A vital communications device during the Second World War; the invention of walkie talkie radios has been attributed to Canadian inventor Donald Hewes Kings, and American born Irving J. Gross. Between these two pioneers, the first push and talk walkie talkies were patented and rolled by American communications company Motorola.
The early “walkie talkie” (Motorola SRC-300) was so named because of it’s portability, despite weighing nearly 40 pounds. It was transported on the backs of troops within a specially constructed casing similar in size to a back-pack. The design itself is somewhat alien to the minuscule models of today, with the vacuum transmitter/ receiver alone taking up a fair proportion of the internal component space. The battery also was considerably large for this war-time communications device. The SRC-300 was extremely powerful given that it was the first model to be mass-produced. (Over 50,000 were made for the war.)
Using the shorter of the two antenna, troops could avail a range of 0.5 to 1 mile, while the extended aerial allowed communications over a 3-mile radius. Latter improvements to the model included the implementation of a single tuner, eliminating the need for manual tuning every time a member of U.S infantry wished to convey a message to other personnel.
Considerable improvements were made to both the design and technology of walkie talkie radios between the late 1950’s to early 1970’s when they were used by military and security personnel on patrol within large American cities. By 1970, the size of these devices had considerably reduced, to the extent they could be mounted to personnel helmets.
By 1980, the popular walkie talkie radios were being mass produced, and were of a size that made them both light and portable. Everyone from shop security staff, to airport groundsmen were utilizing this technology for essential communications – while children were unwrapping toy models at Christmas. These play-things usually had a very short radial range (up to 200 metres), however the licensed models could reach a range of up to 6 miles.
Commercial walkie talkies also became known as hand-held transreceivers or “H. T’s”, capable of “wide-band” communication via a radio scanner. This meant that a number of walkie talkie radios could be used on one frequency, and each holder could communicate across a wider territorial area.
Today, walkie talkie radios are used by just about every commercial service you can think of; from retail to airport security, police officers to army personnel. Licensed models have a far wider range than was ever thought possible, favoured by mountain climbers and hikers to keep in touch with comrades in extremely isolated conditions.
If you’re intending upon purchasing a walkie talkie radio for professional use, such as within a taxi service or something similar, you will need to opt for the variant which operates using a frequency transmitted from a central scanner. This type allows the multiple use of a frequency for communication among several parties – ideal for taxi drivers reporting back to base. Alternate variants use a C.B radio system to which they connect for multiple or wider transmissions. Such variants are still used among the armed forces.
Licensed transreceivers tend to use a U.H.F (Ultra-High Frequency) reserved mostly for professional and commercial use, avoiding any interference from transreceivers used within domestic environments. C.B (Citizens Band) operates at a frequency of 27MHz, used by licensed hand-held radios, while the 49 MHz frequency is utilized by domestic models and 2-way baby monitor systems.
Modern walkie talkie radios don’t differ all that greatly from their 1940’s counterparts, apart from size and the range it is now possible to achieve. Users still rely upon the P.T.T (Push To Talk) concept, whereby a button must be pressed prior to communication. The listener must wait until the message is relayed prior to responding.
Most models, whether domestic or licensed, feature a tuning dial in order to “fine-tune” to the best frequency. Domestic models operate under the PMR446 (Private Mobile Radio), the frequency being 446 MHz, with around 40 channels. This frequency does not require licensing for use, and is generally the only frequency available on high-street walkie talkie radios.
Modern walkie talkies represent the most versatile form of communications device, aside from mobile phones. Weighing between 100-200 grams, most types will work with little interference over a range of 2-4 miles. In terms of power usage, most walkie talkie radios take either AA batteries, or can be recharged electronically.
Battery life can typically extend to around 20 hours. Domestic walkie talkies are quite versatile in that they can operate between 7-19 channels, switch-able if you are in close proximity to other users on the same frequency. Advanced models benefit from a voice-scrambling capability which assures privacy when conversing over any frequency.