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Radios in Nerf Games: Hardware

This is the first article of a pair on how to start using radios in your Nerf games. With the evolution of games at the various chapels and other places where line of sight is blocked, radios are starting to become a handy tool in a Nerfer's arsenal. This post covers the hardware side of things - the radios themselves, how to program them and headset discussion.

Radios and Frequencies:

First thing you you should know is that that UK PMR (Public Mobile Radio) band is in the 446MHz band. This is the license free area and is broken down into 8 channels most well made radios designed for sale in the EU will come ready to use in this band on one of the channels. There are import radios that are set by default to other bands and that you'll need to fix (more on that later).

If you buy a radio and it can't talk to another Nerfer's radio then you've probably got issues. If that's the case, post in Q&A and we'll do what we can for you.

Example radios:

Baofeng BF-888:
These are super cheap at ~22 for 2 at the time of writing. I figure these are becoming the de facto standard for Nerf in the UK. They come with a cheap headset, a mains charger and of course the radio itself. You MUST reprogram these radios because in their stock configuration they are set to channels used by the Fire Service and Police. Programming is explored later.

Motorola Talker T40:
These are a charming red set of radios that have no headset capability. They were the first set I bought as a test run because I didn't want to get into programming and what not. They make perfect ref radios because they're brightly coloured and come with a belt clip that sits wonderfully on MOLLE.

Cobra MT645:
These are a bit more rugged than the Motorolas. They take an ear piece but I've yet to find a compatible headset microphone set up. They're much more rugged than the Motorolas and even the Baofengs but they use AAA batteries which isn't great.


Programming can be done using CHIRP software and a USB programming cable.

I've uploaded the programming file that I use for my radios here. It sets the first 8 channels to PMR 446 and leaves the rest blank. Channel 16 automatically has a hardware scanning function for all channels. If you can't be arsed to programme them yourself or you don't understand how to then drop me a PM and I'll arrange something for you. It'll usually involve sending them to me and me sending them back (you pay postage both ways, however). I will also look into getting the software working on my field laptop so I can program at events.

VOX and Push To Talk:
One of the first rules of radio comms is to never use VOX transmission which transmits as soon as your voice goes above a certain level. Push to talk (PTT) is vital since you can press a button when you've got a spare moment to spend on the transmission. If it's so urgent you can't spare the hand to press a button and talk calmly and clearly, you need to sort the tactical position so you can.

Most radios come with a button you can press to talk. It'll usually be located on the side and it will transmit only when pressed. Push to talk modules can be plugged into some radios to add an external PTT button which then connects to a higher quality headset.

External headsets and PTTs:
The Baofeng BF-888 that I linked above comes with its own headset and PTT module. You don't need more than that for most Nerf applications but you can invest in something a little more 'swaggy operator' or just more durable and better quality if you want.

Bowmen Evo III Headset w/PTT:
This one is for both lefties and righties since the boom microphone can be placed either way around. It has a full ear covering, is crystal clear and super-comfy. This is the one I use.

Cobra TEA Lightweight Headset:
This one is more 'PMC knock over some terrorists' than the Bowman which is military operator style. The Cobra is much more lightweight and fits better over a baseball cap than the Bowman. It doesn't come with a PTT, however. It is much easier to switch back and forth between hands with this one. The Bowman is a set once and leave it thing, turning the boom around is a pain but the Cobra makes it much easier. Of course, the Cobra is more expensive and you have to buy a PTT on top.

If you need advice on a decent PTT then drop me a PM and I'll dig out a link for you.

That covers the basics of radio hardware for Nerf. You don't need to spend much but it adds a lot to the game. In my next article, I'll cover the basics of communications and start bringing some of the tactical stuff you can do with them to bear. Smile

Final word: radios add extra to the game. You don't need one to have fun and it should never get to that stage. Never forget that.

Great overview.

We have started running radios at Bristol Blast for the marshalls/refs/organisers. They have been super handy as our re-spawn/start points are not in the line of sight. This allows us to communicate between each team and make sure everyone stays at spawn point until both teams are ready. It has then allowed us to end games a lot quicker when time is up.

I got to see first hand the effectiveness of a team working with tactical coms as Boff ran around with his team all link via radio.

I would agree though that whilst they add something to the game, they are by no means a must have piece of equipment.

I'd be tempted to say that other than for game organising and refs, team radios are a step too far for general Nerf games.

For me, I feel that's pushing it too much into the realms of "playing to win" rather than playing to have fun; with winning a happy bonus. Similarly it may serve to isolate/intimidate new people, or those enthusiastic amateurs that can't afford to invest in radios AND upgraded war-worthy blasters and useable tac-gear.

It also starts to put teams at disadvantages if one team has a few guys running radios, and the other team without any. This is potentially divided further when you get members of some teams working as a closed unit due to their radios, and then either not involving non-radio team mates, or arbitrarily taking charge because they've got all the gear (not saying this does happen, just that it all too easily could).

I dunno, personally I like the idea of getting all operator and similar, and it definitely has its place for some gaming scenarios. But for a lot of people, for general Nerf games, I'd say team radios are a step too far. KISS.

Would all UK/EU walkie-talkies have their pre-set channels on the same frequencies?

