How To Program Your Radio for BC’s Backroads

How To Program Your Radio for BC’s Backroads

In the last couple years the BC government has changed the radio frequencies used on all the forest service roads (FSRs).  They used to post the frequencies used so that you could type them in to your handheld radio.  With your radio programmed you are able to communicate with other users of the road, ie. logging trucks.  The radio system is primarily there as a safety procedure to prevent collisions on BC’s narrow backroads.  The cryptic system that they are now using takes away that safety tool if you are not prepared.

Pavillion Road Sign

I was caught off guard in 2015 when the radio frequency was removed from the West Pavillion FSR which I use to access some of my claims.  A sign that mentioned the change was in place but it did not state the new channel.

I found a decent map online that shows which FSRs are using each channel.  This map also shows all the FSRs which is cool.  You can look around without having to pull out your backroads map book.  Here is a link to the map, Chilliwack FSR Map.

FSR_Map

This post will help you program your radios for BC’s new RR radio system.  You will need a few things for this:

  • A Radio
  • Programming Cable
  • A Computer
  • Radio Software

I am using a Baofeng UV-5R programmable radio.  I can’t say enough good things about this radio.  It is inexpensive (~$30), powerful and has lots of memory channels.  The coolest feature is that they are field programmable too.  More on the Baofeng UV-5R here, Gear Review: Baofeng Handheld Radio.  This guide works for other radios such as a Kenwood or Motorola, although you might need different software.

The cable that I’m using is a FTDI 2-pin Kenwood style.  It works for Baofeng and Kenwood radios.  For this post I’m using my laptop running Ubuntu linux.  But this guide will work with Windows too.

The software is really the key to the whole programming procedure.  There is an excellent open source program called CHIRP which stands for CHInese Radio Project.  CHIRP was designed to make it easy to program cheap Chinese radios such as the Baofeng, it also works on just about any other radio out there and its free.

OK lets get started.  The first thing that we have to do is get a list of frequencies.  I found them on a government website, but I’ll save you the trouble and post them right here.
ChannelsYou need to download and install CHIRP, on Ubuntu all you have do is run this command:

sudo apt-get install chirp

That will download and install the latest version from Ubuntu’s repositories.  If you are running Windows or Mac you can download CHIRP from their website here, CHIRP Site.  Installation is easy, just run the .exe file and you’re good to go.

Next start up the program, on linux you need to run it as root (AKA administrator) you can do that with the following command:

sudo chirpw

OK, now that CHIRP is started you have a few options.  You can clone your radio’s existing channels and modify them.  You can start a new file or load in an existing one.  Lets start one from scratch.  Click on the File menu and select “New”.  In my example I added a couple extra channels at the top.

Chirp_setting

It’s a pretty straightforward application.  The window functions a lot like a spreadsheet, there is a row for each channel and different parameters are defined in each column.  The BC RR channels are pretty basic so you can ignore most of the columns.  The RR channels are simplex, that means that they use the same frequency for transmit and receive.  Most public channels are simplex.  They have no carrier tone or any other funny business.  So we just have to enter the frequencies and the name.  Leave the rest of the settings at the default values.

After entering all 35 channels you are ready to load them onto the radio.  To do that first connect the programming cable to the radio.  It plugs into the port where you can add an external microphone.  See photo below:

Radio Plug

Make sure the radio is turned off when you connect the cable.  Otherwise it could shock the memory and wreck the radio.  The software will need to know which serial port you have connected to.  In linux you can get that information with the following command:

dmesg | grep tty

Look for the line that looks like this:

[147117.481257] usb 2-3: FTDI USB Serial Device converter now attached to ttyUSB0

That is telling us that the programming cable is on port “ttyUSB0”.  In Windows the easiest way is to look at your serial ports in the device manager.

Now you can upload the channels to the radio.  Turn on the radio with the programming cable attached.  Then choose “Upload to radio” from the Radio menu in CHIRP.  You’ll be prompted for the serial port, in my case ttyUSB0.  You will also need the radio make and model.

Once you hit OK, the upload will begin.  You’ll get a nice progress bar to show you how its going.

