The Ultimate Walkie Talkie Beginners Guide & FAQs Related to Two-Way Radios

We use a variety of communication technology in our daily lives. Mobile phones are the most commonly used handheld communication devices that are familiar to all of us. However, the average person does not have much idea about walkie-talkies.

Most of us assume that walkie-talkies are simple toys for children or highly sophisticated communication devices only used by the police forces and the military. However, these radio devices find their use in many other places.

Walkie-talkies can be of great help when undertaking activities such as hiking, kayaking, rock climbing, road trips, and boating. They also find use on film sets, construction areas, and farms.

The average person may use a walkie-talkie to fulfil a variety of purposes. In order to make the best use of a walkie-talkie, it is essential that the user of the device possesses sufficient technical knowledge. The following information covers everything that a user must know when starting out with using walkie-talkies.

Understanding Walkie Talkies

The first step that a rookie user of walkie-talkies must take is to understand these devices.

A walkie-talkie is a simple handheld portable communication device that utilizes radio technology for establishing communication over short and medium lengths of distance.

Walkie-talkies were earlier known as Handheld Transceivers (HT). The credit for their invention goes to American inventor Alfred Gross and Canadian inventor Donald Hings, who invented this device simultaneously.

Walkie-talkies came into being around the year 1937 and were extensively used by the various types of military during the Second World War. Today, they find their application for fulfilling various professional and personal purposes.

Each walkie-talkie set is battery operated. This means that the battery has to be charged at regular intervals of time as it runs out, and has to be replaced once it has deteriorated too much.

Walkie-talkies offer half duplex two-way communication. This means that the user of a walkie-talkie can send as well as receive messages. These messages are transmitted in the form of radio signals.

In order to send and receive these radio signals, every device has a transmitter and a receiver which perform these functions, respectively.

The term ‘half duplex’ indicates that walkie-talkies cannot perform the function of transmitting and receiving radio signals simultaneously. As a result, users of a walkie-talkie must speak one-by-one.

Parts of a Walkie Talkie Set

The most important components of a walkie-talkie set are its antenna, transmitter, receiver, speaker, microphone, battery, circuitry, LCD screen display, and functioning buttons.

  • The antenna of a walkie-talkie is responsible for sending and receiving radio signals at the designated frequency of the walkie-talkie. Basic walkie-talkies have the same component acting as both the transmitter and the receiver.
  • The transmitter is responsible for converting the message being communicated into radio signals for transmission purposes, and the receiver is needed to convert these radio signals back into usable form so that the user on the receiving end can understand them. The transmitting and receiving functions are carried out by separate components in advanced walkie-talkies.
  • The speaker and the microphone of the walkie-talkie fulfill the purpose of facilitating voice communication. Typically, they are built on opposite ends of the device. However, in some walkie-talkies, the functions of a speaker and a microphone are carried out by the same component.
  • The Battery Pack (BP) is required for a walkie-talkie set to function. The battery can either be switched or charged depending on the need of the user. The circuitry of the walkie-talkie facilitates its functioning by transporting electricity throughout the device.
  • The LCD display of the walkie-talkie displays necessary information surrounding its usage. The most important functioning button of a walkie-talkie is the Push-to-Talk button, also called the Press-to-Transmit button.

How Does a Walkie Talkie Work?

The basic functioning of a walkie-talkie depends on its transmitter and receiver.

The message being communicated through a walkie-talkie is converted by the transmitter of the device into radio signals. Radio signals are a part of the electromagnetic spectrum and travel at the speed of light, meaning at 186,000 miles per minute.

They are transmitted by the antenna of the walkie-talkie to all devices within range. Surrounding handsets can only detect and receive these radio signals if they are tuned in to the same radio channel as the transmitting device.

Once the radio signals reach the devices in range, they are detected and received by the antenna. The receiver component converts them into the usable form so that the user can discern the message.

The usable form of these radio signals is fluctuating electric currents. These electric currents are used by the speaker of the receiving device to extract a mimicry of the sender’s voice, thus delivering the message.

Radio signals travel at designated frequencies, and only devices operating at that particular frequency can receive them. As a result, it is essential that all walkie-talkies are tuned into the same channel for effective communication. A radio channel is an assigned band of radio frequencies within which a radio device functions.

How to Use a Walkie-Talkie?

Walkie-talkies are typically in receiving mode. While switched on and at rest, they will let off a static noise. As soon as the antenna of a walkie-talkie detects radio signals at its frequency, it receives them and delivers the message they were carrying.

As mentioned earlier, care must be taken to ensure that all handsets are functioning on the same radio channel. This is necessary to facilitate communication between them.

In order to send a message using a walkie-talkie, a person must press and hold down on the PTT button. This will allow the walkie-talkie to switch from receiving mode to transmitting mode. The sender of the message must then bring the walkie-talkie close to their mouth and speak out what they wanted to communicate.

