How to Use CHIRP

cb radio chirp programming

Simply purchasing a top-of-the-line ham radio and storing it in a bug-out bag or a dedicated spot in the home isn’t enough to ensure communication during a natural disaster. You have to be prepared in the event of an emergency and know how to contact someone and who to contact. Most of the top-of-the-line ham radios come equipped with a built-in digital address book. But they can be difficult to use and challenging to program manually. CHIRP software is a type of free ham radio programming software that will manage the digital address book by plugging a ham radio into a PC. CHIRP is an open source software program, working with 3 major operating systems.

Learning about CHIRP and how to use it can be life-saving in the event of a disaster or emergency. In this guide, I’ll go over how you can program CHIRP, the free open-source software, and what makes it invaluable for both beginners and experienced ham radio users.

Purchase a New Radio- Product Recommendation

For beginners, the Baofeng UV 5R is a great ham radio to get started with and one that’s highly recommended by CHIRP website users. The Baogeng UV 5R is flexible, more beginner-friendly, and is currently the best new radio on the market. The UV5R is also priced affordably, so it’s a great option for the beginner on a budget. If you’re not sure what type of amateur radios to buy you can visit forums that discuss multiple radios that are currently crushing the market.

How to Use CHIRP: Set Up

Once you’ve purchased an amateur handheld radio or a stationary model, you’re ready to get started with CHIRP.

As I mentioned above, CHIRP is a free radio programming software that is compatible with all ham radio models and it can handle managing a digital address book.

It works with three major operating systems:

  • Linux
  • MacOS
  • Windows

Most experienced ham handheld radio users recommend using Windows since it can prevent some common issues that you’ll run into if you use the other two operating system options.

To use CHIRP software, you’ll need an FTDI programming cable that’s compatible with your radio.

  • The goal of using CHIRP is to find the settings and channels you want to save, as well as backups and other contacts.
  • You may want to save direct contacts such as the people in your prepper group, co-workers, and family and friends.
  • Using CHIRP software also allows you to save local repeaters, which are special ham radio stations that will broadcast messages over vast distances.
  • You should also save weather stations such as the NOAA, where you can find information regarding the most up-to-date weather alerts and conditions.
  • General Mobile Radio Service, or GMRS and FRS frequencies can also be saved so you can speak with people on those types of radios.
  • Every specific thing or person that you want to contact has its own frequency. However instead of remembering a lengthy frequency and who it belongs to, you can give it a name and save it, so it’ll always be easily accessible in the event of an emergency.
  • You can save your preferred frequencies in a channel, which makes it much easier to scan using your radio. All you’ll need to do is hit the scan button and it will continually cycle through a list of the channels you saved until it finds something with activity.
  • Keep in mind, using chirp isn’t just for saving contacts in a digital address book. Using it will also allow you to create backups on your PC, USB drives, or cloud storage. You can share these files with any other radio user so you’re all on the same page. If you upgrade or lose your radio, it’s simple to reprogram it.

FTDI Programming Cable

programming a cb radio

Some types of radios will come equipped with USB ports, while others won’t. If the radio you have doesn’t come with a USB port then you will need to purchase an FTDI programming cable that will connect to the radios speaker or mic jack to the USB serial ports of a PC.

Unfortunately, there are so many knock-off FTDI cables on the market these days. Because of this, I recommend purchasing an authentic cable directly from the manufacturer. These cables are pricey but they’re definitely worth it.

If you run into an issue with your computer and it’s unable to communicate with the FTDI cable then you’ll have to download a driver.

This is a common issue with older computers. If your computer still has a difficult time recognizing the radio once it’s connected to your PC, you may need to manually install a driver for an FTDI.

An FTDI  driver is provided by most operating system vendors and won’t work with counterfeit chips. In most cases, if someone has an issue using CHIRP it’s due to a counterfeit cable.

Installing CHIRP

Installing and configuring chirp can be tricky.

Windows

The first step in the process is downloading the operating system, such as Windows. Download the Windows installer and open the program, clicking through the prompts. Most CHIRP users recommend Windows since it’s the easiest to use.

Mac

If you have a Mac, CHIRP offers both unified and legacy packages, however, it recommends the unified package.

