So if you’re a follower of FrugalFloridaFun.com, you know I have been on a bit of an amateur radio kick lately. So you have learned a bit more about what amateur radio is, how to get your license, and even learned a great way to listen to all sorts of things on air for just pennies. These are all great, but what about when you get your license? How will you actually talk back on a budget? When I started many years ago, Amateur Radio was an expensive hobby that could set you back thousands of dollars for equipment. That’s not exactly frugal in my book. Boy have things changed! If your’e on a budget and want to get into actually talking via amateur radio, you’ll want to checkout the Baofeng UV-5r Series of radios. These tiny power houses offer quite a bit for a small budget. Oh and just a hint here: Baofeng is changing their name to Pofung, so they are used interchangeably.
So back to the old days of ham radio… My first handheld radio was a Radio Shack HTX-202 which as a 2 meter radio capable of up to 5 watts of transmitting power. At the time there weren’t many repeaters in my area that I could hit with it, and it was bulky with a huge nicad battery. It was fine for heading out with my dad and we could talk back and forth, but not much else. They were around $200 new with out any accessories and I can still remember the excitement of my fist ham radio purchase. I’m pleased to report that the same feeling of joy and excitement can be had now for around $40!
Have you ever heard of Baofeng or Pofung? Me neither until I started doing my own research. I wanted to get an inexpensive hand held radio for my dad for Father’s Day awhile back to he could join me back on the air and the Baofeng UV-R5 series of radios kept popping up. Baofeng and Pofung certainly aren’t a well known name brand like Icom or Yaesu, but for the price point I figured I would give it a try. A month before Father’s day I made a leap and ordered my first one from Amazon. For around $40, you can’t beat the price, but could a $40 radio really work? I figured with Amazon’s no hassle return policy, if it didn’t live up to expectations, I could always return it.
So I waited about a week for the radio and all the extra goodies came via the mail. I swear I was like a kid waiting on a fit in the mail! Every night when I got home from work I would ask my wife if I received a box. After a week, which seemed like an eternity, it finally arrived! I could have received it much sooner, but items over $35 often times ship free via Amazon and I’m not an Amazon Prime member yet so I wasn’t able to take advantage of the free 2 day shipping.
While I waited for my gift to arrive, I did some research. It turns out there are tons of Baofeng UV-5R radio variants out there. Some look flashy, some are more basic looking than others and then there are even other model numbers and manufacturers with the same part number! It can be confusing so don’t worry, I’m here to help you dig through all the clutter and help you purchase exactly what you want. Baofeng for starters is a Chinese manufacturer. In some circles they are declared “junk” or “disposable” radios. I think this is a bit harsh, but could be true in some circumstances. Many older hams view this price point as opening the flood gates to giving every Tom, Dick, and Harry a handheld radio and feel that they will not get licensed but instead, the Ham Bands will turn into CB with tons of unlicensed people. Well, that’s not really the case. I think that the inexpensive Chinese Radio revolution should be embraced as a way to bring newcomers to the hobbit hat maybe couldn’t afford it previously. Thank you Baofeng for your UV-5R series radios! I must admit though, that if I drop a Baofeng UV-R5 radio, I wouldn’t attempt to have it repaired, but instead would just buy a new one. That’s a bonus in my book! Now with that being said, Boafeng will sell these units in bulk to anyone what wants to buy them. If a company purchases enough of them, Baofeng will alter the case, label, and boxes on them to suite their customer’s desires. That is why you see so many “look alikes” out there. The Baofeng UV-5R and UV-5RA, UV-5R+ and many other variants are essentially the same thing. They have the same “guts” but different exteriors.
So are all the pieces like batteries, antennas and microphones interchangeable? In some instances they are! The batteries of the original Baofeng UV-5R radios will work with the UV-5R+ series but not the Baofeng UV-5RA series. The cases are a bit different so they don’t slide into the 5A series. The microphones, programming cables, and antennas are all interchangeable. So which one should you buy? I recommend the plain ole’ Baofeng UV-5R unit. In addition to the standard batteries, there is a large capacity battery that is available that will extend your listening and talk time as well as a car adapter and AAA battery packs. Not only are they interchangeable with the UV-5R+ but the new BaoFeng BF-F8HP which is the same unit but has 8 watts of transmitting power.
The Baofeng UV-5R series has a lot to offer at around a $40 price point:
- VHF: 136-174 MHz(Rx/Tx). UHF: 400-520 MHz(Rx/Tx)
- You can listen and transmit outside of the Ham Bands, so be sure you realize what frequency you’re on!
- This includes GMRS, FRS, NOAA Weather Radio, Marine Radio and other frequencies.
- You can listen to commercial FM Radio Broadcasts
- An LED Flashlight
- The Baofeng UV-5R Offers CTCSS / DCS Tones
- Scanning Function
So what are the downsides to this affordable ham radio?
- Manual programming is rough! Very complicated to program memory functions, but you can download FREE programming software if you have the USB programming cable which makes it a breeze.
- The chargers on occasion have issues. They look, and feel cheap. I don’t trust the charger and charge it sitting on my stove overnight just in case of a fire hazard.
- You can transmit out of the Ham bands and on GMRS/FRS frequencies, which isn’t allowed by the FCC due to the power and external antenna. It’s quite alright to listen though.
- The scanning function isn’t a fast scan as you may have with a dedicated scanner, but does get the job done.
- There is no external power jack, so if you want to power it from your car, you pull out the battery and plug in a battery insert that goes into your car cigarette lighter plug.
- The instruction manuals are horrible! Good news though this site has lots of info:
Remember this is first and foremost an Amateur Radio, that is capable of transmitting and receiving out of the ham bands. In most cases it is against the law to transmit outside of your amateur radio privileges unless you have a true emergency. I have done a bit of solo hiking lately in a few of our Florida trails, and I have the GMRS, FRS, and even the Marine radio frequencies programmed in. I live in a coastal area, and in the event of an emergency and I’m lost or hurt on a trail, I’m thankful for the additional methods of communication the Baofeng UV-R5 series of radios affords me.
Do I have you convinced to try one of these yet? Start out with either of these base radios:
- BaoFeng BF-F8HP – Up To 8 Watts of Transmitting Power (Around $60)
- BaoFeng UV-5R 4 Watts of Transmitting Power (Around $30)
This is a MUST!
- USB Programming Cable for Baofeng Radios (Around $7)
Then Add These Accessories:
- USB Programming Cable for Baofeng Radios (Around $7)
- Baofeng Speaker/Microphone (Around $7)
- Baofeng UV-5R Car Power Adapter (Around $7)
- Tram 1185 Amateur Dual-Band Magnet Mount Car Antenna (Around $25)
- SMA To PL259 Adapter (Needed for Tram Antenna) (Around $7)
- High Gain Long Antenna (18″ Long!) (Around $15)
- Baofeng UV-5R Battery Charger (Around $8)
- Baofeng UV-5R 1800mah Battery (Around $8)
- Baofeng UV-5R Extended 3800mAh Battery (Around $19)
- Baofeng UV-5R Battery Pack 6XAA With Dummy Battery (Around $16 You Need To Buy AA Batteries)
- Baofeng UV-5R Battery Pack 6XAAA (No Dummy Battery) (Around $8 You Need To Buy AAA Batteries)