Two Way Communications
in the *World*

This Page is Maintained By Del Rockwell
Please send additions and changes to him at wdwnut@voyager.net

 

There have been many times in Walt Disney World and other places also, that I have wished my family could split up and then get back together again when we want.  WDW is a big place if you haven’t noticed! It’s much easier to meet someone in a crowd when you can talk to them to find out where they are. You don’t have to plan your whole day to be at a specific spot at a specific time. It sounds good saying you will meet someone at such and such a place at 12:00. But when you have to leave the area you are in 10-20 minutes ahead of time, or leave the queue you have been standing in for 30 minutes to get to the meeting place in time, reality sets in.

Meeting people in WDW can and usually is a nightmare if you try to do it by time. For example. Leave Canadian pavilion at 11:45 for Spaceship Earth. People don’t show up by 12:15. Go back to Canada. It is now 12:25. Explore for 20 more minutes. Now its time to go back and try again at 1:00. Repeat cycle until we meet up. It can be a walking nightmare. You can see why two-way communications devices are so important. There are many options available to you in Walt Disney World. I will try to cover most of them in the next few paragraphs.

 

Cell Phones

These work great. If you have service that does not charge for airtime or roaming charges, they can also be your cheapest option. If you do have to pay for calls or roaming charges, they could be expensive. That’s about all that can be said about them. You have to decide for yourself if this is the way to go for your family or not.

FRS Radios

FRS (Family Radio Service)  radios are the little "walkie-talkies" you may have seen people running around with. We use them, camping, kayaking, bicycling, and anytime the kids are out playing any distance away from us. Of course, we use them at WDW all the time also! They will work up to two miles away. That two-mile distance is hard to reach under anything but the best of conditions however. Buildings, trees, just about anything other than air will cut down your distance. We have used them from one side of a park to the other. Other times, we have had problems getting through one land. It all depends on what is between you and the person you are trying to contact.

As for the hardware, let me begin by explaining what FRS is. FRS stands for Family Radio Service. There is no license required to operate these radios. They are all allowed to transmit with a maximum of ½ watt of power. The fact that it is ½ doesn’t really matter much. What matters is that no radio can be made to be significantly more powerful than another is. Therefore, in general, all the different brands and models will work about as well as each other.

When discussing these radios, just like car brands and politics, everyone has their personal preferences. There are 14 channels allowed for in the FRS band. Some radios at the lower end of the price range have only one or two channels. You do not want to waste your money on these. With the increasing popularity of these, you want all 14 channels.

Another feature I feel is an absolute must is CTCSS codes. Some brands have a different version of these called DCS. There are 38 standard CTCSS codes. Some radios have a few unique codes in addition to the standard ones. When using the codes, you have to be using the same channel and code to be able to hear another radio. For example, if I set all my radios on channel 4 and code 11, I will not hear anyone else talking on channel 4(or any other channel) if they are not also using code 11. The radio will stay squelched or silent even when someone is standing 50 feet away and talking. With the number of possible combinations, you can almost always find a unique combination to use even in Disney.

A word of warning though. The codes cannot keep other people from hearing your conversations. If a radio either does not have the code feature, or it is turned off, they will hear all conversations on the channel. So don’t be mislead and think your conversations are private. They definitely will be heard by a lot of people!

Vibrate alert is another feature I feel is a must. Instead of hearing talking, your radio will vibrate when someone talks on the channel/code combination you are using. You can easily turn the alert function off and start conversing.

There are also battery options to consider. Some of the more expensive radios come with rechargeable battery packs. Others are setup to take AAA or AA batteries. You can use alkalines, or buy rechargeable batteries, whichever you feel is more convenient and cost effective. The size and number of batteries a radio uses is a factor that somewhat determines how big the radio will be.  If your radio takes only 3 or 4 AAA batteries, it can be made much smaller than one that takes 2 to 4 AA’s. But you probably wouldn’t get much time out of it before changing batteries. One of the latest trends seems to be to get as small as possible. But I think either a rechargeable pack or at least 3 AA’s or 4 AAA’s is best. I prefer the rechargeable radios with a drop in "smart"(quick) charger. These help to give you the most battery life by not overcharging them.

Call tones are another option available on many radios. They allow you to broadcast a tone instead of just talking. This may be useful to get someone’s attention. A radio that has a scan option can scan all/some of the available 14 channels for traffic. Some can also scan the CTCSS codes. This may be useful if you want to listen in on other people’s conversations, but is not very useful at WDW.