Once you have downloaded the software, you’ll insert the file, dragging and dropping the software into your applications folder. The first time you want to use CHIRP, you’ll need to click the app icon and select open. Do not try to open it by double-clicking or you’ll receive an error message.

Linux

CHIRP software programs for Linux installation are available in both Fedora and Ubuntu packages, as well as a tarball file. You can install CHIRP from the Arch Linux user repository if you use an Arch Linux-based distribution.

After you’ve installed CHIRP, use the “CHIRPW” command to launch it.

Other CHIRP Installation Tips

  • You can accomplish most of these tasks on your PC without the radio switched on and plugged in. While the radio must be connected and on when you’re moving data between the devices, it’s not necessary for the CHIRP software installation process.
  • Keep in mind, any changes you make on your PC will not change the radio until you specifically tell it to.
  • The biggest issue with CHIRP installation revolves around counterfeit cables or loose cable connections. The cable communicates with the radio through audio tones. So once it’s doing this, be sure that the radio is switched on to a quiet frequency that has no noise coming through. You should remove the antenna from your radio before you connect it to your PC to avoid noise issues.

Setting Up CHIRP

testing chirp on a cb radio

If you have a brand new radio or a blank one, the following steps will not be super valuable, however, it’s still a good place to start this lesson.

Once your radio is connected to your PC you can launch CHIRP.

A dialog box show should appear and prompt you to choose your radio model, port, and vendor. The model and vendor are pretty straightforward. It can take some trial-and-error to choose the right port from the list of available options. However, don’t worry, choosing the wrong port will not ruin anything and you will know if it’s not the correct port because the software won’t be able to communicate with your radio.

When you’re searching for a port, look for one that has “USB” somewhere in the name and click download.

If this process fails,  move on to the next port. Once you’ve accomplished the steps, you won’t have to go through it again using the same computer.

Now you’ll have to go through all the warnings and prompts that appear. If your setup has been done correctly and everything works as it should, a dialog box will pop up that indicates cloning has started. The program is now copying the frequencies from your radio to the CHIRP  system software.

After 5 to 10 seconds, a table will appear and list the frequencies that have been programmed into your radio. If you run into any issues you can start the process over. In most cases, problems will occur in the beginning when you are trying to connect your radio to your PC. However, after you’ve gotten past that point it will be a smooth and simple process.

Tabs

Once you have downloaded the frequency list from your radio all of the information will appear under a single tab, however, it’s possible you may end up with several tabs.

Each tab will appear in a table. Seasoned ham users will recognize many of the settings, however, there are a few columns that require an explanation for the newbie.

Loc

Loc is the channel number that’s assigned to every frequency. Loc 1 will appear as channel 1 on a ham radio.

Frequency

The frequency tab includes the frequency assigned for every channel.

Name

The name is the label you’ll assign to every channel.

Duplex Column

This setting allows you to tweak the transmission settings. If you shut this feature off on a channel, you will not be able to transmit that channel. Most people recommend turning the duplex off on emergency responder frequencies and weather channels.

Skip

Turning skip on makes it so that your radio will skip over a particular frequency automatically when scanning. Many ham radio users recommend this feature for weather stations since a weather station is always broadcasting.

Importing Frequencies

setting cb radio frequency

The built-in frequency list directory is one of the biggest advantages of using this software program. You can use the program to manually enter frequencies into your address book

Radio Importing from Stock Configuration

This is a good place to begin since this menu item provides basic universal frequencies that you can import. You’ll find NOAA  weather stations,  U.S. calling frequencies, and GRMS and US FRS  frequencies.

With import from stock configuration, you’ll choose U.S.  calling frequencies to import the radio calling frequency that’s outlined in the ARRL’s band plan.

Transferring Chirp Files

You can transfer your CHIRP files between computers by using flash drives or email. Typically, the files cannot be opened in CHIRP unless they have been placed in a folder where CHIRP can look for them. This folder is referred to as the CHIRP files. You should not try to open the file from this folder. Instead, you’ll open this file from inside CHIRP.

If you have issues connecting to the radio make sure that you’ve chosen the correct radio model and manufacturer in CHIRP.

Also, check that the cable is plugged in securely at each end.

You may have also chosen a cable that you can plug into your radio, but the cable itself may not be wired properly for that particular model. Be sure that you have a cable that’s designed for your exact model of radio.

