Basic Radio Settings Descriptions

Realize that the programmer for your radio reflects your radio. The RT Systems programmer takes all the options of a particular model out of the "black box" and puts them on the computer screen where they are easier to consider and experiment with.

There are no tricks here. If your radio has an option, it will be in the program (with a few limitations). If your radio does not have a certain feature, that option will not be in the program (again, with a very few exceptions). The programming process is to set the options for the features of the radio just as you would from the radio's face. No programmer can make your radio do what it is not designed to do. If you find software that will make your radio do "extra things", it threatens to damage the internal electronics of the unit and possibly render the radio useless.

Presented in this article is a list of the more important radio settings that you will find in the RT Systems programmers along with a brief description. Please note that this is a general list: some radios may not have all of these settings and some will have settings not described here. If you are uncertain about what a setting does on your partcular radio, check the manual for the radio. You will find details specific to your particular model there.

For the absolute beginner, the most important settings are Receive Frequency, Offset Direction, Tone Mode, and CTCSS. In the programmer, select Edit | Simple mode to hide other settings that you don't need to consider... yet. You can come back to those later when you understand your radio and it's functionality.

  1. Receive frequency - This is the most important column. The memory channel cannot be programmed without it.
    • It is the frequency your radio listens on.
    • It is the frequency published for a repeater.

    Once you type in the Receive frequency and press enter, the program may automatically set the transmit frequency, offset frequency and offset direction based on standards for the band.

  2. Transmit frequency - The frequency you use to transmit to the repeater or to another radio.
    • This is the frequency the radio transmits on.
    • Usually this value is not published for a repeater. If it is, enter what you see in the publication exactly as you see it.
    • The transmit frequency is controlled by the Offset Frequency and the Offset Direction. See those sections for more explanation. If you are given a specific frequency, enter it in place of any value that appears in this field automatically.

    This seems really complicated, but it is not. Just let the program take care of this entry. You'll be right many, many more times than not.

  3. Offset Frequency - This is the difference between the Receive and Transmit frequencies..
    • There are standards for the 2M, 440MHz and 6M bands that are already in the program.
    • The program will complete this field automatically based on the band of the Receive Frequency
    • Standards: 2M Band = 600 kHz / 440Mhz Band = 5.0 MHz / 6M Band = 500 kHz.
    • If the value you need is different from what the programmer uses, change the value manually by typing in the value you want for this channel

    Yes, this is real math... but you don't have to do it. If you're curious, just subtract the receive and transmit frequencies to check the value of the offset frequency.

  4. Offset Direction - Is the transmit frequency greater than (+) or less than (-) the receive frequency?
    • Many publications show a + or - with the repeater frequency indicating the Offset Direction.
    • Usually the program will be right when it sets this column, just check for a Minus or -Dup for a - in a publication or a Plus or +Dup if the publication shows a +.
    • If you are talking radio to radio, set Offset Direction to Simplex so the Receive and Transmit frequencies will be the same.
    • If you have a set of frequencies that don't fit into a "normal offset" value for the radio, that radio may offer Split as an Offset Direction. Selecting Split will let you enter the receive and transmit frequencies you need for a particular activity.
    • Some radios have a No Transmit option that disables transmission on this channel. Note: If your radio does not offer No Transmit and you want to listen on a channel without the fear of interference through your transmission, set the Transmit frequency to one in the ham band that is not used in your area and set the power to low. Then if you do transmit, at least you will be in the part of the band where it's legal for you.

    Since these are set on a standard by the frequency coordinators, only very occasionally will this be different from what the programmer sets. But double checking never hurts.

  5. Operating mode: This setting determines the modulation mode you'll use.
    • Wide FM: Frequency modulation. This mode has a +/- 75 kHz deviation. This is the mode used by broadcast FM radio stations.
    • FM: Frequency modulation. This mode has a +/- 5 kHz deviation. This is most commonly used in amateur radio. This is occasionally referred to as Wide FM but that's a bit of a misnomer, as Wide FM most correctly refers to broadcast FM stations.
    • FM Narrow: Frequency modulation. This mode has a +/- 2.5 kHz deviation. It is not commonly used in amateur radio, but is very common in professional radio use. Use this setting to listen to emergency frequencies.
    • AM: Amplitude modulation
    • USB: Upper Sideband: A type of single sideband (SSB) modulation often used with frequencies above 10 MHz.
    • LSB: Lower Sideband: A type of single sideband (SSB) modulation often used with frequencies below 10 MHz

    There are others that you will see mainly in HF radios. Refer to the operating manual for the radio for availability of a particular operating mode in a given radio.

  6. Name: This does not affect channel operation at all. It is simply an identifier for the channel. Usually about 6 characters but up to 16 in some newer models.

