Use a Zello Walkie-talkie at Genealogy Conferences

Zello-Push-to-TalkI performed a bit of an experiment this week. At the the FGS conference in Springfield, Illinois, a couple of my friends and I used the Zello (rhymes with “hello”) app on our iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Android, BlackBerry, or Windows cell phones to keep in touch with each other. Of course, we could have simply called each other on the phone or sent text messages to each other, but using a walkie-talkie app offered several advantages.

Walkie-talkies are a perfect way to keep in touch with friends or to find friends who may be somewhere in the crowd or back at the hotel. I have experimented with several walkie-talkie apps and have settled on Zello as the one that works best for me.

Best of all, Zello is FREE for personal use. Yes, you probably already have a free walkie-talkie. Well, I guess technically it is not really free but rather is available at “no extra charge” as you have already paid for the phone. You probably will find other uses for Zello after you return home as well.

Zello_logoUnlike two-way radios, Zello works with any cellular data or Wi-Fi network connection to the Internet and has unlimited range. I used it a few weeks ago in New Zealand and Singapore to talk to family members in the US and I didn’t have to pay for toll calls! All I needed was a wi-fi or cellular data connection. Wi-fi is usually free. Your cellular data connection may or may not include a large amount of data or maybe even unlimited data usage. (Zello conversations count as data, not voice, because your voice is digitized and sent over the Internet as data.) Check your contract with the cellular company to find your price. Again, as long as you stay on wi-fi, it is almost always free.

On Zello, voices sound clear and natural, usually better than a phone call. Strong encryption also protects your conversations from snoops who are not in the conversation.

Zello offers one-on-one private conversations with any other Zello user. Exchange your Zello address with your friends. (My address is dickeastman). Unlike CB radios, you do not have to listen to obnoxious chatter and “skip” signals. Zello will be quiet until you call someone or someone calls you.

In addition, Zello also offers “group chat” channels where multiple people can chat together in a “party line” atmosphere. The use of the group chat is optional; you can use it or not, as you wish. When using “group chat” channels, anything you say goes to all connected users in that channel simultaneously. Group chats are similar to a party line while the one-on-one conversations are very private.

For the FGS conference, I created a channel called Fgs-springfield and I monitored that most of the time that I was not in sessions where cell phones need to be quiet. All of us in the experiment monitored the Fgs-springfield group most of the time.

As I write these words, I am still at the conference. If you read this article before the conference ends, please feel free to use FGS-springfield as much as you like. You never know who you will discover there.

Please turn your cell phone off or at least put it on silent mode whenever you are in a presentation or any other group event!

I am also a ham radio operator and when I go to ham radio conferences, I always have my ham radio walkie-talkie on my belt so that I can find friends, arrange meeting them for lunch, and similar chit-chat. Of course, most all ham operators have walkie-talkies so it is a natural for us. Now that I have been using Zello as a walkie-talkie for a few months, I find it works better than my expensive ham radio walkie-talkie! It is quieter, never suffers from static, and has worldwide range.

If you are going to a conference but your spouse is staying home, you can both use Zello to stay in touch and your spouse also can listen in on the group chat to learn what others are doing. Even if you are not planning to attend the conference, genealogists might want to listen to the FGS-springfield group chat or to talk with a friend and ask him or her to keep an eye out for a certain book in the exhibits hall.

Actually, I am not yet certain if using a walkie-talkie at a genealogy conference is a good idea or not. I consider this to be an experiment. I know it works well elsewhere so I think some of us should try it and see how useful it is at genealogy conferences. We won’t know until we try it!

For more information about Zello, go to

You can download and install the Zello app in your cell phone’s app store. To find it, click on the appropriate link shown on

Again, Zello is FREE for personal use. There is a paid version for businesses with lots of employees who need walkie-talkies for group communications but genealogists at a conference will have no need for the paid version. The free version works best for most individuals.

I’ll meet you on Zello!


How does this differ from google voice and google hangout?


    Zello differs in many ways from the normal Internet chat room. It is closer to the walkie-talkies used by police, firemen, and your local plumber and is designed as an app you install in your cell phone (smartphone). However, it emulates a walkie-talkie but without the background static and other noises. Zello is primarily a voice application although it does have some other options as well. I’d suggest you think of it as a walkie-talkie similar to police, fire, ambulance personnel, and many others except that it has worldwide range, much less background noise, and it is free to anyone who already has a smartphone.


The Ontario Genealogical Society has used this app at our past two conferences and it has saved countless steps and made solving challenges faster and easier. It’s a GREAT tool!


Have you found a way/is it possible to choose a setting that will keep this in “ever on” mode for folks to listen & participate in a meeting w/o having to hold the “talk” button the whole time?Maybe Skype is my best option for meeting participation? Thanks for the Zello recommend! Just deciding best uses for it.


Yes. When Zello is not running, it still monitors incoming calls but not the chat room(s). If someone calls you, it beeps and a pop-up window appears giving you the name of the person calling. You can elect to answer or not, as you wish.


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