Like many operators, I got my start into amateur radio with a Baofeng. It was a low cost radio on Amazon. The appeal was the price. It had almost no features. In retrospect, the best feature is the dual VFOs, which a surprising amount of radios do not do. I was a broke college student that wanted to try a new hobby but didn’t want to break the bank. A quick search of the internet yielded Baofeng. They were Chinese made radios, but many common items are Chinese made. I didn’t understand what the problem was.
When I got my license, I programmed the radio for the repeaters in the area and started to listen. I listened for a while because callsigns went so fast. People said them just like they say their own name. It was tough to pick up on them, at least for me. I listened so I would get used to hearing callsigns. Then, something strange started happening.
With a Baofeng radio, you can program in a channel 0. I used this for the NOAA weather frequency in the area. On channel 1, I programmed in the local Skywarn repeater. I noticed that as I listened to the Skywarn repeater, I was getting a signal from the NOAA station. I didn’t really think much of it. The interference started to get worse. Originally, I picked it up from outside where I would sit. After that, I started to get it indoors. It started to pop up more often. After that, I switched frequencies. I started to listen to another repeater. This repeater I had programmed on channel 2. The same thing started to happen. I would hear traffic from channel 1 on channel 2. It was the strangest thing. Being new, I had no idea what was going on.
I stopped using my Baofeng after I made my first contact. I heard someone put their call out on the Skywarn repeater and I called back. We talked for about five or so minutes and then he stopped hearing me. No idea what happened. I was new at the time. My radio stopped transmitting. It would show it was transmitting but the repeater wasn’t hearing my signal. The repeater was about two miles away and the antenna was around 600 ft high on an 800 ft tower. Everyone could reach the repeater. But I wasn’t coming in. A week later, I was at another operator’s house and we worked simplex to test a new antenna he had. We weren’t far apart. Maybe 20 ft at the most. We heard each other fine. But I was not able to hit the repeater, which negated my amateur license. My radio just doesn’t sit in the charger until SHTF. I want to use my radios. At this point, I’ve made one contact and that was cut off. I looked at other radios and was recommended Yaesu by another operator that I have a lot of respect for. I purchased my FT3DR (I’m not a broke college student anymore) and haven’t touched my Baofeng since.
The Chinese Radio Excuse
In my area, there is an operator. Every place has this operator. Your’s might have a different name than mine. This operator is the one that blames everyone else for their problems. Let’s call him Ronald. He gets interference from one of the repeaters. That is the repeaters fault, not his. Does he sign on the repeaters? No. You will never hear his callsign but everyone knows who he is. He claims he gets the repeaters signal on a different frequency, a random simplex channel. Why is he monitoring this simplex frequency? No idea. But he gets the repeater on that frequency. Let’s call this repeater the AB repeater. One day, AB started to give off interference. The club went out to check it and swap it out for another repeater they had on hand. When doing a radio check to see if anyone could hear them, old Ronald keys up. He complains that AB has ruined his hobby and there are too many repeaters in the area. While I agree there are too many repeaters, they do not give off interference… Okay. I understand that one just was but 99% of the time, there are no problems. He claims it is 100% of the time and that he isn’t able to enjoy his hobby. He claims AB’s signal is coming across on a simplex channel. I switch over to check. Nothing. I try it on my FT-991A. Nothing. I test it on my wife’s FT-70DR. Nothing. No one offers to see if there is a local problem. I asked later and it is because he always complains about interference.
How does old Ronald’s problem play into Baofengs? He claims that Chinese made radios give off interference and jams up his station so he can’t enjoy the hobby. Is there any merit to his claims? Probably not. I say probably not because there are quite a few unlicensed people that buy Baofengs so they can play Rambo if SHTF. That is the next section. Back to Ronald. There is a repeater I like to monitor. Let’s call this repeater AC. It is a different repeater from AB. Someone is jamming AC. They keep keying it up. It is a new repeater so it does an auto-shutdown. The repeater comes back on in a few minutes and the same thing happens. Once it happens twice, someone has to manually reset the repeater. Old Ronald comes on the repeater and starts blaming Chinese radios and too many repeaters. He even blames AD, another repeater, for all of his problems, even though he blamed AB for all of his problems a few months earlier.