Cloning

That’s about it.  Make sure that you turn off the radio before you disconnect the programming cable.  Now you’re ready to hit the back roads and communicate with other travellers.

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Gear Review: Baofeng Handheld Radio

Gear Review: Baofeng Handheld Radio

Communication is essential for any placer gold operation to be successful.  It is also important for safety, in the event of an emergency communication can make the difference between life and death.

When out prospecting you are usually away from cell service.  So you need another way to communicate.  For person to person communication you can’t beat a handheld radio.  Even if you are within cell range radios are more convenient because of their field ruggedness and long battery life.

baofenguv-5r

The Baofeng UV-5R is an entry level dual band ham radio manufactured in China.  You can buy these radios for under $30 on Amazon.com!  In larger commercial operations, and even smaller ones, companies will use much more expensive radios such as the Kenwood TK-3402.  Those radio retail over $300 and have way less features.  Also to program a Kenwood radio you usually have to take it to a dealer.  You can program them yourself with the right cable and software but almost everyone brings them to a dealer.

BaofengFeatures

The Baofeng is a hidden gem.  After years of using much more expensive radios I had low expectations for a sub $30 Chinese unit.  I was blown away when I got these radios.  The biggest advantage that the Baofeng has is the ability to program radio frequencies on the fly.  When you roll up to a BC forest service road or active logging road they have the frequency posted at the start and you are supposed to call out the kilometers as you travel up the road.  The reason you want to do this is because there are large logging trucks and other equipment working up there.  When you are able to communicate with them you can prevent getting hit or trapped on a tight road with a logging truck.

You’ll wonder why other radios don’t allow field programming.  That is because you legally require a licence to transmit on many channels.  You could get in a lot of trouble with the Baofeng radio because you can program any channel that you want.  It is easy to listen in on police or ambulance channels.  I do listen to the police and other people some times for entertainment.  You can also transmit which is illegal.  That being said in the event of an emergency it would be worthwhile to contact help directly.

The range on these radios is also impressive.  They transmit at 4 watts, compared to the 5 watts of the commercial grade Kenwoods.  I’ve tested the range on the Baofeng radios at over 10km, they could potentially go further with good line of sight.  There is a dual watch feature which allows you to monitor two channels at the same time.  When you hit the PTT button it will transmit on the last channel that had activity.  There is a scan feature on the radio but it is very slow.

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The stock battery will last up to 20 hours.  That is pretty decent, I wouldn’t expect any other radio to last longer.  I bought spare batteries for mine, they are also available for a reasonable price.  They are available for about $6.00 each at amazon.  The UV-5R features VOX capability which is usually only available on much more expensive radios.  VOX gives it the ability to trigger the PTT by your voice, basically hand free operation.

The Baofeng can easily be programmed to work with repeaters, such as the BC Forestry repeaters.  This feature adds to the versatility of this radio as an emergency communication device.  Programming on the handheld can be a little confusing although entirely possible.  I recommend using a PC and some free software.  There is a great program called CHIRP that makes programming these radios as easy as filling out a spreadsheet.  You can download CHIRP for free here.  There is also a great manual put together by the Chinese radio project.

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The UV-5R has memory for up to 128 channels.  It also has FM radio capability meaning you can listen to terrestrial FM radio stations.  There is a bright LED light included as well which is a nice feature.  The small form factor is kind of nice, I often forget I have it on me.  It has a belt clip but can fit nicely in a pocket as well.

In the box is the radio itself, the AC drop charger, the antenna, battery, belt clip, headset (works with VOX) and an english manual.

The Baofeng UV-5R is available on Amazon.com for an amazing price.

Baofeng UV-5R ($27.63)baofengSmalluv-5r

I’d also recommend:

Baofeng USB Cable ($5.99)

Extra Battery ($5.89)

 

Update:

Baofeng has released a new version of this radio with 8 watts of transmit power.  That gives it much more range than most commercial handheld radios such as the Kenwood TK series which operate at 5W and sell for over $300.

BaoFeng BF-F8HP ($62.89)

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