When I ordered the little BaoFeng UV-5R, one thing I neglected to get was a method of attaching an outside antenna. The “rubber duck” antenna that’s supplied with most handheld radios is typically extremely inefficient. More importantly, the single most important thing that can be done for VHF and UHF is to get the antenna up high, so being able to use an outside antenna is a must.
The reason why I wasn’t able to hook up an antenna is that the Baofeng has a “reverse” SMA connector for the antenna. Most radios (at least in the amateur world–the commercial world seems to be different) come with a “female” connector on the radio and a “male” connector on the antenna. The Baofeng is the other way around. And since most antennas use a “PL-259” connector, the best way to deal with the problem is to use an adapter of the type shown here. This adapter is available on Amazon, although I bought one similar to the one shown at the local ham radio shop, Radio City in Mounds View, Minnesota. The advantage of this type of adapter is that it has a length of thin flexible coax, which is less likely to put a mechanical stress on the radio’s antenna connector.
I don’t operate two meters a great deal, and my only antenna at home is a vertical dipole. It consists of nothing more than a piece of coaxial cable. At the final 19 inches of the cable, I separated the center conductor from the outer braid so that one could run in one direction, and the other one in the other. I have a PVC mast supporting my HF antennas, and I simply taped the antenna to the mast. The center conductor goes up, and the outer braid goes down, all at the top of the mast.
This isn’t an ideal antenna, because the coax is also taped to the mast, just a couple of inches away from the bottom half of the antenna. Ideally, in a dipole, the feed line should run perpendicularly away from the antenna. This undoubtedly messes up the antenna’s pattern somewhat.
But perfect is the enemy of good enough, and this antenna is good enough for the little bit of FM operating I do. The antenna has been in place for ten years now, and it performs its job adequately.
As I noted above, the single most important factor for a VHF antenna is its height. VHF radio waves travel in a line of sight, approximately as far as the eye can see. Therefore, the higher the antenna, the better. A poor antenna at a high location will outperform a good antenna at a lower height. I have a poor antenna up as far as I can get it, and it performs relatively well.
This afternoon, I decided to give it a try, and scanned the 2 meter band for any activity. I hear the end of the HandiHam net on the 145.45 MHz N0BVE repeater in Minnetonka. I believe the repeater is about 17 miles away from me, and I seemed to be getting into it just fine. Of course, the other stations on the net were considerably further away. I would have had little hope of working a repeater that far away with just the rubber duck antenna, so even my crude outdoor antenna made a world of difference.
There are interesting people to be talked to on local repeaters, and in the 1970’s, two meter FM was known as the “Fun Mode” because of the availability of repeaters. But today, there is often little activity on many repeaters. And if using repeaters was the only thing I could use a radio for, I’m not sure that the little Baofeng would be worth the $35 I paid for it. Amateur Radio can be a very interesting hobby, and I want to demonstrate some of the other interesting things that one can do with even a cheap radio.
The reason I bought the antenna adapter now is because one of those fun activities is coming up, namely, the ARRL January VHF Contest. The reason why Amateur Radio is a fun hobby is not because one can talk to other people. Certainly, that’s part of it. But the main draw is that it’s a technical hobby. Some fairly amazing things can be done with extremely simple equipment. The most fun is operating HF, where it’s possible to bounce signals off a giant mirror in the sky, known as the ionosphere. I often bounce those signals off the mirror in the sky while camping, using a battery powered radio. HF (the frequencies below 30 MHz is still the most fun part of Ham Radio. But there are also interesting things that can be done on VHF.
For a contest, the general object is to contact as many stations as possible during the contest period. VHF contests are generally more laid back than their HF counterparts, but the idea is still the same–contact as many stations as possible. Normally, that entails use of slightly more sophisticated equipment and antennas. And normally, that entails use of modes such as SSB and CW, of which a handheld radio like the Baofeng is incapable. But it’s possible to make contacts of a non-trivial distance with a cheap radio, which is why I plan to make a few contacts this weekend using just the Baofeng. Yes, I’m limiting my capabilities quite a bit. But I want to show what’s possible with even a cheap radio like this.
I’m convinced that even this cheap radio is good for more than just talking to a handful of people on a handful of repeaters (in other words, be the equivalent of a primitive cell phone). It’s possible to have some fun with it, which is what I’ll try to do this weekend. The fact that it’s primitive is actually the thing that makes it fun.
In the future, I’ll show some other things that a cheap radio like this can be used for, such as making contacts directly through a satellite. If you want to get involved in Ham Radio, you’ll eventually want something more than just a handheld. In fact, if you’re just starting out, I would recommend starting with something more. But even if your resources are limited to a handheld, there’s still quite a bit that you can do with it.
Check back in a couple of days, and I’ll let you know how I did in the contest.