Since DMR is very popular now, I thought this information would be helpful.
It’s great that our hobby continually innovates and changes, providing many different modes to experiment and operate in. I’ve worked with just about all of the digital modes, other than native M17.
All of my time with VHF and UHF radios had previously been spent with analog rigs. Digital modes, although operating in the same bands, takes place by the conversion of analog voice into a digital data stream for transmission.
There are various digital modes in Amateur Radio, some of which were designed specifically for Ham Radio like D-Star and Yaesu System Fusion. There are also modes, such as the popular DMR (an industry standard), have grown in popularity do to the growth of repeaters, hotspots, and the availability of low cost radios.
I decided to keep Digital modes separate from the Amateur Radio resources, mainly because of the learning curve with regards to it. Having an understanding of VHF and UHF operations are helpful when getting on DMR, but I have heard many hams say that working with Codeplugs and programming the radios and/or hotspots have been a challenge as compared to their existing VHF and UHF analog rigs. Although some find DMR difficult to get started in, there are other easier modes such as D-Star and Yaesu System Fusion that have become popular as well.
So before going forward, please read the first link in the resources area called Introduction to DMR. It will provide you all of the information on the benefits of DMR and it’s efficient operation.
Ok, as I mentioned above, if you’re really Tech savvy and are brand new to Amateur Radio and want to give DMR a try, by all means go for it. For the rest, I’d recommend starting with Analog VHF and UHF to start. That being said, let’s move on!
First, you’re going to need a DMR radio. You can find some as cheap as $75 and some of the higher end DMR handheld radios for about $205. The radio recommendation I made in the resources section at the time of this writing was $209 with all the bells and whistles.
Getting into DMR and buying a new handheld, even the high end one, is cheaper than it was back in the day when I started in the hobby. I say this as the number of radio brands and models today have increased and there is more competition.
In retrospect, my first HT was a crystal operated radio which I bought used for close to new prices for DMR handheld radios. The first non-crystal dual band radio I purchased, the Icom IC-24AT was about $450 and it didn’t come with things like a drop in charger or other accessories a radio like the AnyTone AT-D878UV Plus comes with. Just as computers and televisions have come down in price, so have good quality amateur radios.
Before your radio arrives
You either may or may not have just become licensed as a radio amateur. Either way, you will need what is called a radio ID to operate on DMR. You can do this by using the Get your DMR Radio ID link in the resources section.
Before going to the RadioID.net Web site to register, have all of your materials necessary. There is a link above with a good video tutorial on going through this process and getting your Amateur Radio license information that you’ll need when registering for a Radio ID.
In about 24 hours, you’ll receive an e-mail reply back when your DMR ID is ready. Once your RadioID has been issued, you will be added to the Digital Contact List that radio amateurs download on a regular basis and write to their radios. This helps provide additional information on the screen for your callsign, name, and location, providing a nice reference when you start a QSO with another radio amateur.
Depending on which radio you choose, there are various sources for downloading these daily updated contact lists. If you have an Anytone Radio, one source is the KF5IW page providing complete or compartmentalized contact lists. Other sites provide Digital Contact Lists for other radios which can be found at places like Github and dmrcontacts.com. Also, RadioID.net, where you obtained your RadioID, also has a generator for the Digital Contact List that work for a wide variety of radios.
Once you have your newly downloaded Digital Contact List you will write that you your radio, along with your Codeplug, and you’ll be good to go. What’s a Codeplug you say? Read further for more information on that.
Once you have your radio
As with analog VHF and UHF radios, get to know the operation of your DMR radio. Some radios like the Anytone AT-D878UV Plus, when purchased from Bridgecomm Systems, come with a course on the radio’s operation that walk you step by step in the programming and operation of your new radio.
Even if resources are not provided by the manufacturer or the manual isn’t the greatest for your new rig, don’t be discouraged! There are many YouTube videos online that will walk you through the operation of your new rig.
You have your radio and RadioID, but now what?
This next step in programming of the radio is the most important to comprehend, but once you have the concept of how Codeplugs work, you’ll organize your new rig’s analog and digital repeaters, simplex frequencies, and hotspot programmed channels. Don’t be overwhelmed through this process but understand how it works. The Codeplug I use today has changed many times over the past few months and has grown, but remains organized.
