Misadventures in configuring an AT-D878UV radio

Last week, because my Baofeng UV-5R’s VHF band appeared to be broken and I wanted to experiment with APRS, I decided to splurge on a Anytone AT-D878UV radio. I received it from eBay today, and I was super eager to try it out!

However, I ended up encountering a whole bunch of stupid issues on the way there, and spent approxmiately 5 hours trying to figure out what went wrong. So, here’s an article about my incompetency while doing that.

“Get a new radio,” they said, “it would be fun,” they said…

I wanted to at least be able to transmit to the W6BHZ repeater, so I wanted those frequencies stored in memory. The radio does have a proprietary Windows-only code-uploading software. Although my machine is Linux/Windows dual-boot, I was too lazy to switch into Windows. Instead, I tried using dmrconfig and qdmr for that. So I plugged in my transceiver and it turns out, they were able to write the frequencies I wanted to the radio!

When I tried transmitting a quick voice transmission, however, the radio sent a carrier wave and nothing else. I confirmed with people on the repeater that they received the carrier but no voice. Weird, but perhaps I can check it out at the shack.

Okay, so if I can’t transmit on memory, perhaps I configured it wrong. There is a standard mode on all amateur radios that lets you arbitrarily tune into a frequency and transmit or receive on it. This is called VFO, or Variable Frequency Oscillation. It’s a pretty important feature, so I wanted to change into that mode to transmit. So I looked online at guides that told you how to do it, and they were all like “Oh, go to Menu > Settings > Whatever and click on the menu option.” Unfortunately for me, my radio’s menu seemed to have way less options than they said there were.

Welp, I can probably get this all fixed at the shack!

Enabling VFO using the official software

At the shack, I installed the official codeplug software (CPS) on one of the machines running Windows. Using that software, I bound one of the hotkeys to VFO, as instructed by this video from BridgeCom Systems. Then, I uploaded it to my transceiver, pressed the keys, and… no mode change happened.

Perhaps I didn’t bind it to a valid key. I tried binding it to the key for checking battery voltage, re-uploading it, and when I pressed that button, it didn’t even show voltage anymore! What happened?

Jack (KK6YWG) looked at the settings, and noticed that the radio mode was set to professional rather than amateur, which was preventing me from using VFO. As it turns out, this radio is not only designed for amateur use, but commercial use as well, where they hand these radios to people who don’t know much about radios, and restrict a lot of settings (including, and especially, VFO) so they don’t accidentally transmit on the wrong frequencies. Once it was turned to amateur mode, I finally had all the settings I was missing!

The no-voice issue magically starts working

However, that still didn’t solve the no-voice issue. Why couldn’t any of my transmissions get through? I tried more configurations, but I had no luck. Someone else needed to use the computer for something, so I unplugged my radio and decided to try flipping some settings inside the radio manually.

While doing that, my Baofeng was suddenly able to transmit on VHF again, so technically I didn’t need to buy a new radio in the first place, but ah well, I’ve gone too far to go back now.

But then, my Anytone was also able to transmit! I had no idea what the hell I did, but whatever I did, it made it work. I decided to not touch the settings until I got home.

But it’s doing that no-voice thing again!

Once I got home, I plugged in my radio and ran dmrconfig -r to back up my working settings to a .img file of the working codeplug. I tried adding more things to my radio using qdmr… but then my radio started randomly transmitting, as if a ghost was pressing the push-to-talk every 6 seconds! It repeatedly keyed the repeater that way, and I had to take off the antenna to prevent it from clogging up the frequency.

Turns out that was because qdmr’s codeplug file had VOX set to 775 rather than 0 (for off) for some strange reason. I fixed that in the YAML file, uploaded my codeplug again, and it stopped spuriously transmitting.

Then, I tried transmitting my own voice… and it sent a carrier and no voice again. What the fuck. I tried factory resetting the transceiver and uploading the backup codeplug again. Still no luck. Also, I wasn’t even able to receive any transmissions either! It said it was receiving, but there was no sound! Even when I held the monitor button, there was no sound!

Turns out I’m a fucking idiot

Here I was, reconsidering my life choices, wondering if it was really the best idea to buy a used AT-D878UV off of eBay, worrying that perhaps the speaker and mic were busted, when I had a realization.

The programming cable goes into the same ports an external headphone or microphone would.

So, I unplugged my radio…

…transmitted…

…and I got a 5-by-5 response.

The radio thought the USB cable was a headphone and microphone.

Conclusion

Don’t be stupid like me.

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