Listening in to Amateur Radio

This short article was inspired by the following email from Rob:

” I’ve just purchased a Baofeng uv5r plus, and I’m a complete novice but really want to get in to ham radio, I cannot seem to pick anything up on my radio.

I’ve tried to set it up from different people helping via the web but with no luck. I do not have a PC, so I cannot programme via disk/computer. Could you please help me get it sorted manually or point me in the right direction?

Background

The Baofeng UV-5R is a low-priced handheld amateur radio transceiver that can transmit and receive on two amateur radio bands, the 2 metre band and the 70cm band. You need to be a licensed amateur radio operator to be able to transmit using this radio, but you don’t need a licence to listen in – which is handy for those looking to get into the hobby, or working towards getting a Foundation licence.

The Baofeng radios are favoured by many hams for their small size, flexibility, and cheap price. You can buy from various ham radio dealers in the UK, but most find it’s cheaper to import from Hong Kong, via one of the eBay Baofeng Stores.

Listening to 2m and 70cm

Baofeng UV-5R
The Baofeng UV-5R transceiver

Amateur radio operators typically operate “HF”, which is used to talk around the world, or VHF/UHF, which is more local. Here in Essex, the 2 metre is more active than the 70cm band, and you can often work amateurs from Kent, London, Suffolk and Hertfordshire on 2 metres, often using ‘repeaters’ which widen the area.

The allowed frequencies for amateurs are as follows:

2 metres: From 144MHz to 146MHz
70cm: From 430MHZ to 440MHz

What can you hear?

Well, it depends who’s on, and what time of day you’re listening. Some days, it’s quiet, other days you’ll find lots of conversations in progress.

Two places to have a listen are:

145.500MHz – This is what’s known as the “calling channel”, where amateurs can call out for someone, or put out a general CQ call. Normally,

Your local repeater  – In Essex, this is the GB3DA repeater (which is on 145.725MHz). If you’re not in Essex, see the UK Repeaters website for local repeaters and frequencies.

You can see what band amateurs are allowed to use, and what you can expect to find, on the Band Plan section of the RSGB website (check the 2M and 70CM tabs)

 

Struggling to hear anything?

There are a few things to bear in mind:

Antenna:

The small rubber duck antenna supplied with cheap handheld radios are pretty poor, and have a limited range. If the antenna isn’t up to it, you can get a longer portable aerial to replace the short stubby aerial. For better performance, you’ll need something better. Here are some options

  • A rooftop co-linear antenna would be best (from £20)
  • The same antenna mounted in the loft will work, but not as well
  • A mag-mount antenna on the roof of your car
  • A mag mount antenna  on a biscuit-tin or baking tray

Location:

Height matters, so an antenna on the roof is best. Operating with the aerial inside a car, or inside a concrete/brick building isn’t great. Try outdoors, with nothing blocking your path to the station you’re trying to receive.

Activity:

Of course, you could be listening at a time that no-one’s transmitting. You may have to be patient.

It may be worth clecking out some of your local clubs to get a feel for when the local frequencies are busy. Locally in Essex, Every Monday we run a busy net on the GB3DA repeater that lasts for at least two hours – great for people new to the hobby to tuine in to. If you’re in Essex, have a listen on 145.725MHz from 8pm on a Monday. If you’re out of the area, find out whaich clubs near you run a net, at what times, and on what frequency, so you can have a listen.

 

Programming your radio?

Assuming all you’re doing is listening… then you don’t need to programme anything in. Just go to the frequency you’re after, and listen away

When it comes to transmitting using a local repeater, you’ll need to programme the radio to set the transmit offset and CTCSS tones… but that’s only for talking through a repeater, and not for simply listening. If you’re looking to programme your rig for transmitting to a repeater, we have several guides on the site, or you can ask for help specific to your rig in our Essex Ham Forum

 

Hopefully that gives you the basic information that you need to know to start listening in to amateur radio transmissions. If you have any questions, please add a comment below.

12 Comments

  1. Avatar Rob 25 November 2012 Reply
    • Pete M0PSX Pete M0PSXAuthor 25 November 2012 Reply
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