A Pretty Good DIY Referee Comm System

I’ve been reffing soccer for several years now, both indoor and outdoor, and I have the privilege of enjoying what I do. Yes, there are quite a few uneducated parents out there. Yes, there are quite a few similar coaches out there too. They don’t deter me from getting out on the field and refereeing – at the end of the day, it’s about the kids, not about the W’s.

One of the perks I’ve come up with is a DIY referee communications system. Fancy-shmancy ones can cost anywhere from $700 (for an entry-level 3-user set) to $4500 (for top of the line equipment). I don’t know about you, but I don’t make THAT much reffing – but I wasn’t about to be deterred from figuring out how to put one together for less.

After lots of research, I ended up with this configuration: (costs are as of 9/7/17)

A set of three Motorola Talkabout MH230TPRs, purchased from Amazon.com – $ 89.99
Motorola boom mic headset part number 56320B – $17.30 (x3)
NIVIY Outdoor Sporting Arm Bag Running Trekking Hiking Cycling Mounting Strolling Armband, Black – $5.59 (discontinued)

The Talkabouts are rechargeable and come with a two-seater charging cradle, but you can also charge them via USB – it uses a USB 2.0 Mini-B 5-pin cord. You might still have one laying around your house if you didn’t throw away your old cell phones from 2012 or earlier, but if not, Amazon sells them for just under $5.

The reason I settled on the Talkabouts is because more units can be added to the system – all you have to do is set what channel to listen on. The channels can also be encrypted so if you DON’T know what channel it is (and there are hundreds of combinations), you can’t listen in – not that any parents are out there snooping anyway, but it’s just a nice feature. The range is excellent – it says 2 miles maximum on the box, but a 75 x 105 soccer field isn’t an issue. The very first time I used it, however, we had interference from the metal stands and could not hear AR2 – after some research on the matter, I changed the channel to one higher up in the frequency that allowed for encryption. No issues since.

Talkabouts are also VOX (Voice open channel) or PTT (push-to-talk), depending on the headset used. The default mic that comes with the units is PTT. The 56320B boom mic is VOX if you plug it in and THEN turn on the unit – otherwise it’s default PTT.

The earpiece of the boom mic fits over the ear and sits snugly. We did have to use medical tape to keep the boom itself in place. The mics did account for windy conditions, so we weren’t hearing a ton of wind. Also, with this VOX system, the first sound “activates” the channel, so if you want to be heard, you have to say something first before speaking, like “Dave, Dave, last touched by white.” What the others will hear is “Dave, last touched by white.” This dovetails perfectly with the CR’s whistle, as the whistle doesn’t carry over into the channel – unless it’s a very long one… but then again, each unit has it’s own volume control anyway, so that works out as well.

The armband was specific because the units are thicker than a typical cell phone, which is what the majority of the armbands on the market are designed for. What is needed is an armband that has a pocket for the unit with a velcro flap that will not impact the antenna or the cord. Technically, the armband could have a zipper pouch where the antenna can stick out, but the velcro is much more secure. Amazon sells other ones like it like “Sports Armband By Guardians Double Pockets Outdoor Arm Bag Pouch universal” for $8.99. Only the CR needs the armband anyway – the ARs can have the wire clipped to the back of the collar and the drop down inside the jersey to the unit which can clip to the waistband of the ref shorts behind the back.

I ended up purchasing a fourth unit and rechargeable battery from eBay for $14 (unit) and $3 (battery). I figured if we had an occasion to have a 4th Official, might as well be prepared.

After using these for a while, I wondered if there were better headsets out there and so I went ahead and purchased this:

GoodQbuy® FBI Style Covert Acoustic Tube Headset/Earpiece with VOX-PTT Switch for Motorola Talkabout Radio Walkie Talkie MR350R EM1000 MS350 MT350R TKLR-T3 FV200 SX920R 1-pin – $14.99

This is exactly what it says – a clear FBI-style over-and-in-the-ear earpiece coupled with a collar/lapel microphone. You can set this to VOX or PTT with a switch. I ended up getting two more of these because they worked so well. I did encounter a problem where when all three were in use and all three were in VOX mode, randomly one of the three could not be heard. The solution for this was to set the CR to VOX and the others to PTT. I have yet to determine if this ended up being user error or a glitch with this particular setup. However, when we used the boom mics, there was no issue, so maybe one of the FBI headsets’ switch wasn’t working correctly (or in the wrong position).

Bottom line – total initial cost for the entire system was $147.49 with free two-day shipping because I’m an Amazon Prime member. After all the extras were purchased, I’ve invested a total of about $210 for four units. That’s about $500 less than a THREE unit system!

SO, if you’re budget-conscious but want to have a comm system for your games, this is a viable alternative.