Decipher Two-Way Radio Features and Terminology

Sometimes you need a glossary just to figure out the best radio for your needs.

You’re ready to rent two-way radios, but after one quick glance at a radio product page you realize you’re in over your head.

“What are all of those features? What’s a VOX? Do I even want a VOX?”

The good news is that most of the time, using a two-way radio isn’t much different than the walkie-talkies you may have used as a kid – you just press a button and talk. However, today’s radios have a lot of features that may come in handy during your rental period, so it’s important to choose the right radio for you needs.

That’s why we’ve compiled a list of common radio features. To keep from overwhelming you even more, we’re limiting the features to what our rental radios currently offer.


Analog signals are the basic way that radios have communicated since the invention of the first walkie talkie. Traditional analog two-way radios typically come with standard options, such as push-to-talk, scanning, limited encryption options and simple one-on-one or group conversations.


DMR stands for Digital Mobile Radio – a standard for digital radio communication. As you might expect, digital radios have many more features compared to radios in analog mode (more than we can cover here). They offer better voice quality and can even block out background noise. This makes them ideal in loud environments. They also offer more channels, better coverage and longer battery life.

NOTE: Radios in digital mode cannot communicate with radios in analog mode. Many digital radios can switch to analog mode, but they lose the digital features.


This is the maximum amount of power (in Watts) that the radio uses for transmission. More power means wider coverage. Handheld radios typically use up to 5 watts. Many radios allow you to adjust the power to suit your needs.


These are the frequencies the radio is capable of using. If you are trying to use different models or brands of radios, it’s important that they are capable of communicating in the same frequency range.


These are two different frequency bands with different properties. VHF offers wider coverage than UHF when used outdoors, but it doesn’t work well indoors. On the other hand, UHF signals can penetrate thick walls within buildings while still offering good coverage outdoors. Because of the balanced nature of UHF, it’s the standard option for rental radios.


Channels are groups of frequencies. They provide a way to separate your staff into groups. For example, an event organizer might put security and catering staff on different channels so that they wouldn’t need to hear each other.


While some staff members will only communicate on their given channel, others (like management) may need to monitor multiple channels. Priority scan monitors all the selected channels while constantly monitoring one channel that’s given higher priority.


These are radios that can be used with a repeater. A repeater is installed at a fixed location with the sole purpose to receive a signal and then retransmit the same signal at a higher strength. A repeater can greatly increase coverage.


Most two-way radio vendors won’t even bother to quote a maximum range because there are too many factors involved – trees, buildings, vehicles or anything that could interfere with line of sight. A radio used on water may transmit for more than 5 miles while the same radio used in an urban setting may not even reach a mile. In general, a 2 Watt radio should be able to transmit about 3 miles outside, 300,000 square feet inside and as much as 5 stories within a building. A 4 Watt radio should be able to transmit about 5 miles outside, 400,000 square feet inside and as much as 15 stories within a building. Again, your results may vary.


Available on digital radios, this feature reduces background noise to allow clear, understandable transmissions in heavy noise environments.


The big button on the side of a radio. If you want to transmit you push the button which opens the channel for transmission. The simplicity and speed of PTT is one of the reasons that two-way radios are better than cell phones during emergencies and busy situations.


Increases privacy by encrypting the signal being transmitting. Anyone with a non-compatible radio on the same channel will only hear noise or garbled transmission.


Also stands for “Voice Operated Switch” or “Voice Operated Transmit.” VOX mode uses your voice to start transmitting a message instead of pushing the PTT button. Requires a hands-free headset. Does not work well in noisy environments.


Also called “Channel Announce,” allows the user to hear which channels they are switching between instead of having to look down at the radio.


Many radio features, including custom frequencies, can be programmed into these radios. Some radios can be programmed using the device’s interface, while others must be connected to a PC.


Buttons for activating features. Many features on a radio can be used only if they are programmed into one of these buttons.


A control that cuts off the speaker or headphone when no signal is present, keeping you from hearing a “hiss or crackle” on the radio.

So that’s a short list of two-way radio features. It’s only the tip of the iceberg, but it should be enough for you to make a more intelligent choice on which radio you need to rent.

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