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An overview of the Motorola Radio Service Software
(RSS), the Radio Interface Box (RIB), their history, problems
and some solutions
Compiled by Mike Morris WA6ILQ
Maintained by Robert Meister WA1MIK
Don't forget ‑ Whenever
you acquire a synthesized commercial radio, be it Motorola, GE, Icom, Yaesu,
Kenwood, E. F. Johnson, or any other, remember to make a copy of the
original code plug (with the commercial frequencies) and archive it.
Just save the code plug to the codeplug archive directory on the hard
drive and use the radio serial number as the file name. It's much
better to waste a few kilobytes of cheap hard drive space on a backup
you may never need than to need a backup you don't have and can't get.
More details in the RSS article below.
Much of the information presented below was compiled from information provided by a half-dozen folks via emails and phone calls, and condensed into article form for distribution here to help the radio enthusiasts understand just why Motorolas RSS is such a pain to use and why the perfomance is so problematic. Other information was contributed, some anonymously on a floppy disk (but the envelope had a Schamburg postmark !). You can pack a lot of plain text on a 1.44 MB floppy.
These articles attempt to cover some of the problems that the users of DOS based (i.e. pre‑Windows‑NT/2000/XP era) Motorola Radio Service Software have, where the problems came from and how they happened, and what the options are for working around them. While the articles are Motorola-specific, some of the workaround techniques are applicable to other brands.
Basically, always run your RSS in pure MS-DOS or PC-DOS version 5.x
or 6.x on a slow computer that has a real COM port and this does
NOT mean a DOS window in ANY version of Windows !! If
there are icons on the screen, or a START button is the corner then
IT IS NOT PURE DOS !!!
As said on the front page of this web site, Repeater-Builder is NOT responsible for anything YOU do. If you misuse any RSS, or run it in a DOS Window, or on a too-fast computer that makes it crash or corrupt a code plug, it has the potential for turning expensive radios into bricks.
Read the first four articles below thoroughly and understand them.
First, some clarification on how RSS is identified.
Each series of radios - for example the Spectra, the Radius and the Maxtrac - have their own RSS. And despite how much one would like, one won't work on the other. Saber handhelds use a different RSS than Astro Saber handhelds. Radius handhelds even have different RSS than the Radius mobiles. Moto sells the RSS, like the manuals, through their spare parts system. Each RSS software package, like each manual, has a part number, generally starting with RVN or HVN.
So if you have a Maxtrac, it uses Maxtrac RSS. If you have a Radius mobile it uses Radius mobile RSS. If you have a MCS2000 mobile it uses RSS made for that radio. If you tried to read that MCS2000 with, for example, the RSS that is for the Radius, GM300, Spectra, GTX, Maratrac, MTR, MSF, GP300, or any other radio it's going to do just as it should and say that the particular radio that is connected to the computer is not supported.
Some RSS supports multiple radios - for example, the GM300 RSS package supports the GM300, plus the M10, M120 and M130 as well. This is because the M10 is a single channel GM300, the M120 and M130 are two channel versions. The GM300 was designed from the outset to have three different front panels, hence that particular RSS "knows" about and supports all four series of radios.
Some RSS part numbers contains other RSS. For example, the Desktrac
base comes in two versions, a base (with one radio chassis inside)
and a repeater (with two radio chassis inside). The stock radio
chassis inside the Desktrac housing are Maxtrac mobiles, plus there
is a control board that interfaces them together plus controls the
The RSS package for the Desktrac contains two different programs,
one is the complete Maxtrac mobile package, the other programs the
control board inside the Desktrac station.
However the mobile RSS won't work if the radio chassis inside has been swapped for a GM300... a common amateur radio mod since the UHF Maxtrac comes in either a 406-420 MHz or a 449-470 MHz range (and is not too happy being pulled anywhere much below 448) and the similar GM300 comes in a 406-420 MHz and a 438-470 MHz range and covers the UHF repeater band quite nicely.
Trunking radios generally used different RSS than the conventional models in the same product line - for example conventional Maxtracs used different RSS than their trunked cousins.
