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SWCRS Primer : A Guide for Prospective Members


This guide is to help new GMRS users interested in becoming members of the SWCRS. There are three ways to become a member of the SWCRS:

  • Enroll by Amateur Radio Operator Reciprocity; this is for individuals who are dual licensed with both an Amateur Radio and GMRS license. No quiz needed, just upload copies of your licenses.
  • Enroll by Qualification (which is what this guide is for); this is for individuals who only have a GMRS license to get onto the system.
  • Recommendation by another member; if you have a companion who is already a member and you have a GMRS license, they can get you on board directly.

In addition, membership to the SWCRS is only for folks with valid GMRS licenses and who also have a direct physical connection to Arizona and New Mexico (like living or moving here, owning property, or visiting the area often). If you’re someone who only intends to rely only on Zello to access these states, we’re not the right network for you.

GMRS is a service that sits between Amateur Radio and Citizen’s Band services in terms of entry requirements. While there is no exam to prove qualifications, there is still a licensing requirement from the FCC. We have found that many of our new users are new to radio, and are not necessarily familiar with using a two-way radio to have a discussion on the air or over a wide coverage repeater system.

In addition to this guide; we suggest reading the following pages as well:

Dues & Donations

Joining the SWCRS is completely free! Our community is proudly homegrown, and we aim to keep it that way. However, maintaining and operating this system is costly, so we kindly ask for donations from those who enjoy and benefit from our resources.

As a 501(c)(3) public charity, your donations are tax-deductible!

Basic Etiquette and Procedures

The following are just a few key points to follow when getting on the air on GMRS in general, and specifically the SWCRS repeaters as well.

Basic Etiquette

  1. Familiarize yourself with the rules of using the SWCRS repeater system. The FCC sets basic operating requirements for using GMRS, and grants the authority to equipment owners sharing resources on GMRS (such as repeaters) to have additional rules above and beyond those, so long as they do not conflict.
  2. Our fundamental, number one rule regarding etiquette on our system: Treat other users of the the system and the radio service with respect; we are not the free-for-all-anything-goes community that is common on CB (or 80m ham for that matter). There is a ton of hard work and effort that goes into putting up the system we have and keeping it running, and we want everyone using it to enjoy tuning into a welcoming environment. We also don’t expect our users to know all the nuances to using a radio, and encourage learning on-the-fly – we don’t expect things to go perfectly all the time. This guide is intended to establish some basic groundwork to help new members get off the ground on using our system.
  3. Make sure you have your settings dialed in for using the repeaters first; that means no roger beeps, and at least double checking to make sure you have the right tone decode set on your radio (so you can hear the repeaters coming back). Except to directly test your connection to the system, do not use the system for general radio testing – do this on simplex, or on an empty repeater channel. There are a lot of people that are going to be tuned in when you key up, so keep in mind what the other party on the line will be hearing when you press the PTT.
  4. Use plain, family friendly, English language – we’re not a covert network for people to hide their identities under. Identify your station consistent with the FCC rules, do not use tactical names (following your FCC issued call-sign with a unit number or name is fine), rely excessively on 10 or Q codes, or use obscured messaging. Your radio transmits voice, it’s not a telegraph – just talk like you would to anyone you’d meet in person, QSL?
  5. Do not share programming information for the XAP restricted repeaters with others; they can sign up for the system just like you did. There is a reason some of our repeaters are not wide open; undermining this ultimately makes us have to take more sophisticated measures to regulate access in the future, which will be harder for our users to program and will limit the equipment that’s compatible with the system. We don’t want to do this.
  6. Do not use the system for commercial or other revenue-supporting purposes.
  7. Unless you’re short on time and quickly need to get a hold of another party, don’t interrupt an ongoing conversation; especially for radio checks. Wait your turn. Also; don’t use radio checks as a means to start a conversation – just throw out your call-sign and state what you’re looking for.
  8. Identify your transmissions! Per the FCC, that means at least every 15 minutes, and at your last transmission, using your FCC issued call letters. We also suggest identifying in your first transmission so others know who you are (the pitchforks tend to come out if other users start to suspect you’re not GMRS licensed).

