By: Jeff Yokomura- 11/2001
Installation of a Ham Radio
|Just to the right of center is a large grommet which we passed all the wires though the firewall.|
Last month we talked about how to get started in the world of Amateur Radio, also known as Ham Radio. This month we'll walk you through a radio install. For the radio we got a Yaesu FT-1500M. It's a very compact radio, smaller then most CB radios actually. The radio is built to take a beating; clamshell die-cast design will keep it safe. Actually, the Yaesu ad shows a large Yokohama Geolander tire resting on top of the radio. The radio uses a nonstandard design and looks like a old car radio with the two dials on each side. Most other radios will mount like CB radios with a "C" shaped bracket bolted to each side of the case. The FT-1500M has bolts that pass through the radio and bolts to its mount. The mount looks like an open door hinge. The radio is able to pivot on the center until tightened down.
|The MasteRac console is one of the best around. The front compartment is a great place to put the CB, Radio and or a ham radio.|
There are a few choices for antennas: magnet mount, hard mount, glass mount, as well as others. Since this was going to be the permanent home for the radio, we went with a Larsen NMO 150 antenna. The solid whip antenna stands 49" tall. To mount it we also got the small "L" bracket that Larsen sells. The antenna can also be used with a magnetic base if needed. Larsen also sells a coax wire kit for the radio, which is designed to work with the antenna and mount we were using. It came with 18 feet of RS-58 coax cable which should be plenty for just about any install.
We installed the radio in a 1992 Wrangler. Actually, the install would be basically the same for any vehicle. The biggest problem is choosing a place to mount the radio. If there's enough room, the radio could be mounted under the dash. The FT-1500M needs to be bolted to a surface at least 4 inches deep. If the radio had a standard mount like most CB's, then it would be much less. The radio could be bolted directly to a surface too. Another popular place to mount the radio is on the roll-cage. Some people have center spreader bars between the driver and passenger which can support a radio easily. Most likely, the radio will be mounted near a preexisting CB radio.
|There is actually a lot of room in the compartment. A cover plate could be made to fill the gap around the radios if needed. This would be a good place to put switches too.|
Several years ago, we a installed a Masterac center console in the Jeep. It was designed with two compartments. The forward compartment was built so it could store a decent size CB or AM/FM radio. Since there are holes in the bottom of the console, passing wires through the box is easy. The drink holder holes fit the mount perfectly, which meant that we didn't have to drill any new holes in the lock box.
The radio comes with about 5 feet of wire so there is enough length to wire the radio directly to the battery. The radio will draw a lot of power when on high power so splicing power from the fuse box or stereo isn't a good idea unless you like blown fuses or electrical fires. Finding a way to pass the wire through the firewall can be a problem. Most vehicles have large rubber grommets already in the firewall. We used the grommet just above the gas pedal, drilling a hole large enough to pass the wires through. We already had other wires passing through the grommet, but the other hole was filled so we drilled a new hole.
Since we removed the CB, a Uniden Pro 520XL, a few years back, we decided to reinstall it while we were installing the Ham Radio. Because of the design of the FT-1500M, we ended up bolting the CB to it. With some grinding and filing, the CB's bracket matched holes through the Ham radio. So now we have the CB piggybacking the Ham radio. This worked out well, and little space was wasted. Because we didn't have large enough zip-cord (the cable used between the radio and power supply) to supply power to both the CB and Ham Radio, we ended up wiring them separately. Wiring them together isn't necessary but it keeps clutter down.
|The mount about the tail light is the Larsen Antenna.||Here's a closer shot of the mount. The body was thicker in this area but was simple enough to drill.||The coax cable sits tight against the tail light and can't be seen from behind.|
|The harness for the rear tail lights passes along the drivers side in a split loom.|
With the radio installed and wired for power we still needed to install the antenna. Since the Jeep had a K40 4.5 foot fiberglass antenna for the CB on the passenger side, this left us the driver side to mount the antenna. The passenger side has a nice spare tire stop that works great as a antenna base. Since we had a "L" bracket with the new antenna we drilled 3 holes through the body. To keep things looking clean, we drilled the holes over the rear tail light and just below a pin stripe. Since the bracket is painted black and the Jeep was green, we hit the bracket with several coats of Krylon Olive Drab no-gloss paint. To route the coax cable we tucked it close to the tail light and through the hole used for the tail light wires. It's a snug fit for the cable and the light needs to be removed to pass the wire through. There are 4 screws for the lens and then 3 bolts inside that hold the housing to the body.
|There was a grommet for the rear lights which allowed us to pass the cable to the outside without worrying about leaking.|
Now to get the cable back into the passenger compartment. This is easily done with the cable routed behind the light. We used the grommet the tail light wire harness uses. Drilling yet another hole. The hole will want to close a little which is good, this will keep water out. Basically, we pulled down the wire harness which runs the full length of the Jeep and ran the coax cable with the harness. There are some covers that will need to be removed at the base of the roll bar. Hiding the cable isn't necessary but it will keep it out of the way. Nothing's worse then sliding in a toolbox and having it snag a wire and cut into it. We actually used all 18 feet of coax cable as we routed it to the console, leaving enough slack.
Now, the connector at the end of the cable will need to be attached. This requires some soldering, though it doesn't have to be very neat. There weren't any instructions on how to put the connector together but it was pretty straight forward. Cut the insulation off, slip on the smallest part of the connector then peel back the braided ground over it. Drop the largest collar onto the cable then screw the last piece over the braid. The braid will show through three holes and that's where it needs to be soldered. Once that's done, the large collar that has made its way to the other end of the cable, now needs to be screwed onto the other pieces. That's it. Confused? Well, once you see it you'll probably understand it.
|The external speaker was mounted under the ash tray. It can be heard from the driver and passenger seat and is protected from the elements when the top is down.|
Just like the CB antenna, the Ham antenna will need to be connected up to a SWR meter. We just dropped the antenna all the way down and haven't had any problems. If the antenna isn't tuned right, it could damage the radio. Some antennas will need more done to them to be tuned correctly. Others, nothing needs to be tuned.
|The finished antenna stands much taller then the Jeep. The antenna works great from this position.|
Now that the radio is mounted in the console, it's time to test it. More than likely, it will be somewhat hard to hear. This is because the speaker is able to reproduce a full range of sound. To help us hear the radio over the engine, tire and wind noise we installed a external speaker. Ham radio external speakers are generally much better then the ones for CB's. We ended up getting a MFJ external speaker for $12. It has a narrower band to only allow tone's and voices to be carrier over clearly. The speaker can be mounted just about anywhere. We decided to put the speaker under the ash tray. It's a little too far away so it gets a muffled at highway speeds with the top down in this locations. Mounting it on the roll bar might be a better option. In any case it's out of the way and can be heard for the most part. Since the CB's speaker stopped working a long time ago, we went to Radio Shack and picked up a "Y" mini connector so we could have the CB and Ham radio's feed into the same speaker.
So now everything is hooked up. Time to test the radio out. Don't be too scared of screwing up. Ham enthuasiasts in general are pretty nice people and will more then likely help you out. 146.520 Mhz is National Simplex. The next step is to locate a chart with the repeaters in your area. With our setup, we're able to get into all the repeaters near us. Many trails will have repeaters on local mountain tops. So if a CB and Cell Phone fail, your ham will still work fine. Some repeaters will have a autopatch, which will let you make a phone call. So help isn't too far away. We have already added to our collection and picked up a hand-held radio for those times when we're not near the Jeep. This is great for hiking, biking and pretty much anything else you do out in the woods. Well, we hope to hear you on the trails.