A typical RSS part number, for example, is RVN4020, followed by a letter. The trailing letter on the number is replaced with the version indicator letter. As an example, the most recent version (as of this writing) of the Maxtrac RSS is is "K", identified on the startup screen as RVN4020K Revision R07.02.00a, and is dated 25-Jun-97. It happens to be the RSS for a conventional (non-trunking) Maxtrac.
The revision (or version) number only comes in to play when Moto updates that particular RSS. Naturally revision 2 is later (newer) than revision 1. And the version number of the RSS is embedded in the programming that is loaded in the radio - to change the program later on you need the same or newer version (more on this in the articles below).
Revision (or version) numbers typically have a leading letter then three numeric fields and usually end with a letter. The overall number starts with R or B (I've seen one "D" and I think that was a transcription error or typo of "B"), as in R07.01.03a or B03.00.01c, and the "R" stands for "Release" or "Revision" (they've used both), and "B" stands for "Beta" (a pre-release product).
To reiterate, the "Version Numbers" or "Revision Number" by itself means nothing without the model number / part number of the RSS itself since when referring to the version or revision number one must be careful to specify which RSS part number is being considered. For example, "R05.00.00" by itself means nothing, since HVN8177, RVN4023, RVN4043, RVN4175, RVN4077, HVN9007, and RVN4001 (to name just a few) have all been issued in version "R05.00.00", and all are for different radios and are completely incompatible.
So, from the above, you can see that what is critical is that the model number of the RSS has to be the correct one for your radio series, and the version number has to be equal to or greater than what was last used to program the radio.
RIB or RIBless ? And what's a RIB ?
A newcomer to Motorola radios has to first understand the question, then answer it before the purchase of his first cable. Many people do not understand the parameters of the decision to go with a RIBless cable versus a RIB and one or more "dumb" cables.
What's a RIB? It's a Radio Interface Box - a multifunction black
box device that does several things:
1) It does voltage level conversion (from the RS232 serial data voltages to the voltages that the radio expects).
2) It handles the "busy" signals between the radio and the RIB and the second set between the RIB and the computer for those radios that need it (like the Spectra).
3) It combines the data stream from the radio to the computer and from the computer to the radio into a single bidirectional data stream between the RIB and the radio (for those radios that neeed it, like the Maxtrac, GM300, GP300, etc).
The RIB goes inbetween the serial port (also known as the COM port) of the computer and the radio. It has it's own power source, which can be a wall transformer, a 9 volt battery or it can be powered through the connection to the radio.
There are manufacturers that build so-called "RIBless" cables. You need to understand that there are two different types of RIBless cables - those that have a DB9 or DB25 serial plug on the computer end, and those that have a USB connector.
We will discuss the DB-connector ones first: They aren't really RIBless as these serial cables take advantage of a design quirk in the serial port (sometimes called the data port) built into some radios which allows the use of a very simple RIB circuit that works most of the time and some manufacturers package them into the shell of the connector that plugs into the COM port on the computer. These expensive cables are capable of programming a limited number of radios: model numbers include the GP300, GP350, GTX, MaxTrac, Radius Mobile, GM300, etc. and several others. These cables are very attractive to those folks that have a fleet of all or mostly one kind of radio.
The USB-connector cables essentially have BOTH a USB to serial adapter AND the RIBless circuitry in the connector shells. These USB ribless cables are totally USELESS on any DOS-based RSS as DOS has no concept of USB, so if you purchase or use one of them you are deliberately limiting yourself to only those radios that have a Windows-compatible RSS or CPS package available for them (and CPS runs only under Windows). Some of the CPS runs under Windows 95, some run on Windows 98 and some runs under Windows 2000). Windows 95, 98 and ME had some USB support but it was very inconsistent and you will be smart to NOT count on it. Again, if you limit yourself to USB cables then you are limiting yourself to Windows 2000 (or later) compatible RSS or CPS and a very limited number of radio types.
My presonal opinion: I'd build (or buy) a real RIB and a dumb cable because if
you have problems with a RIBless cable you will never know if it is the USB to
serial converter, the quirky RIB circuit, the radio, the inconsistent USB
support in the older Windows, or .... ????
