With the influx of inexpensive (as low as $10.00 USD) radios from China, there are now more hams on the air than ever. A lot of people have even credited Baofeng for saving ham radio. I used to be one of those people. Baofengs offer an extremely inexpensive entry point, and can be found all over.
Unfortunately, what many hams don’t seem to understand is that many of these Chinese made radios are produced at such a low cost by cutting corners. Remember the old adage, “You get what you pay for?” This leads to a sub-par performer. By taking just one of these radios apart (or even going as far as looking at the schematic), one can quickly see what’s missing. A good front end on the receiver is the first (and most important) thing that is missing. In low population communities throughout the country, this might be acceptable. In most communities though, the lack of selectivity means radio’s squelch will start squawking every time the operator passes by a credit card machine or clothes drier.
What else is missing? Well, these radios are not capable of pre-emphasis or de-emphasis. For a detailed explanation of this process read this article. For those of us that aren’t technically astute, the emphasis circuit basically effects the volume of the transmission. A lot of operators using his/her cheapie radio, don’t know about this circuit. Heck, I’ve been a ham for over a decade and didn’t learn about it until I really started to wonder why there so many differences in audio over on the WIN System.
Another growing problem with the Baofeng is the type of operator it attracts. Can this be blamed on the radio? No. Is it fair to blame the radio for attracting low quality operators? No. Are all operators that use Baofengs and other low-tier radios bad operators? No. However, for whatever reason, Baofengs have opened the door for low quality operators to get on the air and be heard. Maybe it is the low investment cost (cost of the test and radio is now less than $40.00 USD). Maybe it is the vast availability of codeplugs, which takes away the need to know basic things and terms such as: input frequency, output frequency, PL (CTCSS) tone, offset, simplex, and scan. After all, there is something to be said about building your very own codeplug. Much like the popularization and easily affordable boon of CB in the last century, I fear ham radio is going down the very same path.
One of the best analogies I hear on the radio is that the Baofeng is much like one’s first car in high school or other younger years. For the first few months or year, it is the hottest ride in town. A real pimp my ride special. One’s able to pick up lots of babes, get around, and stay relatively safe. But, after a while, one realizes that his/her ride isn’t that impressive after all. The babes stop asking for rides, and other friends are starting to get nicer vehicles without a rusted out frame. The Baofeng is the same thing.
Yes, the Baofeng gets you on the air. Yes, it keys up the local machines. Yes, you can talk to all of your buddies on the local club machine. Yes, it will (for the most part) stay on frequency, but are you really getting the best ham radio experience? Is the squawking squelch inside of the supermarket and that ensuing battle of up/down volume fun? Is the lack of adjacent channel rejection worth it when you’re trying to demo ham radio to a friend worth it when your friend says the voice reliability is better on a cell? Think about it. To me, that is the biggest tragedy.
Think of all the licensed hams lost to the Baofeng. Either he/she runs into an operator on the air that refuses to talk to him because they clearly must be stupid for choosing a Baofeng. Or they find ham radio to be a poor performer, and they don’t bother with a Yaesu or Icom or Kenwood ham grade radio to learn any different.
Bottom line is this: if you don’t have to hear the poor quality of your own voice and you live in the middle of nowhere, a Baofeng can be a really slick option. The radios are cheap. They do transmit. They do make your voice heard. However, if you’re in an environment with a lot of RF floating around (think Vegas… think Washington… think Toronto… think New York), these radios are not great options. They frankly don’t have the guts to handle the mojo needed to avoid the noise.
For these reasons, I have chosen to ban Baofeng radios on my repeaters. This isn’t a Motorola elitism thing. This isn’t a, “You’re stupid for buying a Baofeng” game. I own Baofengs. I own my repeater and the users on my repeater all have similar audio levels. We’re all running ham or public safety grade gear. All of our rigs have similar audio circuitry that avoids the constant volume adjustments. I’m a professional organist. Simply put, I don’t need anymore workouts for my fingers.
Some will still argue that this is elitism. I argue that Baofengs go against the very reason why the F.C.C. allows ham radio to exist.
Simply put, these radios do not allow for “advancing skills in both the communication and technical phases of the art” (Part 97.1).
I assure you that my reasons are purely technical, and not a form of elitism.