Seven Steps to Avoid Most Baofeng Radio Problems
Craig - N7LB
RF Gear 2 Go Founder
First, none of the less expensive Chinese radios (including many that cost far more than the Baofeng series of radios) program the same way as do their more expensive Japanese radio counterparts (from the radio's keypad or from the various freeware programming software options).
Simply seeing the "+-" offset sign on a Baofeng radio’s LCD, for example, DOES NOT mean that the radio has automatically programmed the correct offset for the band/memory you are using. In addition, the S-meter on Baofeng handhelds will always show full scale, regardless of actual signal strength, which can cause many users to think their signal is actually stronger than it really is. (This is true for the entire Baofeng handheld product line).
Second, to all of the Baofeng radio buyers that think FCC Part 90 acceptance also means that you can have two VHF or UHF frequencies 12.5kHz apart (or less) on your two VFO's (and not hear any other cross-channel noise or interference on the other frequency), you will need to purchase a higher performance radio than the original Baofeng UV-5R.
Many of the overseas importers (that use Amazon or E-Bay) don’t even bother to ship FCC Part 90 approved radios (non-FCC Part 90 radios are usually cheaper), which make them illegal to use on any commercial frequency within the U.S. (see picture below). The radio on the left failed the QC test, the radio on the right passed.
If you are looking at the UV-5R as a way to reduce expenses, but want an better Baofeng receiver (and want to be able to use many of the accessories available for the UV-5R family), I would suggest looking at the UV-5R V2+ (introduced in late 2014), the UV-5R 8 Watt, or the BF-F9V2+, which don't cost much more and have better Baofeng receiver boards.
If complete UV-5R accessory compatibility isn’t needed, take a look at the UV-82 series. For those that can even afford a few dollars more, both TYT and Wouxun make radios with better receivers, more memories (from 199 all the way to 999) and tons of accessories available, plus TYT has a few options that Baofeng simply doesn't offer (like 10 watts of transmit power, 20 to 25 FM commercial radio channels, a compandered audio circuit, and a form of scrambled audio [called audio inversion] for more secure communication options when available).
Third, understand that the Twin Dual Receive (TDR) function in the Baofeng radios [Menu 7] is NOT the same as having the ability to receive two different conversations at the same time. The radio simply scans back and forth between the two VFO receivers (think about counting “1001 and 1002” and you get the idea of it's scanning speed), so you may very well miss a short conversation or comment on one VFO from time to time.
If this is totally unacceptable to you, purchase a higher performance radio (or carry two Baofeng radios), as hearing two audio conversations at once is NOT available on any current Baofeng series of radios (nor can it be somehow magically re-programmed or hacked into existence with any third-party "mods").
Fourth, if you insist on buying the cheapest USB programming cable available, expect that you will have problems getting the various free programming software programs to work properly (using either VIP or Chirp), since the majority of new owners either fail to read, or fail to follow, the detailed step by step instructions on the various internet radio forums (on how to overcome the cheap fake cable issues), and/or they don't understand how to properly turn off the Windows 7, 8 or 10 auto update feature on their program drivers within Microsoft Windows in order for their fake programming cable to work.
By the way, if you’d like to use the radio’s alpha-numeric naming of memories, you will have to use a radio programming software package, it can not be done using the keypad on any Baofeng radios (keypad programming with names can be done with numerous TYT radio models however).
To avoid the cable problem completely, I suggest purchasing an actual Prolific, Silcon Labs, or FTDI 2-prong Kenwood style programming cable. Buying a real (not fake) cable and following the instructions on the internet forums will eliminate most of the Baofeng programming issues you hear folks complain about, or upgrade your programming efforts to First Class and get an RT Systems cable and software kit (and have your radio programmed quicker than drinking your first cup of coffee). RT Systems kits are what we use (and sell), and having folks that: a) speak English as their native language, b) are U.S. ham radio operators,
c) have your model radio sitting in front of them, and d) really support their product, is worth every penny IMHO, but I understand that some folks will still want to waste several hours of their life by trying their fake $5.00 programming cables and freeware first.
There are several types of programming data cables available from three major players (FTDI, Prolific, and Silicon Labs), but the Prolific cables are the most illegally cloned cables from China, so you never know what you'll actually get shipped. A real Prolific, Silicon Labs, or FTDI cable will cost around $20-$25, but will save you hours of pulling hair (which some of us can’t afford to lose). The complete RT Systems kit (FTDI cable and their matching radio software) costs $48.95, but you’ll be amazed how quickly you can become a Baofeng programming radio "genius" among your friends.
