to come back to the table for lunch and you can't understand what they're saying (and they're having the same problem understanding you), your eyes wander around and see that at another table about 100 feet from you a family is also using radios to talk to their kids. They just happen to be on channel 2, but using code 10.

"But I don't get it" you think. What are the odds that these people could be interfering with you? 532 codes, is there something wrong with my radio? What a piece of garbage!
It may not be as complicated as you may think. You walk over and talk to the neighbor and find that he's using Channel 2 as well, but his code is different -- he chose Code 7.

"Why should that matter?" you wonder.
Channels and Codes aren't the same thing. What you need to learn first, is that no matter how many codes, or combinations of channels and codes your radio's instructions tell you exist, there are always the same number of physical channels: 14. A person using Channel 2, Code 21 is still using the exact same channel as the person talking on Channel 2, Code 7. Only one conversation at a time can exist on any single channel within the same geographical area without causing interference to another person using the same channel.

So what good is the code (also called a "privacy code")? Simply put, the privacy code is a way to mute the audio of someone else talking on the same channel you happen to be listening to. It's not a different channel, but rather more like providing the user a filter – not at what the radio hears (the “busy channel” light / indicator showing up with no noise usually means someone else is talking, even if you can’t hear them), but what comes out of the speaker for you to hear.

"Ok, so what does all this have to do with Burning Man and using a radio there? Will you get to the point?"

Family Radio Service has only 14 radio channels. At Burning Man, there are anywhere from 5000-8000 people out of the 70,000+ there all trying to use one of those 14 channels -- all it takes is for 14 unique conversations -- 28 people! -- spread over the 14 channels taking place at the same time to make FRS useless. In reality far more than 14 conversations are taking place at any given time. What's worse, they're all within 1 or 2 miles of each other. Result? It doesn't matter what channel you choose or what code you choose -- more than likely, especially by mid-week, you're going to have a horrible if not impossible time attempting to use your FRS radio for any sort of meaningful communications. Your FRS radios will be useless, and any contingencies you may have thought would be handled by having a radio will now be pointless.

Again, this isn't to say that Family Radio Service radios are bad for all applications. But at Burning Man, they’re a bad choice. Too many people with too many radios in too small a space is a guaranteed recipe for failure.

So what other options are there?
Thankfully there are several options out there these days, but the best are going to be Amateur (ham) or MURS when it comes to use at most locations. I outline the more common ones below.

CB (Citizen's Band)
Unless you're using a vehicle-mounted radio with a good external antenna, even under ideal conditions your range can be seriously limited. When people buy a CB radio then complain about the poor performance they're getting out of it, in nearly every instance it's because they purchased the smallest, least obtrusive antenna available. They bought the antenna for convenience and aesthetics, but CB requires an antenna of substantial size for best performance. Really, there’s no way to get around this inconvenient fact.

Most CB antennas that will provide any reasonable degree of performance need to be at least 4-1/2 feet to 9 feet tall if you want to have a range of more than a mile or two. Don't be fooled by any manufacturer claims of an antenna below 4 to 5 feet in length "outperforming" the larger antennas. The CB community has a lot of "snake oil" salesmen dying to snatch your hard earned cash on an unscrupulous deal.

In recent years there have been a few manufacturers that have marketed hand-held CB's with small, flexible antennas which look much like the antennas which come with FRS, MURS, Amateur radio and commercial portable radios on VHF and UHF. Unfortunately the antennas of this size are virtually useless for the very low frequencies the CB operates on. Lower frequencies need very long antennas by nature, and anything short is basically a waste of time.
For this reason alone, using hand-held CB's at large events such as Burning Man (unless you like having 6' long collapsible antennas attached to your radio) just isn't practical.

Amateur Radio
Amateur radio (frequently referred and labeled as “ham” radio) isn't some archaic, difficult and "weird" hobby as many are brainwashed into thinking it is. It can be very utilitarian in nature. Yes, you need a license to operate on the amateur radio spectrum, but obtaining a license, purchasing and learning to use the equipment is far easier than you may imagine.

There are literally thousands of “channels” available for use on ham radio. 8 to 10 times the amount of transmitting power (4-5 watts of power as opposed to FRS 1/2 watt). Nobody interfering with you, and you can talk from one side of the event to the other with a fairly clean signal. If you need help, there are channels (frequencies) you can tune to where other Amateur radio operators are monitoring. A core value of Amateur radio is lending a hand to one another in times of need.

Implemented properly, Amateur radio will ALWAYS work, even in the worst disasters possible that will take out phone lines and Internet service. You need to take care of your equipment to have it ready when you need it most. Your cellphone may not function after a disaster, but Amateur radio will. Amateur radio operators were responsible for bridging the communications gap when Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. The messages they were able to deliver out of the area saved lives and helped route supplies. Public safety and normal emergency communications methods were down and inoperable.

