What can I do with a Baofeng UV-82 ham radio?
January 8, 2017 1:45 PM   Subscribe

For reasons lost to history, I put a Baofeng UV-82 handheld ham radio on my Amazon wish list list one day. I then forgot about it entirely. Many months later, my mom bought it for me as a Christmas gift (in a delightful fire engine red). However: I have no idea what to do with a radio like this, or even really how to begin learning about what the ham radio scene is like in 2017. (I live in Brooklyn, NY, if that's relevant). What do people do with cute little walkie-talkies these days?

(So far I have scanned through frequencies in the neighborhood and heard mostly some very nice static and a tantalizing snatch of Morse code.)
posted by Sokka shot first to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (10 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Do you have a license? Without it, that radio probably won't be much fun. But getting a license is pretty easy. Check out the ARRL books both for info on the licensing test, and for ideas of other things to do.
posted by primethyme at 2:08 PM on January 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

I programmed the memories in mine for gmrs, frs and murs channels, as well as all the marine channels (i live near the coast) and all the noaa weather radio broadcast channels.

And its got a flashlight. And an fm radio
posted by chasles at 2:34 PM on January 8, 2017

groups also use it trail riding & such, you should be able to find the class at the local HAM club.
posted by patnok at 4:26 PM on January 8, 2017

Amateur Extra here, call NF3H.

Please don't transmit on the ham bands without a license except in a genuine emergency. (Among other things, licensed hams won't talk to you and you can get in expensive FCC troubles.)

But, getting a license is easy and cheap. You have to answer 35 multiple choice questions and get 26 of them right. The questions are chosen from a pool of 426, and you can read the question pool ahead of time. If you know basic electronics and physics, you probably already know more than half the answers (then, common sense and basic test-taking skills should give you some more "free" answers). There are also free practice exams you can take online.

For US readers like you, the ARRL web site is a good place to start finding out about licensing. Using the exam searchy thing, I found 12 exam sessions in January within 25 miles of ZIP code 11223.

Once you have a license, the most basic thing you can do is to talk directly to other amateur radio operators, using your radio like a walkie-talkie ("simplex").

A step up in complexity from there, you can use local repeaters to talk to people in a much wider area than you could with the power of a little handheld radio alone. The basic idea is that you set up your radio to transmit on one frequency (the repeater input) and receive on another (the repeater output). The repeater is a powerful fixed radio with (hopefully) a good, well-placed antenna. It hears your signal on the input and simultaneously re-transmits it on the output. Other people (with radios configured like yours) can hear you and talk back.

There are repeater networks, with multiple repeaters in different places connected together. A subset of these are Internet-linked using things like IRLP or Echolink. Want to talk to amateur operators in Japan or Australia with your 5W handheld radio? This is a way to do that.

With the right interface, you can use your computer sound card as a modem, and enjoy digital modes like packet radio (and nifty protocols like APRS built on top of these modes).

With home-made Yagi antenna, patience and luck you might even be able to make contacts via one of the amateur radio satellites out there.

Maybe you'll want to use your knowledge and equipment to help your community, in a disaster where normal communications channels are gone, or at a public event where radio communications are needed. There are lots of public service opportunities, and training so you'll know how to help.

Ham radio is a big hobby with lots of little sub-hobbies within it. A handheld 2m/70cm radio like your is a great introduction to a number of them.

(Aside: Watch the band edges! The UV-82 is only FCC type-approved for the ham bands, but can transmit well outside them. Using it to transmit on the FRS or GMRS bands in a non-emergency situation is technically breaking the law -- though as a practical matter you're unlikely to catch hell.)
posted by sourcequench at 4:36 PM on January 8, 2017 [19 favorites]

Building on sourcesquench: The radio is much easier to program with CHIRP, an open source program. Find a club using the ARRL website, there will be loads of people eager to help you get licensed. They may already have a list of frequencies the like to use. I have all the local repeaters with my club's listed first and then the ones that the local storm spotters use during weather emergencies. I also have GMRS and FRS frequencies as well as NOAA and some simplex frequencies like the national calling frequency of 146.520. I'm also a ham, NV5E.
posted by Grumpy old geek at 5:00 PM on January 8, 2017

