Friday, March 08, 2013

Baofeng UV-5R: Tech, Not Retro

     If you're a geek and an amateur radio operator (but I repeat myself), a $40 full-featured handheld VHF/UHF transceiver is difficult to pass up. I'd been looking at the Baofeng UV-3 and UV-5 models for about a year and Amazon finally sold me one.

     (If you want one, use the "Stuff you need" link to the giant river o'stuff at Tam's: helps her, doesn't cost you one cent more.  Please note they're really only legal for commercial and amateur applications: go putting it on FRS and you're on your own.  Be aware the Feds have no sense of humor about coloring outside the lines.)

     It's tiny!  There's plenty of online help available, too.  I picked up a programming cable at the same time, which proved to be a handy thing.  Sat in the hospital waiting room yesterday programming it via the front-panel buttons (or trying to) and found the procedure unforgiving; I got it to work but you can't skip any steps or do them in the wrong order without having to start over..

     Conversely, the ham "CHIRP" shareware* is about as simple as filling in a spreadsheet with the pertinent info. Using it, I've got my UV-5R programmed to listen to a couple of frequencies in use aboard the starship and have it set up for two-way use on several local ham repeaters, too.

     Repeaters are what make a pocket-sized radio like this useful; in most practical apps, FRS stuff is okay for "just out of sight" comms but past that, it's a coin toss or worse.  Having a good receiver with a high antenna listening for your handheld and relaying your signals to a (relatively) powerful transmitter with another (or even the same) high antenna is a huge force multiplier; just as your cell phone is no good if it can't grab a cell site, a repeater turns a handheld into a "big radio."

     So far, so good -- oh, it's a $40 radio, you don't want to drop it ten feet onto a hard surface -- but for price/performance, it's quite a deal.
* CHIRP will program a lot of different handhelds, worth a look if that's something you ever need to do.


Fuzzy Curmudgeon said...

OK, you have me curious. What does it take to get an amateur license these days? Pointer to a page would be fine :)

Roberta X said...

Tech class, a good entry-level license: get about a "C" on a multiple-guess test covering basic theory and ham rules, and you're in.

Here's a start.

TotC said...

Funny, this was a the top of my RSS reader this morning. I bought the UV-5RA and the programming kit. CHIRP is much better.

And the radio itself, it sure beats losing my $$$ VX-170.

og said...

Wild. Shows how long ive been away, i remember $450 rigs with those specs. Might have to jump back in.

Brick said...

As an FYI... there are several versions of the UV-5R - A,E,C, etc. They are all the same except for cosmetic details in the case. One seller has a special US version (F-11) for a few dollars more with a different firmware. I'm not sure what the different firmware gets you.

wa5bru said...

Somehow I had managed not to hear about this rig. Thanks for the pointer.

Eck! said...

Sweet little FM TRX. There are a bunch around here and they work well.

There are a few chinese radio in the HF class. I have the KNQ7A a nice tiney 40M SSB QRP rig (kit). Fun build and works well. there are all the YOUkits radios as well.


Jeff Cupp said...

Just got my license last month (General Class)KC9YGH. I also bought the Baofeng with an upgraded antenna and it works great. Check out the W9WIN repeater network that covers much of Southern Indiana. The Marion Co. node is at 444.325MHz 136.5 PL.

Dave H said...

I have a rather detailed question for you UV-3 or 5 owners. Well, two, actually:

1) Will it run on external 12VDC?
2) If so, when you drop the external power and bring it back up will the radio come on by itself? Or do you have to turn it on manually?

I'm always on the lookout for a dedicated APRS radio for the car. The Icom I'm using now is a bit clunky.

Turk Turon said...


Dwight Brown said...

I've had my amateur license for a couple of years now, but haven't done anything with it because I didn't have any transmitting equipment.

I've been saving my pennies for something nice. But $40? Cheese louise! Thanks, Roberta!

lelnet said...