Some inexpensive RIBless cables purchased from ebay just don't work, and for multiple reasons - some are wired up wrong, others have just shoddy construction, and 99% of the time you are normally dealing with a company in Hong Kong, Tiawan or mainland China. In many cases they speak English only until they have your money - after that they just ignore you or pretend to not understand. Every single person that I know that has bought a RIBless cable has sooner or later ended up building or buying a real RIB - for one of three reasons:
1) He gets a better radio, for example graduating from a GM300 or MaxTrac (that can use a RIBless cable) to a Spectra or Syntor X9000 (that can't), or ...
2) He's damaged the expensive RIBless cable (just try and get a schematic of it to do any troubleshooting, and some are nonrepairable because they are molded rubber or potted), or ...
3) The ribless cable is inconsistent - this first showed up with a friend that has 8 or 9 GM300s and a few Maxtracs in his extended family - a couple for Civil Air Patrol, several more for for ham radio (6m, 2m and UHF), all of the UHF ones include the GMRS channels, another is the dispatch base at the business, and a few more are bolted into the business trucks. The chinese ribless cable he purchased would program some radios but not others. My real RIB and homemade cable did every one, every time, and with his computer.
As I said above, either way sooner or later every single friend that had a RIBless cable decided sooner or later that a real RIB and a repairable or duplicate-able quality dumb cable results in more consistent programming, less discord and is a more cost-effective arrangement over the long term.
Another reason to avoid the RIBless cables is the outright cost. Each RIBless cable will set you back US$40 or more. You can buy a project box from Radio Shack and build a RIB on perfboard for less, or build one for zero if you have a decent junk box, and then build your own radio cable for the cost of the materials. I built my own RIB several years ago and all of my own home-brew cables for MSF5000, HT600 / MT1000, P100, HT1000 / MT2000, Maxtrac, Radius, Maratrac, Spectra, Syntor X9000 and several others. I use quality metal shells on the DB connectors, use grommets and cable strain reliefs where appropriate, and I've got under US$85 in the entire kit that includes the RIB and six or seven cables.
As to the real Motorola versus clone RIBs argument... the "real" RIB schematic is widely available. Exact clones are avialable from several sources. Other "clones" have difficulty in knowing when to send and when to listen. The real Motorola RIB and the exact clones have additional circuitry that takes care of this task, along with circuits that handle interfaces with the more complex radios, such as the Syntor X9000, Spectra, Astro Spectra, and MTS series.
RSS versus radio list:
Moto maintains an RSS versus radio list on their dealer web site. Every so often we at repeater-builder get a copy in anonymous email. Here is the 9th August 2007 RSS list (anybody have anything newer?).
If you are looking for something older, there are links to several older lists located near the end of the first RSS article below. Naturally the older radios drop off the available list. As an example, the August 2007 list does not have the conventional Maxtracs on it. You will have to go to the older lists for the older radios.
Update as of November 2012:
A newer master list of RSS was found, but you'll have to search it to find what you want: RSS master list November 2012.
A note on entering frequencies into the RSS:
Some RSS allowed out-of-range frequencies to be entered simply by holding the shift key down while entering the numbers, others don't have that feature and require patching the binary file to allow out-of-range / out-of-band frequencies to be entered (see the article below that is titled "Modifying the Radio Service Software"). I suspect that at one point a ham or ham-friendly programmer added the feature and it just got copied to subsequent software generations... When the programmers wrote the RSS for a new radio series they naturally started the process by copying the working source code from an earlier similar radio and modifying the copy, and therefore the early RSS program "look", structure and features (and therefore "shift-key" data entry feature, and unfortunately the serial port driver) continued into the newer program, i.e. all that was really changed was the radio name, the feature set, and both the format and contents of the data block / codeplug sent to and from the radio.
Those RSS programs / versions that allowed the shift key method operated as follows: To program a frequency of 147.435 MHz the user would hold down the shift key and enter "!$&" (without the " characters) for 147 then release the shift key, enter the decimal point then press the shift key down again and enter the 435 as "$#%" plus all the extra digit positions with extra trailing zeros if necesary (each of which which will show up as a ")" character). Our example frequency of 147.435 actually requires the user to type 147.435000 as !$&.$#%))), and at that point you just hit the Enter key. While a 2M frequency is shown in the above example, this same trick is used to enter 28MHz, 52MHz, 440MHz and 927 MHz frequencies into the appropriate RSS as well ‑ just remember to fill in all the trailing digit positions of every frequency position that needs the shift key trick with zeroes.