And that's not even scratching the surface of what you can do with Amateur radio. Data and video modes are available and possible. If you'd like to learn more, try visiting ARRL.org, QRZ.com or a few other Amateur radio related sites on the internet. All the information on how to get started in Amateur radio is there, and people are available to help you.

MURS (Multi User Radio Service)
MURS is a service very similar in concept to FRS (Family Radio Service). The system is utilized at a lot of events for recreational communication, but there are also events such as Burning Man that reserve a channel for reporting emergencies.

The radios can transmit with up to two watts of power (four times the power of FRS). They also can be connected to external antennas that you could put up on a mast, attach to a motor home or attach to your shade structure. Unlike FRS, you actually CAN achieve ranges of up to five miles or more routinely when you replace the "rubber duck" antennas that come with the radios with larger external antennas that are erected into the air. I have personally used radios on MURS channels at 2 watts of power where I was able to communicate over 10 miles or more with antennas on top of a vehicle or short 20-foot mast. Adding external antennas to an FRS radio is strictly illegal. With the built-in antenna, you will never get the same kind of coverage options that MURS offers you.

MURS uses a different frequency band (VHF) as opposed to FRS (which uses UHF). Without getting technical, VHF radio waves travel better in the flat environment of the event site and around obstacles. VHF is much better suited for suburban and rural terrain either flat or with rolling hills and moderate vegetation. UHF is better suited for city / urban environments with high-rise and industrial structures covering portions of the landscape.

GMRS (General Mobile Radio Service)
Before FRS came to be, GMRS was a multi-purpose service that allowed two-way communications over wide areas (20-50 miles in most cases) for the average consumer. Repeaters (radio relay stations that are housed on top of tall buildings or mountain tops) are a staple of this service. With most higher frequency radio signals, if you can visually see what you are trying to talk to with the radio, chances are that you can communicate regardless of the distance.

In the radio spectrum, GMRS has 8 channels that "live" interspaced in between where the first 7 FRS channels are located. GMRS requires the user to get a license from the FCC, but this is a mere formality involving filling out a form online or faxing it in, along with a processing payment of $85. The license is good for 5 years from the date of issue and can be renewed for another $85 after its expiration. There is nothing fancy that having a license requires of you, other than identifying yourself with the call-sign at the end of every exchange (for instance, at the end of a 5 minute conversation you'd announce that you are "clear" or "going off-air" and say your call-sign which will be similar to "WQEV673"). One license is valid for the operator's home address and everyone legally residing at that address.

Simplex means you are talking without the aid of any Repeater, directly radio-to-radio. While range is seriously limited in this manner, GMRS radios do often transmit with 2 to 5 watts of output power, much more than what is available on the FRS channels. GMRS is receiving more use (unfortunately, most of it illegal) at Burning Man and elsewhere in the country because most radio manufacturers do not make any mention of a license being necessary for its usage and many of the cheaper "bubble-pack" GMRS / FRS combination radios aren't capable of using repeaters (they cannot be programmed or configured for this kind of use). The average consumer simply assumes that having the channels in the radio makes it ok to just use them. This also causes issues for legitimate GMRS users as it interferes with their authorized and licensed use of these channels. Please do your part and obtain a license before using this service, and take the time to learn what advantages it can offer you along with learning good operating practices.

Bottom line for GMRS radios at Burning Man is that they are a little bit better than FRS, but not by much. And they require a license.

Fines are severe, and the radios aren't very cheap either. Just avoid this service altogether.

Basic information about all radio services that every user needs to know
While radios can be used in place of telephones for conversation, and there's no need to "subscribe" to anything in most cases with a radio. But, unlike a telephone, there are some very distinct differences between talking on a radio and talking on a telephone. Your radio usage experience can be much more useful and pleasant if you learn a few simple operational facts before you start using them.

▪ Your radio can't talk and listen at the same time. You may find the radio to be a great substitute for a telephone in many cases. However, you need to remember that a radio is NOT a telephone in that no matter how much you may want to, you are not able to interrupt someone else while they're talking. (Forget whatever you've seen in movies -- the vast majority of films do a very poor job of showing anything remotely close to realistic radio usage.) A radio can either transmit or receive, but not both simultaneously. Your voice can either be sent or you can be listening for someone else's voice. If you are talking, which involves pressing the PTT (push-to-talk) button and holding it down while you speak, your radio is in transmit mode. It is, in this mode, not capable of hearing anything anyone else may be trying to say to you on another radio. Get in the practice of listening and waiting for a transmission to end before pressing your PTT button on your radio to send your message or reply. If you have a hard time figuring out if the person you're talking to is finished speaking, you might want to have them say "over" or something similar at the end of each transmission to clue you in that they have finished.

