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In car communications. What ya got?

Chris Haining November 22, 2017 All Things Hoon 48 Comments

In a few weeks time, I’ll be sitting my amateur radio (Ham) exam. I’ll be issued a callsign and legally entitled to transmit at low power and on a wide variety of frequencies. One day I’ll graduate through my intermediate and full licenses, unlocking a 400w maximum transmitting power and across a broader spectrum of wavelengths, but just being legally active is enough for me.

Outside of professional and commercial groups, vehicle-based radio communications is far less commonplace today than once it was, but it strikes me that – out of all the automotive websites, forums and blogs out there – the Hooniverse faithful is most likely to have kept old-school mobile comms alive. So, what ya got?

My father has been a Radio Ham for most of my life, and I’m a little ashamed that it has taken me over 30 years to join him. Every car he’s owned has ended up with a mobile transmitting capability, previously on VHF and UHF, but more recently on HF frequencies. This means you’ll never buy a car from him that hasn’t received a cookie-cutter to the roof. I’ll never forget family holidays where Dad would end up speaking to the local group. On a trip to Florida in ’98, he fell in with a guy called Robert, who actually invited us round to his house. We took a ride out in his Dodge Spirit to his local Ham equipment dealer. A retired navy guy, he was astonishingly welcoming. He’s passed on, now. RIP KB4 USW.

It’s partly because of people like Robert, and my Dad, that I want to get into the hobby. But it’s also because of the tradition. Aside from Ham, CB is still very much alive, too, but rather more so in the USA than over here. Indeed, a CB set up was a factory option in many cars at the turn of the 80s, such as the Ford setup shown above. So, who here runs any mobile communications setup today that doesn’t involve a telephone?

(Image courtesy of The Carchive)

  • GTXcellent
    • Rover 1

      With some people I turn my hand to face the other way to give a slightly different finger gesture.

  • Other than a CB in the HMV, nothing, not even a cell phone. I’m generally too busy savoring the sweet, sweet sound of temporarily postponed mechanical failure.

    https://farm6.staticflickr.com/5061/5660075814_76eb0d28bc_z.jpg

  • Batshitbox

    I’ve had my Ham license for a few years now, as well as a GMRS license. The General Class test, I thought, was easier than the Technician Class (though, they didn’t end up asking me any math questions.) I’ve got three Yaesu mobile radios, but one of them is so comically outsized you wonder how they considered it an “under dash mount” (it does run on 13.8 VDC, so I can power it in my “shack” from the same linear supply as the other Yaesus.

    The Yaesu FT-One “Mobile” Radio (See? It has a carrying strap! 40 pounds!)

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/0b52e6d5c95d05d7330d85c70fe897b150e24f5a151bc81fb3a9646266e6b377.jpg

    In addition, I bought a new Yaesu FT8900 4-band (UHF, VHF, 6-meter, 10-meter, all FM) that was sometimes installed in Steve The Unremarkable White Pickup. Then I sold the pickup.

    A guy at work bought a car with an FT-857 in it and sold the radio to me. It’s an all-band, all mode wonder, but I haven’t got a HF antenna other than the 10-meter mobile antenna for the FT-8900. Also no car.

    I was in the market for a Ford van, and also trying to put up an HF Dipole antenna (a G5RV type) at my house. The antenna was going to require a 35 foot pole at the back of the yard. Walking by my local news TV station a couple days later, thinking about Ford vans and 35 foot antenna towers, it suddenly occurred to me what I needed…

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/fa99450714e490b360dd43df4d32199cbf0a2ee5a25e43b92621a6f266ecfca0.jpg

    • Batshitbox

      Oh, and I have three BaoFeng UV5R and one UV-82 HP handy-talkies (walkie-talkies) that are great for talking on UHF/VHF repeater networks like C.A.R.L.A. and WIN System while riding a bicycle. Also used when dirt biking in the desert to stay in contact with base camp. They’re not strictly Ham radios, since they operate on all UHF and VHF frequencies, not just the Ham bands, but with a GMRS license and a Ham license they make sense.

    • PaulE

      An old mobile news van would be a great Field Day setup! And the FT-One… I can’t imagine what modern car would be able to accommodate one!