And if you are using a non-USA layout keyboard, remember that RSS was written in the USA long before the RSS was internationalized. The USA keyboard has the "!" (exclamation point) as upper case 1, "@" for upper-case "2", "#" is upper case "3", "$" (the dollar sign) is upper case "4", "%" (percent) as upper case 5, "^" (caret or "up arrow") as upper case 6, "&" (ampersand) as upper case 7, "*" (asterisk) as upper case 8, and open and close parentheses on 9 and 0. Localized keyboards move things around and can cause confusion - for example, the UK (Great Britian) keyboard has a double-quote on the upper case "2" and a £ (the stylized "L" GB Pound currency symbol) as upper case "3". The "@" and "#" are included in the three symbol keys to the immediate left of the "Enter" key (yes, three, not two, as on the USA keyboard). As an email from an acquaintance in the UK said, "See if you can guess how I figured this out. Bonus prize for guessing how long it took..."
If you have that situation the simplest cure may be to put a piece of tape on your keyboard above the numeric keys, then write on the tape the symbols that RSS expects above the numbers.
Patching the binary file to stretch the band limits is the only other option if you can't make the shift key trick work for your particular copy of RSS. There are articles on this page that walk you through the process.
A couple of notes on the serial "COM" ports:
The IBM PC and XT used DB25M connectors for the computer connectors. The AT series and RT series used a mix of DB25s and DB9s. Hewlett-Packard had a manufacturing error on the first run of their serial boards and used a female connector. A male-to-male adapter fixes that.
All of the early serial boards had jumpers that selected COM 1 or COM 2. The later boards allowed selecting COM 1, COM 2, COM 3 or COM 4. You need to jumper the serial port that you will be using as COM 1 or COM 2. Use the DOS command MSD to verify that the BIOS "sees" the port. Most of the DOS based RSS will be limited to COM 1 or COM 2, at some point the programmers added COM 3 and COM 4, but not many of the RSS models have them. I suggest that you stick to COM 1 or COM 2 in your programming computer.
A final point: The Motorola USA legal group has made the topic of RSS so touchy that the first four articles below were written by knowledgeable folks that wanted to be anonymous. The Motorola legal group seems to think that RSS is more valuable than the British Crown Jewels or the formula for Coca Cola. Much of the material submitted has been reworded at the originators request. There is some repetition of information in the articles below both for emphasis, and because they were written and edited by different people. When you have multiple people writing on the same topic some information duplication is inevitable...
|Background Information I by A. Nony Mous|
|Background Information II by Friend #1 of A. Nony Mous
This was written after someone saw the first article, and felt that some topics were not adequately covered.
|The Radio Interface Box (RIB) by
Friend #2 of A. Nony Mous
A look at the hardware involved.
|Radio Service Software (RSS) by
Friend #3 of A. Nony Mous
Some additional details not in the above writeups.
An overview of a common problem in the Radio Service Software
by Friend #1 of A. Nony Mous
This article expands on a problem that was touched on only lightly and in passing in the Background Information II article above. You may never see it but Friend #1 fought it for a weekend and decided to share...
Introduction to RSS and Radio Programming
by Robert W. Meister WA1MIK
This article describes the various pieces of the puzzle - how to connect them, how to set them up - to allow you to easily and successfully program many of the older Motorola radios. It's geared towards the user who just bought a radio, needs to program it, and is new to RSS and RIBs.
|Modifying the Radio Service Software (RSS) by
Friend #4 of A. Nony Mous
Sometimes you have to modify (edit at the hexadecimal level) the RSS to allow it to do what you want (like entering amateur radio frequencies on 28-30 MHz, 50-54 MHz, or 902-927 MHz). Sometimes you have to patch a 450-470 MHz range to 440-470 Mhz, or a 146-174 Mhz range radio to 144-174 Mhz. There are pitfalls to watch out for, especially when you buy or sell a radio.
|Pentium Compatible Radio Service Software (RSS) by
Friend #5 of A. Nony Mous
Some additional details not in the above writeups.
|There is an article that describes hex-editing the MT1000 (P200) Low-band RSS so it allows 42-54 MHz frequency entry, by Robert W. Meister WA1MIK. It can be found on the Genesis page of the Motorola section of this web site.|
|There is a "Secrets of the MDF file" article by Robert W. Meister WA1MIK on the GTX page of the Motorola section. While it is somewhat GTX-specific, it's worth reading before you read the next article.|
Hex-editing the MaxTrac MDF file for UHF and
900 MHz by Robert W. Meister WA1MIK
This article describes the process that you have to do to modify the Maxtrac MDF file for easier programming on UHF or 900 MHz amateur frequencies. The procedure is applicable to other programs as well.