    Display of the name depends on either a check box per channel (see the Show Name column), or a global setting that turns them all on. Click on Settings > Radio Menu Settings and change an option from those shown on the Settings screen to turn on the name display.

  7. Tone mode: This option allows you to set an outgoing/incoming tone. Usually used to access a repeater, or to squelch (mute) unwanted signals.

    If the repeater you want to use requires a PL or DPL, your signal will not be heard through the repeater without the appropriate tone setting.

    If you only wish to listen to a channel (such as an emergency frequency), you do not need to worry about tone settings: they do not improve reception in any way.
    • None: No outgoing tone or or incoming squelch mode is applied.
    • Tone: A CTCSS (or PL) tone is applied to outgoing transmissions. No incoming squelch mode is applied. This may also be known as Encode. This setting will allow you to access most repeaters, and is our recommended setting in most cases so you don't hinder incoming signals.
    • T-Sql: (Tone Squelch) A CTCSS (or PL) tone is applied to outgoing transmissions AND used to block incoming signals unless they carry the same tone value. This may also be known as Encode/Decode. This setting will allow you to access most repeaters, but if not set up properly, you may accidentally block (mute) all incoming signals. Not recommended unless you're told specifically that you need it. Note: More repeaters today (2021) are using Tone Squelch in an attempt to block noise on their frequency. This option is being more widely used now but should still only be used if you are told that the repeater is set up for it. Otherwise use Tone until you learn more about this functionality so you don't miss conversations from your new friends.
    • DCS: A DCS (or DPL) code is applied to outgoing transmissions AND incoming signgals are blocked (muted) unless they have the same DCS code assigned. DCS is not commonly used in amateur radio It is much more common with professional and emergency frequencies.
    • D Code: A DCS (or DPL) code is applied to outgoing transmissions Only. Incoming signals are not blocked.
    • T DCS: A CTCSS tone is applied to outgoing transmissions AND a DCS code is used for incoming signals. Very rarely used, you will likely never need this setting.
    • D Tone: A DCS code is applied to outgoing transmissions and incoming signals use a CTCSS tone for squelch. Very rarely used, you will likely never need this setting.
    • User CTCSS: Allows you to specify a CTCSS tone other than the standard list available.

  8. Settings values for the Tone Mode to use: This is the actual frequency value that the Tone Mode will use to access the repeater or block an incoming signal (or noise).

    These columns are not active (and the numbers in them do not matter) unless you selected an appropriate setting for Tone Mode. Once Tone Mode is set, the appropriate columns will be come active for you to complete the required settings for this function in your radio. If the number in the column is greyed out you cannot edit it, then the field is not active and the value is not important for this functionality of the radio.
    • CTCSS: Continuous Tone-Coded Squelch System. This is the specific analog tone you want to use. This value is sent to the repeater when Tone Mode is set to Tone and sent to the repeater AND (in many radios) used to block incoming signals if the Tone Mode is set to T-Sql. (It gets complicated with all the ways these radios do this!!)
    • Rx CTCSS: This column has two uses depending on how Tone Mode is set and the radio's manufacturer and age.
      • In newer radios, this column AND CTCSS will become active when Tone Mode is set to TSql. If that is the case, Rx CTCSS is the value that the radio uses to block incoming signals. (It's the tone FROM the repeater).
      • In most Icom radios, this is the value sent to the repeater AND used by the radio when Tone Mode is set to TSql.
      • In radios that do not have this column, the value set in the CTCSS column is used both to send to the repeater AND block incoming tones.

        Many radios do not have an Rx CTCSS column, or the Rx CTCSS column may be inactive and greyed out even when Tone Mode is set to TSql (Tone Squelch) which you would expect to require an Rx CTCSS setting for the radio to use to block incoming signals. In these cases, the value in the CTCSS column will be used for both transmission and reception.

    • DCS/Rx DCS: DCS stands for Digital Coded Squelch. You may also see it referred to as Digital Private Line (DPL). DCS is essentially the same as CTCSS, as described above, but for digital codes instead of analog tones. These codes can be from a selection between 023 to 754. DCS codes are not often used in amateur radio.
  9. DCS Polarity: DCS Polarity is another part of the DCS code. In addition to the number (e.g. 023 or 255), each DCS code has a polarity. I won't go too much into the theory here, but there are two different options for polarity: Normal (sometimes referred to as +) and Reverse (sometimes referred to as inverse or -). An example normal DCS code might be listed as 432 or +432, and the corresponding inverted code might be listed as -432. If a repeater is listed as requiring a DCS code but no polarity is specified, it's generally safe to assume normal polarity. Polarity must match between radios just as the DCS value must match for everything to work together. Options include:
    • Both N: Both transmit and receive DCS are set to Normal polarity.
    • TN-RR: Transmit DCS is Normal, Receive DCS is Reverse. Rarely used.
    • TR-RN: Transmit DCS is Reverse, Receive DCS is Normal. Rarely used.
    • Both R: Both transmit and receive DCS are set to Reverse polarity.
  10. Tx Power: How much power the radio puts into transmission. A higher setting means the signal will go farther, but the radio will heat up more and/or drain the battery faster. The actual power output will vary from radio to radio. Check your radio's manual for specific setting values. Hand held radios typically range from 0.5 W to 5 W, mobile and base station style radios can often reach 50 to 100 W or higher.
  11. Squelch Mode: There aren't many radios that have this column. The few that do handle squelching in a kind of unusual way. If you wish to squelch a signal based on CTCSS or DCS, you'll need to set the relevant Tone Mode setting, and then set up the squelch mode, too.