Thank you, Dwight Brown, for removing about 70% of the shame I'd have otherwise experienced admitting that I've had my ticket for 3 years and never used it for anything other than legally carrying a scanner in the state of Indiana. :)

My delivery from Amazon is expected on Tuesday. Long past time to actually get on the air.

Douglas2 said...

Another question that a baufeng geek might know:

There are many days each year where I find myself rushing back and forth between two facilities that are less than 1.2 mile apart, solving problems and "putting out fires".

In one facility the production people communicate with Motorola BPR40 UHF using DPL 054, in the other they use Motorola BPR40 VHF radios using TPL 146.2 Hz.

On "those days" I've started carrying two radios all day, one from each facility, because I find that when I monitor their troubleshooting I can phone and interject comments that speed things up greatly. If I knew that I could be listening to both with the same lightweight compact radio, I would buy one in an instant.

So, can the Baufeng be programmed to listen to both frequencies, and open the squelch with the Motorola DPL?

Dave H said...

Douglas2: The Baofeng claims it does CTCSS (what Mot calls TPL) and DCS (what they call DPL). I'd say odds are pretty good that it'll be able to hear both your channels. (So will a lot of other radios, including some Radio Shack scanners, if you want to try one and be able to return it if it doesn't work for you.)

Douglas2 said...

Thanks Dave H!
CTCSS=TPL and DCS=DPL were just the bits of task-related arcane knowledge that I lack.

Aubrey Turner said...

As far as I can tell, the radio will accept both of those (a DCS code of 054 or a CTCSS tone of 146.2 Hz). I confirmed this in the manual and I also opened CHIRP and verified that it will let you set those values on a channel (I loaded an image from one of my UV-5R's to play with, although I didn't upload it to the radio).

But note that you can *listen* to all transmissions on the frequencies you're interested in by not using any tone at all. And the UV-5R will watch two frequencies at once (although it's not a true dual-receive radio; whichever one has a transmission first will open squelch, so you can miss something on the other frequency).

The only reason to have the tone set on receive is if there are other users on the same frequency and you don't want to hear their transmissions.

Anonymous said...

Interesting...Ive got a pretty effective MURS system working here with A super high outside antenna. Can I program a couple of MURS freqs into this radio???

Sean D Sorrentino said...

Could you do a post about why I, your average dude, would want one of these radios? I've got $40 burning a hole in my pocket, so I'm sorely tempted to get one, but I don't know what I'd do with it.

Can I listen in on the local police freqency? Can I listen in and talk to aircraft frequencies? Can I carry it in the car and use it for something useful?

danno said...

Sean - Almost certainly it will get you the aircraft band (118-138MHz). The only catch is aircraft is AM while most VHF stuff is FM. Still it seems the FW knows the band and makes the appropriate adjustments.

Not sure about the police band stuff. I thought that had all moved to frequency hopping encrypted channels a while back. But that was never really my thing so I don't know.

Best reason to buy one is to talk to others. Makes the time fly on long trips. The SCSon has his tech license. Last month he had an overnight school trip to [unspecified location 150 miles away] We were able to check in via a couple linked repeaters serving the state.

+1 on Chirp. Not only is it free and high quality, the team is very responsive. I found an obscure bug with an Alinco radio. Got a response asking for more info within a day, a patch to test within a couple more and checked into the baseline and closed within a week.

gator said...

I bought a similar Duet (Wouxun clone??) KG-UVD1P a couple of weeks ago for $70. It didn't come with the programming cable, and I didn't much care about it at the time. But after having someone demo the software for me (CHIRP, perhaps?), I definitely want it... mainly so I can set the TX freq to null on the listen-only channels, thereby remaining in-band and out of the pokey.

And if all goes well, tomorrow night I can sign Gator/AG.

Douglas2 said...


Technically yes, these radios will have no problem being set to appropriate frequency and power levels for MURS.

I have however seen outlines/interpretations of the CFR part 95.603 rule that indicate MURS devices must be certified as such. One certainly is prohibited from selling it as a MURS radio if it is not part 95 certificated as such.

BillB said...

Done...kinda wanted one....and it is nice I can contribute to your roomie's medical fund GWS Tam!

