REALLY? You need a license to use handheld walkie-talkies?

Well, at least some of them. If you are using a walkie-talkie labeled “FRS/GMRS” or one labeled “GMRS” then yes, you do need an FCC license. FRS, or Family Radio Service, channels, are free to use, but GMRS (General Mobile Radio Service) operation does require a license. You’ll need to pay a fee and file FCC forms 159 and 605, and it’s pretty automatic from there.

What’s the difference between FRS and GMRS?
Technologically, there isn’t much. FRS is designed for regular folks to use at low power, and FRS frequencies exist in between regular GMRS frequencies (see table here.) Most radios have an indication whether you’re broadcasting on FRS or GMRS… pay attention when you’re choosing a channel.

Here’s what tech guru Phil Karras has to say on the subject:

GMRS, General Mobile Radio Service, is a licensed service through the FCC, nowhere on the listing was this made clear to prospective customers. Not that anyone else does it either. Also, it does not list the power output of the radio nor does it tell the truth about the “18 mile” range of the radios.
FRS radios, Family radio Service, are not licensed and are limited to 500 mW of output power and can ONLY use the antennas attached to the radio. These radios use the interstitial GMRS frequencies they are NOT allowed to use the normal GMRS or the GMRS Repeater frequencies, by law, not that it doesn’t happen but if the FCC catches you your wallet could be $15,000.00 lighter. I haven’t yet heard of any FRS radio user being caught or fined. It’s very difficult if the person is a very intermittent user.

GMRS allows one up to 50W of output power so a little radio like this could put out 5W if so designed, you are also allowed better antennas, attached to the house or up on a tower. GMRS also probably has repeaters in most areas depending on if a group got together to put one up or not which greatly extends the range BUT ONLY if you have a license!

That’s right, folks, if you use the wrong frequency without a license you could get fined up to $15,000. That’s real money right there. I wouldn’t worry too much if you do it once by accident, but if you make a habit of using GMRS frequencies for common “Hey where are you” transmissions, and the people in your family don’t have licenses… well let’s say you’ve been warned!

Solid Signal carries a wide variety of FRS and GMRS radios, thanks for asking… shop for them now!

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.