An Upgrade to Radio Communications
Updated: Oct 1, 2020
In the past the TNR has used UHF FRS radios (tuned to FRS Channel 4 and Privacy Code 20) for active communication during the ride. These handheld radios have some strong advantages, mainly that they are very inexpensive and do not require any sort of licensure to operate. As great as that sounds they do have some even stronger disadvantages, mainly an extremely limited range, especially in a city where UHF signals are easily blocked by buildings, trees and other obstacles. These radios fail at exactly the point where you need them the most. That is, when the ride gets separated or the tail is trailing far behind. Not to mention that poor radio reliability/clarity at any range in a medical emergency is a serious problem.
In an effort to solve those problems, we ran trial runs on September 22nd, and September 29th of 2020. After working out a few simple bugs with the radios on the 22nd, operation was flawless on the 29th. I'm happy to announce that the TNR has now officially switched from FRS to 2-meter VHF Simplex operation using handheld amateur radios. This greatly extends our range and reliability, while still transmitting at very low power. VHF radio waves are better suited to city communications as they are much longer and find their way over, around and through obstacles.
Note: You may of course continue to use your FRS radios to communicate between your friends or others on the ride. That is not changing. The change is that if you want to speak directly with the leader or the tailgunner over the radio during the ride you will need a 2-meter band VHF transceiver and a license. No one is trying to stop you from using nor cares if you are using FRS.
If you have a 2-meter band receiver (scanner) you can listen to our communications without a license. If you would like to help-out and interact with us for greater safety and redundancy we encourage you to do so. You can obtain an amateur radio license and then have the lawful ability to transmit as well as receive. These licenses are available to anyone, provided you are willing to read a book and take a test. If you're interested, please feel free to ask us any questions you might have. Those already licensed can jump-in and start helping at any time. These are the frequencies and settings we are currently using:
TNR Channel 1: 146.420 MHz (DCS Code 023)
This is our primary channel and we have programmed our handhelds to transmit on this frequency at low power (2 watts).
TNR Channel 2: 147.420 MHz (DCS Code 023)
This is our secondary channel to be used if coms are interupted or if the operational range has been exceeded on Channel 1. We have programmed our handhelds to transmit on this frequency at high power (5 watts).
I've organized it this way to minimize fumbling with the radios while riding or performing other tasks. This way if there is an issue of any kind, everyone knows to simply switch to channel 2 and that should solve a variety of issues.
Again if you're curious about obtaining a license or helping out, please ask any questions you might have. This concludes the announcement. Happy Tuesday!... and 73.
Update and additional information...
What is the reason 146.420 and 147.420 were selected as the TNR channels?
First, these 2-meter simplex frequencies are in congruence with the AZ amateur radio band plan. Second, 4(20), that is, channel 4 and privacy code 20 has always been used by TNR on FRS. Using 146.420 and 147.420 is paying homage to tradition and also it makes the frequencies easier to remember, especially for those who have experience using FRS radios for the TNR.
What is DCS?
DCS (Digital Code Squelch) is a method of squelch control that uses a digital code to open the squelch on your radio. This is similar to analog CTCSS and is essentially the more advanced digital replacement for CTCSS. This prevents radios that are not using the same DCS code from breaking the squelch on your radio. In application and for example, this allows the leader and tailgunner to talk back and forth to each other without other signals interfering. The signal must carry the digital code in order for either of them to hear it.
Why are you using DCS instead of CTCSS?
It was suggested to me by another TNR rider that is also a HAM that we use CTCSS instead of DCS, just in case someone wanted to use an older radio that did not have the DCS feature. That is a valid argument, but so far it's just the two of us and we both have the same radio and thus the same features. Also the model of radio we use was brought to the US market in 2004. This is by no means a new technology and I believe it is a standard feature on just about any VHF handheld purchased within the last 15+ years. If someone wants to use an older radio that does not have DCS, please bring it to our attention and we will cross that bridge when we come to it.
The above paragraph still does not answer the question. Keep in mind, I am not an expert in these matters, but after reading the manual for my radio it would seem that CTCSS is only mentioned for use in regards to duplex operation (repeater operation) and makes no mention of simplex (direct radio to radio operation). The section on DCS however, specifically states that it is "quite useful" for simplex operation. Beyond that, we have tested it, and it seems to work exceedingly well, so we're going to continue using it until we have a reason to change.
Why are you using DCS code 023 specifically?
Because it's the first code that comes up on the screen when you set up the Yaesu FT-60R to use DCS. There is no other reason or significance. It's just to make the setup one step simpler if you happen to be using the same radio.