Codeplugs are basically programming the memory channels channels you want in your radio, whether they are standard VHF/UHF repeaters in your area, Simplex, DMR Repeaters, and Talkgroups if you’re on a hotspot or repeater connected to one of the various DMR talkgroup networks. (Think of talkgroups as if they were chat rooms).
I’m not going to provide a lot of overwhelming information here such as going into detail about channel lists or zones. There are plenty of videos on the topic of creating your codeplugs. Remember, start small, maybe with a few zones, one for simplex, one for repeaters, and maybe one for your hotspot if that’s a way you choose to get into the talkgroups.
The most important thing I want to provide on this topic is never give up, you can do this! Once you create a small Codeplug and get it working, you’ll have a basic understanding. It’s from that point you can build upon it and further learn more and then better organize it based on your own personal preferences.
After programming amateur radio rigs for years I will say, my first codeplug seemed like a challenge. Once I understood how channels, zones, and the contact list worked, it just clicked. It will for you too! There are plenty of resources out there online and radio amateurs willing to help. Don’t give up! I’m happy to help anyone as well and can be emailed at my callsign @arrl.net Welcome to DMR!
You’re on DMR, now what?
Ok, you’re Codeplug is done and you can use simplex, VHF/UHF repeaters, but what else can you do? If you use a local DMR repeater that supports a particular DMR network and talkgroups, or better yet, have your own hotspot, you can access thousands of special interest talkgroups. Check out a short description of DMR talkgroups and a few of the DMR networks they are on here.
DMR talkgroups are great, especially when band conditions on HF are poor and there isn’t any traffic locally on the repeaters you use. It’s easy for me to quickly contact my friends and have QSOs with others. DMR is my go-to place if I can’t operate HF or other modes and want to listen or chat with other hams quickly and easily.
Hotspots – a great option in addition to your local DMR repeaters.
What is a DMR hotspot? A DMR hotspot is your internet gateway to a particular DMR network. If you don’t have a DMR repeater nearby, or you don’t want to tie it up for any length of time, use a DMR hotspot. It’s basically a small device and your little repeater at your home giving you access to the talkgroups which you control.
A DMR hotspot is cheap. If you don’t want to build your own Raspberry Pi based hotspot, you can buy one like the one shown above for under $125 on Amazon or ebay. A good video describing the jumbo MMDVM hotspot can be found by clicking here or selecting MMDVM Jumbo hotspot video in the resources section.
Important note: Although there are large number of videos on setting up these hotspots, you should be aware of one important thing to get yours working. As of December 2020, Hotspots connecting to a Brandmeister Master Server in the USA will now require their users to set a hotspot security password. Click here for how to set that up.
Have fun on DMR!
DMR, when using local repeaters, as well as using a Hotspot and getting on the talkgroups will open up a whole new world and provide you a great deal of enjoyment along with all of the other aspects and modes of ham radio. It’s a great supplement to your ham shack so go out there and have fun on DMR!
Yes, DMR is one of the most popular modes, but…….
What if you’re not into complex codeplugs but still want to operate digital? Or, what if there are mode repeaters of other modes near you and you want to get on one of those modes as well? If this sounds like you, well why not check out some of the resources on the left side of this page for D-Star, Yaesu System Fusion, or NXDN for example. You’ll find resources above on the left side of this page for all of the popular modes. Or. if you’re up to it, try them all!
SAMPLE CODEPLUGS (click to download, some may require file/save link as)
Radioddity GD-77 (using OpenGD77)
- Apps for your phone/tablet
- C4FM (Yaesu System Fusion)
- Yaesu’s Fusion/Wires-X site
- RadioID.net – (Get your DMR or NXDN ID)
- Listen online to Brandmeister DMR talkgroups
- Brandmeister network
- Get your D-Star Registration completed if you’re going to operate on D-Star
- Dstarinfo – a site for radio DR memory files, net and reflector info
- DStarusers.org – a site to see Gateway lists, last heard lists, and other D-Star related info
- FreeDV.org – a simple to use digital voice protocol for HF
- Find a FreeDV QSO
- Florida NXCM Log
- NXDN Forum
- Great video on NXDN
- Hams over IP