Just because it’s cheap doesn’t mean it’s limited
So you picked up a new Baofeng radio, either a 5R or something else. I will stick with the 5R for this article since it is what I know. Now that you maybe have had a chance to try it out on the local repeater or simplex. Maybe you have been using it to listen to the weather or local emergency channels. Whatever you do, there is always a little more these little radios can do.
First things first, you need to get some frequencies programmed into the radio. It helps to tag the non-amateur freqs with something meaningful, like City Police, City Fire, Weird TinFoil Hat Guy, just kidding on the last one, it’s too long. The reason I don’t recommend you naming the ham repeaters is that when most hams refer to a repeater, they won’t use the call letters they use the freq.
Even that gets shortened. Since all 2-Meter repeaters fall in the 144-148MHz range, it’s easy to shorten something like 145.190 to the 5-19 machine. An experienced ham will know that someone is talking about a repeater at 145.190Mhz. So best when programming your radio to just leave the freq in the display, it will make jumping to other machines easier.
Here’s a beginners guide to programming a Baofeng:
Also bear in mind that a lot of city services have gone to a digital trunking system, which allows multiple radios with the right key to be in the same group of frequencies without interfering with each other. The downside is that your Baofeng won’t be able to follow the transmission around as it jumps.
Once you get everything programmed let’s take a look at what else you can do.
Radio from SPAAAACE!
Do you know there are literally tons of satellites orbiting the earth that you can listen too, even on a $25 handheld? It’s easy it just takes a little preparation. The are a couple of apps out there that track satellites for you and there are a couple of websites also. You can check them out here:
Apps for your smartphone – ISS Tracker (Android) This is a great app you can use to find out when different satellites are passing over your area. The paid version is well worth the $2.50 if you get more into this. You can set a filtered list of the satellites you are interested in and it will let you know when it will pass over your location, for how long and where to look to see it, in the case of the ISS (International Space Station).
Website – Spot the Station – Shows the location of the Space Station and can send you alerts when it will be within range of your location
Website – Work Sat Great website for getting started in tracking and talking on ham satellites
There is no special equipment needed to listen to these satellites when they are passing over simply tune to the downlink freq and open your squelch all the way. If the satellite is transmitting you should be able to hear it clearly as it passed overhead. The ISS usually only transmits when they have a special event set up with a school, so it is unusual to hear them. But the ham satellites are almost always busy. One time I was in southern California and I heard ham operators from Idaho talking to people via satellite relay. In order to transmit to the satellite and be heard, you have to set your Baofeng for dual mode. Since you will be trans
I found it is best to point your antenna parallel to the ground, signals coming from space through the Earth’s atmosphere tend to “corkscrew” so you need to present as much of your antenna as possible to the incoming signal. You should also be ready to move the antenna in a circle to keep the signal, remember the transmitter is flying overhead at around 25,000 mph, so you only have a small window to listen in.
Once you have your license, even the technician class, you can transmit on these satellites also, yes you can even call the ISS. There is a little more specialized equipment needed to make a solid contact. Here is a website that can get you started. It’s cheap to get going, just takes a little bit of work, and a ton of patience.
Another space-based signal is the group of orbiting weather satellites from NOAA. The POES series of satellites orbit the earth over the poles, hence the name POES (Polar Orbiting Earth Sensing) you can tune in their downlink freq and listen to the beeps and blips. That’s not all, if you are able to get a clear signal, recorded of the pass, then run the signal through a decoder application and that will decode the image to the current weather picture.
Share your local repeater with the world
Another resource RadioReference.com provides is live broadcasts of local radio signals. This is provided by a huge network of volunteers who connect their scanners and receivers to their computers and provide a live stream of the captured audio. This is easy to setup with a dedicated radio. While local amateur repeaters may not be the most active radio sources, they are a great addition to the RadioReference website.
You could also do this with local emergency services, but those are usually covered. Check out the website for what source radios are available in your area and see where maybe you could fill in a gap. You will need to setup your own server on your computer to provide the stream, but this is not really hard. You just need a computer that is on all the time and a decent internet connection.
Stay up to date with weather in your area
The National Weather Service provides local coverage of weather observation and forecasting, it is a 24 hour a day 7 day a week signal.
Just find which of these signals is the best for you and lock it into your radio. Having a weather radio is great during severe weather for staying current with what is happening. TV and the Internet rely on power, a charged radio in listening mode can run for at least a day of continuous use. This can be a lifesaver in the event of an emergency.
There are a ton of things you can do with these radios, even before you have your license. Once you do pass the exam, even more things are opened up to you. There is a ton of things to do in the 2-Meter and 70-Centemeter bands. VHF/UHF used to be very active before all the “Serious” hams moved on to HF. So start with listening and move on to broadcasting when you can.
When you get your callsign, don’t be afraid to go onto the local repeater and throw out a <Callsign>Monitoring. Who knows who might come back to you. And if you hear that same call from someone else, feel free to reply. The only way we will breathe life back into the local repeater is if people use it. Don’t let anyone tell you that a good old rag chew is no fun. You meet the best people on 2-Meters.
These little cheap Chinese radios are great, and at the price, you can get them for, get two. You might get a dud here and there, but for a low-risk entry point to the hobby, they are great!