The Chinese are here!
Chinese companies have entered the US ham radio market. They’ve come up with some very inexpensive handhelds, with prices so low that they’re hard to ignore. The Chinese radios will do everything that the Japanese radios will do, but that doesn’t mean that they’ll do everything the same way. The Japanese have been in the US ham radio market for decades. Three popular brands are Yaesu, Kenwood, and ICOM. Over the years, these manufacturers have become highly attuned to the US market. Their radios are easy to program and easy to use.
The Chinese radios are variants of public service radios made for an entirely different market. In this market, the person who has the radio really isn’t allowed to fiddle with it. Actually it’s the same in the United States—only in amateur radio is a radio operator also allowed to be the radio programmer. That may seem odd, but your firefighters and policemen use radios that are set up by specialists. Well, these radios cover VHF and UHF frequencies. So it wasn’t too hard for Chinese makers like Wouxun to add a keypad (almost universally missing on public service radios) and market them to US ham radio operators. Both the Wouxun and the more recent entrant, Baofeng, reflect this public-service heritage. In what they call “frequency mode,” or what the Japanese would call VFO, you can input frequency directly using the keypad. In fact, the Chinese radios, instead of “VFO” and “memory,” have “frequency mode” and “channel mode,” meaning exactly the same thing.
But the similarities disappear there. Both the Wouxun and the Baofeng are designed to be set up via computer software and the special programming cable. It is possible to program most settings using the keypad, but it’s an exercise in enormous frustration, and frankly not worth the effort. For example, neither the Wouxun nor the Baofeng automatically understand repeater offsets. These must be programmed in. Break down and buy the programming cable!
And, as it turns out, if you buy the cable for the Wouxun radio, the cable works just fine with the Baofeng radio. One has to wonder how different these radios really are. They seem more similar than different.
Programming the Wouxun radio
Step one: Getting your computer to recognize the programming cable. This is not as easy as it might seem. The cable itself has a USB connector on one end and a double audio connector on the other that plugs into the radio’s headphone/earphone jacks. Apparently, and I’m quoting from the Wouxun.us website, there’s actually a chip inside the USB plug that emulates the Prolific chip used for COM port communications. To quote the site, these are fake chips, not actually made by Prolific. Prolific has recently released new drivers for Win 7, and the new drivers very carefully are incompatible with the fake chips. So even if you had a driver that used to work, Windows always searches for the most recent driver, and will find the new Prolific driver. This, of course, will make the programming cable ceased to work. So, there are instructions on the Wouxun.us website to keep Windows from doing this. Then you can download a driver that works and install it. This is, as you might imagine, a royal pain. Be sure to set aside a few uninterrupted hours the first time you try this. The document on the Wouxun website that has the detailed instructions can be found (deleted outdated link).
Step two: installing the Wouxun software. You get the Wouxun software here. You will note that nothing on the page refers directly to model KG-UV3D. Use the KG-UV2D software that is way at the top of the page.
Step three: programming the radio with the Wouxun software. Once you have installed the software and connected the cable to the radio, you need to download the contents of the radio’s memory to the computer. Follow the instructions in the software to do this. It may take some experimentation to find the right COM port. Have fun programming everything in. Note that for your repeaters, you program the output and input frequencies separately. There is no built in concept of “offset.” You can also specify high or low power, and whether that particular channel will be part of the scan pattern if you use the scanner feature. If you program in a frequency that is outside the ham band, for example your local weather station, you must program a transmit frequency that is inside the ham band. Really dumb, but that’s the only way you can program a non-ham listening frequency. For example I have programmed in the local weather frequency of 162.450 MHz as a receive frequency, and I paired it with the transmit frequency of 146.52 MHz. Once you are done, make sure to save this on your computer using the File command and putting the file somewhere you can find it. Then you must upload all of this into your radio. You will note that when you upload, the software uploads absolutely everything, not just your changes. The green light on the top of the Wouxun radio will flicker during upload. Once the radio is programmed, you can switch between frequency mode and channel mode by first pressing Menu and then pressing the TDR button. You can select channels with the frequency knob. This may seem like a very roundabout way of doing things, but it does work, and if you program in all the repeaters in your local area plus all the simplex frequencies plus APRS, after a while you’ll have everything in the radio that you need.
Programming the Baofeng radio
As noted above, the Wouxun programming cable works and driver just fine for the Baofeng radio. However, you’ll need different software for the actual programming. I experimented with a couple variations on the Wouxun webpage, but gave up and opted for something entirely different. CHIRP software is third-party software which you can find here. Note that while you can download the software freely, it really is shareware. Please make a contribution—after all, it’s going to save you an awful lot of work. You will need to use the same COM port that you would use with the Wouxun radio. If you don’t have one of those, you’ll have to do a little searching to find the right COM port. Once you have done that, use the UV-5R profile. You’ll use it the same way that the Wouxun works—that is, first download what’s in the radio’s memory, make modifications, save a local copy using the computer’s file command, and uploading the results back to the radio. The Baofeng’s light will blink green during the upload. Now, pay attention to every parameter. You start out by entering the receive frequency. Then you will make note if the repeater needs a tone, and if so, what that tone is. If there is no tone, or this is a simplex frequency, be sure to select “none.” You will have to pay special attention to the offset. The CHIRP software is intelligent and will try to make the right choices for you, but doublecheck it—for some reason I had real trouble with one particular repeater. I opted to program my Baofeng radio with the same channels as the Wouxun radio for commonality.
And, to be somewhat snide, that’s all there is to it! Actually it’s quite time consuming and frustrating. It’s a trade-off between a much less expensive radio that is just as capable as its Japanese equivalent, or the more expensive Japanese radio that might be a little bit easier to program. I note that if you have lots and lots of frequencies to program in, even the Japanese offer programming software. The Japanese programming cables are very expensive, and likewise the software that does the programming is also expensive, whereas the Chinese software is free or is shareware for a minimal amount of money.
I purchased the Wouxun radio quite some time ago because I couldn’t believe that an inexpensive Chinese radio could be as good as my Japanese radios. But the fact is, overlooking the cultural differences, such as what things are called, they’re just as good. And with the availability of the Baofeng radio, it really lowers the entry barrier for new Technician licensees. I can give the Wouxun radio my recommendation based on many months of usage. I’ve tried it out not only on voice FM, but also APRS. I want to get more experience with the Baofeng radio. Today I tried it with APRS with excellent results. I have to admit I’m building up quite a collection of 2 m handhelds of various ages. All of them are fairly simple radios, because I really don’t use the bells and whistles.
So, your choice! Once you go through the process of setting up the programming, you’re set. Its like anything new—it just takes some getting used to. [Just like this Dragon Naturally Speaking software that I’m using to dictate this post because with a broken arm I’m reduced to being a one fingered typist!]