Tips for new Baofeng users

24 Jan 2015

Off to the lower right I have a link for the Miklor Baofeng Resource page, but they have so much information it can be difficult for new users to find the information they need. I hope to go over a few basics here to get many of you started.
Opening the box of a brand new Baofeng should include these items (if bought from legitimate sources): Radio, battery, belt clip, lanyard wrist strap, antenna, cheap little wrap around the ear mic/earbud, and manual/papers. Installing the antenna is straight forward, screw it on. The first radio I bought, I saw the belt clip but didn't see how, but then I saw the radio already has the 2 (phillips head) screws already screwed into it.
TIP #1: Install the belt clip before installing the battery. Since the clip is a fairly strong spring on a small mount, it is much easier to mount it with the battery off. Get both screws started, then push against the upper part of the clip to flatten it and tighten the screws. After that press the top of the clip to open it, and install the battery.
Turn the unit on and press a few buttons to see how they behave. Most radios come with a few channels already programmed in so do not be surprised if there are around 20 channels already in there. The manual does cover the function of each button but I will go over several of them here.

  • VFO/MR: This button changes between the frequency mode and the memory channel mode.
  • A/B: This switches the active channel/frequency from the top A display, to/from the bottom B display. (NOTE: this button is not found on UV-82 variants.)
  • The lower 16 buttons are straight forward as labeled, although some of the buttons have a dual purpose.
  • The * button if held down 2 seconds, turns on the scan mode.
    • In memory channel mode, this will scan through all the programmed channels ascending.
    • In frequency mode, this will scan through the frequencies, usually at 5kHz steps.
    • TIP #2: Pressing the down arrow button will reverse the scan, so it scans down through the channels or frequency
  • On newer radios, holding down the 0 button for a few seconds should display the current battery voltage. Normal fully charged battery should be around 8.1V, and the radio will start saying low battery when it gets below 7.2V. Some older firmware versions will not have this option.
  • The # button has 2 purposes:
    • Pressing it and releasing immediately changes the transmit power. For most models, it changes between Low and High power. For the Tri-Power 8W versions like BF-F8HP, it changes between the 3 transmit power levels.
    • Holding down the # button locks the keypad, so no buttons except the transmit works. This is useful if the radio is in a tight place or pocket where odd buttons may be pressed while moving around. Hold it down a few seconds again to unlock it.

On the left side are a few buttons:

  • The top button is the CALL button:
    • Quickly pressing it changes back and forth with the broadcast FM radio. The number key pad can be used to enter the stations, the up/down can be used to slowly go up or down frequencies (100kHz at a time), or the up/down arrows can be held down to go through them faster. The SCAN option does NOT work in FM broadcast radio mode.
    • Holding down the CALL button is like an emergency beacon, it plays a changing tone through your speaker and flashes the LED light on top. How this works can also be changed in the MENU (32 AL-MOD: SITE does as described above, TONE transmits the emergency tone over the air to both frequencies/channels in the display, CODE alternates between morse code (set elsewhere in the menu) and the emergency tone, broadcast out over the frequencies/channels). This i one option that may be helpful if you do a lot of hiking or camping, and may need to broadcast the emergency tone if you're hurt.
  • Second is the Transmit button (PTT - Push To Talk), very straight forward. On UV-82 models, they do not have the A/B button mentioned above, instead they have dual PTT buttons here, the top transmits to whatever is in display A, and bottom PTT transmits to what is shown in B.
  • Third is the MONI button:
    • Pressing it quickly turns on the LED, so it can be used as a weak flashlight. Pressing it a second time makes the LED flash (good for emergencies). Pressing it a third time turns it off.
    • Holding down the MONI button opens the squelch so you hear the full static. This can be useful in listening for weak signals that may not be letting the radio open the frequency for you to hear.

Next I will take a little bit from my reviews on the UV-5R and BF-F8HP. Once licensed, one of the early aggravations of these radios is actually getting into repeaters. For some it may be easy, they're in the open with few trees and/or the repeaters are up on top of hills or mountains. In those cases, the high receive gain of the repeater antenna overrides the poor gain of the stock antennas. For this reason, some people say they have no problems, while others have a lot of problems with the exact same radios. For this same reason is why some long time hams tend to blame the radios as "pure junk" rather than try to work with it and figure out how or why they're having the problems. One of the biggest things to remember is some of the other HT radios from the major companies have setup their antennas to have a decent gain or at least a reasonable signal spread so it has more going up in the air instead of flat along the horizon.
For new hams like I was at the time, I found some local frequencies, learned about repeaters, learned the local NOAA weather radio frequency, and programmed them in (via free programming tool called CHIRP). I was set, I started going through channels trying to pick up a local station. First few run throughs, nothing, not even the weather frequency. So knowing the weather is always broadcasting, I started walking around and found a place inside my house that faintly picked it up. I moved around a little more until I found a place that picked it up fairly well. I didn't know it at the time but that was my first step towards learning about propagation.
When it comes to most VHF and UHF signals, line of sight is more important than power or gain. A low gain antenna up 100ft will receive and transmit much better than a higher gain antenna located 20ft above the ground (within reason). In my case I have a Jpole up 35-40ft above the ground. This is why I can stand in front of my house and reach the 2 repeaters within 10 miles, but not the others that are 12-25 miles away. Yet I can connect my Baofeng to the Jpole, and reach the repeaters up to 26 miles away. Now some people say that is horrible and they reach 40+ miles, and to those people I refer them to my above comment: For some it may be easy, they're in the open with few trees and/or the repeaters are up on top of hills or mountains. In MY case I am surrounded by the thick pine tree forests and mostly flat land of northwest Florida. Where 4W may get 40 miles in the open, in my area due to this forest, that same 4W is lucky to reach the local repeater 5 miles away. I believe there is some "law of diminishing gains" I read about somewhere, it is an extension of Marconi's Law (the relation between height of antennas and maximum signaling distance of radio transmissions), and takes into account "green leaf RF sponges", such as soft and hard wood trees, hard clay versus soft sand, and so on. Soft wood trees like pine, and soft ground like sand tends to soak up RF, versus hard wood trees and harder ground like clay/packed dirt has much more of the RF bounce off.
TIP #3: the moral of this is find a higher transmitting location with fewer obstructions between you and your expected destination. Better aftermarket antennas can greatly help with getting better signals in and out.

With that said, that should at least get you started down the path to much easier usage of the Baofeng radios, and slightly less aggravation. If you feel I missed something, need to correct an error, feel free to use the Contact Us link at the top and let me know.
Happy DXing and 73s!

As more blog entries are added, some get moved to the archived blog entries page. As this is a new website, this will probably not need to be done for a month or two.