The Amateur Amateur: Chinese Puzzle Box, Part 1

By Gary Ross Hoffman, KB0H
November 2013

I'm not exactly sure what motivated me. I certainly didn't need any more hand held transceivers. After all, how many of those things can you hang on your belt before your pants fall down? But for whatever reason, I decided to get one of those new Chinese imports.

We've all heard the stories. They don't work. They do work but you can't program them. They sound terrible. They sound fine. Some people love them. Others can't stand the sight of them. In the end I figured I'd find out for myself. I was curious, they were cheap, and there was a dual band model that featured 2 meters and 1.25 meters. So I ordered one.

Genuine KG-UVD1P<i>/2</i>

Perhaps the only photo you'll ever see of an actual KG-UVD1P/2

I almost didn't, though. The model I just described was a KG-UVD1P, manufactured by Wouxun (pronounced O-shing, according to blurbs on the Internet). But every place I looked indicated that was also the model number of the 2 meter / 70 centimeter version, and regardless of which version was being sold, the accompanying photo was always of the latter. Photos of the box gave no indication either way.

Oh yeah, the fun had just begun.

Eventually I found that there was a difference in the model numbers, the 70 cm version being a KG-UVD1P/4 and the 1.25 m version being a KG-UVD1P/2. The same box was used for both of them, with only a small sticker plastered on that, hopefully, told you which version was inside.

A few years back a confused new ham asked me to help her program her Wouxun. She handed me the radio and a flimsy set of instructions. I tried, but couldn't figure out how to do anything with the unit. The buttons were non-intuitive (which is to say, they weren't like the buttons on Japanese radios) and the instructions seemed to be missing a lot of key information. Right then I pretty much decided never to touch one of those things again.

Obviously I changed my mind. That's because while perusing vendor sites I noticed that Universal Radio included both the software and the programming cable for free if you bought a KG-UVD1P from them. I figured that if I couldn't work out how to program the radio manually, I could always do it through a computer. That turned out not to be as easy as I thought, but more on that later.

When my unit arrived the first thing I did was to verify that it was the 2 m / 1.25 m version. It was, much to my relief. I then did a quick read of the instruction manual. It seemed okay. The only thing that puzzled me was that it said that the radio was FCC Part 90 compliant, not Part 97. But I figured that the Chinese were still new to the American transceiver market so they had just made a typo. No big deal. (I'll get into that in Part 2.) I put the battery and antenna on the unit and turned it on.

It gave a few beeps, and then what sounded like a tiny Chinese woman said, “Frequency mode”.

I blinked in surprise. None of my radios had ever talked to me before. Playing around some more, I found that the radio said something just about every time I hit a button.

KG-UVD1P generic box

The box.. no indication of which version of the transceiver is inside other than the misleading photo

I could see where that might come in handy.. or become annoying after a while. From the manual I knew that I could turn off the voice feature if I wanted, but I decided to leave it alone for the time being. It was clear that English wasn't the microchip's first language, but it was still easy enough to understand, and I found its accent kind of cute.

Getting down to business, I read the manual more carefully. I wanted to know how to enter a frequency, put in a repeater offset, and encode a CTCSS tone.

Ah. Now I remembered what had perplexed me back when I'd first handled a Wouxun transceiver. The terminology used by the Chinese wasn't the same as the terminology used by the Japanese. Moreover, the Wouxun instruction manual didn't define anything. I figured out that “frequency mode” was the same as VFO mode and “channel mode” was memory mode, but “standby mode” was a complete mystery. It still is.

There were a few other curiosities, such as built-in single-LED flashlight, but by and large the transceiver didn't seem all that alien. And while the manual completely lacked a What-Does-This-Mean? section, the How-Do-You-Do-It? section was clear enough. About the only thing that caused my brow to furrow was that the dual-band/single-band button was labeled “TDR”. I cannot for the life of me figure out why.

Moving right along, I was able to program a repeater frequency into the radio, along with the offset, direction, and tones. It transmitted okay and received okay, so the next step was to get it all into a memory channel.

I'll pause here and mention that the KG-UVD1P has 128 memory slots, no separate memory for the different bands, and no memory banks. But remember that the radio only costs $111, so obviously it's not going to have a full brass, woodwind, and percussion section.

Anyway, I had to read the instructions very carefully, but I did successfully program a memory channel. Getting the display to show me what was in that memory channel was another matter, but I eventually figure how to do that as well.

KG-UVD1P manual

The manual.. no What-Does-It-Mean? section

KG-UVD1P disks and cable

Which disk contains what?

Having triumphantly navigated the radio's features (those I was interested in, anyway), I was ready to load up the memory channels. I definitely wasn't going to do this manually, so I took the programming CD supplied by the vendor and put it in my computer.

Actually, there were two mini-CDs, and no real guidance on which did what. One turned out to hold the driver for the data cable, and the other contained the programming software for the radio. And you had to get them installed in the right order.

I think I spent more time trying to get the software loaded than I did exploring the radio. I had to install, un-install, connect, disconnect, extract, and then do it all over again countless times. I also rebooted the computer several times, and you all know what that's like.

Looking back over my notes, it seems that I installed the driver for the cable that was on the mini-CD and I installed a driver that I downloaded from the Internet. I really don't know which was the proper version, if they were the same, or if somehow a melding of the two got the job done. But once that task was done, I got another nasty shock. The programming software didn't work.

Let me repeat that.

The. Software. Did. Not. Work.

Well. No wonder it was free.

I'm sure that I could have ordered fully-functional software from RT Systems, but I was determined to get free software, and to get it right then. I'm nothing if not tenacious. (Women: That's man-talk for “stubborn”)

Astonishingly enough, I succeeded. I found a number of sites that had the programming software, and eventually found a version that worked.

Not so astonishingly, it only works half the time. It will get stuck, either uploading the radio's memory to the computer or vice versa, but if you persevere, it will eventually do the job. If I'd known what I was getting into, though, I'd have bought the RT Systems version for sure.

All in all the KG-UVD1P is a nice radio, but if you're new to ham radio I'd recommend starting with Japanese cuisine.

Next month: Another Chinese Puzzle Box

E-mail Gary Ross Hoffman

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