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HT Programming for the Absolute Beginner

Plus and example using a very popular 2 meter radio
Programming the Yaesu VX-170
Charles P. Cohen VA7CPC


I recently bought a Yaesu VX-170 - a "basic" 2m handie-talkie (or handheld transceiver, or just HT). Even though it's "basic", the instruction manual is 82 pages long, written very densely, and each key has two or three functions (most of which aren't labelled).

I've been watching a VX-170 group on Yahoo!, and noted that many people who had recently passed their Technician exams found that manual to be incomprehensible. It's not that any individual section is difficult to understand. But the manual is "feature-oriented" -  it tells you what the rig can do. It's not 'user-function oriented" - it doesn't tell the new owner how to use the rig's features to accomplish the basic task that most people want to perform with a VX-170:

"How can I program my VX-170 to use my local 2m repeater?"

This article tries to answer that question. Readers who are comfortable with their HT's can stop reading here. This article really is basic, and you already know everything I'm going to write.

But novice readers who own other brands and models of HT's may find the rest of this article useful. I've tried to distinguish the general principles and operations (which every HT uses) from the keystrokes needed to perform them (which are specific to the VX-170).

Like many other things in life, it's only "simple" after you've done it a few times. And it takes longer to describe, than to do.

Repeater Basics in One Paragraph

A repeater receives signals broadcast by a HT on one frequency, and re-transmits them simultaneously on another frequency. The re-transmitted signal is much stronger than the HT signal that was received. The repeater is usually located in the highest spot available, so its "line-of-sight coverage" is much larger than the HT's line-of-sight coverage. The effect is to give the HT much more power, and much more range, than it has on its own.

What You Need to Know about the Repeater

There are three things you need to know about your local repeater:

Its frequency. By convention, the "repeater frequency" is the frequency the repeater transmits on. Therefore, it's the frequency the HT receives on. And the repeater's "receive frequency" is the HT's "transmit frequency".

Its shift ("split" or "separation" in the ARRL Handbook). The shift is the difference in frequency between the repeater's transmit frequency, and its receive frequency. By convention, the shift is positive (e.g. "+600") if the repeater's receive frequency is higher than its transmit frequency. [And thinking backwards, the shift is positive if the HT's transmit frequency is higher than its receive frequency.]

Its tone, if it needs one. Some repeaters are "open" -  they re-transmit every signal they receive. Other repeaters are "tone activated" - they only re-transmit signals which have a sub-audible "tone" added to them by the HT. "Sub-audible" means that it's outside the HT's voice passband - the tones are between 67 and 254 Hz. You can get the tone frequency from the repeater's owner, or one of its users. There are other ways of activating repeaters, but "tone" is the most common. It's formally called CTCSS (Continuous Tone Coded Squelch System).

I'll use a real Vancouver repeater as an example. Its description is:

VE7RBY . . . . 145.350. . .(-600). . . . 127.3t

That means it transmits on 145.350 MHz (therefore, your HT must receive on 145.350 MHz. And it receives 600 kHz down, on 144.750 MHz (therefore, your HT must transmit on 144.750 MHz).

The HT must transmit a tone of 127.3 Hz - otherwise, the repeater won't turn on.

Most 2m repeaters in the US follow a bandplan. The standard shift is 600 kHz, and it's +600 or -600 depending on which sub-band the repeater frequency falls into. The VX-170 (and most other HT's) "know" the standard bandplan, and have a "default shift" setting that gives a correct shift, if the repeater follows the bandplan.

What You Need to Know About Your HT

You don't need a full understanding of the manual to program the HT for your local repeater. But you need to know how to do these things:

1. Put the HT into "VFO Mode". In that mode, the HT can be tuned to any frequency, and isn't limited to programmed memory channels.

2. Set the HT receive frequency (in VFO mode).

3. Set the repeater shift (frequency in kHz, and direction (+/-)).

4. Set the tone, if needed.

5. Store "VFO Mode" settings in a HT memory slot.

6. Assign a name (like "VE7RBY") to the memory slot.

It doesn't matter what brand or model of HT you have, the requirements are the same.

Step-by-Step Instructions (Refer to picture of the VX-170 keypad below and your manual)
If you don't have a manual, see the download links below.

Closeup of Yaesu VX-170 keypad

Now we're ready for the details The "conceptual" steps are in black, and should work for most HT's. The VX-170-specific keystroke instructions are in blue.

Put the HT into VFO mode.

Press the "VFO" key.

Tune the HT to the repeater's transmit (listed) frequency. For the VX-170, since there's a numeric keypad, we'll use it. Without the keypad, we'd use the DIAL knob or UP/DOWN buttons to tune the radio.

Enter the frequency using the keypad, without the leading "1". So "145.350" should be keyboarded as 4 5 3 5 0 .

Set the repeater shift, if necessary. For our sample repeater, the shift magnitude is the standard 600 kHz, and the direction matches the bandplan. So no action is needed on the VX-170. For "non-standard" repeaters, you will have to set the shift and direction using the menus.

Press "F", then "4/RPT" to access the repeater shift direction menu item. Set it to match the repeater. Press "PTT" to save the setting.

Press "F", then "0/SET" to access the menu. Rotate the DIAL knob to get menu item "SHIFT". Press "F" momentarily. Rotate the DIAL knob to select the new repeater shift magnitude. Press "PTT" to save the setting.

Set the tone.

Press "F", then "1/SQ TYP" to select the Squelch Type menu item. Use the DIAL knob to select TONE (or another squelch mode, if the repeater doesn't use CTCSS tones). Press "PTT" to save the value.

Press "F", then "2/CODE" to select the Tone Frequency list. Use the DIAL knob to select the correct frequency. Press "PTT" to save the value.

If you have an antenna connected, and you're in range of the repeater, you can test your work.

Press the "PTT" switch. The repeater should hear you, and turn on for a few seconds. And you should hear it - the green light on the VX-170 (or whatever light shows that your HT is receiving a signal) should turn on for a few seconds.

You might even want to say:

"This is XX9XXX, monitoring"

(which is the VHF equivalent of "CQ"), and see if anyone answers.

When you press the "PTT" switch, you should see the frequency display change to the HT's transmit frequency (the repeater's receive frequency).

Now that the HT is set up to talk to the repeater, you should save the setup in one of the HT's memories for easy recall. The memories slots are numbered.

Press and hold "F" for one second. If you don't accept the default memory slot, use the DIAL knob to select a different slot (you have ten seconds). Press "F" again to store the settings into memory.

For your sanity, you should assign a name (or "tag") to the numbered memory slot. Use a meaningful name like "VE7RBY" or "MT MCK" (for Mount McKinley). The keystrokes to do that vary widely among HT's.

Put the VX-170 into Memory Mode by pressing the "MR" key. Rotate the DIAL knob to select the memory location you just stored into.

Enter a label for the memory – the instructions are on pg 31 of the VX-170 manual.

Press the "PTT" switch to save the label.

If you want to program the HT for another repeater, you must start at the beginning, and go back into VFO Mode.

You should be on the air now. Welcome to ham radio.

Yaesu VX-170 Operating Manual Download from Yaesu (Pdf file, 3meg)
OR here:


This article kindly provided to us with the permission of:
 Charles P. Cohen  VA7CPC Copyright 2009 



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