Not necessarily. Some will not be able to link with pre set Baofeng ones.
I would say any game where you are more than 10ft from your team mates or another potential "leader" would benefit from a radio. Shouting does no good really and is less effective than simply pinging someone. Not every player needs comms, every leader of players does.
From a safety perspective every organiser should have radio once you go over 20 players and 1 organiser! Otherwise you lose your voice.

Minky wrote:
Would all UK/EU walkie-talkies have their pre-set channels on the same frequencies?

Pretty much all off-the shelf "walkies-talkies" or "personal radios" that are publicly available at retail (other than from specialist shops) in the UK and EU will be PMR446 and so run the same 8 channels. Those that don't, like the Baofeng sets, can often be programmed to do so (in the case of sets with a screen and keypad you don't even need a computer to do so). If in doubt look for PMR446, 446MHz or "license free". There is a digital PMR446 standard aswell but that's a lot less common and most of the digital sets will also be able to run in analogue mode on the standard 8 channels. Some very cheap (i.e. children's) walkie-talkies may be restricted to fewer (often just one) channel.

Many PMR446 radios claim to have more channels (often 304 or 968) but in reality they only have 8 (or 16 in the case of digital) channels along with analogue or digital coded squelch tones that act as sort of sub-channels (which is why the number of channels tends to be multiples of 8 - on more honest descriptions you'll see something like "8 channels and 121 tones/codes"). For instance if you set your radio to channel 6 with DCS tone 15 you are still physically transmitting/receiving on channel 6, your radio is just ignoring any transmissions that aren't also including that squelch tone. This doesn't act as a privacy setting (even though it's commonly advertised as such), as someone running no squelch tone will be able to receive all transmissions on the channel. Similarly if someone on the same channel transmits they will prevent you from transmitting/receiving aswell regardless of whether they use a different/no squelch tone. It's really just a way of filtering out unwanted radio chatter on, what has become, a fairly crowded public band. Whilst all (toys excepted) PMR446 radios can transmit and receive on the 8 main channels not all are capable of transmitting with all (or any) squelch tones. Also not all PMR446 radios can have their "roger beep" disabled (the stupid beep/tone/squawk the other person receives when you release the PTT button).

Baofengs are pretty good radios, especially for the price, but their legality is a little on the grey side. Technically the PMR446 standard requires not only that a radio is restricted to the set licence free channels but also that the power output of the radio is less than 0.5W Effective Radiated Power (ERP). A Baofeng, tuned to the PMR446 frequencies, is capable of outputting up to 5W - almost 10x the maximum transmit power (although in reality it's often 2-4W depending on the model and frequency). You can set most Baofeng sets (you definitely can with a UV-5R, I don't know about the BF-888S) to transmit at around 1W but that's still on the hot side unless you purposefully cripple the effective transmit power with an antenna not suited to the application (although this will cripple your receive capability aswell). Are you likely to be caught using it? Probably not as you'll only be stepping on the toes of other members of Joe-public, and not licensed amateur radio users or restricted band users, just be aware that you aren't meant to and, if someone does catch you, you will be asked to stop using it. That said, it's relatively common for people to buy standard PMR446 radios and perform power and/or antenna mods on them which would also push them over the 500mW ERP limit in a lot of cases. Some PMR446 radios have also been found to come with switches (often under the battery compartment) that increase the output to 1W or more (presumably some kind of "emergency" setting) and others even have an additional (usually hidden) "channel 9" outside of the license free PMR446 frequency range.

Another nice feature to look out for is a "monitor" or "dual-watch" mode which allows you to transmit and receive on a primary channel whilst allowing you to simultaneously monitor a secondary channel - useful if you have multiple team channels and a separate "safety channel" that game organisers/refs can use to contact everyone with a radio regardless of team.

OldNoob wrote:
Not every player needs comms, every leader of players does.

This. 1000 times this. The players using radios on Saturday were largely fire team leaders who I was trying to co-ordinate to get people moving. I've already written at length about the responsibility certain categories of players have to the wider player base and that does not change. As I have pointed out at least twice in the after action reports, winning came as a great surprise to me on Saturday. I had a fuck load of fun, was grinning my head off and doing what I do with Nerf. The fact I could bring a few mates along and relive some old glory days was icing on the cake.

Yes, I can see how radios can be perceived to be exclusionary however I think the idea of closed units isn't going to be an issue. Put simply, that exclusionary behaviour can happen with or without the ability to communicate using a different part of the EM spectrum. It's partly the duty of the game organisers to stamp on that behaviour and partly the duty of the players to lead by example. If you're not having fun, laughing like a fucking idiot then bugger off.

I also think it can become an aspirational thing to learn a new skill. Bristol Blast 8 should mean I have full access to all my radios having collected them from the regiment after GC1. I'll be sticking them on other players and getting more people involved.

In my second article, I'll start looking at radio communication and basic tactics. I figure the community would benefit from getting some of what's going on inside my head down on paper... Very Happy

Also with those 888's and other second hand options being very cheap, it's possible for 2 radios per team to be provided by organisers for less than the cost of a few loaner blasters.

Thanks guys. Has anyone noticed any affect from activated motors in proximity? And yes.. I am mulling over a potential integration Smile

I've never had a problem with radio comms and spinning motors. Generally speaking, RF devices are properly suppressed to cut that sort of shit out. I would ask about what you were planning but then realised that I probably don't want to know... Wink

Great thread - thanks Boff. I've talked about ref's using radios at FDT skate parks for ages now - this was the catalyst I needed to get organised.

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