BillB said...

Done...kinda wanted one....and it is nice I can contribute to your roomie's medical fund GWS Tam!

MonteG said...

Ooh, thanks for the heads-up on this. Did you happen to look at the "Plus" version, which is apparently the updated version for this year and runs about ten bucks more?

Anonymous said...

Douglas 2...Yep..2 watts RF max..but with my antenna system I can reach out a pretty fair distance...wondering what 4 watts would do. Programing your own transmitter without ham license is worrysome.....tks

Roberta X said...

Anon 8:03 PM said: "..2 watts RF max..but with my antenna system I can reach out a pretty fair distance...wondering what 4 watts would do."

Getcha a nice FCC fine, is what. Don't do it. Especially don't do it now that you've talked about it on The Internet.

MURS is Part 95. The Baofeng HTs have ham and Part 90 approval. While you can lock down transmitter power at 4W, they're still off-list for MURS, same as FRS. The FCC tends to react to such use in the manner of Col. Jeff Cooper to being shot by a .25 ACP: "If someone did that, and I notice, it would not go well for them."

Roberta X said...

Sean S.: unless you are a ham operator or work at a place that uses business-band or broadcast auxiliary radio and will let you add one to their system, there's no reason for you to buy this radio.

Buy an Icom R6 instead. It's slightly smaller than the UV-5R, a receiver that tunes from DC to daylight (100 kHz to 13-something GHz), scans faster than seems rational, and will do almost anything you'd like a radio receiver to do. Costs $180 and up (and there may be used older models or other brands for less, look for "wideband receiver") but it'll let you snoop on everything but cellular calls and digital transmission.

Roberta X said...

Dave H: There's a 12-V battery-replacing adapter (not a charger) available on Amazon for the UV-5R. I don't know how it would recover from a 12V power off/on but the power switch is an actual switch on the volume control, so that's a hopeful sign.

Roberta X said...

Jeff Cupp: I'll check out the W9WIN machine! The old 10/70 is not very busy these days -- I've used them as a radio check for years since the antenna is so high it will almost certainly hear any HT in my neighborhood that's working.

Roberta X said...

Douglas2: As others have said, it appears the UV-5R can be set up for both systems you use -- you'll want the CHIRP software, which should simplify setup.

Monte G and Brick: I did notice the various versions; the "Plus" is claimed to have a sturdier housing, and that seems worth it. They make a lot of versions and all have darned near the same functionality as a radio, so I went with the cheapest, just to see how it worked.

Two of my co-workers went online and bought themselves one after seeing/hearing/fiddling with the one I just got. We use our two-ways a lot. The company-standard "indestructible" Motorolas are nice but there are never enough of them.

PS, Brick? Ghu'll getcha if'n y'don't respect the boatanchors. Just sayin'. (You did notice I bought the black-textured UV-5R, right? Just like the paint job on a 1930s HRO, baby!) ;)

Dave H said...

Thank you, Ms. X! That's enough reason for me to get one to try. I've got plenty of ammo budget left this month. (grumble)

Anonymous said...


Let me offer a bit more info on getting licensed.

Here's the ARRL page that has intro material on getting a ham license.

The questions for the test are published

There are printed study guides and online practice exams, or you might be able to find a local ham club giving classes. The search Roberta gave you is an excellent start.

When you're ready to take the test, find a test location. The Volunteer Examiners are usually affiliated with either the ARRL or W5YI; either is fine.

Good luck with your studies and hope to see you on the air.

73, Jim

Anonymous said...

You guys are scaring me into getting a tech license.....tks

Roberta X said...

Excellent, Jim! I'd neglected to expand on my earlier link. Knowing Fuzzy (Nathan), I'd suggest taking a practice exam or two to determine what needs studied.

Anon 7:40: Might as well. It's fun and not difficult for anyone motivated.

TXGunGeek said...

When the Mrs saw mine, she commented,"I didn't know you bought a toy radio."

North said...

Writing new firmware for a handheld radio