I have found an informed source that answers all of your questions in
plain English. It is an online magazine called GMRS Web that has been
created by a radio hobbyist who also has occupational experience in
I have quoted below the most directly relevant information from the
FAQ portion of the GMRS Web site, but first here is the bottom line
answer to your questions, based on the well-expressed information at
1. What is the reason for requiring a license for operation of this
Two-way radios that use the GMRS technology are more powerful than the
FRS radios that can use the same frequencies without licenses. This
makes them more prone to cause interference to other classes of
spectrum users, which is the traditional core justification for FCC
regulation. (A more detailed rationale for FCC licensing of private
radio services in general is explained below.)
2. Do most casual users get a license?
Presumably not, because, as the GMRS Web FAQ cogently states:
"Everyone has figured out there is no spectrum enforcement anyway".
3. What happens if you don't get a license?
Probably nothing, just like someone who breaks the speed limit takes a
risk of a citation, but seldom gets caught. The FCC has the power to
issue forfeitures (i.e., fines), but the likelihood of a particular
unlicensed used of a business or GMRS radio is probably low. That
does not mean, of course, that unlicensed operation is entirely
risk-free or that it is justifiable. (Indeed, the author of the FAQ
page quoted below presents a spirited defense of GMRS licensing.)
Now, here is the relevant portion of the FAQ portion of the GMRS Web
site, which provides very clear context to these brief answers:
"A license? Why do I have to license a GMRS portable radio? Who's going to care?
. . . .
"Licensing serves several purposes:
"Licensing creates an artificial barrier to spectrum access. Only
those who really need the radio apply for the license. The modern
fallacy with this argument is of course the proliferation of
unlicensed business band and GMRS radio systems already on the air.
Everyone has figured out there is no spectrum enforcement anyway.
"Licensing creates public records of licensees and their radio
stations so others seeking spectrum access can coordinate their use of
the spectrum. The FCC also has records of every system for enforcement
purposes. An operator of a malfunctioning radio, one that is causing
interference on other channels, can be identified and advised of the
malfunction much more easily.
"Licensing is a way of making sure the applicant has selected the
right radio service for the right purpose. The radio spectrum is
carved out to serve many specific interests and technical needs.
"In some cases, as in the Amateur Radio Service, licensing includes
operator licensing to insure the person operating the radio meets a
certain standard of technical proficiency and has the required
"When people go to the trouble to license their radio system and
obtain an authorized call sign they tend to take responsibility for
their actions more seriously. I say tend because this is not always
the case, particularly in the Business Radio Service.
"A lack of licensing, and ignorance of rules and proper operating
practice tends to facilitate the growth of chaos. No one is served by
limited spectrum space unless they have some idea how to use the radio
and understand that they are responsible for their actions. . . .
"The trick with licensing today is to make it easy enough so that the
average citizen who needs GMRS can understand the necessity for
licensing and yet still be able to complete the application. That's
where the many REACT organizations and the Personal Radio Steering
Group come in.
"The FCC decides who or what should be licensed and for what reasons.
Licensing requirements for many services are changing. FRS was
certainly a big change. Suddenly anyone could buy a low power radio
and use license free the same frequencies GMRS users use with a
license. Why? The FRS radios are considerably less powerful and in the
FCC's mind less likely to cause interference to licensed
communications. As the power goes up the responsibility for and
consequences of improper operation of a radio system increase.
Licensing is a necessity."
The source for all of the above is this page:
GMRS Web: FAQ
And here is a link to that site's home page, which includes links to
many other relevant sources of information about GNRS service,
including, of course, various links to relevant FCC Web pages:
An unwieldy number of results is returned from using the most obvious
search terms, such as "GMRS" and "license." In light of that fact, I
successfully used the following search, intended specifically to turn
up FAQ-type results:
gmrs license "why do I"
I am experienced in FCC processes (although not specifically in the
"private radio" area), and I was very impressed with the clarity of
the explanation of the Commission's licensing function that appears on
the GMRS Web site. I took you at your word that you did not want to
delve into FCC bureaucratic explanations, and I think that this site
fits your bill.
If anything is unclear, please ask for clarification before rating the answer.
Clarification of Answer by
04 Jun 2004 06:41 PDT
The answer depends on the power specifications of the radio and what
kind of certification the manufacturer of the equipment has obtained
from the FCC. As explained in this paragraph below from the FCC's
website, that information should be in the manual for the unit or on
its label, or both:
"Some manufacturers have received approval to market radios that are
certified for use in both the Family Radio Service (FRS) and the
General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS). Other manufacturers have received
approval of their radios under the GMRS rules, but market them as
FRS/GMRS radios on the basis that ...[s]ome channels are authorized to
both services or a user of the radio may communicate with stations in
the other service.
"Radios marketed as "FRS/GMRS" or "dual-service radios" are available
from many manufacturers and many retail or discount stores. The manual
that comes with the radio, or the label placed on it by the
manufacturer, should indicate the service the unit is certified for.
If you cannot determine what service the unit may be used in, contact
"If you operate a radio that has been approved exclusively under the
rules that apply to FRS, you are not required to have a license. FRS
radios have a maximum power of ½ watt (500 milliwatt) effective
radiated power and integral (non-detachable) antennas. If you operate
a radio under the rules that apply to GMRS, you must have a GMRS
license. GMRS radios generally transmit at higher power levels (1 to 5
watts is typical) and may have detachable antennas."
FCC: Wireless: Family Radio
Supplementary Search Strategy:
I used the following Google search to get this information:
frs "family radio" license
Although you initially asked for sources other than the FCC (for the
good reason that that it often writes in "bureaucratese"), I found
the above explanation to be unusually clear and directly to the point
of your question.
Thanks for the clarification request, and I hope that this additional
information is what you need.