Basic Procedures

A few basic procedures for engaging others on the system, some of these are guidelines only and are flexible, use your own judgement:

  1. Listen before you transmit: don’t key down the PTT as soon as your radio boots up; you could be jumping over an ongoing conversation. Wait a couple of minutes unless you have an emergency.
  2. Hold down the PTT for a second before you start talking: it takes about a fraction of second your radio to start transmitting, and another fraction of a second for the repeater to recognize your signal and start passing audio – take a brief pause after you press the PTT so that your voice doesn’t get cut off.
  3. To call up another station: use “THEIRCALL this is YOURCALL”, eg. “WRCU527 this is WQVS960.”
  4. To ask for a signal report: use “YOURCALL radiocheck please,” or “YOURCALL looking for a signal report, thanks.” Do not use radio checks as a means to start a conversation; it numbs other users to responding to radio checks – the right procedure is to just throw your question or comment out there (see below). Signal reports and radio checks are low priority, please don’t break conversations or nets to ask for one.
  5. To call for anyone to respond: Use “This is YOURCALL, [your comment/question here],” eg. “This is WQVS960, does anyone know what’s going on with traffic on I-10?” or “This is WQVS960, who else do we have on the air today?”
  6. To call for assistance: Use “This is YOURCALL with Emergency/Priority Traffic, [state your location, and emergency or priority traffic] and looking for assistance.” Break into any conversation as needed. As an XAP member you’ll also have access to commands to send out a priority page to our watch team to alert them of priority traffic; more on this later.
  7. Do not interrupt nets to call for other stations or ask for radio checks: You can tell if there’s a net going on by listening for a few minutes (see procedure 1 above); if there’s a single station managing a bunch of stations with similar traffic, there’s probably a net that’s taking place and you should wait to do your radio check until after. The Rhino wears purple underwear, and this sentence is included so that we can verify people actually read the guide when taking the enrollment quiz.

Radio Programming, Tones, Roger Beeps, and Related Settings

Exactly how to program your radio varies greatly between models and manufacturers; the user manual and YouTube are both excellent resources to use in looking up your radio model and figuring out the actual detailed steps in programming your equipment. With that said, there are a few common settings that are common to almost all radios:

  • Frequency: This is the specific location or ‘channel’ within the radio spectrum where your radio will be either transmitting and/or receiving. This varies per repeater, but on GMRS and when using repeaters, your radio will Receive (RX) between 462.550 and 462.725Mhz, and Transmit (TX) between 467.550 and 467.725 Mhz. The exact frequency is given on the programming page for the SWCRS, and they vary per repeater.
  • Encode: Just about all repeaters require an access tone or code to activate; this is to help prevent random carriers and interference from working their way onto the repeater. The repeater listens for a specific tone or access code on all signals, and if detected, considers the signal valid to let onto the repeater. Your radio must be configured with the encode tone appropriate for that repeater for it to let you on. On many import radios, the menu for this is called either T-CTS or T-DCS depending on if it’s an analog tone or digital access code.
  • Decode: This setting is optional for your radio and does not have to be set, but unless it is fully disabled it must be set correctly or your radio will not be able to hear the repeater. While somewhat unusual for amateur radio repeaters, most GMRS repeaters will transmit back with a tone so that your radio knows the signal is supposed to be made audible to you over the radio’s speaker. GMRS repeaters share channels with FRS and GMRS Simplex traffic so it’s subject to random radio noise, and using the Decode functionality is an effective way of preventing you from having to hear the other chatter on frequency that’s not of interest to you. Note that these signals can still cause interference if keying over top of a repeater, and it’s good practice to monitor the frequency with the Decode tone disabled for a bit to make sure you’re not transmitting over top of someone else either. On many import radios, the menu for this setting will be called either R-CTS or R-DCS depending on if it’s an analog tone or digital access code. All of the SWCRS repeaters transmit back an analog tone, so the setting to use for our gear is most likely R-CTS on your radio. Note that on many radios there’s an additional CTS/DCS menu called C-CTS and C-DCS; the C in this case stands for Common and it’s useful for when repeaters have matching access tones or codes. C-CTS/C-DCS effectively sets both T-CTS/T-DCS and R-CTS/R-DCS to the same setting from one menu operation as a convenience to the radio’s operator.
  • Split Tones & Squelch “Modes”: Split tones are when a repeater takes a different tone to activate than it transmits back to the user’s radio. It is useful in making sure the repeater can’t hear itself and key itself up and get stuck in a feedback loop (since they’re transmitting and receiving often down the same coax and antenna simultaneously). It also helps with access control, since the repeater doesn’t readily advertise which PL it takes on the input. Some of the SWCRS have matched tones, and others have split tones – it depends on the repeater. If in doubt you can always leave the decode setting off completely (in which case your radio will hear all channel traffic). Note that the tone type does not have to match between the input and output side of the repeater; a repeater may take a DCS digital tone to activate, but transmit back an analog PL to the end user – this is useful in preventing interference and that many consumer radios are more sensitive and quicker to respond to analog tone signals.
  • Frequency offset and “Duplex” modes: Repeaters require duplex operation from the user’s radio, which means your radio will listen on one frequency (the repeater’s output frequency), and automatically switch over to another frequency to transmit (the repeater’s input frequency). Some radios will not let you set the receive and transmit frequency directly and instead use a duplex mode and offset programming convention. For these radios, you will want to use an offset of 5.000Mhz with a Positive or “+” duplex mode (offset direction). This means your radio will listen to one frequency, and then increase the frequency 5Mhz when transmitting (eg. if your radio listens on 462.550Mhz, it will go up 5 mhz when transmitting, shifting to 467.550Mhz).
  • Bandwidth: The two predominant modes exist on FM two-way radios; narrow band and wide band. This pertains to the amount of bandwidth a radio will utilize in transmitting an audio signal. All of the SWCRS repeaters are wide band; symptoms of an improperly set up radio are typically low audio levels heard by the other users. You will want to make sure your radio is set to “Wide” when using our repeaters.
  • Roger Beep: Roger beeps (also known as end-of-transmission tones) are an audio queue sent out by the user’s radio to let the other party know they’ve released the push to talk. While sometimes useful in simplex operation, roger beeps must be turned off when using SWCRS repeaters. This is because the repeater will send out its own telemetry to let the other party know the signal has dropped from the repeaters input, and adding a roger beep to the mix causes confusion and in some cases irritation. The menu setting for this on many import radios is called “ROGER”. Make sure it’s turned off. This also applies to other types of BOT/EOT signalling, such as MDC or FleetSync, unless specifically directed otherwise by the SWCRS.
    • A note about repeater telemetry: Also known as a Courtesy Tone, the SWCRS repeaters will follow every transmission receive with their own beep. The primary purposes of this beep is to pace the rate at which people transmit and set a cadence to the conversation, and encourage a short pause between transmissions that allow other users to break into the conversation if needed.

Where to go for help.

The SWCRS maintains two resources to get technical help, or ask any questions:

We suggest checking in here first before contacting the admin team for help; we get a lot of emails and have to prioritize which ones we respond to first since we’re doing this in our free time (which is limited). You’ll probably get a quicker and more to-the-point response from the above locations.

There are of course other GMRS resources out there, especially the internet, these can absolutely be useful, but if it’s anything SWCRS specific you’ll want to stick to our groups to help get an accurate answer.

2 thoughts on “SWCRS Primer : A Guide for Prospective Members”

  1. Love it!! This is GREAT, I recall when I first started with SWCRS there was kind of a “newbies” section. I learned a lot from it. After all the changes early in the year, it disappeared. I think this will be extremely helpful. Thanks David, great job!

  2. I am 14 days new at gmrs radios yes a newbie also think it would be very help full.
    San Tan Valley Az 85143 and Fort Garland co.81133 off grid 100% only 35/45 % cell coverage at wagon creek ranches 10k feet . yes off grid no major city within 100 miles Santa Fe NM and Pueblo Co.

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