      • Batshitbox

        The FT-One… I can’t find any evidence that anyone ever put one in a truck. Why? A 1970s CB unit or marine SSB would do just as well over distance. Maybe in a Peterbilt someone put one in. It’s built like a tank, though.

        News van… I’m thinking of, for my first HF antenna, the Bilal Isotron 40 / 80 unit. It’s compact enough I could mount it on the house as well as use it mobile with enough altitude. Though, I couldn’t talk to my own shack if I took the antenna with me.

        Anyway, when you have a dirt bike and a couple of Yaesu mobile radios, a news van starts to sound like a good idea, right? News vans are going the way of the Dodo, actually. Most of their non-disaster work is done with a backpack cellular telephone unit. News Van might be the new Batshitmobile.

        • cap’n fast

          what with the new otr trucks all having some sort of plastic body work to decrease non-revenue producing weight, a counterpoise is definitely required. antenna placement out on the mirrors no longer works too well. some of the electronic vehicle managers/pcms do not fare well in a heavy rf environment. we put 20w fm uhf radios on some of our company forklifts in our warehouse and we had some twisted wreckage and carnage when the electric steering systems went bananas. antenna placement turns out to be critical as the vehicle managers were definitely not emi/rfi hardened. bare circuit boards. just loved telling the plant manager i told you so….

        • PaulE

          You should see what HF mobile looked like back in olden days! Big power supplies to run the various high-voltage circuits and radios that make the FT-ONE look petite. A super sexy and super spendy HF setup back in the 1960s (and beyond) was a Collins KWM-2 or other radios from Gonset, Heath, WRL/Galaxy, Swan and others. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/774d8bdebe0fdeaa0553bdcee5aa0df3e9927206b726dea3e3581ae1db790e97.jpg

    • Ah, the FT-One is an absolute classic. It’s kit like that that first sewed the spark of interest – along with rigs like the FT-1000 MPX, which has more buttons and lights than NASA flight control.

    • This gives a totally new spin on “bat shit box” – I’ve always thought that was car related and I didn’t get it!

      • Batshitbox

        I think I was thinking about shitbox cars, and what could be a superlative of that. Batshit added a element of crazy to it, so ‘batshitbox’. At one point HoneyBunny must have said, “To the Batmobile!” as she frequently did on our way out the door, and I got a vision of a totally deranged Batman shouting to a psychotic Robin, “To the Batshibox!”
        (There could be an episode of The Tic in there…)

    • Roland Alfonso

      I so want an FT 857d

    • Luxury Lexus Land-yacht

      That rig makes me want to take up Ham radio.

      I loves me some buttons/switches/knobs and analogue meters!

    • cap’n fast

      instead of mobile, perhaps somewhat portable may be a better descriptor?

    • cap’n fast

      i use an ICOM 720a as my mobile rig with a screwdriver antenna and an MFJ manual tuner. about one third the size on the FT1.bought it in japan in 1981.
      not to be trifled with while driving. FT1 switchology makes texting while drinking Lone
      Star look easy.

      • PaulE

        I’ve considered trying my vintage IC701 out in the car, but don’t have a hand-held mic for it, just the original desk mic.

    • Rover 1
  • Alff

    I have a phone and a pen.

    • Batshitbox

      So do I. All I’m missing is the car.

    • Don’t forget that stalk to the left of the steering wheel, it can make your car generate visual signals.

      • Not if you have a BMW.

        • boxdin

          With fog lights on constantly.

        • SlowJoeCrow

          Oddly there’s some real truth there, in the 70s a lot of BMWs had the turn signal stalk on the right like a Peugeot 504. Specific examples are my parents’ 1970 2000 sedan, a 72is 2002 and my 1978 R100S motorcycle, which has the turn signal control on the right grip, instead of the more or less standard left grip.
          Sadly the current issue is with unmannerly sorts who drive modern BMW cars.

        • cap’n fast

          all is a mute point if you are in dallas texas as no one there used a turn signal as far ago as i can remember

  • outback_ute

    I have a UHF radio in my ute, complete with (centre of the) roof-mounted antenna.

    There are some ham radio guys here, including guys who help our rally club with comms when we are in the forest, bringing their own portable transmitting tower.

