I earned my Technician Class Amateur Radio license in March 1995 and upgraded to a General Class license in March 2007. For years, I operated on HF, VHF, and UHF from my Mk3 Jetta and on VHF from my bicycle. I do not have a station in my home. I’m all-mobile all the time. My VHF/UHF radios have a very respectable range with the use of repeaters and even the Internet. Repeaters receive signals from distant or weak stations, amplify them, then retransmit their 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 hotspot. My HF “multi-multi” rig provides the ability to communicate worldwide through “sky waves” enabled by the atmosphere. But I probably won’t mount that radio in my GTI because I don’t want the huge antenna that goes with it. HAHA! Read below to see the capability that I have packed into my little car.
I wasn’t sure if I’d opt to install my ham radio equipment in my GTI. I love its clean lines. However, the completion of the power distribution network in the trunk as well as my status as a tech-addict compelled me to move my existing equipment from my Mk6 to my GTI. My primary radio is an Icom ID-5100A D-STAR radio, which features dual receivers. The display is HUGE and very difficult to place in a tightly organized interior. I opted to mount mine to the center dash opening. I’d prefer a higher position for better visibility when driving, but I really don’t look at the display much when I drive. The location is sufficient for when the car is parked.
I’m using a Comet SS-460SB antenna, which is ~18 inches tall and yields decent results. Although I stick with small antennas for aesthetic reasons, I knew I wanted to use an NMO mount so I could mount larger antennas when desired. I didn’t want to drill any new holes in the roof or use a lip mount on my hatchback. My goal was to maintain 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 1/2-wave antenna or even my giant Comet SBB-7 6/8-wave antenna. But I’d really have to be on a mission for superior signal strength before I’d choose to draw that kind of attention to the car.
I use an APO3 to feed the panel so long as its input voltage is above 13V, basically any time the car is running or for about 30 minutes after shutdown. Once the battery voltage falls below a preset threshold (I can set it for 13.05, 12.7, 12.1, or 11.8 volts) for a preset time (0, 5, 10, or 20 minutes), the 120A main relay loses its trigger until the car is restarted and has run for a few seconds. The APO3 assures good battery health and no surprises as a result of a dead battery (been there, done that). Most newer radios are sensitive to input power variances. My ID-5100 is no exception. I don’t operate for extended periods while parked. However, I don’t like to see my radio flash off/on as the battery voltage dips during engine start-ups. I solved this by using a “Super Booster,” by N8XJK. It maintains input voltage at 13.8V regardless of actual battery voltage. I would have loved having an 80-amp version to regulate the entire panel, but I don’t have room for one. This area is PACKED!
D-STAR is a digital voice and data protocol with access to over 700 D-STAR repeaters in the U.S. alone, with thousands worldwide. Many are linked together via the Internet. My commute takes me out of the range of local D-STAR repeaters. So I assembled a “DV Mega” that’s based on a Raspberry Pi 3. Using my smartphone as an Internet gateway, the DV Mega allows me to use a D-STAR radio to use the D-STAR network from anywhere with 3G/4G access. I spoke with someone in Israel the first day I used my DV Mega.
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 require 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. Hams 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.
That’s all I can think of to share about my amateur radio suite. I’ve placed some photos below to detail some installation details that may not have been evident above. You may recognize some of them from my subwoofer upgrade since that’s where the DC distribution network got its start.
My electronics cockpit.
Dual-band ham radio.
I chose this location for the microphone.
It sits very close to the headlight switch.
The microphone cable stretches to lift out of my way so my feet down get tangled when the door is open.
I attached the speaker to the dash with Household GOOP.
Clockwise from bottom: VHF/UHF digital transceiver, “Super Booster,” low current fuse box, APO3 (x2), 120A relay, high current fuse block, ground block.
Power distribution as seen from the front of the car…
Here’s a distant view of the hidden panel.
Here’s how the display mounts to the center console.
This is my view of the display while driving in 6th gear.
Half of the display is blocked when I’m in 1st, 3rd, or 5th gear.
My smallest antenna, a Comet SS-460SB quarter-wave…
My medium antenna, a Comet SSB-5 half-wave…
My largest antenna, a Comet SBB-7 three-quarter-wave…
Different antennas depending on my performance goals.