9 Tips for Programming & Using Your Radio
#1 - Have the National Interoperability frequencies programmed into all radios.
The US Government publishes the National Interoperability Field Operations Guide (NIFOG) on a regular basis. Agencies can request free copies via their website. Make sure you have the appropriate interoperability channels programmed in your radio to facilitate operations at major incidents. See the most common interoperability frequencies here.
#2 - Have the NOAA Weather frequencies programmed into all VHF radios.
Up-to-date weather information is critical to managing an active incident. Cellular/data networks can quickly overload in an emergency, so don’t rely on your computer or phone. See the list of all NOAA weather frequencies here.
#3 - Prevent accidental key-ups / transmissions by using “receive only” channels.
Don’t you hate it when you brush up against something and your radio accidentally transmits? Set your main dispatch channel (or what ever channel your radio spends the majority of its time on) to “receive only”. Then, make the next channel the same main channel but without the restriction. Use of this feature is also an easy legal way to monitor other frequencies that you may not be licensed to transmit on (i.e. police, other departments, etc.)
#4 - Don’t scan when on your pager channel.
In order for your pager channel to work properly, it must constantly monitor your dispatch frequency. Setting your radio to scan other channels at the same time will substantially increase your chances for missing a page. There are people out there that say you can do it by tweaking the scan settings, but we respectfully disagree.
#5 - Create separate radio zones to each department you affiliate with.
Do you run for more that one squad, station, or service? If so, consider setting up a separate zone for each department. This will allow you to customize multiple MDC identifiers, pager tones, and other settings on a per-department basis.
#6 - Even do-it-yourself programmers should use genuine Motorola hardware and software.
Don’t rely on aftermarket cables purchased from eBay and/or CPS software pirated on some overseas website. Either of these has the potential to damage your radio. Invest in the right equipment to protect your radio(s) if you want to do-it-yourself.
#7 - Guard the accessory port like gold.
The accessory port, where your portable radio attaches to a speaker-mic or other accessory, is also used for programming your radio. All radios come with a protective dust cover that should be in-place any time an accessory is not attached. Otherwise, the gold connection contacts can become damaged preventing future accessory use (or programming) of your radio.
#8 - Read the various discussion boards online.
There is a large online community dedicated to professional radios. Specifically, Batboard, Communications Support, and Radio Reference are great places to visit. Not only can they answer specific questions, but just reading over the various message posts can help you become more aware of all the hidden features your radio is capable of. Make sure you create your own account since not all forums are available to guest users.
#9 - Get your radio tuned and aligned every once and a while.
The Motorola Service Manual recommends that you get your radio aligned at least once per year. We understand that can be expensive for small volunteer departments with limited budgets. If it has been more than a few years since your last alignment, however, don't wait any longer to get it done.
Other General Information
Tone Generator is a useful iPhone / iPad application for generating pager tones. This really comes in handy when trying to verify you have the right tones for a particular company or squad. Audacity is another helpful resource for identifying actual tones.
Sample Audio Files
W2SJW has a fantastic page with sample audio files of what many signaling, encryption and data communications sound like. Take a listen here.
Nice Chart of US Amateur Radio Bands
The American Radio Relay League AARL publishes a graphical chart illustrating various amateur radio frequency bands. See the full-color chart here.
Jon Perelstein has put together a great easy-to-follow presentation on repeater basics including frequencies, ofsets, and tones. Check it out here.
FCC Narrowbanding Mandate
New regulations require public safety and business radio systems operating between 150-512 MHz to utilize 12.5 kHz channel spacing on or before January 1, 2013. This will allow for the creation of more capacity within the same radio spectrum. ProgramMyRadio.com is fully capable to perform narrowband conversions on a variety of radios. More information about narrowbanding can be found on the FCC website.
HT/CDM Radio Notes
MDC and QuikCall Signaling
Radios ending in "LS" are meant for use on trunking systems. These radios lack both the MDC and QuikCall signaling features. Some, but not all, of the LS+ models do have this capability. Examine the full model number on the back of the radio. LS+ units with "7AN" and "9AN" in the model number are usually capable of MDC and QuikCall signaling. Batlabs has some great model-specific tips.
HT 1000 Purchases
Are you planning on buying a HT 1000? Make sure the model number ends in "DN". Although all HT 1000 radios can use narrowband, only the DN radios have the capability to utilize the increasingly popular splinter channels such as the VCALL interoperability channel.
SABER Radio Notes
Understanding SABER Model Numbers
Motorola Saber I - 12 conventional channels, no display or keypad
Motorola Saber IE - 24 conventional channels, no display or keypad
Motorola Saber II - 48 or 120 conventional channels (based on memory size), display and limited keypad
Motorola Saber III - 120 conventional channels, display and full keypad
Motorola Systems Saber - If the radio nameplate reads "Systems Saber", then that radio has trunking capabilities. 16 channels on non-display model. 16 zones / 256 conventional channels total on display model.
Motorola Astro Digital Saber - These radios have P25 capability
SECURENET is an additional option available to facilitate encrypted communications. A rocker switch on the radio switches between CLEAR (O) and SECURE (Ø) modes.
More details can be found at Crypto Museum which has one of the best SABER information pages around.
Scan List Capacities Vary By Model
Motorola Saber I - No scan feature available
Motorola Saber II and III - Up to 48 scan lists, 10 channels (plus 2 priority channels) per list. Model number must end in -CN to scan.
Motorola Systems Saber without display - Up to 16 scan lists, 16 channels per list
Motorola Systems Saber with display - Up to 64 scan lists, 16 channels per list
Motorola Astro Digital Saber - Up to 64 scan lists, 15 channels per list
XTS/XTL Radio Notes
Are you planning on buying a XTS 2500? Make sure the model number ends in "BN" and not "AN". The BN radios are newer and have higher capacity flashrom enabling you to run the latest host firmware. Also, make sure the flashcode begins with "4" or "5" if you want to be able to see received radio IDs on your screen.
Many XTS and XTL radios have a channel announcement feature. A pre-recorded voice will announce which channel you have selected. This feature makes it easy to change channels while keeping your radio on your belt. Make sure you purchase a radio with Q806 ASTRO IMBE Digital Operation or Q446 Channel Announcement. Use this handy tool for generating voice files. Please note that this software is for personal, non-commercial use only.
Front Panel Programming
Two FLASHport options are required to do Front-Panel Programming (FPP). Q52 Federal Government FPP and Q53 FCC FPP And Radio Cloning. If you have both, you can do FPP with any version of firmware and CPS. No external hardware key required. However, if your radio has only Q52, then you cannot use higher than version 9 for firmware and CPS or the FPP menu option will disappear
Local Area Resources (Lehigh Valley, PA)
Northampton County Communications
The Northampton County Communications Center has published a number of bulletins concerning the county's radio infrastructure. Refer to these bulletins for a better understanding of the radio network. Topics include the installation of a UHF countywide dispatch-only frequency, a network diagram, general programming/use guidelines, and narrowbanding information. All country FIRE and EMS frequencies have been narrowbanded and field units can switch to narrowband as of 5/7/2012.
Excellent Frequency Guides
Local radio expert John Burricelli (KC2KZZ) has compiled a terrific set of PDF guides for scanner enthusiasts. His frequency guides cover both conventional and trunked systems in the New Jersey Highlands and the Lehigh Valley.
Motorola CPS Programming Software & Programming Cables
Be sure to use genuine Motorola hardware and software when programming your radio. The use of a non-Motorola programming aid may damage your radio. We don't sell software or cables, but you can buy most of these by calling Motorola directly at 800-814-0601.