▪ Pause between transmissions. When having a conversation with someone, it is good practice to wait a few seconds (usually 3-5 will suffice) between each transmission in your conversation. This allows someone else to break in and use the channel. It's more than just common courtesy: somebody could have an emergency and need to get help! Remember, only one person can talk at a time on any channel. Make sure those that need help or may want to interrupt, interject or join in the conversation have a chance to do so. If you're trying to have a group conversation then leaving a pause becomes even more important.


▪ Think before talking. If you have to get a message out to someone, take a few seconds to think about what you're going to say before saying it. Pressing the PTT key and then sitting there with a lot of "umm" and "ahhhh” because you're trying to think of what to say is annoying and time wasting. If there are multiple people using a channel, it uses up a LOT of time leaving the channel unavailable for others. When you're ready to speak and know what you're going to say, press and hold the PTT button for one to two full seconds before speaking. This allows radios that have gone into sleep mode for battery conservation to "wake up". You could end up chopping off the first part of your transmission if you "quick-key" and start talking the instant you press the PTT button.

▪ Keep your language simple and please avoid using foul language. The FCC strictly prohibits any use of foul language on any two-way radio service. Regardless of what people think, this includes MURS and FRS as well. Amateur Radio and commercial radio services can end up having operators fined or their licenses revoked for repeated violations. If you continue to operate with a suspended or revoked license, you can be fined a lot of money. Don't think the FCC won't bother to enforce such actions -- if they receive enough complaints they have every legal right to lodge fines against any party who willfully and flagrantly disregards this simple rule. Not to mention, the number of suspensions and fines has increased sharply over the past few years. People are tired of hearing such abuse and want it to stop. The FCC is simply responding to public pressure.

▪ Nobody "owns" a channel. Just because your camp happens to be running a special event on FRS channel 3 or MURS channel 2 doesn't automatically give you the right or permission to chase everyone else off the channel. FRS and MURS are public and free, and as a result no one person or group can claim exclusive rights or use to a channel. Share the channel. This is the same thing on Amateur radio… but thankfully there you have a lot of options for channel selection and are almost guaranteed to find space not in use on the bands.

▪ A group, person or persons who are providing emergency communications services for others or are actively engaged in emergency communications to prevent the loss of life or property must always be given priority for usage of any channel. This rule is fairly universal across all of the voice radio systems that are available to the public. For instance, on the MURS system at Burning Man, channel 5 is reserved exclusively for emergency use by the event to communicate with participants. Interfering with an emergency in progress and resulting in the delay of or failure to adequately respond and provide emergency assistance to parties who are requesting it is a violation of federal law. You could be putting someone's life at risk.

▪ There is no privacy on the radio. Keep in mind that with almost any radio service, NOTHING you say is private -- nothing! Anyone at any time can listen and has the right to listen to your conversation. If you need to convey a message nobody should hear, you probably should convey it in person, and not on the radio.


Some tips about buying radio equipment
When I originally wrote this, there weren’t a lot of options for cheap radios that would provide the flexibility one needs for an event of such size as Burning Man and larger. But since then, we have a lot more options. China (for better or worse) began mass producing super cheap amateur (ham) radios. They’re not the most user-friendly on the programming side, but the cost can’t be beat and there is external software which makes the task super easy. Further, for those less radio-saavy, you can lock the radios down to only their most basic functions.

Radio models to choose from:

Baofeng: Just do a search for this name on Amazon or another site where you can make a purchase. At the time of my editing of this write-up (August 2016), the UV-5R models and UV-82 models and their variants are the most popular units in use. There are other manufacturers of cheap radios, but these have passed the FCC rules and regulations for usage and are easily available for very cheap. Buying in quantity, you can get 4-10 radios for the same price or less than the limited FRS bubble-pack radios.

The models mentioned above will also work just fine for FRS, GMRS and MURS, so you’re not locked out of talking to your friends who weren’t smart and purchased crappy bubble-pack radios… you can program to match any channel and code combination on an FRS, MURS or GMRS radio with one of the above Baofeng models.

Programming and choosing where in the radio spectrum you should talk
This is the sticky part, and despite how carefully I try to explain things in this last segment, there will be people that take issue with what I say. Bottom line, my goal here is to educate you where are the least “obtrusive” places for you to talk on your new toys. This is assuming you don’t have an Amateur (ham) radio license and just want to get talking.

The Baofeng radios cover the following frequency ranges right out of the box.

[Transmit] 136 - 174MHz, 400 - 520MHz
[Receive] 136 - 174MHz, 400 - 520MHz, 68-108MHz (FM Broadcast)

This can be a little dangerous, because there is a lot of radio spectrum that it’s fine for you to monitor or listen to (like hearing your local police and fire departments in some cases), but for you to transmit on can land you in jail if you’re not careful.

So where should you talk and listen?

