At this time, this page is more about radios and the sharing of my programming than the Digital Mobile Radio technology itself. Suffice to say that DMR is a digital form of radio where each repeater has two time slots allowing two conversations to happen simultaneously. Programming a DMR radio is a bit more complicated than an analog radio, requiring the use of Code Plug Software (CPS), which facilitates the creation and correlation of channels, talk groups, repeaters, zones, etc. There are a lot of great resources that go into the finer details on how it works. In the meantime, I hope that my codeplugs will help hams new to DMR get started more quickly. These codeplugs are wiped of my callsign and DMR ID, you will need your own. BridgeCom has supplied a video instructional on how to acquire that ID: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o73BPhBeMIg
There are many great handheld DMR radios for all budgets. The Radioddity RD-5R is a great entry into DMR for about $70; even less if it’s on sale. The Radioddity GD-77 and the Tytera TYT MD-380 are very popular; for a little more money you get more memory. Then there’s the Anytone AT-878UV; for about $220 you have the storage for all of the amateur operators’ DMR ID numbers, callsigns and even addresses, and it isn’t limited to how many talk group channels per zone. The 878 also adds some nifty features like APRS and roaming.
There are some great mobile radios as well, by Connect Systems, Anytone, and of course the grand-daddy of DMR, Motorola. I have little personal experience with mobile DMR radios, so I won’t get into them here until I have acquired one. I’m lucky to live in an area where DMR is pervasive. The New England Digital Emergency Communications Network oir NEDECN has done a great job blanketing New England, the maritime and parts of Canada with digital radio coverage. They run a weekly New England Wide net at 8 PM every Monday where they share DMR news and answer questions, and they communicate similarly with an e-mail reflector.
The Radioddity RD-5R
The RD-5R is a neat little DMR starter radio, with a Baofeng face, but the innards of a GD-77; albeit with very limited memory. There is just enough memory for the local talk groups and a handful of your friends’ callsigns. I recommend going straight to the source, for the best price and any sales. Amazon has the same radio, but with a markup. I went looking for the GD-77, and found a deal I couldn’t pass up. I have since upgraded to a higher-end radio, and handed down this radio to my brother.
For the software to program this radio, go the downloads section of Radioddity’s website. Scroll down to the radio and click on it, and select the newer software and firmware package. It’ll come as a Zip file. Just unzip it, dig into the folders to the Program folder and run Setup.exe. If you’re running Windows 8 or 10, you’ll have to click a link on a pop-up window to tell Windows that it’s not a virus.
The “codeplug” is a data file containing the radio’s programming. DMR radios require software built specific to the exact model of the radio in order to create such a codeplug. Some tools have been built to convert the codeplug for one radio to be compatible with another, but such is not the case for the RD-5R… at the time of writing this article.
I’d encourage you to go into the firmware folder and follow the instructions within to update the radio to ensure optimal operation, but it’s not absolutely necessary.
Attached is a copy of my RD-5R code plug with my ID and callsign stripped out. Whoever downloads this just has to load the file and double-click on General Settings, and fill in the Radio Name and Radio ID.
I’ve got a good start on it, with zones for all of the DMR repeaters in Maine and a couple in New Hampshire listed on the Maine DMR website. Parrot talk groups, for echo tests, are in their own zone called Polly (Polly want a cracker?), since we have a limit of 16 channels per repeater / zone. There’s also a zone with some ME and NH analog repeaters, a zone specific to the KQ1L linked analog repeater system, and another for analog and digital simplex (non-repeater) channels. I intended to flesh it out with the rest of the New England repeaters and some places I visit for work, before I handed it off.
There are two programmable buttons next to the Push To Talk (PTT)
- Orange (above PTT): FM Radio
- Moni (below PTT):
- Short press = Zone Select, use up/down arrows on front to change zone
- Long press = Digital Monitor, which will monitor all talk groups in the same time slot as the talk group currently selected (there is no dual-watch)
Roaming? Not available, but if I’m traveling a short distance, I’d put the zone/repeater closest to home in VFO A, and the zone near work in VFO B; both on the same talk group, or time slot for digital monitor. I’d hit the A/B button half-way to work.
The Anytone AT-D878UV Plus
Having broken my analog Baofeng BF-F8HP handheld, a story for another day, and having some change to spare, I decided it was time to upgrade to the very capable Anytone AT-D878UV Plus; the plus adding Bluetooth. I wanted my next radio to have APRS built-in, and Bluetooth would be nice. I wasn’t really in the market for another DMR radio, but it turned out that Anytone’s offering included the features I wanted with DMR, for a better price than many other radios with a similar feature set. Acquiring this radio would allow me to hand my Radioddity RD-5R down to my brother, and finally get him on the air.
Upon receiving my new radio, I downloaded what should have been a compatible codeplug from an AT-868 model, but it was a couple years old and there was something that was preventing me from connecting with any repeaters. I ended up creating my own fresh plug-in with repeater lists from the recently revamped NEDECN website. At this time, it remains under active development. Below are the states that are programmed in, DMR and analog, and any other custom programming.
