Should your two-way ra­dio be mounted on the in­side of your ve­hi­cle or hung from your belt? And why should you spend thou­sands of rands if there are cheaper ver­sions avail­able? Cyril Klop­per finds out.

Go! Camp & Drive - - CONTENTS -

When you’re in the mar­ket for a pair of two-way ra­dios the big ques­tion is ob­vi­ously which type of ra­dio works best in off-road con­di­tions. You also can’t help but won­der if pricy ra­dios are re­ally that much better than their cheaper coun­ter­parts. We chat­ted to Ha­roon Isaacs, sales man­ager at Lazer Com­mu­ni­ca­tions in Cape Town.

Por­ta­ble vs mounted

You’d ex­pect por­ta­ble two-way ra­dios, or walki­etalkies, to be more ex­pen­sive than the mounted ver­sions, but the re­verse is true, de­spite the fact that por­ta­ble ra­dios use bat­ter­ies and mi­cro-cir­cuitry. Ac­cord­ing to Ha­roon, por­ta­ble ra­dios of­ten have a rel­a­tively low charge of 0,4 W or 0,5 W, which is too little to power a pow­er­ful trans­ceiver. That’s why their broad­cast and re­cep­tion ar­eas are quite weak – usu­ally no more than a few hun­dred me­tres and at most a kilo­me­tre or two. More­over, they have a small an­tenna that can never be higher than your ear, and your ve­hi­cle’s body­work acts like a Fara­day cage and may dis­rupt a por­ta­ble ra­dio’s sig­nal.

A mounted two-way ra­dio’s an­tenna, on the other hand, is usu­ally bolted onto your ve­hi­cle’s roof rack where it has an undis­turbed broad­cast and re­cep­tion sig­nal of many kilo­me­tres. This kind of ra­dio re­ceives elec­tric­ity from your ve­hi­cle and the higher wattage pro­vided can power stronger elec­tron­ics.

Ana­logue vs dig­i­tal

Think of an LP ver­sus a CD. If a turntable’s sty­lus is dirty, the mu­sic will sound scratchy. If a CD player’s laser lens is dirty, the mu­sic won’t play at all. It’s the same with ana­logue and dig­i­tal ra­dios. The sig­nal of an ana­logue ra­dio weak­ens grad­u­ally over dis­tance, and on the far­thest point of the re­cep­tion area you will strug­gle to com­mu­ni­cate. A dig­i­tal sig­nals stays clear right up to its max­i­mum range – a few steps fur­ther and the con­ver­sa­tion ceases com­pletely.


The man­date for the In­de­pen­dent Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Au­thor­ity of South Africa, or ICASA, is to reg­u­late all elec­tronic broad­casts. While the body mostly fo­cusses on the polic­ing of com­mu­ni­ca­tion gi­ants like the SABC and Mul­ti­choice, they do also keep an eye on what best friends John and Steve get up to with their walkie-talkies. >

There is no such thing as an un­li­censed two-way ra­dio. How­ever, there is a dis­tinc­tion be­tween whether only the ra­dio re­quires a li­cence and whether an op­er­a­tor also needs one to be al­lowed to use the ra­dio. ICASA de­cides which li­cence goes where. They also test ra­dios for things like chan­nel spac­ing

(if chan­nel one broad­casts on 500 MHz and chan­nel two on 501 MHz, then the spac­ing is 1 MHz), fre­quency drift (whether your broad­cast is “leak­ing” into con­ver­sa­tions on other ra­dios) and power out­put (how far your broad­cast can travel).

A 5 W ra­dio such as the Bos­vark PMR446 is li­censed through ICASA, but you don’t have to ap­ply for a per­sonal li­cence. Its use, how­ever, is lim­ited to 13 pre-pro­grammed, li­cence-free UHF chan­nels broadcasting on 446 MHz, mean­ing you can’t com­mu­ni­cate very far. But you can in­crease the Bos­vark’s power out­put to 5 W and plug in an ex­ter­nal an­tenna that will al­low you to talk up to 30 km. Un­for­tu­nately al­most ev­ery build­ing con­trac­tor and farm worker in the area will be able to lis­ten in on your con­ver­sa­tion. With a mounted ra­dio such as the Icom IC-F5062, the cap­tain of your 4WD club can ap­ply for a spe­cific li­censed chan­nel that no one else has ac­cess to. Your per­sonal ra­dio is then pro­grammed to broad­cast on this chan­nel and you may chat to your mates with­out hav­ing a per­sonal li­cence.

Other fac­tors

Ha­roon ex­plains that weather con­di­tions and ge­og­ra­phy play a huge role in sig­nal qual­ity. On a cool, partly cloudy day your ra­dio will per­form best. On a scorch­ing hot day in the iron-rich sand dunes of the Kgala­gadi your ra­dio will per­form poor­est. Ha­roon sug­gests you con­nect your ra­dio di­rectly to the ve­hi­cle bat­tery so that it can re­ceive power di­rectly and can re­main switched on even when your ve­hi­cle is turned off. If your ra­dio is plugged into the cig­a­rette lighter you must set it to low power us­age mode, oth­er­wise it’s not go­ing to per­form well or you might even blow a fuse.

Ra­dio pro­ce­dures

If you were or still are in the army, you would def­i­nitely have learned ra­dio pro­ce­dures. The ba­sic prin­ci­ple is that ev­ery­one gets a turn to speak – not si­mul­ta­ne­ously like on a phone. A two-way ra­dio con­ver­sa­tion goes some­thing like this:

“Bill, Bill, Steve here, over,” Steve calls Bill. Bill’s name is re­peated so that Will, who is in the car next to Bill, doesn’t think it’s him be­ing called. Steve ends with “over” so that Bill knows it’s his turn to speak.

“Bill here, send, over” let’s Steve know Bill is ready. He also ends with “over” so that Steve knows it’s his turn to talk.

“We’re turn­ing left at the big baobab. Look out for our track, out,” Steve says, short and to the point. This time Steve ends his mes­sage with “out” to let John know he has noth­ing left to say.

“Left at the baobab. Fol­low your track, out.” Bill con­firms. He re­peats the key con­cept to in­di­cate that he un­der­stood the mes­sage. He also ends with “out” and thus the con­ver­sa­tion ends.

No one plays AC/DC’s “High­way to Hell” for 10 min­utes over the two-way ra­dio. No “Um” or “Aah”; Steven and Bill both know what they want to say and get it over and done with.

This con­ver­sa­tion is very for­mal and you can ob­vi­ously chat with mates any way you want to. And feel free to play “High­way to Hell”, un­less your friends have other tastes. But spare a thought for oth­ers in the group as not ev­ery­one might be in the mood for your jokes or playlist.

STA­TION­ARY OR MO­BILE? Hand-helds are great if you need to exit your ve­hi­cle but re­main in com­mu­ni­ca­tion, but they are hand­i­capped when it comes to range. A mounted ra­dio is of­ten far more pow­er­ful and it can’t get lost or fall down a moun­tain.

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