MURS – VHF

You can talk on these channels legally with 2.0 watts of power and provided you follow the

Channel 1 - 151.8200 (narrow-band 12.5kHz channel)
Channel 2 - 151.8800 (narrow-band)
Channel 3 - 151.9400 (narrow-band)

Any of the first 3 channels above are ideal for use at Burning Man and other festivals. Next to nobody should be using them, and no license is required to use them. Choose a tone (code) to add to the channel. There are “enhanced” antennas for radios that you can purchase from after-market dealers which will help extend your range a little.

Channel 4 - 154.5700 (wide-band 25.0kHz channel)
Channel 5 - 154.6000 (wide-band)

These 2 are both reserved specifically for staff and emergency use at Burning Man. These aren’t the channels used by event staff for regular communications amongst one another (the event has a massive, mostly-encrypted system for such purposes), but rather public-access channels so the populace at large can call for help. Channel 4 is meant for Art Support Services, where artists can contact staff for help with their projects.

Channel 5, code 11 (specifically, tone 97.4) is RESERVED for emergencies only!!! Please, don’t ever use channel 5 for anything other than contacting “Black Rock” (Burning Man’s 911 dispatch center) to report crimes or emergencies taking place in the city. Your radio must be set to code 11 on channel 5 specifically for dispatch to hear you calling. Any other codes used on channel 5 will only interfere with emergency callers. Avoid using channel 5 at all if you’re not calling for help.

Anywhere else outside of Burning Man, channels 4 and 5 are fine for your use.

FRS / GMRS

Yes, you can talk to your friends with the pretty FRS radios they wasted their money on.

(All of FRS channels 1-14 are narrow-band 12.5kHz channels… never program them as wide-band or you’ll have issues communicating with others)

1. 462.5625
2. 462.5875
3. 462.6125
4. 462.6375
5. 462.6625
6. 462.6875
7. 462.7125
8. 467.5625
9. 467.5875
10. 467.6125
11. 467.6375
12. 467.6625
13. 467.6875
14. 467.7125

GMRS requires a license to use. The requirement doesn’t stop people from using these channels unfortunately. Honestly, at Burning Man, it’s a little irrelevant anyways. These are a somewhat better choice than FRS as they’re not as crowded. Also, you’re not limited to 0.5 Watts of power like FRS is. On these 2.0 Watts to 5.0 Watts are better choices.

(All of GMRS channels 1-8 are wide-band 25.0kHz channels… never program them as narrow-band or you’ll have issues communicating with others)

1. 462.5500
2. 462.5750
3. 462.6000
4. 462.6250
5. 462.6500
6. 462.6750
7. 462.7000
8. 462.7250

CODES (or tones… and how to use them)

Tables for this don’t display well, and I’m not going to try and duplicate them here. Here’s a current link which should help you match up tones with their code designations easily.

http://www.manualslib.com/manual/478876 ... ml?page=21

LESS DESIRABLE BUT STILL USABLE FREQUENCY OPTIONS

Ok… so this is the part where some people will start to take issue with what I’m providing for information, but again, this is written from the standpoint of giving you a few more options should you be finding things are just too crowded on the previous options provided by me. I cannot condone usage of these frequencies without a license and am hereby not directing anyone to do so.

VHF ITINERANTS

These are commonly used for low-power business portable radio use. Think job-sites, department stores like WalMart, Kohl’s, Target etc. They require licensing for you to legally use them, but their usage in many places is so common-place (or completely devoid of usage) which make them great back-up options for chat channels.


151.505 MHz Itinerant
151.5125 MHz Itinerant (narrow band)
151.625 MHz Itinerant
151.700 MHz Itinerant
151.760 MHz Itinerant
151.955 MHz
154.515 MHz
154.540 MHz
158.400 MHz Itinerant
158.4075 MHz Itinerant (narrow band)

UHF ITINERANT FREQUENCIES

Brown Dot 464.500 MHz Itinerant
Yellow Dot 464.550 MHz Itinerant
Silver Star 467.850 MHz
Gold Star 467.875 MHz
Red Star 467.900 MHz
Blue Star 467.925 MHz
(Brown dpx) 469.500 MHz Itinerant
(Yellow dpx) 469.550 MHz Itinerant

Again, these are all much better choices than FRS and GMRS, but the user takes all responsibility (and possibility of being caught / punished) by using them without a license. That said, the FCC doesn’t patrol around Burning Man or other festivals generally looking for people to bust. But you’ve been warned.

WHAT ELSE IS AVAILABLE?

The information I provided here is written primarily from the standpoint of usage at Burning Man. In general, you could use these at just about any festival or large event and still be fine. But I’m focusing on Burning Man mainly because there are some huge and potentially nasty pitfalls of using other channels out there without license or authorization at the event. That and there are other frequency ranges these radios have access to that you should never even consider transmitting on, regardless of where you are in the U.S.

