Cherokee FR-465 plus vw
The Cherokee FR-465 radio is a very high quality FRS radio, designed strictly for the Family Radio Service. This has the 14 simplex FRS channels, and does not include the other 7 duplex channels used on GMRS. Thank you Cherokee. The little 21 channel hybrid (the polite term) radios have come to dominate the market, and have really made a mess of GMRS. They are a poor and underpowered excuse for GMRS radios, and are illegal for use by FRS users who do not have a GMRS license. A pure FRS radio, of high quality, and good construction was a welcome find. I am a ham radio operator, but frequently travel and engage in outdoor activities. This is almost always with family or friends, and a radio is an invaluable aid for such activities. Not all of my friends have ham radio licenses, and it is nice to be able to talk to them on a radio of good quality. Proper GMRS radios are available; but require licenses.
The quality of the unit is on a par with the ham radio gear I am used to. This makes it considerably better than the little blister packed radios you see in discount stores, but not as good as the professional quality radios used by police, fire, and commercial users. These are basically the same radios as my Radio Shack HTX-400, and HTX-200, as well as a number of models from other companies. A comparison photo of the FR-465 alongside an HTX-200 is shown to the right. The only visible difference is the slight extension of the battery case at the bottom of the unit. The original street price of the FR-465 was about $110.
These radios are made by Maycom in Korea - the biggest radio company you never heard of. For years, this company has been making radios for Cobra, Magnum, Radio Shack, Standard, and a number of other retailers. As with most large electronics manufacturers, a great variety of different units are produced using a few standard components and boards. these components are then tweaked to give the various radio models. The components of this radio are capable of putting out a couple of watts of RF, which is way over the legal limit for FRS. The radio has been programmed and tweaked down to the .5 watt legal requirement.
This radio is one of a series introduced by Wireless Marketing around the beginning of the century. The series included the standard FR-465, the FR-465 plus which included rechargeable batteries, and the FR-465 plus vw which has rechargeable batteries and a vibrate mode. Because of legal requirements, the FR-465 antenna is permanently mounted to the radio.
Some of the features are overkill, due to the radio being based on the same components as some ham and marine radios. As an example, you really don't need ten memories on a radio that only has fourteen channels - but what the heck? As with all of these little radios, the simple control layout, and small size require multiple key strokes to perform many of the featured functions.
The radio has several power and recharging options. The basic rechargeable pack is a NiMH unit that puts out 7.2 volts, at 550 Mah. The unit can be charged from an optional quick charger, or from the included 9v, 200 Ma transformer. Also available is a battery holder, for five AAA batteries. This can be charged right within the unit, or the batteries can be removed for charging in a standard charger.
The ham radio versions of these little beasts use a pair of AA batteries, which give less voltage, but may last a bit longer. The reason for the extended battery compartment on the FR-465 is the need for more voltage, so that the little radio can operate at .5 watts output. The little ham radios only put out 200 Mw on battery power, though they are capable of two or three watts using higher voltage external supplies. There are some mods which will permit similar levels of RF power from the FR-465. The mods are easily made, and consist largely of tweaking. They are illegal, and can be found on other parts of the web. Since my specific intention in getting these radios was to remain legal when communicating with friends and family, I have not performed these mods or included them here.
It is great to have all of these power options. The biggest menace to keeping a radio handy and useful always seems to be lost or dead batteries. AAA batteries are universal, and the rechargeable backs, though no longer available new, can always be rebuilt. My battery packs are several years old, and still hold a good charge.
Besides the many power options, Cherokee had a full line of accessories for these radios. This included an external microphone, and an assortment of cases and holsters.
Maycom produces radios for a number of companies, including marine radios. It has used some of this experience to make the FR-465 water resistant. The unit is sealed, has membrane covers over the switches, and is tightly constructed. The battery compartment is the only part of the radio not sealed, and it is unlikely that a short immersion will do much damage to the battery. All jacks and openings have water resistant caps and covers.
In addition to being water resistant, the tight dimensions and seals make the unit somewhat resistant against dirt, sand, and other hazards of the outdoors. I once had a little blister pack FRS radio destroyed, by a kid who decided to bury it in the sand on the beach.
The right side of the radio, under the permanently mounted antenna, has the expected PTT button, along with the function switch, which activates the special features of the front panel buttons. The right hand side is plain, except for a power input for a 9 volt power supply. The top of the unit has the power/on-off switch. It also has jacks for an external speaker/mike. On a unit of this size, an external mike seems overkill. Apparently, Cherokee took FRS radios very seriously.
The yellow finish is brushed plastic, and has a non slip feel like rubber. The belt clip screws on separately, rather than being molded in, and the unit has a loop for a lanyard. The unit has a number of features, many of which are probably unnecessary, and just there for marketing.
In addition to the ten memories, there is a one button call channel button. The unit has 47 privacy codes, which do not make calls private. They are a form of tone squelch. the unit also has scanning capability, either for open or busy channels. There is, in addition, a silent vibrate alert, and even the capability to automatically poll other receivers to verify they are in range. A cloning cable is available, so that you can transfer all settings and memories from one radio to another.
Admittedly, many of these features are overkill, unnecessary or just plain silly on an FRS radio. Still, this was meant to be a top of the line unit, and the features were already there on the boards and components. So why not use them?
In essence, these are handily little close range radios. A pair should be able to communicate anywhere within a large structure, around the block, or out to a distance of a mile of two, out in the country. There are no FRS repeaters or bases, nor are there supposed to be any mobiles. For any one looking for a nice FRS radio, who does not want the expense, and licensing requirements of the related GMRS band, it might not be a bad idea to keep an eye peeled for one of these little radios.