Why do we need radios when we have cell phones?
Several years ago, after we had gotten a motorhome, we drove the motorhome from San Antonio to Davis Mountains State Park. At the time, we didn’t have a toad (a vehicle that is rigged for 4-down towing) so Linda in the car following me in the motorhome as we we passed through Ozona on I-10 heading west toward Fort Stockton. Linda realized that the car tank was below 1/4. The car’s computers were indicating that she probably wouldn’t make it to Fort Stockton. We had driven this remote stretch of highway numerous times and both of us knew that gas stations were few and far between.
Panicked, Linda called my cell phone and we worked out a strategy. We would both slow down to 55 MPH to increase fuel mileage. I would stay ahead of her and scout out gas stations that looked open. We would also stay on the phone.
Even though we were less than 1/4 mile apart, I would lose and gain cell signal before her. I would drop and then when my signal returned, she still didn’t have a signal. We were able to connect as we approached to the Sheffield exit. There was a station that looked open to me. Linda took the exit. The station was closed and the pumps weren’t the 24 hour type available in most gas stations.
Now we were really panicking. In the short discussions we had between acquiring and loosing cell signal, our uncertainty was increasing. We knew there were no more gas stations until Fort Stockton. We decided to stay closer together in case she ran out of gas. we were going for it.
Luckily, as we slowed from 75 MPH (speed limit there is 85) down to 55, Linda’s gas mileage improved and the car kept recalculating the range. As we approached Fort Stockton, the car had enough fuel left to get to the other side if we needed to.
Having walki talkies would have enabled us to maintain constant communications in the absence of cell signals.
Off The Grid
We regularly go off grid and when we do, mobile phones are pretty much not so useful.
Mobile phone communications isn’t available in remote locations. For example, we were driving US-90 west toward Marathon, Texas and often didn’t have a mobile phone signal. The above picture shows what happens to Apple Maps (displayed on an Apple CarPlay device) when you don’t have cell signal for an extended time.
First responders are reported to monitor CB radio channel 9 across the USA and Canada. The FCC has designated CB channel 9 for emergency use including road assistance. By custom, other channels have designated uses. Truckers routinely share road conditions on specific channels. Four by Four drivers have a channel. There is a channel for RVs. There is also a hailing channel.
Hitching and Parking
When we first started RVing with a fifth-wheel, Linda and I found back-in parking to be incredibly stressful. The parking stress was exacerbated by our inability to communicate. I couldn’t hear her when she stood behind the trailer and often couldn’t see her because she wasn’t standing in my mirrors. If she couldn’t see me, I couldn’t see her.
Back-in parking with the motorhome was much easier because the motorhome had a video camera mounted high on the back of the coach and display on dashboard. Best of all, when Linda spoke in conversational tones from behind the motorhome, I could hear her clearly. Back-in parking became much less stressful.
We don’t have a backup camera on our truck camper. But we still need to park in tight spaces. We store our truck and camper in 15 by 45 foot storage unit. We back the truck and camper into the storage unit through a 10 foot doorway. Linda now stands so that we can see each other through the truck mirrors when I’m backing up. But parking becomes much simpler when we can communicate verbally. Radios work well for this.
When we hitch our Jeep for 4-down towing, we have to make sure that the brake lights are making the necessary connections. Linda stands behind the Jeep (sometimes in my mirrors) and lets me know if/when she see brake and/or blinker lights. This is another area where radio contact really helps us keep well connected.
An icon of the seventies and still used by truckers today, Citizens Band Radio (CB) always reminds me of Burt Reynolds in the movie Smokey and the Bandit.
I was shopping at Fry’s Electronics in Austin, Texas and found a handheld CB Radio (Midland 75-785 Durable Handheld CB Radio) for $40. This radio came with a 12 V DC adapter for use in the truck. It also takes 9 AA batteries which make it a bit heavy but the price was right.
Larry’s Informal Channel Designations
1 – Trucker eastern USA and Maritime Provinces in Canada
4 – 4X4, off-roading, overlanding
9 – EMERGENCY, ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE
10 – Trucker regional roads
11 – Hailing, calling, establishing communications
13 – Marine, RV
17 – Trucker east/west traffic
19 – Trucker north/south traffic
21 – Trucker regional roads
The other channels can be used at will. I get the feeling that channel 19 is really the only channel routinely used by truckers no matter what direction they are traveling, what part of the continent they are on and whether or not they are on freeways, highways or other roads.
I see two important uses for this radio:
- Traffic information and road conditions provided by other drivers (truckers) on channel 19
- Access to emergency services and roadside assistance when mobile phone service is unavailable
FRS and GMRS
Family Radio Service (FRS) is an unlicensed radio band that anyone can use.
To be legal in the USA, General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) requires an FCC license that costs $85 for five years (as of 4/6/2018).
We got a Motorola Talkabout T261TP Radio (3 Pack) from Sam’s Club for $70. The radios support both FRS and GMRS bands. I configured the phones to use an FRS channel so I wouldn’t have to pay $70 for the 5 year FCC license. I may change my mind later.
Since these radios are intended for use by people who know each other (hence the name Family Radio Service – FRS), each phone needs to be set to the same channel and interference eliminator code. Any channel can be selected. Not knowing any better, I chose a channel and interference eliminator code at random.
The Sam’s packaging came with:
- 3 radios
- 3 belt clips
- 3 NiMH rechargeable batteries
- 1 Y cable adapter with dual micro-USB connectors (the same kind that typically come with Android phones)
- 1 single cable adapter
- 1 user guide
- 1 carrying case
Because the battery charging is done with standard USB charging, the radios can be easily charged using available USB ports – like in my truck cab or camper. When the rechargeable battery goes flat on these radios, it can replaced with three AA batteries.
These radios support NOAA Weather Radio. Timely delivery of local weather alerts and reports can be a lifesaver when travelling.
This will be my go-to radio when I need to talk to Linda when
- Parking or looking for a campsite at a campground
- Cell service is spotty or non-existant and we are within a mile
- Backing the truck and camper
- Brake light check while hitching the Jeep
Hope to see you on the road ahead!