VHF

With the exception of the frequencies mentioned above for MURS and itinerant use, here’s what remains in the rest of the 136.0000 to 174.0000 MHz spectrum…

136.0000 to 144.0000 – Military / Federal / Government. (yeah, stay off of these frequencies, for real)
144.0000 to 148.0000 – Amateur / Ham radio. This is a small swath of very usable spectrum. Get your ham license and you can use it!!!
If you’re not licensed or to transmit in this range (ie, you have a ham radio license), just stay out. If you upset ham radio operators, they will find you and will come after you.
148.0000 to 150.0000 – More Military / Federal / Government. As above, stay away.
150.0000 to 156.0000 – Businesses, Fire, Medical, Police, Tow Trucks, etc etc. These are all licensed and authorized users. With the exception of the itinerant and MURS channels included in this range, stay off of everything else.
156.xxxx to 162.xxxx – Marine VHF radio and Railroads use a variety of channels in this area. It’s illegal as all hell to mess around and re-purpose any of their published channels in this range for your personal communications.
162.xxxx range – Lots of weather broadcasting from NOAA. Never talk in this area.
163.0000 to 174.0000 – Almost exclusively Federal use (BLM, FBI, DOJ etc). Never talk here, but feel free to “scan” around at events like Burning Man where the federal agencies are active. Most of their critical comms are encrypted (you’ll just hear noise), but some of it is open and easily listenable.

UHF

With the exception of the frequencies mentioned above for FRS, GMRS and itinerant use, here’s what remains in the rest of the 400.0000 to 520.0000 spectrum…

400.0000 to 420.0000 – Military / Federal / Government. Yes, you want to stay off of these.
420.0000 to 450.0000 – Amateur / Ham radio usage. This is a huge swath of very usable spectrum. Get your ham license and you can use it!!! If you’re not licensed or to transmit in this range (ie, you have a ham radio license), just stay out. If you upset ham radio operators, they will find you and will come after you. (if you think I’m joking, go ahead and press your luck… there are a lot of licensed hams at Burning Man)
450.0000 to 451.0000 – News gathering specifically. Used by TV and radio news agencies to coordinate / dispatch reporters and camera crews. Not much of this in use at Burning Man but there are news agencies at the event frequently.
451.0000 to 469.9875 – This huge swath of range has a lot of Burning Man specific communications in it. There are too many channels in use to list, but for the purposes of this you should just stay out of here unless you’re just listening. There are a limited few channels the event uses that are monitor-able and you can hear some of the routine work being done by DPW at the event. Nearly everything else in use is in a digital format and heavily encrypted. Only authorized subscribed radios on the system are capable of talking and listening on these channels.
470.0000 to 520.0000 – previously a lot of TV channels (prior to the digital switch in 2013) were in these ranges, formerly referred to as UHF TV. While now defunct, 2-way radio use is authorized in a few major metropolitan areas in the U.S. in this range. Ideally you should just avoid using them at Burning Man and other events.

Good luck and happy Burning!!!

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GreyCoyote
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Re: Thinking about Radios for your camp? Read Me First!!!

Post by GreyCoyote » Fri Aug 05, 2016 4:58 pm

Great information, but I want to be very clear about one thing: There is no such thing as a reserved freq in MURS. In particular, Burningman has absolutely no priority whatsoever on MURS 4 or 5, and as long as an emergency is not in progress. According to the FCC rules, any person may use these freqs as they wish, and the feds have flatly refused to give any priority to "important uses" like Burningman.

What MURS 4 and MURS 5 follow instead, is a CONVENTION that 4 and 5, at the REQUEST of the organizers, be kept free of non-essential traffic. This is not a rule, it is non-binding on anyone, and there is absolutely no penalty for any MURS-appropriate use on these channels. Now, should you strive to stay off of these freqs? Absolutely. The request is reasonable, designed to allow fast access to official emergency services, and its a darn-skippy-good idea. But what if you want to be an insufferable asswipe and use these freqs to talk to your camp mates? Be my guest, and you are free to be an insufferable asswipe with the full and complete blessing of the FCC... Just as long as you yield the channel for any traffic of an emergency nature.. This "must yield" is the same rule as any other frequency located anywhere in the radio spectrum. Emergency traffic ALWAYS takes priority, and the FCC has a long history of draconian enforcement against people who interfere with such traffic.

So could you legally use MURS 4 and 5 for routine comms? Yes. Absolutely. Should you? NO.

For most this is likely a distinction without a practical difference, but its an important distinction just the same.

Kudos to the OP for this otherwise excellent post!
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(A Beautiful Mind)

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Re: Thinking about Radios for your camp? Read Me First!!!

Post by Skuzzy61 » Sat Aug 06, 2016 5:19 am

This should be stickied someplace on the forum. Outstanding information!

The BM site should include it there.
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Re: Thinking about Radios for your camp? Read Me First!!!

