DennisBeaverSeptember 6, 2014   •  By Dennis Beaver

“I cannot tell you who I work for, but if you go to Costco and find a bubble package of Motorola Talkabout 2-Way Radios, flip it over and read the information that describes how far–the range–you can get, I think you will be very pleased.”

Thus began an extraordinary phone call, the result of two articles we wrote earlier this year: Walkie-Talkies With a 35 Mile Range and Deceptive Walkie-Talkie Range Claims Ripping off Buyers.

To review briefly, our reader, Sammy, a member of Sam’s Club and Costco, “Found Motorola Talkabout radios on sale at both stores, and the 35 mile range claim on the package really sold me,” he told You and the Law.

But he only got less than ½ a mile, in a residential area, the same distance we obtained in our tests.

The articles did not mention any manufacturer by name, because they all make similar range claims.

“The only radios claiming a 35 mile range sold by those two stores were from Motorola,” my mystery caller stated. “You got some very serious discussions started at high levels. Accurate and much more useful information on the package was needed, and I think you’ll agree that now a buyer will have a better understanding of the range you can reasonably expect, under real-world conditions.”

How do you go from 35 miles to only half mile?

So, how do you get less than half a mile when the package states 35 miles?

“The answer lies in understanding how two-way radio waves travel,” retired AT&T Supervisor of Network Operations for Central California, John Strand of Lake Isabella told us. A radio amateur since 1962, Strand worked extensively with UHF and VHF radio systems.

“With no obstructions or structures, including houses, cars, trees, thick foliage–and we’re out in the open, at the same height–then 6 miles is as far as we can communicate. But if I am on a mountain, and you are in the valley below with no obstructions between us, this is optimal and great distances are possible.

“So when we see 12, 16, 20, 24, 35, even 50 miles on the package, these are feasible under extremely unique conditions and not the way most buyers will ever use the radios,” he points out.

“Give them to your kids who are out bicycling, to stay in touch with mom and dad, and once they round the corner and are out of sight, forget it! Only expect a couple of blocks– half a mile to a mile at most–in virtually all situations,” Strand underscores.

Now buyers have clear range guidelines – Motorola deserves praise

“It is very rare for a company to self-correct false or potentially misleading advertising,” San Francisco-based attorney, Bruce Simon told You and the Law. He is regarded as one of the nation’s leading experts in false advertising and co-author of “California Unfair Competition and Business Torts.”

“Motorola deserves praise for these actions. Usually it takes a lawsuit, but your articles appear to have been a wake-up call, and someone woke up.”

So, what does the package now look like?

For starters, the 35 mile range claim is still there, with a prominent asterisk, and this language: “Actual range will vary depending upon terrain and conditions – See package back for additional information.”

Turn it over, and you find well-done illustrations of expected communication distances:

  • Optimal/Mountain to Valley, up to 35 miles;
  • Medium/Lake, up to 9 miles;
  • Minimal/Urban up to 2 miles.

In our legal opinion, if a buyer reads all the information on the package, there is no way to argue with a straight face “I really thought I’d get 35 miles everywhere.”

When compared with the glaring lack of information on radios sold by some other manufacturers, Motorola’s approach can only be seen as consumer friendly, a real stand-out.

Will the authorities get involved?

“You can’t un-ring a bell, and there are no doubt past buyers who feel mislead, deprived of critical information which would have influenced their buying decision,” Simon notes.

“It would not surprise me if the Federal Trade Commission or a state’s attorney general looked into these range claims from all the two-way radio manufacturers,” he believes.

In fact, after our stories came out, we were contacted by an attorney with the Federal Trade Commission’s Division of Advertising Practices, and it will be interesting to see what, if anything, they do.

Next time, along with attorney Simon, we’re taking a look at the word free in a radio ad stating, “You can get the program for free, just tell us what you think about it.”

But when you call, they want to charge you $20 for shipping and handling, and that’s just the beginning.

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