Programming Auxiliary Handsets With Chirp

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The Lawrence County Sheriff's Office is responsible for county-wide emergency communications and public warning (outside municipalities, such as Monett that provide their own communications). The LCSO is also responsible for promoting and supporting interoperable communications county-wide (even with respect to municipalities). The Sheriff's Auxiliary provides communications support to the Sheriff's Office, which, effectively, means that we are to provide communications support and assistance county-wide, not just for the Sheriff's Office, but wherever it is needed.

Need For Versatility and Field Programming

We have no way of knowing who we, or the deputies we support, may need to communicate with in the field in the context of a multi-disciplinary, multi-jurisdiction response. We therefore have a requirement for versatility and adaptability in our training, equipment, and radio programming not shared by the typical Law Enforcement Officer. To that end, we have concentrated on obtaining multi-band, cross-certified handheld radios which can operate on multiple radio services (e.g. Amateur Radio and Part-90 Public/Commercial Service), which are potentially field programmable and clone-able, and which our radio specialists can operate in VFO (Variable Frequency Operations) mode. As we begin standardizing and purchasing mobile radios, we will follow the same criteria.

By field programming or using the VFO, we can potentially enter new channel information on the fly during a crisis and then quickly clone handset-to-handset in the field. Instructions for doing so with the Wouxun KG-UV6D handheld transceivers are available in an in-house instruction manual downloadable from Scribd and also printed and stored in our Comms Bucket for field access. (Comms specialists should print this for their field kit.) Although field programming is versatile, it is important to have the pre-programming cover the needs we can reasonably anticipate and in an organized, easy-to-maintain format. Eventually, we will probably have the detailed Chirp programming information below in a separate PDF (with screenshots and samples) as we do for manual programming and leave only LCSA-specific information here.

Chirp 2-Way Radio Programming Tool

We use the Chirp 2-Way Radio Programming software to program our radios. This software is available as a free download, runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux, and supports a number of handset and mobile radios. Disks containing this software are also stored in the Comms Bucket along with radio programming cables if needed for field use. Unlike the software which comes free with the Wouxun handsets, Chirp is quite a bit better polished and has import and export functions which allow us to copy data from the National Interoperability Field Operations Guide (NIFOG) and to split the input files into separate subject areas (zones) for easier maintenance. Chirp can read from or write to the radio in its proprietary format as well as interchange standard files with other radio programming software.

A Chirp PDF quick reference explaining the columns for channel definitions is also available.

Why we have to customize radio laydowns

We have to do some work to customize individual radios for several reasons:

  • It is our goal to share our programming files with other local groups and agencies. Our volunteers do not need all of the regional fire channels pre-programmed, just the ones needed for local/regional interoperability. We do need the zone containing the local/regional law enforcement channels. If Fire/Rescue reused our files as a starting point, they will want to substitute the fire channels zone for the law channels zone.
  • Some of our volunteers may be licensed for different radio services. All of our volunteers who have been through our standard radio training have a public service call-sign through the county and may use the Part-90 channels through the Sheriff's Office. Not all of our volunteers have Amateur Radio or GMRS licenses. Those volunteers may monitor traffic in those services but not transmit. (None of our programmable radios may transmit on Family Radio Service (FRS) or MURS but again, we can listen.) Similarly, the deputies we work with are (usually) not licensed for anything but part-90.
  • For other volunteers we work with, we have the opposite problem. If we are working alongside ARES and need to temporarily issue them a radio, they will be licensed for the Amateur Radio service but not for Part-90 Public Service. For official use, we can temporarily issue them a radio which can monitor the public service channels so they can coordinate with us, but they may not transmit. Similarly, if ARES reuses our radio programming files for their standard use, we would provide them some but not all of the files (some of the Law Enforcement channel information is For Official Use Only).
  • We may deal with multiple radio models with different channel storage capabilities. We may, for instance, have to cram our ~200 channel standard lay-down into a 30-channel radio or we may program a mobile radio where we have additional room to pre-program extra Missouri Amateur Radio repeaters.
  • It is also nice to be able to set the power-on message to a user's call-sign, set the lock pin and other information for an issued radio for a specific individual.

Chirp Stock Configs

Chirp supports "stock configs" which allow you to easily load and use standard settings across multiple radio laydowns. Going to File->Open Stock Config... will list the available files. Chirp comes pre-loaded with several files for national calling frequencies, GMRS (do not use this), MURS, etc., that can be used in building new radio laydowns. To make our files available in the same way, copy the *.csv files to the Chirp configuration directory (on a Linux box, this will be in ~/.chirp/stock_configs, see the Chirp FAQ). After you copy the files, quit and restart Chirp. Our files are stored in the D4H document library under CommunicationsProgramming (login required).