Many of the cables have chips, such as FTDI, that convert a USB port to a serial port.  This type of chip requires a driver. Check to ensure that the driver has been downloaded. If not,  you may need to do so manually. The port number setting in CHIRP should match the port number the PC has. The port number on a computer can be found under device manager, then ports.

Changing Automated Channel Settings

The automated channel settings are used to change a frequency that isn’t optimal. To fix the channel numbers you can use the adjust new location feature found at the bottom of the dialog box.

Adding Weather Stations

To add weather frequencies, you’ll use the radio>  import from stock configuration> NOAA.  there are a couple of configurations that are important for weather channels. Most people don’t want to transmit weather frequencies, so be sure that you have duplex switched to off on all of your weather frequencies. You can also tell the radio to skip scanning weather stations by putting an S in the skip column. If you leave the channels set as they are and have your radio set to scan it will stop at each weather station the radio is able to pick up. Since the weather stations broadcast around the clock you may find that your scan gets stuck there.

Local Repeaters

When it comes to using a Baofeng radio or other radios repeaters, CHIRP will come in handy. A local repeater is a specific ham radio station that’s usually on a mountain or tall hill that listens for signals, repeating them over a vast distance. Many types of repeaters will require special settings including PL tone and frequency offset. This program allows you to enter frequencies, PL tone, and offsets manually, but you can also import frequencies from online repositories directly.

If you want to connect to a repeater around you select radio> import from data source>repeater book> repeater book proximity query.

This will cause a dialog box to pop up that you’ll use to enter your ZIP code, available bands, and search distance in miles. To maximize the number of repeaters found, keep the band set to all. The program will not import any frequency that’s incompatible with your radio.

Some people will be tempted to make a really wide search area, however, you will want to avoid cluttering up your address book to the point where it’s difficult to find a channel you’re looking for in an emergency. You should try considering the distance between your home and your work, how far you will need to travel to a safe location, and how far apart immediate family members may be on an average day.

Adding First Responder and Emergency Frequencies

setting emergency radio

You will want to add standard frequencies that people will use to call for help. You can easily find the specific frequencies that are used by your local first responders, such as fire and police, online.

Programming emergency numbers can get complicated. You can add these numbers by doing it manually and scanning until you find what’s active in your area. You can also browse websites and copy and paste the info. Another option is speaking with a local radio group and asking.

Sites dedicated to CHIRP program frequencies will feature databases with this information that can be directly imported into CHIRP. However, you must have a registered account for these websites and some may require you to buy a premium subscription in order to import these frequencies.

Adding General Mobile Radio Service and Family Radio Service

The task is pretty simple, however, some users may not want to do it. The stations are meant for walkie-talkies, basically, GMRS and FRS for purpose-built radios. When you transmit on those frequencies from a ham radio it’s considered illegal. However, in an emergency situation, you need access to as many frequencies as possible and the rules implemented by the FCC will allow you to transmit on any frequency in the event of an emergency.

Unfortunately, ham operators may not be nearby during an emergency, however, there might be someone on GRMS or FRS radio that you can reach. Additionally, it’s always good to have these frequencies on your radio so you can scan through them and find people who are calling for help on these frequencies.

To import, select radio> import from stock configuration> US FRS and GRMS channels.

You’ll be given a list of frequencies. This time you’ll need to choose the frequencies that are compatible with your radio and adjust the channel numbers.

If you have any empty channels left you can also add more channels such as Murs channels and marine radios bands.

Adjusting General Radio Settings

With the CHIRP program, you can adjust many of your radio settings. However, some settings will specifically depend on the model of radio you’re using. If you’re new to ham radio use or you’re not sure if the settings need to be adjusted, don’t change anything. Search for the settings tab and review your channel list by clicking memories located right above the settings tab.

Saving Changes

Once you’re happy with your channel list you can upload it to your radio. If your radio is unplugged, you need to switch it back on, turn up the volume, go to a silent station, then plug it back in. You can also make a backup of your work by saving your channel list to your PC.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, learning how to use CHIRP can be somewhat complex if you do not follow each step closely, based on the model of ham radio you have and the operating system you use on your PC. With this guide, you should be able to upload the software and fine-tune it so that it includes all the important channels and frequencies that you’ll need to use to communicate with family, friends, co-workers, neighbors and anyone else in need of help during an emergency.