So what does this have to do with Baofengs? There are a lot of individuals that believe Baofengs will give off signals that can interfere with other radios. Is this the case? There is some evidence that suggests that Baofengs give off spurious signals when transmitting. This is limited to some radios. Testing from the ARRL suggest it is in a good portion of radios. Why is it in Baofengs and not other companies that use Baofeng internals? The other companies test the radios before they leave. This isn’t just isolated to Baofeng. Wouxun and TYT are two other examples of manufacturers that had dodgy radios. Click on this link to be directed to the ARRL article for the supporting evidence. For a summary of the article, Michael Martens (KB9VBR) has a YouTube video outlining everything in the article.
In my area, there has been a rise in the number of people that walk around like every day is the last normal day. What do I mean by that? They open carry into restaurants. So what? They usually have a radio on them and most of the time, that radio is a Baofeng. They are waiting for the SHTF moment.. They want to roll up looking like Meal Team 6, in their XXL surplus camo and Baofeng radios, ready to save the day. They are not licensed. They don’t know the rules, but they have freedom given to them by a higher power that says they can operate their Baofeng whenever they want. This has given Baofeng radios a bad name. I understand that it is like with anything. It isn’t the tool but the individual using it. I completely agree. But when that tool comes at a low cost and high availability, it makes it easy for anyone to get their hands on it. Not only that, but when individuals start acting stupid, it makes it harder on the rest of us that do follow the rules.
One day, I heard someone put out a call. Another guy responded. The reason he responded was because the call wasn’t from this area. He talked like he operated CB radios before. He said things like “10-4” instead of “QSL.” Not that it is a bad thing but it just sounds odd to hear. The guy who responded asked for his name, since he likes to call everyone by their name. The guy gave his name. Looking at his QRZ profile, it wasn’t his name. It is common that people go by different names. A friend of mine goes by his middle name on the air. The call was a 2 call when all the calls around here are 9 calls. He claimed to have grown up here his whole life and lived here. After some more of the conversation, he claimed to have a Baofeng radio and gotten into radio for emergency preparedness. Again, blame the person, not the tool, but it becomes hard to blame the tool when it seems to be the common factor.
I have a love/hate relationship with Reddit. It is a great resource for help but is also filled with some of the dumbest people on the planet. The amateur radio sub-Reddit is filled with gatekeepers, i.e. if you aren’t doing radio the way I do, you aren’t doing real radio. One guy claimed that only experienced operators with years of experience should do FT8. This is what you get with Reddit. The know-it-alls. What does this have to do with Baofengs? There is a constant argument between Baofeng owners and everyone else. As the title of this post suggests, I’m not the biggest fan, but it may be the only thing that some can afford. Who am I to tell someone how they can enjoy the hobby? That is said as long as it is a Baofeng that doesn’t cause violate FCC standards.
I’ve been all over the place in this post. Some positive. Some negative. I’ve laid out both sides. The stronger argument lies against owning a Baofeng, since a large majority of their radios are out of compliance, though the argument against tends to be more emotional. The major argument for buying a Baofeng tends to be the cost. Right now on Amazon, you can purchase a Baofeng UV-5R (the most common Baofeng) for $34.99. That is insane. On DX Engineering, lowest priced, dual band HT is $73.95. This is a Yaesu FT-4XR, a good radio. This is over double the price. The same goes for the Bridgecom BCH-270 at $75.00. So how do you convince someone to spend twice as much on a radio that essential performs the same function? You and I understand that it doesn’t perform the same functions, but to a newly licensed technician, it is the same thing. So how do we do it? We have to state the obvious. The Baofeng radios are poor quality. My radio had a screw fall out. It doesn’t work anymore for sending. The receiving is low quality. It doesn’t allow any room for expansion. With a $75 radio, there is room to expand. As just one example, the poor front end on the Baofeng doesn’t allow for fox hunting or radio direction finding. Programming a Baofeng is a nightmare. It takes so long since it doesn’t do automatic repeater shift. This means that you just can’t tune to a frequency and talk. It takes so much time.
While I do not like Baofengs, I do understand their appeal. They are cheap, which gives a massive incentive to someone new to the hobby. Price is important. This is why we all don’t rock Icom IC-7851 or the Kenwood TS-990S. The goal should be to mentor new operators, rather than just congratulate them on their new license. Rather than just send a radiogram to new operators, give them a call and talk to them. How many operators have radios just sitting in their shack not being used? Show them how to use them and explain why quality radios are important. Explain that using a Baofeng could result in ruining the hobby for others.
Thank you for reading. If you have any comments, which this post will create, leave them below or send me an email.