The Baofeng radios are very popular, with the result there are lots of websites and user forums out there that discuss the radios. That’s the good news. The bad news is that some of the participants on these forums seem like recidivists from the ‘bad old days’ of CB radios in the 1970s – the real reason the CB radio ‘craze’ died out (in our opinion) is because the airwaves became infested with idiots who jammed up the channels and made the participation of ‘normal’ people into an unpleasant and difficult experience. Just as low-priced GMRS/FRS radios have sort of overwhelmed the FCC’s policing of the GMRS radio bands, the ready availability of low-priced HT sets like the UV-5R threatens to see the 2m and 70cm ham bands infested by such people, too. Fortunately – at least so far – the ham community has been vigilant at policing itself, and we hope that will continue to happen on the air, if not on the internet. There is an excellent website at http://www.miklor.com/ that is focused on all UV-5R related issues. It is well worth your while to read all the way through it. The material is generally accurate and helpful. There is an active Yahoo Group – http://groups.yahoo.com/group/baofeng_uv5r/ – that you might want to join as well. We’ve found that there’s a high proportion of nonsense messages in this group, alas; but if you can survive that for a few weeks, you might pick up some useful additional information, and it is easy enough to unsubscribe from the group again. Currently there are 7700 members of the group, and at least some of them are very helpful and sensible. Others however clearly don’t know what a ham license is, let alone have one.
The radio has a lot of configurable options, either through keyboard programming or via the CHIRP software. Most items can be left at their default setting, and the per channel items for each channel can be configured as is needed. There are a few settings to consider, however.
In addition to being able to transmit and receive on its two bands, the Baofeng UV-5R has a bonus feature. It also has a good quality extended FM broadcast band receiver in it, which allows you to receive but not transmit on both the regular broadcasting FM band (88-108 MHz) and also on the 65-88MHz frequencies too. There’s not a lot of activity in the 65-88MHz part of the spectrum (that’s putting it mildly) and the radio only tunes in 100 kHz steps in this mode. However, the regular FM radio capability is convenient. You can’t store FM channels in the radio’s memories, but you can use the scan function to jump from one radio station to the next.
The Baofeng UV-5R series of radios will receive and transmit on FM modulated VHF frequencies between 136-174MHZ and on FM modulated UHF frequencies between 400-480/520MHz. It will also receive only (but not transmit) on FM modulated VHF frequencies between 65 – 108 MHz. First, to explain the UHF range. Many times the radios might be specified as having an upper range of 480 MHz, but (at least for the more recent firmware units) the upper range is actually 520 MHz. Trust us on this – we’ve tested to confirm. Second, there is a problem with very inexpensive radios being freely available. Sometimes people buy them who, ahem, probably shouldn’t. We regularly see ridiculous claims from people on websites, saying that they have managed to modify their UV-5R radios to receive (and presumably transmit, too) on other frequencies – not just slight extensions of the official frequency ranges, but all the way up to 1 GHz and down to only a few MHz. We’ve also read other people saying they have modified their radios to receive AM as well as FM signals. Both these types of claims are physically impossible, and are outright utter nonsense. We can’t comment as to the mental health of people who make such claims, but the unavoidable electrical and electronic reality is that – no matter what you can get the display on the front of the radios to show – they will not work outside the frequency ranges they have been designed to operate on. We will concede that with increasingly poor performance, maybe you could extend the two bands by about 5% – 10% at each end, but beyond that, the circuitry just will not work. And as for receiving AM signals on an FM radio, that’s also not electrically/electronically possible. We all like to get something for nothing, but don’t risk damaging your radios by trying these nonsense modifications. They can’t work, they don’t work, and they won’t work.
Now for the fun part. There are 128 memories in the radio, and you can load frequencies of your choice into them. But what frequencies will you load in? We suggest programming some FRS/GMRS/MURS frequencies into the radio, plus some ham frequencies too (assuming you’re a bona fide licensed ham). These are discussed below. We suggest you use some sort of standard frequency numbering scheme – although you can (and should) also program frequency names, it is helpful to have some sort of self-interpreting channel numbers, too. For example, we have channels 1 – 9 for high priority high usage ‘general’ channels. These include the standard national calling channels (eg 446 MHz) as well as a few local repeater channels that give good coverage, and our own group’s calling channels. We then have channels 11 – 24 for FRS, 25 – 29 for MURS, 31-8 and 41-8 for GMRS simplex channels, and 51-58 for GMRS duplex channels. We have channels 61 – 99 for various other repeaters and specific channels for specific services, then channels 100+ for ‘interesting’ local channels we like to monitor (public safety, etc). The reason for naming channels is so that when you hear a transmission on an unfamiliar frequency, its name might give you a clue as to what you are hearing. Note that these radios are not ideally suited for scanning purposes – mainly because their scanning rate is too slow. By the time they’ve cycled through 100 or so channels and returned to channel one, more than 30 seconds has passed. This means you can miss entire conversations. If you really want to scan multiple channels, you should get a separate standalone high-speed scanner, or at the very least, get multiple UV-5R radios and program each one to only a limited number of channels.
Okay, so now you have an up-to-date radio and a great manual and keyboard (as in ‘the keyboard on the radio itself’) programming ‘cheat sheet’. The next thing you need is good software to program and manage all the radio’s settings and the 128 different channels that can be stored in its memory. This assumes you have already purchased a programming cable for the radio that connects between a computer USB port and the radio’s mike/speaker connector. If you haven’t done so, you’ll, about now, be discovering just how essential this is! Here’s a link to the programming cables on Amazon. Go and get one. Note that some cables are for the baby brother of the UV-5R – the UV-3R Don’t get that – it uses a different connector. And there’s no need to pay extra money to get the cable and software. Just get the cable, because the Baofeng software it comes with is only slightly better than the Baofeng manual the radio comes with. Again, you’re going to replace the inferior provided software with very much better, and free, software. Once you have your cable, go to the CHIRP website and download their software. There are versions for PCs, Macs, and Linux. The CHIRP software will enable you to program both the radio’s general settings (things such as squelch levels, backlight settings, scan mode, and so on) and also the specific settings for each of its 128 memory channels. You’ll find this amazingly easier and more straightforward than struggling either with programming the radio from its own keypad, or through the Baofeng software. Here’s a great guide to what the various CHIRP fields mean for programming the channels.
Okay, so your radio does have recent firmware in it. Great. Now let’s fix the dreadful manual by getting you a very much better manual. Click the link to download an improved Baofeng UV-5R manual. This improved manual was written by one person and then edited/annotated/corrected by a second, and between the two of them, is by far the best reference work for the radio currently available. Here’s a second link to a great ‘cheat sheet’ for the keyboard programming options the radio comes with (written by the same guy who annotated the excellent manual above). Grab a copy of that, too.