Contractor Communications

A New Twist on Old Tech

I was doing road repair work deep in Oregon’s Coast Range in the summer of 1977 when I noticed a badly worn hydraulic line controlling the blade on my 450 Case crawler dozer. I grabbed the mic on my pickup’s radio, hailed the dispatch and asked for a phone patch to the Case Power and Equipment shop so I could talk to Bruce Smith (now our editor here at ProPickup). Bruce said he had the hose I needed and that he would leave it in their lock box where I could pick it up later that night.

Motorola’s CDM1550 operates on 128 channels and makes use of a 14-character alphanumeric screen, which can be programmed in English, Spanish, French, and Portuguese. It can use your pickup’s horn and lights for incoming message alerts while you are on the jobsite. A front-facing speaker provides maximum voice clarity.

That conversation took place well before cell phones existed, but I’d bet there is still no cell coverage in the remote area from which I called. This is one of the reasons 2-way business radio is still the technology of choice for many contractors.

While cell phones and “push-to-talk” can get the job done for many small companies, nothing beats the independence and speed of 2-way, which can operate in areas outside normal cell coverage.


The latest 2-way radio systems can also take advantage of ever-improving digital technology.

Digital improves audio clarity and allows data applications such as work order ticket management, text messaging, and GPS-based location tracking. Digital also uses less power, which extends battery life up to 40 percent. Business owners can also benefit from the increased capacity of digital, which can double the number of users for the price of one frequency license.

For contractors who are in business for the long haul, dedicated business radios can be an excellent way to go. Although initial costs for equipment can strain the communication budget, ongoing costs are low so it can really pay off in the long run.

One of the best ways to get set up a business radio network is through a local or regional communications company specializing in 2-ways. These companies offer expert advice, commercial grade equipment, elevated tower and repeater locations and ongoing support.

Motorola’s CM200/300 radios are useful for fleet applications and can be equipped with a number of accessories to enhance functionality.

An experienced radio expert can suggest the right communication components to fit your company. He will assess the number and types of radio units needed, the area of coverage desired and the types of frequencies that will work best for your use.

A full radio system package for contractorstypically includes four major components: one or more base radio units for the shop, office, and job shacks; mobile units for the trucks and pickups; handheld radios for crew members; and a tower-mounted antenna with repeater to extend coverage area. A system can also include its own emergency power supply.

Base radios are permanently mounted indoors and can be monitored 24/7. They are powerful and protected from the elements, and can last for years of service.

The powerful dash-mounted mobile radios, have several advantages over portable or handheld radios. Portables are limited to 5 watts, but mobile radios usually exceed 30 watts – and more power means more range. In general, 2-way radios have a range of one mile per half watt.

Pickup-mounted radios have taller antennas and when it comes to antennas, size matters. Taller is better in terms of sending and receiving signals.

You don’t have to be concerned with batteries and chargers for your in-cab radio because it is connected to your pickup’s 12-volt system.

There is also no danger of misplacing a mobile radio (unless you are in the habit of losing your vehicle) or the frustration of reaching for it only to realize you left it on the charger in the office or on the blueprint table in the job trailer. Because it’s dash mounted, you’ll always have it there ready to go.

Motorola’s MTM5400 represents the latest in 2-way radio technology with extended coverage, exceptional audio performance and high-speed data connectivity. It features advanced over-the-air terminal management capability and high-speed USB 2.0 interfacing.

Whether you are instructing crew members on how to complete contracts or ordering parts for equipment, 2-way is the way to go.

Icom calls its F121s transceiver “a high-powered, simple-to-use, low-cost unit.” It features 50 watts of power, programmable call codes and eight memory channels with LED display.