Chatter boxes

Words by Keith Duffield. Words by Keith Duffield.

A guide to licence-free 2-way radios

Until the mid 70s, private radios weren’t available to the general public. Then CB (citizen band) radios became legal, and SA went crazy – we now had CB radios just like in the movies. If you didn’t have a 3 m stainless steel whip on your vehicle, you weren’t part of the scene. But it wasn’t long before the novelty wore off; and as the years went by, CB radios all but died out as a means of private communication and as a hobby. Fast forward nearly forty years, and now we have a new version of the CB radio; let’s call them licence-free private mobile radios. These high-tech little marvels are also known as LF PMR, but more commonly, and correctly, as PMR446 radios.

You see them everywhere. Little kids have them around their necks so that they can keep in contact with mom and dad. Family and friends travelling in convoy on holiday use them as a means to communicate between cars. Security guards at shopping centres use them. Construction-site workers use them. In fact, you’ll find them used just about anywhere where reliable, short-range communication is needed. These radios are available over the counter from outdoor shops, larger stores and electronics/TV/ camera shops, without any licence or registration requirements. They range in price from about R199 per pair for the cheapest of the cheap, to just over R1 000 each for the very best highperformance models.

Licence-free radios come in three distinct classes, separated by price. The more you pay, the better their performance and quality. I group them as follows: Blister-pack Radios – these radios normally come in pairs and range in price from R299 – R599. They’re basic, have very few accessories available, and most use AAA batteries. Mid-range Radios – these radios are normally sold in pairs but are also sometimes available as single radios. They range in price from about R599 – R1 100 a pair. They often come with Li-ION rechargeable battery packs. A 220V AC mains charger, and sometimes even a 12V DC car charger, is included, as are an external earpiece and microphone attachments. Spares, backup service and accessories are generally very good and freely available.

High-end Radios – these radios are almost always sold as single radios. I will refer to them as ProSumer radios. Usually these are professional quality, industrial radios. These radios have been modified to meet the legal requirements of license-free radios (PMR446). They’re no-nonsense, quality products, designed for best performance. Often they won’t have many of the somewhat gimmicky features that the cheaper radios have. In this article I will deal with the ProSumer radios...

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