Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Cheap VHF Communications

The high power rocketry club I am a member of uses two meter amateur radios for communications. We do this on the drive to the launch range and while walking around and doing ground crew duties as well.  My money has a variety of places to go right now, so for the time being I needed to simply find the least expensive setup that works.  I've found that.  Serious amateur radio enthusiasts probably won't care much for my choices, but from a purely utilitarian perspective they work well enough for me, at least for the time being.

Sorry, the radio still has desert all over it.

The transceiver itself is the (in)famous Baofeng UV5R-A.    A lot of the complaints people have about the menus being poorly laid out are frankly true.  With that said, when I talk into the radio people hear me and are able to understand what I said.  I am also able to understand them.  I programmed the repeaters in my area into it with CHIRP, bypassing the obnoxious menu.

One common (and in my experience valid) complaint about the Baofengs is the shit-tacular antenna they come with.  I picked up a knockoff of a Nagoya antenna from eBay for about $5 a while back (they don't seem to be available any longer).  After doing this, I was able to pick up a lot more traffic than I could previously.

For just walking around, this is really all that you need.  However, if you want to use your radio in a vehicle this won't quite do it.

This is a Nagoya magnetic mount antenna.  It has a reasonably strong magnet at the bottom, which sticks to the roof of my truck quite nicely.  I simply ran the wire in through the passenger side wing window.

Picking up the transceiver while driving and it having a big wire coming off of the end of it is no fun, but fortunately a remote microphone/speaker combo is available.  Some users have complained about poor audio quality from the speaker, and of others not being able to hear them well when speaking.  Personally, I've had no problems with bad received audio quality.  I have personally had no problem with the received audio quality.  With that said, I have noticed that I need to speak directly into the microphone to be heard well.

I don't want to risk draining the battery while on a long drive, so I picked up a cigarette lighter adapter.  It is clearly made from a hollowed out battery (it even says "Li-ion Battery" on the thing), but despite its chintzy appearance, it works.  Some users have complained about their radios heating up when they use it, but I haven't experienced this.

This gear allowed me to communicate with other people a few miles away.  It is true that I had some issues while crossing the Cascades (line of sight stuff), I wouldn't be surprised if people with nicer radios had similar problems.  At the end of the day, the Baofeng gives you a lot to work with for very little money.  I would like to get something nicer at some point, but this will do for the time being.

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