This past week, I purchased my first ham radio in 20 years. Researching posts on this multireddit I created of various subreddits dedicated to Ham Radio, I learned a lot about the current state of ham radio and some ways to get back into the hobby. I would like to share the results of programming my new Baofeng UV-5R-2 on my Mac running OS X Yosemite 10.10.2.
The UV-5R-2 is a cheap, Chinese made $30 2-meter & 70cm ham radio. It seemed like a low risk way to get back into the hobby. Reviews generally say it is an ok radio, especially for a beginner. While certainly no Yaesu VX-8DR, it does exactly what I need: getting me on the radio. If it turns out to be a junk radio in the long run or if my interest drops again, I’m only out less than $100.
One of the early tips I read early on is that programming a Baofeng is a frustrating experience. For a geek who takes pride in UX, this concerns me a lot. To counter this, it was suggested that I use a special USB cable to connect the Baofeng to my computer, where the application CHIRP allows for fairly easy programming of the radio.
Of course, it isn’t as simple as buying any Baofeng USB cable. There are apparently many cheap ($8-10) USB cables that use cloned or reverse engineered chipsets. This leads to a lot of driver incompatibility issues, flakey connection issues, etc. I found many blog and forum posts (which I won’t link to) mentioning various drivers to install to work around these problems, but I was not going to settle for that. I don’t have the time and patience to deal with driver issues (that’s why I have a Mac) and I don’t like the thought of downloading drivers from some random web site.
So I researched a bit and came across a genuine FTDI USB cable that can connect to Baofeng radios. Reviews said that no drivers needed to be installed manually for Macs and many versions of Windows, as the OS automatically recognized the cable.
Taking a $20 risk, I bought the cable and was rewarded with a plug and play experience in OS X 10.10.2 Yosemite. My Mac immediately recognized the cable according to the System Report (Apple Menu –> About this Mac –> System Report –> USB) as shown in this screenshot:
Now that I had the correct USB cable, I installed the latest daily build of CHIRP, which according to some posts I read was needed depended on the firmware build installed on the Baofeng UV-5R-2. The daily builds also enable new settings you can program, including setting the Squelch.
When I launch CHIRP, I plug the special USB cable into my Baofeng UV-5R-2. I then select the Radio menu and click on “Download From Radio”:
You are then asked for the basic settings to interface with the radio. Select the Port, which should be a usbserial option or similar (may be named differently depending on what USB cable you use):
And then select the Vendor and Model of the radio you want to sync. In my case, the UV-5R.
Then your Mac will download the memory of the Baofeng right into CHIRP, using what it calls “cloning”:
Since you may be a new ham (or a long absent ham, like me), you probably don’t know what repeaters are in your local area. On that same Radio menu I mentioned above, you can import data from various repeater directories (I use RepeaterBook) right into the Baofeng UV-5R.
Once you are read to upload your configuration changes, it’s a simple click on the Radio menu and selecting “Upload To Radio”. After a moment or two, you’re radio is programmed.
So for ~$50, I have a cheap 2-meter and 70cm radio that so far has been working fairly well even with the stock antenna. After getting used to the clunky menu system, I can hear repeaters as far as ~19 miles away from Manchester, NH, which is rather impressive performance. I’ll probably try to contact someone today and test out the signal strength.
I’ve also already ordered a new antenna for the radio for $15, a Nagoya NA-701 that is supposed to help out a bit more with reception. That is arriving today, so I’ll give it a try and report back on it. A good solid antenna will be needed when I go hiking in the mountains this summer. If this turns out to be a decent handheld rig for $75, that will keep my occupied for awhile!