    There are 5 squelch mode settings.
    • Carrier: No squelch is used.
    • CTCSS/DCS: Squelch is opened if the incoming transmission has the proper CTCSS tone or DCS code, as set in the Tone Mode setting.
    • OS: Squelch is opened if the correct Optional Signal is received, as set in the Optional Signal setting. This is generally a DTMS, 2-Tone, or 5-Tone signal at the start of the transmission.
    • CTCSS/DCS And OS: Squelch is only opened if the correct CTCSS/DCS tone/code AND the correct Optional Signaling tone is received.
    • CTCSS/DCS Or OS: Squelch is opened if either the correct CTCSS/DCS tone/code OR the correct Optional Signaling tone is received.

  12. The following settings are less common for radios in amateur radio lines. Again, if available in the radio the option will appear in the programmer.

  13. Scan Add: If you activate this setting, the channel will be scanned during a memory scan. If off, the channel will not be scanned during a memory scan.
  14. Some radios have a third option P Scan. P Scan stands for priority scan. Channels marked P Scan will be scanned as normal during a memory scan. Additionally, radios with this option will have a priority scan option. During a priority scan, only channels marked P Scan will be scanned. (refer to the User's Manual for the radio for instructions on engaging the P Scan for these channels.
  15. Skip: Some radios have a Skip setting instead of a Scan Add setting. If Skip is activated, the channel will NOT be scanned during a memory scan it will be skipped (or omitted). If Skip is off, the channel will be scanned during a memory scan.
  16. Busy Lock/Transmit Inhibit: If on, this setting will disable transmission if the radio is receiving a transmission already. This is useful to prevent you from causing interference especially if you are using a tone squelch option for quiet listening.
  17. Step: The value that the frequency changes when you tune away from the receive frequency of the memory channel. You should almost never need to change this setting, nor will it affect your reception and transmission if you do. This is a useful setting for VFO modes but is largely useless when the radio is in memory mode.
  18. Squelch Level: This affects the strength of the squelch. A higher number will require a stronger signal to activate the radio, a lower setting may be likely to allow white noise to get through.
  19. Display Mode: This affects how channels are displayed.
    • Channel: Shows only channel number. Be careful with this selection. It can reduce the functionality of the radio including limiting access to the menu and other functions you may consider useful in the field.
    • Channel + Frequency: Shows channel number and frequency
    • Channel + Name: Shows channel number and name( as entered in the Name field for this channel. On most models if a name has not been entered, the radio will default to a channel number display
  20. Clock Shift: This can be activated to remove a spurious response birdie. It does not affect reception or transmission quality except to remove noise that is being generated within your own radio and you hear with the incoming signal.
  21. Talk Around: This can be activated to talk around a repeater. It will cause your radio to transmit and receive on the frequency listed in the Receive Frequency column It is used to transmit on the same frequency that a repeater transmits on if the repeater is down or you're unable to hit it for whatever reason. Remember, the person trying to hear you will have to be close enough to receive your signal. This is a radio to radio function.

    This setting should not be activated in almost all cases. If you activated it accidentally, you will suddenly not be able to access any of the repeaters that you had been using in the past.

  22. Bank: A form of organization that lets you divide your channels into sets with like functions (i.e., those for home, a vacation location, the parade you help with each year, the search and rescue groups... those you want to use without the others interferring with the activity). Banks are great for getting really good use from your radio
  23. Bank Channel Number: Only in Icom radios, you can arrange channels in a bank in a different order than they are listed in the main memory. It is perfectly fine to leave this setting blank. If left blank, the programmer will automatically assign these channels to the same order in which they're listed on the spreadsheet.
  24. Comment: This does not affect channel operation at all. In fact, it won't even be sent to the radio. It's solely for your reference while programming the radio. Some users like to print out their frequency lists for reference, and the comment field can be filled with a little more information on the channel.