Post by EGAZ » Sat Aug 06, 2016 9:45 am

Very good read! I have been setting up my new Baofeng UV-82HP radios. Easier to program via PC then the keypad. Very versatile radio.
Looking forward to using it.
2nd time better than the first. And the first was pretty Freakin' Great!
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Re: Thinking about Radios for your camp? Read Me First!!!

Post by Ratty » Sat Aug 06, 2016 10:17 am

I don't use a radio out there but I have to commend you on taking the time to write such a great post. Thank you.
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Re: Thinking about Radios for your camp? Read Me First!!!

Post by A-RockLeFrench » Sat Aug 06, 2016 10:33 am

Dang! Great info, thanks!

Yesterday I ordered a set of Baofeng 888's. Because they were cheap and recommended. I noticed that they seem to lack a bunch of buttons and nobs like some of the other more expensive baofengs I saw for sale. Does this mean I have to plug them into a computer to program grew/channel presets into them?

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Re: Thinking about Radios for your camp? Read Me First!!!

Post by GreyCoyote » Sat Aug 06, 2016 12:00 pm

ARock: yes. The Baofeng/Pofung 888s are programmed by a PC. They come with software (really poor quality software that rarely works properly) or you can use what the hams use: CHIRP. Its free, stable and very nice. Google "CHIRP RADIO SOFTWARE" for the free download sites.
"To sum up my compassion level, I think we should feed the unwanted animals to the homeless. Or visa versa. Too much attention and money is spent on both."
(A Beautiful Mind)

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Re: Thinking about Radios for your camp? Read Me First!!!

Post by Just_Joe » Sat Aug 06, 2016 12:29 pm

A-RockLeFrench wrote: Does this mean I have to plug them into a computer to program grew/channel presets into them?
Probably not. Programming these (Beofung) radios manually is a PITA, but the learning curve of the software and requirement of a special USB to Serial cable and drivers is probably more of a PITA, especially since you're probably only going to put the 5 MURS channels on it.

BTW, thanks for the great post pop_rocks. I grabbed my radios and software and did a little cleaning up. I had the BRC 911 in there but didn't realize until you posted that a tone was required.

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Re: Thinking about Radios for your camp? Read Me First!!!

Post by GreyCoyote » Sat Aug 06, 2016 12:38 pm

For the record, the 888s has no native keypad or display. It is a "grab and go" radio. All programming is done via PC over a serial cable. Other Baofengs have a keypad and can be pgmd manually. The 888 lacks this capability entirely.
"To sum up my compassion level, I think we should feed the unwanted animals to the homeless. Or visa versa. Too much attention and money is spent on both."
(A Beautiful Mind)

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Re: Thinking about Radios for your camp? Read Me First!!!

Post by Just_Joe » Sat Aug 06, 2016 12:58 pm

GreyCoyote wrote:For the record, the 888s has no native keypad or display. It is a "grab and go" radio. All programming is done via PC over a serial cable. Other Baofengs have a keypad and can be pgmd manually. The 888 lacks this capability entirely.
Shite!
Frenchy, if you want to mail them to me, I'd be happy to program and have them for you on playa. I'm assuming they program with CHIRP and the same cable for the other beofengs that I have.
I tried getting specs on the 888 them earlier but couldn't pull up the web page...

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Re: Thinking about Radios for your camp? Read Me First!!!

Post by Token » Sun Aug 07, 2016 7:52 am

Sheesh J_J, y'all have heard of this conferencing software stuff like WebEx, GTM, etc. where you can share a computer screen and actually talk to Frenchie, right? Guide him down the path to the dark side.

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Re: Thinking about Radios for your camp? Read Me First!!!

Post by Just_Joe » Sun Aug 07, 2016 8:30 am

Token wrote: Guide him down the path to the dark side.
And risk losing my license? I don't know what I'd do if I couldn't key up my neighbor and ask him how hot it was at his house.

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Re: Thinking about Radios for your camp? Read Me First!!!

Post by some seeing eye » Sun Aug 07, 2016 10:07 am

Thanks for a very solid and informative post!

This breaks down to you and all communicators being FCC licensed or not FCC licensed.

In digital radio, too many users on a channel creates noise making the channel unusable. Too many users applies to BRC on some bands.

If you are planning an art project which needs radio, suggest searching for BRC WiFi mailing lists. They are the spectrum coordinators and part of the Burning Man technical team.
increasing the signal to noise ratio with compassion

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Re: Thinking about Radios for your camp? Read Me First!!!

Post by Ratty » Sun Aug 07, 2016 10:09 am

All this radio talk made me dig out my old handheld CB unit. It made me laugh so I'm hanging on the wall. Very artsy.
Pictures or it didn't happen Greycoyote
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Re: Thinking about Radios for your camp? Read Me First!!!