The PTT button of a walkie-talkie is of particular importance due to the half duplex nature of the communication that walkie-talkies offer. Since walkie-talkies can either be in receiving or transmitting mode at once, pushing the PTT button allows the device to switch from the default mode, usually the receiving mode, to the opposite mode. This switch continues as long as the PTT button is pushed down.

There are certain etiquettes that must be following while using walkie-talkies for communication:

  • Receivers of any message must wait for the message to be completely delivered and hence the line to be clear before they give any response. The content of the message being sent to others must be revised before communicating it.
  • Moreover, the message should be as precise as possible. This is necessary since walkie-talkies are half-duplex communication devices and it is not fair to keep the communication line engaged for too long. Proper communication jargon must be used while communicating using walkie-talkies.

Reading the LCD Display Screen of a Walkie-Talkie

All walkie-talkies have an LCD display screen which show certain information about the handset:

  • The most important information displayed on the LCD screen of a walkie-talkie is the radio channel on which it is operating. This is denoted by the frequency of the radio channel, which is usually expressed in kilohertz (kHz) and megahertz (MHz).
  • Another important piece of information that the LCD screen displays is the sub-audio tone of the handset. This varies from one walkie-talkie to another and is usually displayed on the right side of the screen in a smaller font than the radio channel.
  • Certain abbreviations on the LCD screen of a walkie-talkie indicate the mode in which the device is functioning i.e. the receiving mode or the transmitting mode. Lastly, the LCD screen also displays the battery level of a handset. This cautions users to charge their walkie-talkies when needed so that they do not face problems.

Understanding Radio Channels

All walkie-talkies work on specific radio frequencies. The United States has two radio services designated for usage by the general public. These are Family Radio Service (FRS) and General Mobile Radio Service (GMRC).

The radio channels within these two services operate at the 460 MHz range. Apart from this, there are also other radio channels dedicated for professional and commercial usage. For example, the Business Band consists of radio channels meant for corporate communication and functions in the range of 450 MHz to 470 MHz.

Walkie-talkies can function strictly within FRS or can switch between FRS and GMRS. Handsets transmitting within FRS have a power usage of up to 0.5 Watts while those operating within the GMRS reach up to 5 Watts. The handsets that can switch between FRS and GMRS also see a drop from 5 Watts to 0.5 Watts when their functioning is switched from FRS to GMRS.

An important point to note is that though FRS and GMRS are both open to the general public, only licensed radio users can access the GMRS. These licenses are granted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the United States.

Thus, the radio channels covered within FRS are best suited for simple walkie-talkie uses like entertainment purposes, especially for children. On the other hand, the GMRS channels might be more suitable for important personal uses and serious communication.

Common Functions Related to Radio Channels

The following are some common functions related to radio channels which are usually performed on a walkie-talkie:

  • Scanning Radio Channels: Every walkie-talkie has a built-in list of radio channels and the device is pre-programed to only function at the frequency levels of these channels. The scan function of a walkie-talkie allows the user to briefly listen to every radio channel at which the walkie-talkie has been configured to function.
  • Switch Radio Channels: Walkie-talkies usually have certain functional buttons dedicated to switching between radio channels. A user must consult the device’s manual to identify the button dedicated for performing this function.
  • Radio Channels for Weather Report: The NOAA Weather Radio is a network of 24 hours functional radio stations spread across the United States. These are accessible through walkie-talkies. A user must consult the manual of their device to locate the button which allows them to switch from two-way communication channels to the weather network.
  • Different channels of the network are dedicated to broadcasting the weather report of different regions. It is up to the user to identify the channel dedicated to their desired region’s weather report.

Common Light Indicators

The light indicator of a walkie-talkie gives necessary information about its battery levels. These indications can be given in the form of lights of different colors, which can be steady or flashing. Users of a walkie-talkie must always be mindful of their device’s battery levels in order to ensure that they can effectively make use of their walkie-talkies whenever needed.

Following are some common light indicators given by a handset to indicate different statuses of the device’s battery level:

  • A steady green light indicates a fully charged walkie-talkie. A flashing green light indicates that the walkie-talkie has almost been charged fully and just requires some more time to reach the 100% charged level.
  • A steady orange light indicates that the battery of a walkie-talkie is in reconditioning mode, also known as initializing mode. This is an important function developed in walkie-talkies in order to preserve their battery life.
  • Whenever we plug a handset into charge, the battery is first drained completely before the charging process begins again. This is the reconditioning or initializing mode and is indicated by the steady orange light.
  • The amount of time taken by the walkie-talkie to complete the reconditioning of its battery depends on the battery levels of the device when it was plugged in for charging.
  • A flashing orange light indicates that the walkie-talkie is plugged into the power outlet and its battery is waiting to begin charging. This wait might be occurring due to low battery voltage or excessively low or high battery temperatures which cannot facilitate safe charging.
  • A flashing red light indicates that the battery of the walkie-talkie is not receiving electricity properly due to insufficient contact with the power outlet.
  • A steady red light indicates that the walkie-talkie is in rapid charge mode.
  • A flashing light alternating between red and green can indicate the end of a walkie-talkie’s battery life. In such a case, it is advisable to get the device’s battery replaced as soon as possible.

