Do you know how to change the settings on all of your radios? You should, particularly with the VHF/UHF rigs that would be used in an emergency situation in case of a local disaster.
It may seem silly to ask this question when such knowledge is often assumed. But consider these factors:
- Many of the modern radios can be configured via software on a PC, often including memory channels for local repeaters. Did you actually set up your radio manually, or was it cloned or computer configured?
- Many hams have multiple transceivers- handhelds (HTs), mobile, and base station rigs. Configuration of these is likely different for each model, even with the same manufacturer.
- Hams may have different makes of the same type of radio as well, each with very different configuration procedures. If you have both Yaesu and Baofeng HTs, the procedures will be quite different.
Consequently some hams only know how to turn the radio on and off, adjust the volume and squelch, and then select a memory channel to work a local repeater. This is OK when you want to chat with a buddy, since little can go wrong and there are no real consequences.
But during a drill, public service event or EmComm deployment, we have to be flexible and prepared to change things up. There are many reasons things don’t go as planned, and you may have to change a setting on your radio. Even something as simple as communicating outside the local area will require different repeater access tones. Some events use a portable repeater that you may not have programmed into your radio. Many of us have been embarrassed in the field when a simple setting was not made correctly; so learn from our mistakes and don’t let it happen to you.
Radios are all different so we cannot go into detail here. For specifics consult your manual or quick reference guide, which you should always have handy. Listed below are the settings that are most likely needed to be changed on your VHF/UHF radio.
Turning the radio on and off and adjusting the volume should be a no-brainer so we won’t spend time on that. Squelch adjustment should also be a gimme but is actually complicated on some of the newer HTs. Instead of a simple adjustment knob for squelch, some newer radios have the squelch set from a menu which requires a sequence of button pushes.
So here we go with eight likely settings that require some knowledge of your radio to manipulate:
- Frequency setting. Be aware that with most modern transceivers there are two main modes under which frequency can be set. One is VFO mode (Variable Frequency Oscillator) where you can directly set the frequency by keypad or by rotating a dial. The other is Memory mode where you can select a number of pre-programmed frequencies, which is how most of us operate. Usually it’s a simple pushbutton toggle between the two modes, so learn how to do this and tune to the desired frequency in either mode as needed. In memory mode there should be a simple way to display the frequency that the memory channel is set to, so know how to do this as well.
- Repeater offset. Remember that repeaters re-transmit what is received on another frequency that is offset by some number. Offset is usually automatic with most modern radios but you may run into a case where it is the opposite direction, positive or negative. So know how to change the frequency offset if needed. By definition simplex operation is transmitting and receiving on the same frequency so offset is not involved if your communication is simplex.
- Repeater tone. Remember that tones, also known as CTCSS (continuous tone-coded squelch system) and PL (private line) are often required for your transmission to be heard on a repeater. A few repeaters do not require a tone for access, but most do. In addition to the tone number, many radios have a separate setting for turning the tone on or off, so make sure you know both how to set the tone and turn it on. Proper tone setting is probably the main reason for failure to communicate via repeater.
- Power level. Most radios allow you to set the transmit power at three or more preset levels. Remember the general rule of amateur radio is to use the minimum power necessary for communication. Not to mention that we will often be on battery power so a low power setting will prolong battery life. Of course, if higher power is needed to make a contact, that’s OK. Either way, know how to change power level.
- Control Lock. In an event or deployment it is recommended that you lock your controls against radio setting changes which can happen inadvertently (bumping the freq knob or pushing a keypad button). Most radios provide some means of locking the frequency and other settings while allowing you to change only basic controls such as squelch and volume as needed. Learn how to lock your radio.
- Transmitter timeout timer. It is important to set our own radios to stop transmitting after a period of time in case of a stuck microphone or long-winded operator. This is especially important in an event or deployment where we can’t tolerate the net frequency being tied up.
- Disable WIRES. For those of you with Yaesu transceivers, be aware of the WIRES function and know how to disable it. WIRES causes the first few seconds of a transmission to be cut off and causes headaches during a net if somebody has it turned on. WIRES is unique to Yaesu so ignore this if you have a different brand radio. For more info, see our WIRES post.
- Disable VOX. If you have a radio with a VOX feature, make sure you know how to turn it off. VOX is an abbreviation for voice-operated transmit and it activates the transmitter when there is sufficient audio from the microphone. VOX should never be used in an event or deployment because background noise can key mics and tie up the net with noise.
Quick guides or cheat sheets for each radio are very useful for all these settings. Even with these handy references, still go through the motions of actually changing settings before an emergency so you will have that experience and catch any surprises.