Sunday, August 24, 2008

FCC License and Call Sign requirements

Hardly a day goes by that we don't get a call asking why an FCC license is required for operation of 2-way radios. In the briefest possible explanation, let's put this way. With the exception of low power garage door openers and similar devices, 5 watt CB radios, half watt FRS radios, and two watt MURS radios - the operation of 2-way radio requires a license.

Why is this so? Well it's like this - the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), as authorized by duly elected members of the United States Congress, says so, and they have the enforcement authority to back up their demands. They can fine you up to ten thousand dollars per day, take away any licenses you may already have and prohibit you from ever getting any type of FCC license - even put you in prison for up to ten years!

Don't take our word for it, and whatever you do, don't take the advice of some discount store clerk or sales representative that says a license isn't necessary or that you can use GMRS channels for business, or that you are "covered" by the license of another user. The one solely responsible for compliance with FCC rules is YOU!

There are basically three kinds of licenses - those for personal non-business use (GMRS), licenses for taxpayers (commercial enterprise), and licenses for tax exempt entities (government). Contrary to what the store clerk or Internet customer service representative with Bimbo Radio Sales may say, there is no such thing as a license free UHF "color dot" frequency, license free "Business Band" or GMRS channels available for business use with no license. You cannot operate under the authority of someone else with a license unless (a) you qualify under the same FCC eligibility requirements as the licensee, (b) you agree to the same terms of use as authorized to the licensee, (c) the licensee is authorized for a sufficient number of operating units to cover the number of radios you will operate under the licensees authorization, and (d) a written document exists between you and the licensee specifying the terms of the agreement.

By the way - the fact that others may be operating radios without a license does not relieve YOU from your responsibility with the FCC. Don't put it to the test - you won't like the outcome!

Speaking of requirements, there is another FCC requirement for licensed users. Every properly authorized user is assigned a call sign (just like a Radio or TV station). Every licensed user is required to periodically transmit their FCC call signs (just like your local Radio or TV station). As a 2-way radio user, you may announce your call signs at the completion of each conversation, or utilize an automatic station ID with your calls signs sent in Morse code every half hour or so. Some base station radios have this capability built in as a standard feature. External devices are optionally available at moderate cost.

While we're at it, we should mention another topic than can evoke the wrath of the FCC. Your license (once you have one) defines an area of operation, specified locations for fixed stations, authorized maximum power, bandwidth, and mode of operation (analog, digital, etc.). Operating your radios in excess of any of this defined limits is called a violation. Violations carry potentially significant penalties. To avoid such penalties, abide by the rules and all will go well for you.

To avoid a visit by gentlemen in dark suits, with badges, and driving black Fords, may we suggest you do the right thing and get a license. It will cost you a little money for preparation, coordination, and filing (with the exception of GMRS, which you can do yourself). There will be a little wait for processing, but once approved, you are good for a ten year renewable authorization. The cost will vary depending on whether your use is commercial or governmental, but for a budgetary figure, assume an average cost of $500. We'll be glad to assist. Just give us a call at 205.854.2611 or if you would like to check directly with the FCC, call 888-225-5322, or email