(Not to threadsit, but just to clarify: I do know not to transmit without a license!)
posted by Sokka shot first at 6:01 PM on January 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

BTW, the snatch of Morse Code you heard was probably one of the repeaters that sourcesquelch mentioned identifying itself. Morse is rare to nonexistent on the frequencies your new radio uses, but is legal to use if you know it.
posted by DandyRandy at 7:58 PM on January 8, 2017

My father was a ham radio operator for around 60 years, W7GZZ & later, W6DMO. I remember listening to him talking to people all over the world. In my early teens, he talked to a man from New Zealand whose son and daughter-in-law were living about 30 miles from our home.

They used to come over for dinner occasionally and my father would broker a conversation with their families in New Zealand.
posted by Altomentis at 8:31 PM on January 8, 2017 [3 favorites]

My college roommate in the 1970s was a ham radio fan, as was her mom. In the days of long-distance phone charges, she would talk to her family via ham radio from our dorm room for free. When I visited over Christmas one year, she taught me enough Morse code to pass the test to be licensed as an amateur (there were levels of proficiency), maybe 10 words a minute, which is ridiculously slow to a real radiohead. I can no longer recall the call sign I was issued, but it was oddly thrilling to be part of a radio community I'd previously never even heard of. I recall talking (Morse again, not really talking. In those days voice communication was sneered at by real hams) to people in the Pacific (we were in western New York) and South America. The goal was to get the ham operator to send you QRL cards - postcards that documented your contact with the distant operator. The more distant the better. If I could have talked to someone in Antarctica that would have been the ultimate, most perfect goal.

There were all manner of abbreviations, from SOS (obviously I never had reason to use this!) to CQCQ (seek you, seek you) which is how you put out a general call for someone to answer you. Morse may be long gone from ham radio, but like a favorite song it is nearly impossible to forget. One Christmas adventure in radio, and now many years later I can find myself absently tapping out in Morse a shopping list or the names of guests. I don't even know how I remember something I used so briefly so long ago.
posted by citygirl at 9:18 PM on January 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

KG6GFQ (currently inactive) here.

Get your license, and in the process you'll probably learn about various aspects of the Amateur world. You won't be doing moonbounce (yes, bouncing signals off the moon is a thing hams do) or traditional "DX" (long distance) on the High Frequency bands with a little handheld like that but there's still tons of options. In addition to what sourcequench listed...

You can build/buy antennas to boost signal strength, or directional antennas for "foxhunting" (competitive search for a hidden transmitter) or - as sourcequench says - to boost your signal in a specific direction and contact people further away, or maybe even satellites.

You can get involved with local nets - scheduled conversations, usually on repeaters. Some of them are oriented toward skill/protocol practice, others toward chatting.

And, to go a little deeper on the public service opportunities: Most areas have ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Services) and/or RACES (Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service) groups that do regular drills and nets. They may be affiliated with your city's Neighborhood Emergency Teams or Community Emergency Response Teams. These groups and/or local (general interest) ham radio clubs also often provide communications for public events like bike races, charity runs, etc. to get some real-world practice.

When I was active, I particularly enjoyed working with the local ARES group, and I'll probably do that again if I ever get my old handheld working. (My handheld is probably pretty similar to yours, except it has fewer fancy computerized features and cost several times as much back in... 2002 or so?)

This is a great time to get into amateur radio. When I got my license, it was an expensive hobby with an aging and shrinking population. Now equipment is cheap, there's more people taking the exams with the Morse Code requirement removed, and folks with an interest in tech are getting involved via the digital modes and stuff like software-defined radio. Chances are, there's some aspect of it that will catch your interest!
posted by sibilatorix at 8:40 PM on January 9, 2017 [2 favorites]

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