If you plan on using a free programming software product instead (like Chirp or VIP), I'd suggest getting either an FTDI or Silicon Labs cable (I happen to like the Wouxun/Red Silicon Labs programming cable, but FTDI cables work well). Again, if you want to totally eliminate the programming hassle completely (and getting the USB cable driver to work), or if you think your time is still worth something, call us for the various Baofeng software cable kits from RT Systems (yes, they cost more than a fake Prolific cable with freeware, but they work, and work very well).
Bragging rights alone (in some circles) could easily be worth the $48.95 spent. How you handle being called a programming “genius” (by using the RT Systems kit) can be your little secret. (We also sell software/cable kits for hundreds of other brand radios as well).
Fifth, the majority of issues you hear about from this brand of radios (and Chinese radios in general) will come from older hams or engineers, as they will constantly insist that "they" should be able to do things with it (using some other method) and will drive themselves crazy trying to figure out why their $60 to $200 radio doesn't work like their $300 to $600 Japanese radios from Alinco, Kenwood, Icom, or Yaesu. Those folks, in turn, bash the Chinese radios on various forums (primarily because they won't follow directions and/or the radio doesn't work the way "they" feel it should), or that it doesn’t have all of the features in their $300 to $600 Japanese radio (like APRS, D-Star, or GPS). Those issues also include folks that don’t understand why their friends (using PL tones or Privacy Codes on their various FRS/GMRS radios) don’t automatically hear them when they transmit on the correct frequency (but with no PL tone turned on for transmit).
Another common issue is not understanding that newer digital trunking systems can’t be heard (or talked to) with any analog radio, not just the various Baofeng radios. If you want to monitor any local Police Department that has gone digital, you’ll need to purchase either a digital radio or a digital scanner. Fortunately for us, Arizona DPS and many county Sheriff departments still use analog VHF or UHF, which is easily programmed into all dual-band Chinese radios (if you have the correct cable and software).
Sixth, understand that if you really know very little about newer VHF/UHF radios in general or you plan to ignore the step by step instructions available to you on various Baofeng forums or user-groups, and if you don't even plan to read the manual, you will probably
(at some point) have an issue with these radios. It normally won't be the radio's fault, of course, as you won't change the frequency step correctly or will program both the PL tone on encode and decode (thereby blocking the repeater audio from coming through to your
receiver), etc., etc., but you'll blame the radio nonetheless.
My suggestion is for you to purchase a radio that's already pre-programmed (setup with many of the frequencies in your local area) based on your radio’s capabilities and memory channels, which can vary from one radio model to another. We can program the radio with a standard template for only $20 (and eliminate the programming hassle completely), plus provide you with a frequency/channel print-out for your radio.
Seventh, radio sellers are all over the map, but in general I'd suggest finding a seller that's at least based within the U.S. who will give you the "straight scoop" about the various models of Baofeng radios. It should be noted (and obvious) that sellers that only sell one brand of radio aren’t very likely to point out a better radio (for your needs) - if they don’t sell that other brand or model. Several Chinese sellers pretend to be based in the U.S. as well, in an effort to capture “local” business, or pretend to have a large direct relationship from the Chinese manufacturer, even hinting that they alone can repair a particular brand of radio, which is utter nonsense.
Also be aware that some sellers will accept “seconds” from the factory, radios which may have an issue that is important to you as a buyer. We insist on only getting brand new radios, not rejects, seconds, or previously returned units. We also insist on FCC Part 90
radios when available (many sold on the internet are not intended for U.S. sales - as previously mentioned). If you want to gamble on one of those models, there are many different Amazon and E-Bay sellers that will happily take your money (mostly based in China) - that will insist you return the defective radio first (at your expense) for your refund.
You’ll be surprised to find out just how much it costs to ship your defective radio back to China. (As stated previously, many radios aren’t really defective at all, they just aren’t programmed correctly and the radio hardware gets blamed for the issue.)
If you have made it this far, congratulations on a job well done. By following these seven simple steps, you will eliminate the vast majority of programming issues that plague many new Baofeng owners and have also become a smarter radio buyer as a result.
If you have any other questions that I haven’t covered, fell free to give us a call on our toll-free number. We're located at 6640 E. Baseline Road, #102, Mesa, AZ 85206.