Chirp!

No, I’m not talking about Twitter. CHIRP is simply the greatest thing since sliced bread, especially for ham radio operators.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. If you’ve ever used a hand-held or portable radio, you know (or should know) that most of them these days have two operating modes: VFO (variable-frequency oscillator) or “memory.” In VFO mode, you enter a particular frequency; in memory mode, it essentially behaves like a “preset” button in your old car radio: it remembers the frequency and goes directly to it.

However, if you’re working with a repeater, there’s not simply a frequency: there’s a send frequency, a receive frequency, and often various tones for receiving or sending that let you access the repeater. Entering these each time can be painful, and that’s where CHIRP comes in. With most radios, you can store all this extra information in each memory location. Many radios have hundreds or even thousands of memories. Entering all that data by hand can get really painful, so CHIRP automates the process and lets you upload the data from your PC or Macintosh.

Here’s what CHIRP looks like:

Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 11.02.52 AM

Not only can you enter all the information here and store it, you can also download the data directly from RepeaterBook or other repeater directories. It makes it trivial to set up and maintain. Moreover, if you have multiple radios, you can make sure that they have all the same data in the same locations: for example, memory channel 62 is the W5ROS repeater (2M) on all of my handheld radios.

When I visited California last week, I loaded all the repeaters in Monterey County into my rig; once I got home, I deleted them. Doing that manually would be nearly impossible.

To use CHIRP, you’ll need a programming cable for your radio, plus you may have to install a driver on your computer. Once that’s done, it will walk you through the process of downloading from the radio and re-uploading it once you’ve made changes.

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