Remember walkie-talkies? I had one when I was a pre-teen, and thought it was really cool. At one point, I got a radio with CB channels, and could hear truckers and the like. It was quite popular in the 70s. For a variety of reasons, CB radio isn't used much, and radios and radio frequencies have evolved since then, with a farily complex system of rules and regulations.
The first is FRS, which stands for Family Radio Service. This uses frequencies in the 462 and 467 MHz range. It's unregulated, and is generally low-power and short-range. There are a lot of FRS radios out there, and they are pretty easy to use, and have particular channels allocated.
There is some overlap between the use of FRS, which does not require a license, to the use of GMRS, which does. Most GMRS radios can also use FRS frequencies, although that is apparently illegal after 2019. The bulk of this blog post is going to be about GMRS, as I've been using it a fair bit for the last year or so.
Then there's Amateur radio, mostly known as ham radio. Unlike the GMRS radio license, which is basically just a fee, an Amateur radio license involves exams with specific knowledge requirements, and has different levels of licensing.
GMRS is being used in a variety of ways, one of which is for alternative communication in the event of natural disaster or other community events - in case other forms of communication, like cell phones or internet aren't working. In some situations, even if they are working, GMRS radio is a good way to coordinate with people who might be on the ground in areas w/o cell service.
In my local area (North Western Sonoma County) several radio 'nets' have been set up, using repeaters which allow for communication across long distances. I am a member of one net, centered in Cazadero, CA, which now has three repeaters, allowing most people in town to communicate with each other (the town is spread across a fairly large area.) There are other nets - one more coastal, and a couple more inland. Most have weekly nets, just for testing, and most also get used in case of wildfire - the natural disaster most common in this area.
GMRS radio is more complicated to use than FRS - it isn't channelized in quite the same way. There's a great open source program called CHIRP which allows pretty easy programming of supported radios.
Unless you know you have a local net, GMRS radio isn't that useful unless you have a specific use for it. But there seem to be an increasing number of nets and repeaters in use. You can find repeaters here and here - although they don't have all of them.
If you want to get a license, you can get one from the FCC here. They are good for 10 years.
My call-sign is WRKM872. I'm thinking of also working to get a ham license, but we'll see if that happens.