When you select a stock configuration, it will open in a new tab. Open a new file or the existing file that you wish to copy this data into. Select the channels to copy from the stock config and cut and paste into the target file. In the target file, you want to select the starting channel number where you want the stock information to appear. In other words, if you want GMRS channels to start at channel #101 in the radio you are programming, select channel 101 and then select Paste. In some versions of Chirp, you will have trouble dealing with more than 4 tabs at a time. Simply close the stock config when you are done copying from it and open the next one. Note:Chirp seems to sometimes create a bogus channel 0 in stock configs which do not have a real channel zero. I have no idea why; just ignore it.

Do not edit a stock config! Edit the original file, copy it to the stock location, and then (if needed) close and restart Chirp. The files marked FOUO are For Official Use Only. Pragmatically, all of the channel information can probably be built from public sources, but we are required to protect distribution of the files and how the channels are specifically used.

Building an LCSA laydown for a specific radio/user

From top to bottom, we start with the regional interoperability channels first (note that many radios, including the Wouxuns, don't have a channel #0, so start at channel #1. LC-PS-All-FOUO (Lawrence County- Public Service- All) contains all of the Public Service channels needed by virtually any area responder. Behind the scenes, this is broken into LC First Responder channels and NIFOG interoperability channels, but LC-PS-All is what you will want to start from 99% of the time. Starting from this also puts MOSHER on channel 1, which is convenient for us and for deputies. We then take care that numbered NIFOG channels correspond to the same numbers in our radios.

Next we add the Region-D-LE-FOUO file starting at channel 50. This is where you would want to substitute discipline-specific channels (Fire, Ambulance, etc) channels if needed. Then you are done with For Official Use Only data. At channel 60, we add the Local Volunteers channels (CERT and Sheriff's Auxiliary HAM channels at the time of this writing). LCSA-GMRS is placed starting at 101. Our GMRS programming includes separate channels for direct and duplex (repeater) operation. By starting at 101, the channel numbers line up conveniently such that, e.g. FRS/GMRS 4 is 104 in our laydown. MURS (receive only, from the Chirp stock config) goes at 70.

Our Amateur 2m and 70cm channels start at 135 and 160, respectively, with the W0OAR repeater (ARES/Skywarn) at 137 and the emergency talk-around channel (same frequency in simplex in case the repeater is down) at 138. These two channels should not be changed without reason.

Lastly, we add NOAA weather warning channels (monitor only) starting at 191, such that NOAA 1 is #191 and NOAA 7 is #197.

Setting Channels To Monitor Only

Because we have different users (or radios) licensed for specific radio services, we have to lock out transmit for some services when programming certain radios. To this end, all of our stock config files come in two flavors, one of which has "Listen" in the name and is receive only. When changing these stock configs, we need to ensure that the corresponding Listen file gets updated, too. Our standard radio laydown has PS-All, Region-D-LE, Local Volunteer as Listen only (because they are Ham-licensed), GMRS as Listen (which includes FRS as listen-only), Amateur 2m and 70cm as Listen, and the NOAA channels (which are always receive-only). If the user receiving a radio is licensed, the transmit-capable versions of those files can be used.

To manually set a channel to receive-only, select the channel and go to the "Duplex" column. Clicking on this column will give you options for None (direct), -, + (repeater offset), Split, and Off. "Off" will lockout transmit for that channel. To do this for an entire block of channels at once, select all of the channels that need to be changed using [SHIFT] or [CTRL], right-click on one of them and select Edit from the pop-up menu. You will now be in the "Edit Multiple Channels Dialog". Edit the Duplex settings to "OFF" and click OK to close the dialog.

Other Customization

When you have the channel settings all put together in a .csv file, you will need to create a Wouxun image file (or whatever specific radio you are working with). The easiest way to do that is take an existing image pulled from the blank radio and then copy and paste all of the channels from your .csv into that image (overwrite everything).

Once you do that, you will lose comments and other metadata from the stock config but will gain radio-specific options. We usually want to do several things here: set the radio to display battery voltage at power up (makes required periodic equipment check/recharge easier), to display the user's call sign (to make return of a lost radio easier--- don't lose your radio), and potentially, to set the pin code for locking the radio. For our licensed HAM operators, we also want to enable VFO mode so that they can reprogram on the fly. Technically speaking, we are not permitted to do this for normal operators as Part-90 requires programming lock-out for non-specialists. For the Wouxun KG-UV6 radios, this is controlled by toggling the "Menu Available" option under "Settings->All Settings".

Once the image is complete, you can go to the Radio menu and upload it to a handset. If you have customized the call-sign or pin for a specific radio, just discard those changes without saving.