Popular to contrary thinking, you actually do need a license from the FCC to operate on GMRS (General Mobile Radio Service) frequencies. Most people seem to ignore this fact. What doesn't help is radio manufacturers that produce FRS/GMRS radios, commonly called "bubble pack" or "blister pack" radios. They are cheap, and can be found most everywhere. Granted, most manufactuers do put a warning about operating on GMRS and that a license is required, but lets be real - who actually reads the small print?
As a result, the strapping young lad that just purchased a pair of radios for his next camping trip is stoked to give them a try after bringing them home from the local stop-n-rob. Powering them on, the display prsents a plethora of channels in the form of numbers to choose from. Most bubble pack radios only show channels 1-22, and unbeknownst to the proud new owner of the radio, only a small part of those channels are license free. Thus, much to the chagrin of those who have actually purchased a valid FCC GMRS license, the air is filled with that familiar bird chirp of constant key-ups, and paging wobble tones.
So, now that we know the FCC requires a license to operate on GMRS frequencies, per their rules, who can get one, and how does one get said license?
The FCC says: "An individual (one man or one woman) is eligible to obtain, renew, and have modified a GMRS system license if that individual is 18 years of age or older and is not a representative of a foreign government." Businesses can't get one, but if they have an existing one, they can make modifications to it.
Unlike the amateur radio service, there is no test! Unlike the commercial entities, and government agencies, the fee is quite reasonable at around $70 (as of 2016). It's as simple as registering on the FCC's website, and filling out thier online application. Typical turn around time is the same day, though there have been cases of a day or two before it shows up, and in a smaller group of people, a week.
Enter the FCC's ULS. The Universal Licensing System is the FCC's main hub for applying for, purchasing and updating license information. Signing up takes a few minutes, as does applying for and purchasing your GMRS license. Be forewarned! The FCC likes to maintain it's vital systems as if it were 1991. Modern browsers will sometimes complain, and simply just stop working. Remember Internet Exploder? The browser you used to download Chrome or FireFox? Yeah, that is your best bet for ensuring a smooth process with them. Lets get to it!
Do note, if you already have an FRN, you don't need to get a new one, you can use your existing one! Easy right?
Remember to fill out the forms accurately, the FCC isn't very forgiving in regards to fat-fingers & typos. As mentioned before, the completion time from payment to license issuance can vary, most people get it immediately after payment and are presented with an option to download it. Some have reported getting an email with it, while others had to wait a day or two, and in some cases, wait up to a week. Your mileage may vary.
Additionally, as of the date of this article, 2016-01-12, the fee for a GMRS license was $70. This may not be accurate when you get yours. Your license is now valid if you see it on your FRN account page under My Licenses, and is good for five years. Set yourself a reminder to renew it before it expires. The FCC will allow you to renew the license 60 days prior to it's expiration. Once it's gone, you have an additional 30 days to renew it, otherwise you must apply for a whole new one.
Now that you have your license, there are a few other things you should be aware of but you probably already know (because you read the FCC regs, right?):
- Your license is valid for 5 years and permits you to transmit on GMRS frequencies
- The FCC can inspect your station and equipment at any time
- Your equipment must be Part 90 and/or Part 95 type-accepted
- You are limited on Effective Radiated Power:
- 50 watts on base stations
- 5 watts on small base stations
- Licensee (that's you!)
- Licensee's spouse
- Licensee's children, grandchildren, stepchildren
- Licensee's parents, grandparents, stepparents
- Licensee's brothers, sisters
- Licensee's aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews; and
- Licensee's in-laws
- Following the transmission of communications or a series of communications; and
- Every 15 minutes during a long transmission
- The station identification is the call sign assigned to the GMRS station or system
- A unit number may be included after the call sign in the identification
- Repeaters don't have to ID if the automatic retransmission of the traffic was properly ID'
- Messages for hire, whether the remuneration received is direct or indirect;
- Messages in connection with any activity which is against Federal, State, or local law;
- False or deceptive messages;
- Coded messages or messages with hidden meanings (“10 codes” are permissible);
- Intentional interference;
- Music, whistling, sound effects or material to amuse or entertain;
- Obscene, profane or indecent words, language or meaning;
- Advertisements or offers for the sale of goods or services;
- Advertisements for a political candidate or political campaign (messages about the campaign business may be communicated);
- International distress signals, such as the word “Mayday” (except when on a ship, aircraft or other vehicle in immediate danger to ask for help);
- Programs (live or delayed) intended for radio or television station broadcast;
- Messages which are both conveyed by a wireline control link and transmitted by a GMRS station;
- Messages (except emergency messages) to any station in the Amateur Radio Service, to any unauthorized station, or to any foreign station;
- Continuous or uninterrupted transmissions, except for communications involving the immediate safety of life or property;
- Messages for public address systems
As you can see, there is quite a bit of go/no-go in regards to what you can and cannot do. Digitial modes are prohibited, so no P25, DMR, etc. but you can use Narrowband. Be sure you read the rules and comply with them, don't be that guy.
Be sure to check out our other articles covering some great equipment to get up and running on the air, and if you aren't a member, you should consider joining the Arizona GMRS Repeater Club and get involved!
Be advised: there is a lot of misinformation about GMRS on the internet! Check your sources, and check it against the FCC's regulations - just because it's on the internet doesn't mean it's true. With that, a great source of information, particularly repeaters in your area is MyGMRS.com. The AGRC isn't affiliated with them, but they do have a great map of repeaters across the country.
As always, remember to have fun and enjoy it!