Communications

I earned my Technician Class Amateur Radio license in 1995 and then upgraded to a General Class license in 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. Technologies, such as D-STAR and System Fusion, 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 using D-STAR. 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 a 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 also 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. Most of my drives are too brief to justify scrolling through the HF bands to find a QSO. 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 is my goal.

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, the ability to have group discussions or convey 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 don’t want to drill new holes in the roof; plus, a lip mount on the hatchback is impractical due to its plastic trim panels. Regardless, I want to preserve as much of the GTI’s good looks as I can. I chose an EM-MG11006-SP, by Electro-Magwave, and installed it over the existing “sharkfin” hole.  Click here to learn more about this solution for adapting an NMO mount to the factory 40mm square hole on my roof. I think this mount almost looks like it could have come this way from the factory. I imagine that only fellow hams and VW enthusiasts will recognize that this is not a stock antenna.

Since I also have a GMRS radio, I chose wide-band antennas that work on 2m, 70cm, and GMRS. My primary antenna is a 19-inch Tram 1181. It’s just a 1/4-wave antenna, but it’s also discrete. When I want better performance, I mount a 40-inch Comet CA-2X4SRNMO, which is a 5/8-wave antenna. I’ve shared a photo in the album below. Both antennas are wide-banded and work well between 140-160 MHz and 435-465 MHz. I’m limited to a 1/2-wave Comet SBB-5NMO ham-only antenna if I have a rooftop cargo box mounted. I created a solution that allows me to mount it to my roof rack so that it can coexist with the cargo box (photo below). However, that mount can use only “no ground plane” antennas.

Connecting three transceivers to a single antenna port is where things get a little tricky. An antenna switch is the simple solution for sharing a single antenna with the ID-5100A and GMRS radios. But that would cut-off the the ham radio on the rare occasion that I want to use GMRS. Instead, since 70cm and GMRS are both UHF frequencies, I use diplexers so that I can still use 2m/VHF while connected to my GMRS radio. The two CF-4160’s split the VHF and UHF signals, send UHF to an antenna switch near the driver’s seat (selects between 70cm and GMRS), and then recombines the VHF/UHF signals before routing to a CF-706A that’s on the backside of this panel (the red marking is the output to the antenna). The CF-706A adds HF to the mix. For HF, I work only 6m and 10m from the roof. All lower frequencies go to a Scorpion antenna, described below.

My Scorpion SA-680 Black Widow is one antenna that stands above them all, literally. I chose 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 the best to satisfy my desire for a temporary solution 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.

My last piece of communications equipment 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. I figured “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 my phone inside the car. It can make the difference between no signal in the car and a 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 leave mounted full time. You may have noticed it in the photo of the EM-MG11006-SP mount, shown a few paragraphs up.

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 fail during a natural disaster or “a major mess-up downtown.” With ham radio, I own the equipment. The communications medium (our atmosphere) is still free until our government finds a way to tax that, too.  winky Hams are always the first to establish communications when disaster strikes. Examples include just about every hurricane, earthquake, and other disaster worldwide in the past 100 years, even recent events in developed cities. I believe most ham stations are capable of operating without external infrastructure… at least mine are since they’re mobile.

The photo album below may show installation details that were not 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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