Understanding the Jargon Used in Walkie-Talkie Communication

Specific jargon has developed for communicating using walkie-talkies. Walkie-talkie lingo is useful since it facilitates proper adherence to radio communication etiquettes. It allows clear communication which is precise without engaging the communication line for too long.

Following are some basic words and phrases used while communicating using walkie-talkies:

  • “Come in” is a phrase followed by the name of the desired respondent in order to ensure that their attention is on the message about to be delivered.
  • The word “affirmative” is used to indicate ‘yes’.
  • The word “negative” is used to indicate ‘no’.
  • “Disregard” is used to inform the listener that the previous message has to be ignored.
  • “Roger” is used to indicate that the message received has been understood.
  • The phrase “on it” indicates that the instructions delivered in the message received are being carried out. This phrase must only be used when the instructions given are actually being carried out.
  • “Copy” is another way to express that the message has been understood.
  • Conversely, “do you copy”, sometimes spoken as “do you read”, is a method of asking if the receiver has understood the message delivered to them.
  • “Go again” is used to indicate that the previous message could not be discerned fully and is in need of being repeated.
  • “Over” indicates that a person has completed their part of the communication and are now expecting a reply.
  • “Over and out”, or simply “out” indicates that the transmission for the time being has ended.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

A rookie user of a walkie-talkie may face certain problems when starting out in using the device. An important point to keep in mind is to thoroughly read the manual accompanying the walkie-talkie to avoid common problems.

The following is a list of common questions beginners ask and the answers to them:

1. How do I unlock my walkie-talkie?

A walkie-talkie must always be locked when at rest. This is to ensure that the channel settings do not get disturbed. Different walkie-talkies have different methods of locking and unlocking them.

For example, the Motorola Talkabout 5500 requires pressing down on the Menu button for three seconds until a beep is heard. The beep indicates that the walkie-talkie has been unlocked.

2. How can I reset my walkie-talkie to factory settings?

A walkie-talkie might face issues such as transmission problems, crashes, and poor connectivity at times. While there may be a possibility that the walkie-talkie is damaged and needs repair, a lot of times these issues sort themselves out on their own if the walkie-talkie is reset to factory settings.

Walkie-talkies from different manufacturers have different ways of resetting them. One such example is of the Kenwood ProTalk Series two-way radios. In order to reset them, one has to ensure the device is switched off.

Then we must press and hold down on the PTT button, the Side One Key, and the Side Two Key, and proceed to switch on the radio. After holding down on the buttons for two seconds until the LCD screen has lit up, we have to release the buttons.

The device would create a beeping sound indicating that it has been reset to factory settings.

3. How should I store my walkie-talkie?

A walkie-talkie must always be stored in a place free of any humidity. These devices have a very high tendency of getting damaged if water reaches their circuitry.

Thus, proper care is a must for them. Care should also be taken about the temperature of the storage place. It should never be too hot and there must not be any prolonged exposure to direct sunlight.

Lastly, one must always switch off the walkie-talkie and remove its battery before storing it. Effectively following these steps allows a long and healthy life for the device and its battery.

4. Why is there such a poor reception of signals by my walkie-talkie?

A walkie-talkie can only successfully send and receive radio signals when its antenna is functioning properly. Thus, poor reception is almost always a result of a problem with the antenna.

Setting aside cases of actual damage to the antenna which can only be fixed by a technician, a common mistake that rookie users make is putting down their walkie-talkie or not holding it upright enough.

The antenna of the walkie-talkie has to be vertical so that it can provide good reception. In fact, putting down the device can decrease its signal capability by 50%.

5. Why is the speaker quality of my walkie-talkie so poor?

There maybe issues in the speaker quality of a walkie-talkie due to a variety of reasons. Some reasons for this problem require technical assistance. However, a lot of times this problem is caused by the very simple issue of unclean speaker grill.

The speaker of a walkie-talkie is enclosed within a grill to ensure its protection. Over time, this grill may build up a lot of dust and debris with usage. A careful cleaning of the speaker grill may improve the sound quality of a walkie-talkie instantly.

6. What is the ‘whisper function’ and how do I enable it in my walkie-talkie?

The Whisper Function or Whisper Mode of a walkie-talkie allows its user to deliver messages in the form of whispers without compromising on the quality of the message delivered. This mode is especially useful for hunters who do not want to be heard while out tracking game.

7. How do I record conversations on my walkie-talkie?

Walkie-talkies do not have an in-built function to record conversations. However, it is extremely simple to record the conversations taking place on them. All one has to do is to plug in an aux cable into the earpiece jack of the walkie-talkie and connect it to a regular recorder. This will ensure that the recording takes place.

The diverse information covered so far provides a rookie user with all the information that they need for effectively using their walkie-talkie. As walkie-talkies gain back their importance as a significant mode of communication, more and more people will require such information to take proper care of their devices while using them.

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