Post by EGAZ » Sun Aug 07, 2016 10:47 am

I just gave away a box full of Mobile CB radios. Some good, some bad, one two channel rig. Pile of antennas. All peaked and tweaked, ready to go. A Jeep/Rock crawler group grabbed them.

Kept my base station, test equipment & meters, one mobile, a half wave and quarter wave antenna and a couple of kickers, you know,.... for science..... :coffee:
2nd time better than the first. And the first was pretty Freakin' Great!
I am Camp2. - A solo camp - Stop by and say Hey!, 8) Gotta beer?

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Re: Thinking about Radios for your camp? Read Me First!!!

Post by trilobyte » Sun Aug 07, 2016 10:56 am

Great write-up, and welcome to the site!

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Re: Thinking about Radios for your camp? Read Me First!!!

Post by pop_rocks » Mon Aug 08, 2016 12:48 pm

GreyCoyote wrote:Great information, but I want to be very clear about one thing: There is no such thing as a reserved freq in MURS. In particular, Burningman has absolutely no priority whatsoever on MURS 4 or 5, and as long as an emergency is not in progress. According to the FCC rules, any person may use these freqs as they wish, and the feds have flatly refused to give any priority to "important uses" like Burningman.
You're right, and I didn't use very good terminology with it. MURS ended up being used since there was no way to have any sort of even half-way reliable (or close to legal) base station for monitoring and responding to the public on FRS. Add the overcrowded nature and the chances we'd get the public to genuinely play along using FRS... ugh. All that can be hoped for was for the public to be aware of the usage and hope they yield or just use the other 3 channels. There is definitely some undesired users on channel 5 when the event gets going, going from the grossly uninformed who place some sort of odd system sending packets back and forth to those who quite obviously don't read the annual pleas from Burning Man to avoid using the channels. The positive is that the system was implemented at a time when nearly no users were on VHF anywhere in BRC, and the majority of the current MURS users adopted and used the system after the event began to communicate through JRS to the public about it's existence.

Ham calling channels used to be monitored at the event, but for dispatch to actually make use of this legally required having a licensed ham in the shack on every shift. The dispatch team is competent and experienced, but only a fraction of them are licensed. Doesn't make things easy for scheduling.

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Re: Thinking about Radios for your camp? Read Me First!!!

Post by pop_rocks » Mon Aug 08, 2016 12:50 pm

trilobyte wrote:Great write-up, and welcome to the site!
Thanks. Actually been around and used the site under another pseudonym for a very long time, but not very active. Didn't remember my old login so it was just easier to create a new one.

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Re: Thinking about Radios for your camp? Read Me First!!!

Post by pop_rocks » Mon Aug 08, 2016 12:51 pm

eldergeekaz wrote:I just gave away a box full of Mobile CB radios. Some good, some bad, one two channel rig. Pile of antennas. All peaked and tweaked, ready to go. A Jeep/Rock crawler group grabbed them.

Kept my base station, test equipment & meters, one mobile, a half wave and quarter wave antenna and a couple of kickers, you know,.... for science..... :coffee:
My last CB was a Ranger RCI2950. It's been sitting on the shelf for about a decade now unused... been dialing around HF a lot though.

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Re: Thinking about Radios for your camp? Read Me First!!!

Post by pop_rocks » Mon Aug 08, 2016 12:54 pm

GreyCoyote wrote:ARock: yes. The Baofeng/Pofung 888s are programmed by a PC. They come with software (really poor quality software that rarely works properly) or you can use what the hams use: CHIRP. Its free, stable and very nice. Google "CHIRP RADIO SOFTWARE" for the free download sites.
the 888's are great... and you can program them for MURS if you purchased the VHF versions.

The nice thing about them is they're really meant to be super-simple. I actually enjoy leaving the voice-over announcement for channels turned on as it's helpful and makes it easy to change channels without looking at the radio.

I purchased 4 of them about 5 years ago. A friend has been using them since I purchased a batch of the UV-5R series.

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Re: Thinking about Radios for your camp? Read Me First!!!

Post by pop_rocks » Mon Aug 08, 2016 12:56 pm

Ratty wrote:I don't use a radio out there but I have to commend you on taking the time to write such a great post. Thank you.
Thanks! It's something that I felt has been sorely missing. And most burners I've known over the years, even if it's not in their area of expertise, will nearly always read a primer if it means they can learn something useful.

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Re: Thinking about Radios for your camp? Read Me First!!!

Post by Skuzzy61 » Mon Aug 08, 2016 1:20 pm

Thanks to your post, I have ordered 2 of the UV82 radios.

Cannot thank you enough.
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Re: Thinking about Radios for your camp? Read Me First!!!

Post by pop_rocks » Mon Aug 08, 2016 1:57 pm

Skuzzy61 wrote:This should be stickied someplace on the forum. Outstanding information!

