DennisBeaverFebruary 1, 2014 • By Dennis Beaver

Following our recent articles on deceptive-range claims made by manufacturers of consumer walkie talkies, we were contacted by “Hank,” a reader in California’s Central Valley whose agriculture and ranching-related business requires using FCC-licensed, commercial two-way radios and, as his email notes, “which are expensive — and not something you want to replace without a very good reason.”

He was hours away from doing just that until his wife suggested contacting You and the Law. With the help of a friend of this column, Ben Burns, CEO of Harbor City-based Discount Two Way Radio, we were able to keep a con’s hands out of Hank’s pocket.

“Over the past couple of years, I’ve been getting phone calls from a salesman at the company who sold us our existing radios about six years ago. His most recent call seemed urgent. He said that unless we replace all of our radios with current technology, digital units in order to operate legally — something about an FCC narrow-band requirement — I could lose my license and face a possible $16,000 daily fine.

“The price quoted for these new radios was $22,000. I don’t want to get into trouble with the FCC and we depend on radios in our work, so I was really worried,” he wrote.

No need to buy new radios — no such FCC digital qequirement

“Your reader is one of many people who are hearing the same completely false message about the need to replace existing radios with the newer digital technology,” Burns told us.

“Business, school districts, even police and fire departments all over America are being told by unethical and dishonest sales reps that they have to replace their analog radios with digital. But, generally, if your existing analog units are less than 10 years old, they can be easily reprogrammed to meet the FCC narrow-band requirements, which became law in January 2013 and allow for a better use of the radio spectrum.

“Reprogramming is very simple, with some radio dealers charging $50 a radio, and many others, like our company, doing it for free.

“But what if your radios are too old or cannot be reprogrammed to meet these FCC requirements?” we asked.

“Then you will need to purchase new units,” Burns points out, “but this does not mean you have to buy digital equipment. And I must stress this point. Even though we sell digital radios, I would like your readers to know that for most applications, you don’t need them. Save your money.”

Digital is in its infancy — remember Beta Max-VHS-Blue Ray-HD-DVD?

“Yes, digital two-way radio is a great technology, has many advantages over analog and the industry is moving in that direction, but it is in its infancy just like the Beta Max vs. VHS, Blu-Ray and HD-DVD with no one standard yet a clear winner,” he stressed.

“At present, digital is very expensive when compared to analog and in most cases, you don’t need it. No one should be frightened or feel threatened into making any buying decision, and that’s what is so irritating about these unscrupulous, commission-chasing radio salespeople,” concluded Burns, CEO of one of America’s largest retailers of two-way radio equipment for business, government and public safety.

Must replace your older radios? Cash for Clunkers

We asked John Strand, a now-retired AT&T Central California supervisor of network operations, to explain “narrow banding” and why it is so important:

“It’s a two-for-one, allowing twice as many users to be in the same radio spectrum, like fitting 20 quarts of milk in the same space as 10 took up before.

“But if you are not narrow-banded, then your transmissions will likely cause interference with other radio users — which we call splatter — often serious enough to disrupt communications, not to mention the possible trouble you could get into with the FCC.”

So, let’s say your radios are too old to be reprogrammed and must be replaced. Prior to the FCC requirement becoming effective, both radio manufacturers and retailers had attractive trade-in programs. Most — but not all — have ended.

Reminiscent of the 2009 “Cash for Clunkers” federal program to encourage buying new cars, Burns along with RCA has a similar, trade-in allowance program, with online videos hosted by Erik Estrada from the Chips television series, which ran from 1977 to 1983.

If you enjoyed Chips, then watching Estrada’s infomercial may bring back memories of a different, perhaps a more carefree, happier time in your life. The information is useful, and you’ll get a kick out of Estrada, in his uniform, selling radios. He was a nice guy in the TV series, and still is.

You’ll find it on

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.