Some of the manufacturers are including weather radio reception on their higher end models now. We have a radio that has this. We like the fact that we can use it when camping and kayaking away from home. But, again, at WDW, that probably isn’t too needed.

There are many other options available depending on the radio chosen. Just remember that all radios will work with each other, but some of the features may be unique to a particular brand/model and therefore may not work well or at all with another brand.

Pricing on FRS radios. You can buy basic models for $25-$40 each. You can also spend $150 or more on a single radio. I have found (and purchased) a Ranger Plus model for $40 that has all the features I feel I need. It has 14 channels and the CTCSS codes. It uses 4 AAA batteries so it is small and light. I also have a pair of Cherokee 465’s that I paid $110 each for. They are splashproof, have a few extra CTCSS codes above the standard 38, and have all the features that I need, and then some.

Does the Ranger work as well? I would have to say yes. Would I buy the Cherokees again? Again, I have to say yes. We use our FRS radios a lot. We wanted something to take kayaking that was splashproof. I wanted the Ranger as a backup and a loaner. My kids can have the Ranger to use and I don’t worry much about them losing or dropping it. The Ranger lacks features the Cherokee has, but is similar enough in performance that I will call them equal.

You judge for yourself what your needs are. Many companies are now producing good quality radios. But they are like automobile brands. Most people that use them have their favorites, so be open minded and research them if you plan to buy any but the most inexpensive. A good source of information is the alt.radio.family newsgroup. There are many places either in retail stores or online to buy them at good prices. I have purchased all but the Rangers online.

Etiquette

Whatever you decide to use while in the world, use it courteously. Nobody likes to have a show interrupted by a squawking radio. This applies to pagers and cell phones also. If you cannot set it to vibrate mode, turn it off in any quiet show. The other option is to get an "earbud" speaker to use with the radio. This is simply an earphone type speaker that may or may not have a microphone attached on the cord. You can use them whenever you do not want other people to hear the radio conversation. The ones I use have a microphone attached to the cord that can be clipped on a shirt or jacket and you can then leave the radio on your belt or in a pocket. They are very convenient.

These next two suggestions pertain to radios only. If you plan on cell phoning it, you can bypass them.

One other caution I have is about the use of the CTCSS codes on a radio. If you have them and use them they are great! You will rarely hear other people talking on your channel. This does not mean that they are not there, just that you won’t hear them. If your party and another are both using channel 4, but you are using different codes, you will not hear each other. But you may "step on" (interfere with) each other’s calls. You may be very close to the person you are trying to contact. Say maybe ¼ mile. But if someone else is standing right next to the party you are trying to contact, is using the same channel, and keys up their radio,,, You won’t hear a thing. So, before trying to contact someone, check the channel for traffic. Most radios that have the codes have a way to temporarily disable them to check for channel traffic. All of my radios have a "monitor" button that not only turns off the codes while pressed, but unsquelches the radio also. This allows you to listen for weak traffic that you might have missed also.

And last but not least. Remember who might have these radios in their possession and be listening in on you. It is not called the Family Radio Service for nothing! Many, many children will have these radios and be listening in for family members to contact them. Please watch your language and what you talk about. In the few years I have been using them, they have been pretty clean. Nothing like the CB radios and what they became. But with more and more people using them, we are bound to start having more problems with foul or inappropriate language.

Before you split up, have either an alternate channel that everyone know about, or a code to give to your party to tell them how many channels to go up or down. If you do run into someone you want to "get away from", tell your party to change the channel. By the way, some FRS radios can watch two channels at once. Just the thing if some people heard you ask them to change to the alternate channel to get away from someone and you think others did not hear it.

Conclusions

My own personal opinion is that cell phones are the most useful option of all if you own models that are easy to carry, do not charge for airtime/roaming and have a vibrate feature for the quiet shows.

Last choice, but still effective is the FRS radio. Just make sure they have 14 channels, CTCSS codes, and either an ear bud speaker/microphone or vibrate function and are a trusted brand/model. The most popular brand is probably Motorola. But Cherokee, Audiovox, Kenwood, Cobra and a few others are well respected.

Just do a little research into feature/price comparison before you buy, and have fun using them in ‘the world’.