Communications

I earned my Technician Class Amateur Radio license in March 1995 and upgraded to a General Class license in March 2007. I do not have a ham station in my home. I have always been “all-mobile all the time.” My VHF/UHF radios have a respectable range with the use of repeaters and even the Internet. Repeaters receive signals from distant or weak stations, amplify them, then retransmit the signal for greater range. Relatively new technologies, such as D-STAR, enable an amateur radio operator’s signal to be carried to distant locations via the Internet. I’ve made nearly effortless contact with stations in Europe with just five watts and a mobile hotspot. My HF radio provides the ability to communicate worldwide via “sky waves” enabled by the atmosphere.

I wasn’t sure if I’d opt to install ham radio equipment in my GTI. I like its clean lines. However, the completion of the 12V power distribution network in the trunk, as well as my status as a tech-addict, compelled me to install my existing equipment when I bought my GTI. My primary radio is an Icom ID-5100A D-STAR radio, which features dual transceivers. The display is HUGE and very difficult to place in a tightly organized interior. I mounted the display to a side vent, shown here, and routed all cabling through the ventilation duct. Visibility is great and the GPS locks on quickly.

I have a Yaesu FT-857D HF/VHF/UHF all-mode transceiver for long-distance communication. I don’t use it very often because I usually have just a small VHF/UHF antenna mounted. My commutes are hectic and too brief to justify scrolling through the HF bands while in rush hour traffic. But it’s good to have the capability and flexibility to mount an HF antenna on the weekends to check band activity. I guess that makes me more of a ham radio hobbyist than a die-hard enthusiast. Still, my car packs a lot of capability, which was my goal.

I didn’t want to drill any new holes in the roof or use a lip mount on my hatchback. My goal was to preserve as much of the GTI’s good looks as I could. I chose a Breedlove NMO mount and installed it in the existing “sharkfin” hole. Click here to see how I did it. It’s not as slick as the factory sharkfin, but it’s not too obnoxious, either. I’ve lost my CarNet and Sirius capabilities, but I never used the services, anyway. The Breedlove mount allows me to easily mount a variety of antennas, including small “screwdriver antennas” such as a Yaesu ATAS-120A, a Diamond SD330, or a Little Tarheel.

I use a Comet SS-460SB dual-band antenna, which is ~18 inches tall and yields decent results. Although I stick with small antennas for aesthetic reasons, I use an NMO mount so I can mount larger antennas when desired. I have a 38-inch Comet SBB-5NMO, a 55-inch Comet SBB-7NMO, and a 63-inch Yaesu ATAS-120A that I can mount, depending on what I want to accomplish. I’m limited to the SSB-5 if I have a rooftop cargo box mounted. I created a solution that allows me to mount this antenna to my roof rack so that it can coexist with the cargo box (photo below). However, this mount can use only “no ground” antennas. I can work with my DV Mega, 2m, 70cm, or GMRS radio with this antenna.

My Scorpion SA-680 Black Widow is one antenna that stands above them all, literally, and deserves its own paragraph. I don’t operate much on HF. Still, I wanted an antenna that can handle full legal power, has excellent adjacent frequency rejection, and stands up to abuse. The SA-680 is arguably the best mobile HF antenna that money can buy. It’s expensive, but should last a lifetime. In fact, it has a LIFETIME warranty! My mounting position isn’t ideal. But it was best for my desire for a temporary mount so that my “hot hatch” could maintain its sleek appearance when I’m not using the HF rig. I haven’t made any overseas contacts with it yet. So far, my most distant contact was to northern Texas, about 1,000 miles away. I’m tempted to install a 500-watt amplifier. Perhaps that will give me just a tad more “punch” to be heard in the distance.

Why the draw to ham radio with the proliferation of the Internet and cellular services? Well, the Internet and cellular are both services requiring arranged accounts with a fee. “Big deal,” right? They also need infrastructure such as commercial power and cable/phone services, all of which can be lost during a natural disaster or “a major mess-up downtown.” With ham radio, I own the equipment and the communications medium (our atmosphere) is still free until our government finds a way to tax that, too.  winkyHams are always the first to establish communications when disaster strikes. Examples include just about every hurricane and earthquake worldwide in the past 100 years, even recent events in developed cities. I believe most stations are capable of operating without external infrastructure… at least mine are since they’re mobile.

Let’s face it: Most of our friends, family, and acquaintances are NOT into ham radio. When convoying in two separate cars, it’s fairly convenient to just use cell phones for short discussions. But, for groups of three or more cars, having the ability for group discussion or directions is fantastic. That’s where the General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) band shines. GMRS shares some frequencies with the Family Radio Service (FRS) bands. However, GMRS allows the use of external antennas and more power, which greatly extends the range of communication. I have a Midland MXT275 15-watt GMRS radio installed. It features an “all-in-handset” control head. I mounted its chassis under the driver’s seat. I’m currently using the included magnetic-mount antenna. But I can also duplex it to share the same as antenna as my ID-5100A,

The last piece of communications equipment that I’ll share is something that’s not often found on passenger cars: A WeBoost Drive 4G-X OTR cellular signal booster. This particular model is designed for over-the-road trucks. It is also popular with RVs and overlanders. So, why not a passenger car that travels on remote roads? The WeBoost places an antenna outside the car, a high-gain antenna in this case, brings the signal inside for amplification, and then retransmits through a smaller antenna inside the car. It does the opposite with signals from inside the car. It can make the difference between no signal and good signal in some areas. With the antenna shared here, I limit myself to using it when I have a cargo rack mounted. But I also have a smaller antenna that I can leave mounted full time.

I’ve shared a photo album below to show some installation details that may not have been evident above. I have addressed the physical attributes of the electronics panel, my subwoofer upgrade, and a sophisticated 12V power distribution network on separate pages. All are complex enough to warrant their own pages. Feel free to ask any questions about my rather unusual setup. See a video presentation on my YouTube channel.

Calling Mars,

Scott, KE4WMF

 

2 Responses to Communications

  1. Marc says:

    Thanks for sharing. I’m a ham as well and looking to install my radio in my mk 7.5 gti. Did you need to run power directly from the battery or were you able to grab power from the rear somewhere? Thanks

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