The BM site should include it there.
There are reasons they won't put it on the website, and they're understandable. There's potential liability in providing _all_ the information I do in my posting. If it was trimmed down significantly and a few major pieces of information were removed, it might make the cut.

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Re: Thinking about Radios for your camp? Read Me First!!!

Post by pop_rocks » Mon Aug 08, 2016 2:02 pm

Skuzzy61 wrote:Thanks to your post, I have ordered 2 of the UV82 radios.

Cannot thank you enough.
happy to be of assistance and glad it was enough to spur you purchasing the UV82's.

I'm debating having programming sessions on-playa during the event should anyone be having trouble with their new toys. If I think I can make it happen I'll post here about it and provide a couple of timeslots those with new radios or needing help can come by.

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Re: Thinking about Radios for your camp? Read Me First!!!

Post by Hoverdave » Mon Aug 08, 2016 2:42 pm

So now that all of us have read this post and have made our orders on Amazon, are the 3 MURS frequencies going to be jammed? (At least for those of us who want to stay legal)

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Re: Thinking about Radios for your camp? Read Me First!!!

Post by EGAZ » Mon Aug 08, 2016 5:16 pm

I've converted this to a word doc if anyone wants a copy and its OK with pop_rocks... :wink:

It has the code chart too, and the link....
2nd time better than the first. And the first was pretty Freakin' Great!
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Re: Thinking about Radios for your camp? Read Me First!!!

Post by papabear14 » Mon Aug 08, 2016 9:01 pm

Epic post pop_rocks!

One of the best eplaya posts ever, you got FIGJAM looking in the rearview mirror.

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Re: Thinking about Radios for your camp? Read Me First!!!

Post by pop_rocks » Tue Aug 09, 2016 3:28 pm

Hoverdave wrote:So now that all of us have read this post and have made our orders on Amazon, are the 3 MURS frequencies going to be jammed? (At least for those of us who want to stay legal)
HAHAHA...

Most likely!

But remember, I did post a bunch of other VHF channels and UHF channels outside of MURS and FRS to use. The reality with those ones is that they'll probably be great on the playa and mostly un-used. Yes, they're technically require a license, but there are a ton of unlicensed users on them (think in the tens of thousands, maybe a lot more) all over the U.S. and the FCC really doesn't make effort on enforcement unless complaints begin coming in. Even in that instance, there needs to be a lot of complaints for the FCC to be pushed into action, and those are going to be prioritized by severity first. So if the FCC has complaints of a public safety radio system being interfered with or used illegally then it definitely goes to the top of the list, and with just a few of those and only a few field engineers the FCC is normally busy enough. Consumer level complaints about interference to anything other than broadcast services (FM and AM band radio stations for instance) are usually bottom of the barrel. Many are never resolved.

You will have definitely _less_ interference on GMRS or one of the itinerant channels I posted, and again, the threat is really a non-existent one.

For reference, in 2003 I believe, there was a looming threat (from sources mostly unknown) that the FCC had received complaints about the pirate FM broadcasters at the event. At the time there were several dozen on site during the event in the years leading up to 2003. Many long-time pirates at the event didn't broadcast that very year out of the fear of the threat, and others turned their output power down so low they couldn't be received on the opposite side of BRC. The FCC apparently did show... but never came inside the event and just sat outside for about a day monitoring and taking notes. In the end, they drove off and no (known) actions were ever taken against the broadcasters. The following years the stations sprouted back up, and here it is 13 years later with still nothing having happened.

Now, think about the fact that the FCC had "violators" with static locations and continuous transmissions that would be easy triangulate / hunt for with little effort involved... it would have been an easy bust. Now think about just how little they're going to care for trying to track down hundreds of potential users who are constantly moving around and not transmitting continuously.

So, in other words, I'm not worried. :-) And I don't think you should either.

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Re: Thinking about Radios for your camp? Read Me First!!!

Post by Hoverdave » Tue Aug 09, 2016 8:59 pm

In your opinion, what do you thing would be the best frequencies to use for the week?

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Re: Thinking about Radios for your camp? Read Me First!!!

Post by pop_rocks » Tue Aug 09, 2016 10:33 pm

Hoverdave wrote:In your opinion, what do you thing would be the best frequencies to use for the week?
UHF in general penetrates the city well, so I'd stick to the UHF channels I listed. If you were to pick up "enhanced" antennas for your radios that improve VHF performance, then it's worth trying out VHF. My vote, if you picked up dual-band radios like the UVxx series ones from Baofeng, put all the frequencies in your radio that I listed, use all the same tones (or different, but the same makes things a bit easier), label them in whatever mode you wish (which the software lets you do, which makes it nicer than reading a bunch of numbers) and check them all out. Switch channels around with everyone whenever you can, which will also get others comfortable with the radios and using them. See what works best and where.

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