Walkie talkies are portable communication devices consisting of low-level radio transmitters and receivers. Originally designed for military communications during World War II, they became popular again in the 1970s with the CB radio craze. Children seeking a wireless way to hold "secret" conversations were the biggest customers of toy models. Most adults used the 40 channel CB radios for two-way communications.
Early walkie talkies operated on the same frequencies assigned to Citizen's Band radios. The most common channel assigned specifically to them was channel 14. This meant that conversations could be overheard by anyone with a properly tuned CB radio, but this was rarely a problem because the average transmission range of toys was only a few hundred yards. FCC licenses were not required for low-powered walkie talkies because of their limited broadcast ranges.
Some later models used the same frequency as baby monitors and cordless phones, which created even more privacy and interference issues. With the advent of cellular phone systems, the use of toy walkie talkies has declined noticeably.
The devices formerly known as walkie talkies have now enjoyed a resurgence in popularity, although more manufacturers refer to them as "two-way radios." These handheld devices no longer use the easily intercepted CB radio frequencies. Most two-way radios now use the Family Radio System (FRS) bandwidth which has 14 channels assigned by the FCC. Within these channels are 38 subchannels which provide more opportunities for private communications. Only those devices tuned to a specific subchannel can pick up broadcasts on that bandwidth. Some advanced ones also use a voice scrambling technology to electronically distort message during transmission.
These new two-way radios boast of ranges extending two miles or more. Any walkie talkies with ranges of 5 miles (8 km) must be licensed with the FCC before use. Most people use these portable communicators to keep in touch with family members at a large shopping center or crowded public event. More adventurous users may purchase ones with added features such as a global positioning system, compass, weather channel tuner and hands-free voice commands.