The history of walkie talkies

Walkie-talkies and two-way radios have come a long way since they were first developed many decades ago. There are countless uses for walkie-talkies, with many adults and children using them for recreational play and scores of businesses and organisations still depending on their features. There are many shapes, colours, sizes and features to choose from when it comes to today’s walkie-talkies.

The introduction of the two-way radio

The walkie-talkie was first invented in 1937 by the Canadian Don Hings, with many similar devices being developed by other inventors around the same time. Hings created his portable radio signalling system when working for CM&S. The devices weren’t initially known as ‘walkie-talkies’ and were first created to help pilots communicate effectively. When the Second World War broke out in 1939, their benefits for soldiers immersed in battle became clear. The earliest devices weighed approximately five pounds and were around 17 inches high. They were normally constructed from metal. They became substantially more popular with recreational users including adults and children during the 1970s and 1980s.

Wartime developments

Following a period of research and development, Hings created various different models of portable radios to serve a host of needs, with the Model C-58 Pack Set becoming particularly iconic and prestigious. Tens of thousands of models were manufactured and shipped worldwide. Features of the C-58 included a range of antennas and power supplies, voice scramblers to protect privacy and enhance security and even a filter to remove battle noises from communications so messages could be received loud and clear even during gunfire and engine noise. The Motorola SCR-300 was one of the first two-way radio devices and was so vast it could only be transported in a backpack. Some people argue that the first walkie-talkie was created way back in 1933. However, these devices only communicated in code and drew power from vehicles. It is also incorrect to say that Al Gross invented the device in 1938 – Hings was already producing his radios by this point.

What were walkie-talkies first known as?

Rather than ‘walkie-talkies’, the devices were first referred to as wireless sets, pack sets and two-way field radios. The term ‘walkie-talkie’ was first coined by journalists informing the public about the then-new phenomenon. The radio engineer Alfred J Gross and the Motorola engineering team also had a big role to play in developing the capabilities of the device during its early years. British, German and US armed forces all used two-way radio systems during the war. During the war, walkie talks were used for tank units and field artillery. They were also used to enhance public safety following the war, before entering the world of commercial and construction work.

How do walkie-talkies work?

Walkie-talkies typically feature a speaker at one end and a microphone in the other, though the speaker also doubles up as a microphone in some devices. They also feature an antenna, which sits at the top of the unit. Networks of half-duplex walkie-talkies utilise a single radio channel, with one only radio being used to talk at any one time, though all users are able to listen. When users wish to talk, they can press the PTT or push-to-talk button. This switches off the receiver whilst turning on the transmitter. With full-duplex walkie-talkies or two-way radios, it is possible to transmit and receive at the same time.

Operating a walkie-talkie

To use a walkie-talkie unit, you and other users must tune to the same frequency band or channel. Words are converted into radio waves, which travel at the speed of light. The loudspeakers use electric currents so the talker’s voice can be reproduced. Talkers say the word “over” and release the PTT button to tell others that they have finished speaking. This returns the radio to listening mode.

Walkie-talkies and two-way radios

Two-way radios or walkie-talkies are also called transceivers. This is because they are able to transmit and receive radio communications at the same time, unlike normal radios where communication is only sent one way. Many people wonder what the difference between walkie-talkies and two-way radios is. One commonly-used explanation is that a walkie-talkie is a two-way radio, but not all two-way radios are walkie-talkies. This is mainly because a system needs to be handheld to qualify as a walkie-talkie. Examples of two-way radios that are not walkie-talkies include wall-mounted base stations and mobile radios mounted inside vehicles.

Maximum effective coverage

When you buy a walkie-talkie, it’s essential that you find out what the maximum effective coverage area is. Some systems will allow you to communicate from 50 miles away, though you will need to meet certain conditions related to your environment. In some cases, you may only be able to communicate clearly from around a mile away.

The two-way radios of today

Today, it’s possible to acquire walkie-talkies and two-way radios with a host of modern features, such as flashlights, SOS signals and weather alerts. Most walkie-talkies used by members of the public have an actual range of approximately two miles, weighing under half a pound. Walkie-talkies and two-way radios are used by a wide range of businesses. They are ideal for scenarios where you may wish to communicate with others close by but have no mobile phone coverage or Wi-Fi.

More modern features

Walkie-talkies have dramatically reduced in size over the decades, thanks to developments in miniature electronics, with some models for personal use being smaller than a deck of playing cards. New features currently being used by two-way radio owners include DCS (digital squelch) and CTCSS (analogue squelch), trunking facilities and remote operation of devices like repeaters. It’s also possible to add external microphones and speakers, with hands-free operation also being possible due to VOX capabilities. Equipment used for commercial and military purposes is normally ruggedized and only has a small number of specific frequencies. The walkie-talkie has evolved hugely over the past eighty years, but who knows what could be possible in future years?

About Crystal Radio Systems

At Crystal Radio Systems Ltd, we specialise in selling, servicing and hiring two-way radio equipment for individuals, businesses, government departments, universities, the military and more. For further information, contact us today on 0800 028 6261 or 01527 872 777. Alternatively, use the contact form on our website.