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10 things you can do with your cheap Baofeng/Pofung/Wouxun VHF/UHF handheld transceiver

Twenty or thirty years ago a Yaesu, Icom or Kenwood VHF/UHF 2m/70cm handheld cost $500 - $1000. Advances in electronics have dramatically lowered prices. Now you can find an analogue FM dualband handheld from the likes of Icom, Kenwood or Yaesu for under $200.

Even $200 may exceed budget for someone starting out, wanting a second handheld or something cheap to experiment with. The good news is you can now get cheap Chinese dualband handhelds for under $50, and in some cases under $30. Incredible! These go under names like Baofeng, Pofung or Wouxun.

There may be some performance compromises and other shortcuts. Instructions aren't necessarily comprehensive, programming can be confusing and transmit audio with the internal microphone might not be great. RF filtering may be poorer than 'name brand' transceivers. There can be issues with quality control, although their low replacement price means that no tears are shed if you need a replacement. And, just like in the 1960s when there was resistance to the Japanese HF transceivers then hitting the market, there are one or two crusty old hams that disparage these market newcomers.

I wouldn't necessarily use a cheap Chinese handheld in a safety-critical application. But there are many casual non-critical amateur activities where they can be great. Below are some available models, accessories and ideas on what you can do with them.

 

 

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1. Learn about the capabilities of two metres

If you're new to ham radio and have just got a handheld transceiver watch this. I give a rundown of what the amateur VHF two metre band can do and how you can enjoy it. Most comments also apply to the UHF 70 centimetre band.

 

2. Manually program frequencies

Manually programming frequencies can be a bit of a chore. People often recommend the 'Chirp' software. But if you do need to put something in manually, check out this video from Jonathon Young KK4HOM.

 

3. Improve your antenna

One of the most cost-effective things you can do is improved your antenna. The 'rubber ducks' that come with handheld transceivers are often a compromise, especially on two metres where they are much smaller than a full sized quarter wavelength. Accessory antennas are available or you can make your own. For even better performance buy an antenna socket adapter and make a small two to four element beam. This can easily double or triple your range compared to standard supplied antennas. A small beam for 144 MHz can be made from a metal tape measure. Another thing you can do is to buy some microphone extension cables and raise your handheld so it clears local obstructions.

 

 

4. Try hilltop simplex operating

While people think of low power handhelds as being mainly for talking through repeaters, you can get good results on simplex as well. On the ground you might only get a few kilometres range between handheld units. But achieveable distances multiply with a bit of height. Start by looking up the simplex calling frequencies in your area and possibly some further away repeaters. If activity is quiet, drum up some interest on a local ham forum or Facebook group to get people listening for you. Then go up on a hill (preferably one that is not a permanent transmitting site to avoid receiver overload) and see who you can work. Here I took a Baofeng up a hill and had some good 50 - 60km simplex contacts on both 2m and 70cm. If a qualifying summit you might be able to claim the contact for the Summits of the Air program.

 

5. Do a range check with your home station

An educational activity that will also give you a lot of exercise is to test how far you can walk out with your handheld transceiver and still be heard from home. In this video I build a very simple range tester for testing handheld transceivers. Tests on 70cm were done with both a milliwatt handheld and a higher power Pofung. You might be surprised how far you go and may need to turn back before you run out of range.

Don't want to do any soldering? If you've got a handheld with VOX (voice operated transmit) and a transmitter timer you can make a range tester by putting it up to the speaker of a VHF or UHF FM receiver (which could be another handheld).

Watch how to do it below:

 

6. A cheap receiver for foxhunting and other short range tests

Chinese handhelds are so cheap you couldn't build a 2m or 70cm receiver for less than what you can get one delivered to your door. Thus they can make good receivers for foxhunting and other applications provided you can work around not having a signal strength indicator. In these videos I experiment with UHF transmitter modules. Transmitting on around 433.9 MHz they can be picked up on a cheap handheld provided that their frequency is properly set and does not fall between the receiver's channels. Of course for proper foxhunting you'll also need a directional antenna - a 3 to 6 element UHF beam is quite small and can be made at home - plus an RF attenuator to cut the signal back to where it only partially quietens the receiver's hiss.

 

7. A simple RF signal generator

One for the tech-heads. A cheap VHF/UHF handheld can operate as an RF signal generator. In this video I describe how this is useful in demonstrating a trick with tuned circuits.

 

8. Better signals through repeaters

Signals from handheld transceivers can sometimes be noisy into repeaters and make you hard to understand. To ensure best readability you should use as good an antenna as possible, go to an 'in the clear' location, and stand on something to increase height. It's also important to have good transmit audio to make the most of what limited signal you have. The internal microphones in cheap handhelds aren't always that great.

If that's the case with yours get an external microphone for crisper clearer transmit audio. Beware though that quality varies. Some external microphones are worse than internal microphones, as demonstrated below.

 

9. Transmit your position with APRS

Talking isn't the only thing cheap handhelds are good for. You can also transmit data such as position information. This can be useful for tracking moving objects. For more information check out this Instructable by KG7IOA. Also see this video demonstration by Paul McGee M6RSQ and Dave Cassler KEØOG's review.

 

10. Work through amateur satellites

Satellite working is probably the most impressive thing you can do with a cheap HT. It requires patience and contacts are only brief as the satellites involved are low earth orbiting with short pass times. People have done it with one transceiver but having two allows you to hear your own signal coming back. People have done it with small antennas on the transceiver though some well aimed beams can improve signals. The easiest satellites to work with a handheld are the very sensitive AO91 and AO92.

Follow the links below for further information on working through amateur satellites:

Receive and transmit through amateur satellites (internal link with video demonstrations)
video demonstration by David Mercado KK4MND
Helpful forum post by WD9EWK
G4VXE on programming memories

You can have a lot of fun with a 2m/70cm handheld, even if only a cheap one. I've given a few pointers above. No doubt there's other ideas. Tell others what you've done and better still make a video or blog post so we can all see and read about it!

 

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