January 18, 2014 • By Dennis Beaver
Have you been thinking about buying a pair of walkie talkies, perhaps for use while camping, car-to-car communications or keeping in touch with your kids while they’re out bicycling in the neighborhood?
Consumer two-way radios are sold just about everywhere — Costco, Sam’s Club, Target, Best Buy, Wal-Mart, Office Depot, the list goes on — and for well under $100, the technology crammed into them is truly unbelievable.
And there’s much more that’s unbelievable.
A lot people who purchased these radios have good reason to believe that someone is just begging to be sued for false advertising. That “someone” includes just about every manufacturer of these radios, and retailers who know full well that they have put on their floor products which, when used as advertised, don’t deliver.
We are talking about grossly exaggerated range claims — the distance stated or implied — that you can reasonably expect to communicate. And when some of these radios claim, on their package, “perfect for emergency preparedness,” knowing just how short a distance the radio’s range is likely to be, an Academy Award for cynicism is merited.
So, before opening your wallet, when you are in the store, grab your cellphone, go into any search engine and type the name and model of the radio you’re looking at and “walkie talkie exaggerated range claims,” “false advertising,” “fraud,” “consumer fraud” or other variations.
For technical help with our story, we would like to thank Ian Poole, editor of Radio-Electronics.com, who spoke to us from his office in Surrey, England, and from Ben Burns, CEO of Discount Two Way Radio (www.discounttwo-wayradio.com) in Harbor City, who specializes in radios for police, fire and commercial applications.
‘Two blocks — half a mile at most — around the corner, forget it!’
“I often hear from people who have every right to feel a victim of deceptive advertising, when they only got about two blocks, a half a mile at most, and if one of them walked around the corner, forget it!” Burns stated.
“Seeing ‘18-mile range’ in big red letters, or 24, 35 and one even claims 50 miles, the average consumer reasonably expects to be able to communicate over that stated distance, or something fairly close to what the box shows. I would compare this with auto mileage per gallon statements. We don’t expect to get precisely what the manufacturer claims, but if we’re close, that’s OK.
“Could you imagine if some impressive MPG claim was the result of coasting downhill in neutral? Of course not, as cars aren’t tested that way. But radio manufacturers obtain their amazing range figures under conditions which do not reflect the way these radios are actually used in the real world, using true but misleading numbers to sell the product.
“No kidding, they have someone standing on top of a mountain, or on the roof of a tall building and the other person miles away, with no structures or any obstructions in between. They will typically use the term ‘line of sight,’ and most people have no idea what that means,” Burns observes, adding, “and then the box that the radios come in often shows them in the forest, or for emergency communications — all the uses which you cannot possibly rely on them to deliver.”
Poole explains the significance of the term “line of sight”:
“These are line-of-sight radios, so as long as you can see the other person — no obstructions or structures in between which interfere with their low power transmissions — you can generally communicate over long distances with good equipment, especially if your radios have good antennas.
“But even if you are both standing in the middle of the same street as these radios are generally 1/2 up to 1 1/2 watts and use very small antennas, you’re lucky with half a mile. Radio waves don’t like trees, foliage, buildings, cars, concrete, metal, all the things you find in a city, and that’s why a couple of blocks is all that you can generally expect to get under those conditions,” he points out.
“Just think, if these consumer two-way radios worked as they claim on the box, everyone would have one and there would be no need to have a cellphone! Or the hundreds of thousands of dollars police and fire departments could save by simply handing out $35 radios to their staff?” Burns commented with just the right amount of sarcasm in his voice.
The distance claims are a perfect example of “What the big print gives, the small print takes away,” as Kingsburg reader “Sammy” would discover one Saturday afternoon after “munching my way through two of my favorite stores, Costco and Sam’s Club.”
Next time: his story and our test results.
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.