Personal radio services are short-range, low-power radio communications using devices that operate much like walkie-talkies. Personal radio services include one- and two-way voice services, data services and remote-control transmissions that operate equipment.
Personal radio services devices generally do not rely on transmission towers or other equipment. Some types, especially those using VHF and UHF radio spectrum, encounter significantly less static, noise and fading than CBs or walkie-talkies.
The most popular types of personal radio services are Citizens Band Radio Service, Family Radio Service, General Mobile Radio Service, Low-Power Radio Service and Multi-Use Radio Service. Of these types of services, only General Mobile Radio Service requires an FCC license to operate.
Citizens Band Radio Service (CB)
- CB service allows two-way radio communications.
- CB service operates on 40 shared channels on a "take-turns" basis, meaning no CB channel is assigned to any specific individual or organization. Users must never talk with another station for more than 5 minutes continuously, and must wait at least one minute before starting another communication on the same channel.
- CB equipment used in the United States must be FCC-certified and labeled as such by the manufacturer.
- You may not raise the power output of your CB unit, attach any type of power amplifier or modify the unit internally. The maximum authorized power levels vary depending on whether the station is transmitting a single side band (up to twelve watts Peak Envelope Power or PEP) or an AM signal (up to four watts PEP).
Family Radio Service (FRS)
- FRS allows two-way voice communications over short distances (generally less than one-half mile on the 0.5 watt channels and up to two miles on the 2 watt channels, depending on conditions).
- An FRS unit looks and works much like a walkie-talkie.
- There are older, dual-use, FRS-General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) units, but you may legally use only the FRS channels unless you have a GMRS license. The label on the unit or the operations manual should indicate the service the unit is certified for. FRS-only units transmit at lower power levels and have antennas that are integrated with the unit; GMRS units transmit at higher power levels and may have detachable antennas. Note that dual use FRS-GMRS radios may no longer be sold.
- You can operate your FRS unit anywhere in the U.S. and its possessions.
General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS)
- GMRS is a land-mobile radio service available for short-distance, two-way communications.
- A GMRS system may legally be operated only with an FCC license. The individual licensee is responsible for the proper operation of the GMRS system. A licensee may permit his or her immediate family members to operate the GMRS system.
- A GMRS system is made up of station operators and a mobile station consisting of one or more mobile units. It may also include one or more land stations. Some land stations operate as repeaters, thereby extending the range of GMRS mobile units.
- New GMRS licenses are granted only to individuals, but GMRS licenses granted to non-individuals (such as businesses) before July 31, 1987, can be renewed if certain conditions are met. You can apply for a GMRS license online, or by filing FCC Form 605. The FCC sets license filing fees annually, and licenses are granted for 10 years.
Low Power Radio Service (LPRS)
- LPRS is a private, one-way short-distance communication service that allows stations to transmit voice data or signals for auditory assistance to people with disabilities, people who require language translation, and certain individuals in educational settings. LPRS also allows stations to transmit voice, data, or tracking signals for health care-related communications and certain law enforcement activities. Two-way communications are prohibited. LPRS can also be used for network control communications in the Automated Marine Telecommunications System (AMTS).
- LPRS transmitters can be operated anywhere in the United States.
Multi-Use Radio Service (MURS)
- MURS is a private, two-way short-distance voice or data radio communications service.
- The service operates on five VHF channels. MURS users must cooperate in using the five channels to reduce interference to other users. No user has priority over any other user, but all users must yield to emergency communications. A MURS station may not operate as a repeater station, including store-and-forward packet radio operation, or a signal booster.
- Maximum allowable output power for a MURS unit is two watts. Transmission range between two hand-held units varies depending on the unit's antenna height, terrain and weather.
Unlicensed radio operation
Be aware that if you operate a radio transmitter that requires a license, or use a radio that is authorized for only a specific service for an unauthorized service, you may be fined or imprisoned, and/or the equipment may be confiscated.
Personal Radio Services (pdf)