Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Programming a Chinese Handheld Radio:Feidaxin FD-150A

My daughter passed the test for her amateur radio license about a year ago (she's KJ6TFT.) Once she got her license, she wanted a handheld 2m radio, but she wanted one with some extra pizazz.

Make Mine RED
She wasn't happy with the standard, dumpy looking, little black box that all we old dudes hitch on to our belts. She wanted something with some color.

Her preference was red, but almost anything that wasn't black would do.

We heard rumors of colored HTs, but it took us a while to find them. After a fair bit of searching, I turned up the Feidaxin FD-150A in red, as well as the Baofeng UV-3R and 5R models in red.

I decided to get her an FD-150A for her birthday in February. I chose it over the Baofeng for a couple of reasons. First, it was single-band. For her first HT, I wanted something a bit simpler and less confusing. Next, it was rated at 5W rather than 4. Since we live in an area where hitting the local repeaters on even 5W is pretty iffy, I figured the extra watt was going to be beneficial (and I was aware that the extra watt may not be really there, but then again, maybe it was.)

Once she got it, we did some simplex contacts between our HTs and all seemed well. When she went out to the county fair this summer, the club had a booth she helped out at. Someone there programmed the repeater in for her, and she was using that to talk to a buddy at the fair and later, on the college campus in Grass Valley.

All seemed to be well.

Where's the Radio?
This fall, though, I started to notice that the radio wasn't going out with her like it had before. I asked about it, and she said something that made sense at the time. But I still noticed the radio wasn't going places. In fact, when I asked her to bring it out once, she couldn't find it until the next day.

Then we went on a trip a couple of weeks ago to visit my uncle. (After we got our licenses we learned that he is KF7MCI.) I had her bring her radio so that we could talk to him on the repeaters along I-80 when we started to get close. She tried to make contact, but we didn't manage it. Unfortunately, there was enough inexperience going around between us, and some assumptions on my part, that it didn't work out.

She'd seemed to have a lot of trouble setting her radio to talk to the repeaters as we were driving, once we got the info from my uncle.

Taking a Breath, Looking Things Over
After the trip, we finally got together with the radio last night. I'd just gone through and programmed a number of new channels into my FT-250R's memory--all the local simplex channels as well as the repeaters we'd tried to hit on our trip. So I was already in a "programming mode", ready to go.

She pulled out her radio and one of the better translations of its manual. We sat down to have a look at the book, then get her radio set up.

My first surprise was that the radio didn't have the repeater offsets for different frequencies programmed in to the radio's firmware. In retrospect I'm not surprised, but it surprised me at the time--I'd been pampered by my new Yaesu. I found that it does have the ability to program an offset. Hers was set at -600kHz, and apparently if it's set it's on. I recall having some trouble hearing her replies when we tried to work simplex once late in the summer, I think I know why now.

So...

I decided to start by programming in the local simplex frequencies. I put them in the same memory locations as I had them in my HT, so that it'd be easy for me to call off channels for her along with frequencies. She had stepped away while I did this to take care of something school-related.

Then I programmed in one of our local repeaters. Because we can't really hit it from an HT at our house, I wasn't able to test it. But after going through the settings twice, I was pretty confident.

Then she got back, and we went through the remaining repeaters together. I ran her through how to tell if she's in VFO or memory mode, changing channels, and I think she understood what I was doing as we got the last two repeaters in memory, too (though whether it will stick is something else.) But she can at least switch between memory channels to get to where she wants to be now.

Not So Bad, Once You Know It
There are a lot of little fiddly bits to set for a repeater, it seems. Even though my old IC-230 (my first rig) was rockbound, it was at least easier, and more obvious, to set up an operate on repeaters or an any given frequency. There was a button to turn on duplex, and to reverse it for positive offset repeaters. The crystals in it were chosen for local repeater frequencies, and it had a PLL that gave me every other local simplex frequency in a stretch of them (because of the different spacing used locally vs. in Japan when it was made.)

If the FD-150A had a few more indicators on screen, it would help a lot. Like a +/- that shows up when an offset is active. With the old IC-230, looking at the switch positions did this for me.

But, I can't complain now that I know the drill.

If I understand correctly, the Baofeng isn't much different. I'll be learning more about these soon, as I'm considering picking one up for working satellites.

I'll also probably get with my daughter about once a month to review things for a few months, till it sinks in, too.

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