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 a “mobile-only” operator. 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. Read on to see that my car packs a lot of capability, which is my ongoing goal.

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 remote display is HUGE and very difficult to place in a tightly organized interior. At first, I mounted it in front of the gear shift. It made for a great photograph, but I occasionally touched the display when shifting. I moved it to a center air vent, then eventually to a side vent, shown below. All cabling is routed through the ventilation duct. Visibility is great and the GPS locks-on quickly.

Related to the ID-5100A, I added a DV-Mega to give me private access to the D-STAR network. The DV-Mega is a mezzanine circuit board with a 70-cm transceiver that fits in a Raspberry Pi3 (RPi3) microcomputer. Rather than the Pi-Star image, I chose to run an older image, called “D-STAR Commander,” which allows me to use RF commands to execute various D-STAR and RPi3 functions. I use an Orbic Speed 5G hotspot and a direct ethernet connection to provide internet access to the RPi3. With an internet connection, the digital signal from my ID-5100A is received by the DV-Mega and sent to other D-STAR stations worldwide via the D-STAR network.

I also have a Yaesu FT-891 HF all-mode transceiver for long-distance communication. It is mounted in a repurposed 5×7″ index card box with my ID-5100A. The box acts as a visor to protect the displays from direct sunlight and excessive heat. I don’t work HF very often because I usually have just a small VHF/UHF antenna mounted. Regardless, it’s good to have the capability and flexibility to mount an HF antenna on the weekends to check band activity. Coincidentally, I’ve been participating in a few 50MHz nets on the weekends; so, my FT-891 has been seeing more use than when I first installed it.

My FT-891 had replaced my 15 year old FT-857D. I opted to keep my FT-857D instead of selling it. It’s worth more now than when I bought it since compact HF/VHF/UHF multi-mode transceivers with detachable displays represent an almost-absent portion of today’s new radio market. Later, I became interested in VHF/UHF contesting. ARRL’s “Limited Rover” category works within the 6m, 2m, 1.25m, and 70cm bands. Bringing my old FT-857D out of the box was easily the least expensive way for me to get into VHF/UHF contesting. I still need some amplifiers and a 222MHz transverter to maximize my success, but the FT-857D has my foot in the door! An additional benefit to having it reinstalled: It can serve as a back-up radio for either of the other two, with the exception of D-STAR capability.

Let’s face it: Most of our friends, family, and acquaintances are NOT into ham radio. When convoying in 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, which features an “all-in-handset” control head. I mounted its chassis under the driver’s seat and put its tiny mag-mount antenna on the edge of the roof when needed.

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.

My choice of antenna depends on how “cute” I want my car to appear. My most discrete antenna is a 19-inch Tram BR-179. When I want better performance, I mount a 40-inch Comet CA-2X4SRNMO, which is a 5/8-wave antenna. The CA-2X4SR’s primary drawback is excessive noise at highway speeds. Most often, I have a 1/2-wave Diamond NR73BNMO that’s 33 inches tall and will work 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.

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. I’m using a 35-inch, 8-spoke capacitance hat by W8UZZ, which increases antenna efficiency and allows me to extend less coil. 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. So far, my most distant contact was to Slovenia, over 4500 miles (7200 km) away. I can work 17-80 meters with the W8UZZ caphat. I install the 67″ whip when I want to work 10-15 meters or when I plan to drive at speeds greater than 70 mph. I cannot work 6m with the Scorpion. So, I have a Comet CF-360B to send 6m signals to a separate 6m antenna. See my latest Scorpion video here.

I was occasionally using a tri-band antenna on the roof for 6m/50MHz. I decided to try my hand at VHF contesting as a “Rover.” A proper horizontally-polarized 6-meter loop antenna by M2Inc.com was among my first of purchases. It’s large and quite awkward. As a result, I mount it only for weekend 6-meter nets or contest activity. Properly polarized for SSB activity, I’ve gained ~20dB of signal strength when compared to my vertically-polarized tri-band antenna. I’m told that I’m outputting a much better signal on local 6-meter nets. CLICK HERE to learn more about my growing Rover setup.

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 is since it’s mobile.

The photo album below may show installation details that were not evident above, namely the 100-Ah lithium battery that I built and its DC-DC charger, both of which enable me to run my transceivers for extended periods while parked. I’ve shared details about the battery on my 12V power distribution network page. I have addressed the physical attributes of the electronics panel and my subwoofer upgrade on separate pages, too. 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

 

4 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

  2. Dana says:

    Hi Scott, there’s a lot of great stuff here (along with the links to your 12v power distribution network)! I’m currently hooking up my Toyota Tacoma with a Midland MXT575 GMRS. I sometimes make long trips in my Golf Sportwagen and I’ve thought about the ability of bringing over the GMRS with another mount, power, and antenna installed on the Golf. My question is (and really just double checking): I should be able to connect power straight to the battery (grounding somewhere in the engine bay) with no problem if powering only the GMRS, correct?

    • Scott says:

      Thanks for writing, Dana! Look into Anderson Powerpole connectors. I think you could run 10-12 gauge wire from your battery to an interior location (under the front seat?) on each car. The end in the interior would have the powerpoles. Then you put powerpoles on the radio cables. From there, moving the radio from one vehicle to the other can be done without tools! As for grounding, instead of a location “somewhere in the engine bay,” go for the stud where the battery’s negative terminal is connected. It’s just two inches from the battery terminal in your Golf. It may be similar in your Tacoma. Do not connect to the negative terminal of your battery if it has a BMS module. Most cars that have the engine “auto start/stop” feature have a BMS. Of course, all of this assumes that you want a direct battery connection instead of a switched circuit. Good Luck!

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