- NEDECN zones: CT, ME, NH, VT
- Roaming zones: NEDECN (all) – slow!, the individual states above, i95 Corridor
- Extended Contact database from https://kf5iw.com/contactdb.php
- Analog APRS configured for standard frequency, located under Simplex (needs callsign and SSID)
- Analog and DMR Simplex frequencies
- Analog repeaters: ME, NH
- FM Broadcast channels
- Weather channels with scan
- Marine channels with scan
- GMRS channels with scan
- Add roaming zones
I need help: the map image on NEDECN website doesn’t show repeater info, telling me which repeaters are along the highways
- i91 Corridor
- i93 Corridor
- Add analog repeaters
What’s popular in your state?
To change zones or repeaters, press the up/down rocker button in the center of the front face of the radio. Once a zone is selected, you can change the talkgroup or channel with the larger knob on the top of the radio.
There are five programmable buttons, which I attempted to configure as logically as possible. You may want to change then in the software under Public > Optional Setting > Key Function.
- PF1 is right under the Push To Talk (PTT)
- Quick press = Digital Monitor (On/Off)
- Press once: Single Time Slot, based on the time slot of the active channel / talk group
- Press twice: Double Time Slot, basically puts the radio into promiscuous mode which allows you to hear any talk group that the repeater is transmitting
- Press a third time: Off
- Long press = FM Broadcast Radio
- Use the channel dial to the left of the volume to change between preset channels. These are programmed under Public > FM in the CPS
- Long press again to shut off the music
- Quick press = Digital Monitor (On/Off)
- PF2 is below PF1
- Quick press = Scan a scan list
- Select a scan list by pressing the green button to open the Menu
- Scroll to Scan and press the green button again to Select the Scan sub-menu
- Go down to option 3 “Scan List” with the up/down rocker button and press Select with the green button again
- Now, scroll to the scan list title you wish to scan and press the green button to Select that item
- Press Up on the rocker button a couple of times until you highlight “Select Cur List” (it’s closer to the bottom of the lengthy menu), and press the green button
- A pop-up will appear advising that this scan list has been selected.
- Only analog channels are in scan lists; it is recommended to use Digital Monitor instead of a scan list for DMR channels
- Long press = Nuisance Delete
- Removes a noise channel temporarily from the scan list
- Quick press = Scan a scan list
- PF3 is the blue button on the top
- Quick press = Power (L-Low, M-Medium, H-High, red T-Turbo)
- Long press = Activate Roaming (find the strongest DMR repeater nearby)
Using my codeplug
Before writing my codeplug to your radio, you will need to do a few things to make it yours:
- Replace N0CALL with your DMR ID and Callsign in: Digital > Radio ID List
- Replcace N0CALL in Analog APRS: Public > APRS
- Destination Call Sign can be any local APRS I-Gate or left as-is
Some additional configuration may be required on the radio. I have received some feedback that folks may be having trouble using the code plug due to new radios producing a Band Mode Error. Their radio was in “Europe Band Mode”, or they cannot use the VFO because it’s in “Commercial Mode.” The mode is configured in the radio’s firmware, not the codeplug.
You will need to change it to “Amateur US Mode.” I did some research and found that radios may come from the factory or store in a locked mode, or set for a different region. According to Bridgecom, one can boot the radio holding PTT and #1 to access the menu to change the radio’s Work Mode. Turn the channel dial to change modes, once in this menu.
Unable to read/write from radio
If radio stops read/writing after working just prior, reseat the USB cable in the computer, or move the cord to another USB port. Double-check the COM port setting (probably the last one in the list), and try again.
Roaming doesn’t change repeaters / zones
I learned that roaming doesn’t roam, it simply identifies what repeater zone to tune to.
Download the CPS and Firmware from BridgeCom
Other radio model codeplugs are also available from the New England Digital Emergency Communication Network, as well as from other local hams if one is to ask.
Programming your own codeplug
DMR, originally intended for set-and-forget commercial use, is an exercise in redundancy. The easiest way I found to create a code plug is to enter enough information to export and manipulate more easily in Microsoft Excel. I’d create the talk groups you’ll be using on local repeaters into the Contacts list, and matching Rx (receive) Groups for each talk group. You should add some local hams’ private callsigns which you can retrieve from radioid.net.
Next, begin entering some channels into the software. You’ll be entering a channel for each talk group on each repeater; each channel will include a talk group, receive group, frequency, color code and time slot for a given repeater. I entered two full repeaters, 16 talk groups each for a total of 32 channels. Yay redundancy!
Now you can export the channel list with enough data and formatting to go by to manipulate it easily in Excel. I simply copy/pasted a whole section of talk groups or channels for a repeater several times, and did a quick fill of the new sections with the new zone name, repeater frequency and code. Be sure to redo the number column using “fill series” and import the Excel file to the Channels list. Otherwise you’ll get an error. If you encounter an import error, hit Continue, or the application will crash and lose anything unsaved.
Once the channels are imported, go to your zones (one zone for each repeater, labeled by location), and select the group of channels / talk groups you want in that respective zone.
You can export your Contacts list to quickly bulk add in new contacts, like we do with the channels. Again, make sure the number row on the far left remains sequential. Note that if you change the order of the contacts, your zones will need to be rebuilt; as you’ll have channels for one repeater listed in another repeater’s zone.
I hope this helps. It’s a lot to get into, but once you wrap your mind around it it’s not too bad.