Hex-editing the MTS2000 RSS for
900 MHz by A. Nony Mous
Someone read the article above and created a patch for the MTS2000 RSS.
Reasons for using LAB vs Regular RSS
by A. Nony Mous
From a thread on another web site. Initially asked about MaxTrac RSS but applies to many other radio product lines.
You will want to maintain a programming notebook
and write notes to yourself for future programming
sessions. You will also want to read the release
notes for the RSS or CPS (and the book that comes
with it if you can get your hands on it) before you
program a new-to-you radio for the first time.
You will discover quirks that go with specific RSS
For example, on an HT1250... You will get an "unknown component" message (why couldn't they use easy-to-understand error messages?) and you won't be able to get past it until you read the release notes and you will discover that:
a) you MUST launch the CPS program and let it initialize and be stable, and ...
b) the RIB must be on, and ...
c) the radio has to be powered up and stable, and ...
All of this has to be done BEFORE you connect the programming cable to the radio.
Another quirk that you may discover is that some of the early Windows-compatible RSS is happy with Windows 95, but not Windows 98. And the RSS that was written under Windows 98 may not be happy with Windows 95... It's always good to read the release notes and the book.
One comment on radio programming: If you are
programming a multichannel radio for a commercial
client it's a bad idea to leave a channel position
totally blank. If it's an 8 channel radio and you only
have 5 channels in it then you have potentially
three empty channels. Some radios, like the Spectra,
"wrap around" when you go "up" or "down" from the
last defined channel (i.e. if you only program five
channels and go up from 5 it wraps around to 1.
Likewise if you go down from 1 it wraps around to 5).
Many radios that have channel switches have a physical
"stop" or "pin" on the switch that can be positioned to
block the switch from rotating to unused channels. Others
do not have that option - if you have a 16 channel radio
with only 9 channels programmed then you have 7 dead
positions. What happens if the person accidentally bumps
their radio from channel 9 to channel 10? Will they miss
calls from their dispatcher? What is the worst case scenario?
Personally I program all empty positions in high band radios as receive only and on the local weather channel. This way if they accidentally bump the channel selector then they know it, and they know it RIGHT NOW.
One interesting radio programming hardware configuration I heard about (but haven't seen) was an HP 200LX palmtop. The gentleman had all of his RSS in the unit, and it allowed him to reprogram a large number of radios with the same serial cable and RIB configuration that plugged into a desktop or a laptop. The RIB, HP palmtop and a few cables all fit into a 9 inch x 7 inch x 4 inch CD player softcase. Note that there was a "double speed" option for the HP 200LX... all it took was changing the main timing crystal. You do not want that feature.
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This web page first posted 16-Mar-2004
Motorola® is a registered trademark of Motorola Inc. CPS, HT600, Micor, Mostar, MaxTrac, Radius, MT1000, R100, Radio Service Software, RSS, Radio Interface box, RIB, Saber, SmartRIB, Spectra, STX, Syntor, Syntor X, Syntor X9000, Systems Saber and other terms used in the articles above are trademarks, service marks or copyrighted by Motorola Inc. and are used in this writeup and on this web site in a descriptive or educational use only, and no misuse or infringement is intended.
The first five articles above are original works that were written at the request of a Repeater-Builder staff member, and are © Copyright March 2004 and date of last update by the author, and are hosted at the Repeater-Builder web site.
This web page, this web site, the information presented in and on it's pages and in these modifications and conversions is © Copyrighted 1995 and (date of last update) by Kevin Custer W3KKC and multiple originating authors. All Rights Reserved, including that of paper and web publication elsewhere.