  • PaulE

    Welcome to the hobby, Chris! I’ve been licensed since I was barely a teenager (35+ years now). I’ve usually had some sort of VHF or UHF amateur gear in the car over the years (currently an older Yaesu dual-bander). For mobile HF work I’ve used a Yaesu ‘747 with magnetic-mounted single-band whips. Most of my other HF radios won’t work well mobile (various vacuum tubed transmitters, receivers and transceivers). I have a couple 2 meter handhelds that rarely get used as well.

    • Batshitbox

      Oohh… you had to do your 5 words per minute on CW to get your ticket then, didn’t you? I have Morse trainer on my cell phone (IZ2UUF) I never use, and every year I go to the old KPH installation on July 13th for their annual commercial CW “Night Of Nights”, and I acquired a Heathkit HW-9 / HM-9 pair, and a Bunnell Lightning Bug in an estate sale… but still I don’t know no Morse Code! I really should get an HF antenna and heat all this stuff up.

      Check out the Maritime Radio Historical Society, and their fantastic old RCA ship-to-shore installation.
      http://radiomarine.org/

      • PaulE

        Not just the 5 WPM for Novice, but also 13 WPM for General Class. I passed the 20 WPM while attempting going for the Extra Class a couple times, but math is not my strong suit, so Advanced and Extra Class never happened. When starting out, I used ARRL’s old ‘Tune in the World with Ham Radio” Morse code cassette to learn listening to code.

    • Thank you. I can’t remember what multi-band rig Dad has in the BMW, but I know he bought it to be a technological leap forwards from his Icom IC-706. The first HF transceiver he had was Yaesu FT757. For mobile comms, I always remember the home-made mounting bracket he used to attach an FT290 to the transmission tunnel, as well as the lovely little FT23 he pocketed for portable comms. The latter is an absolute design classic.

  • 1977ChevyTruck

    I haven’t had much experience with in car radios, but my parents were behind the times enough that I do remember my dad having a mounted Motorola Bag Phone in one our tractors so my mom could reach him. (While we still have both, the Bag Phone no longer resides in the tractor).

    I also recall my dad having a pager, and my mom having a Motorola MicroTAC at this time.

    That probably doesn’t sound too bad, since most of you probably remember using those, but I was born in 1999, and so for me to remember it, this would have been around 2004. Most people would have been ashamed of their parents at that point, but I found, and still find the “retro” tech cool.

    • The MicroTAC was actually offered Ford branded as a factory fit option around the turn of the millennium. I have a first-gen RAZR in my ‘phones of history’ collection upstairs, too.

  • wunno sev

    a girlfriend of mine was a ham radio operator, and I can’t recall any conversation she had on the radio that wasn’t about operating a radio. I asked what she usually talked about on the radio, and she said it was mostly conversation about radios and reception checks.

    I have plenty of hobbies that serve only to perpetuate themselves, but the ham thing was a bit much.

    • JayP

      Hmmm… she still single?

  • I_Borgward

    CBs are the medium of choice in the groups I run with. Cheap, widely available, easy to use to address a group with. And, in many places, the bandwidth has been largely abandoned, so interference is rarely a problem. There’s something about its analog nature that warms my anachronistic heart, too.

    I’ve monkeyed with FRS, but it doesn’t seem as useful as CB, and its range often sucks.

    I’ve yet to try it, but I’ve heard the Zello app is good when you’re in cellular range. Made to function ike a CB, it’s also really useful for group communications. I plan on having it for my next event.

    I’ve always had an interest in things RF, but not enough to formally go down the amateur rabbit hole. I have studied the voodoo of antenna construction enough to homebrew some good micropower FM, shortwave and CB antennas out of scrap materials, good clean fun to be sure. But, I have no shortage of time and $$$-eating pastimes as it is, so for now amateur radio remains a back burner item.

  • XRSevin
    • Batshitbox

      Pretty damned cool! But surveillance isn’t communication. I think the other party needs to know they’re talking to you.

      • XRSevin

        “Get out of there now! They’re coming down the hall/coming up the stairs/in the elevator/right outside!”

      • PaulE

        It’s not ‘stalking’; it’s ‘practicing surveillance’. šŸ˜‰

  • Sjalabais

    With a seasonal dearth of fresh, shiny content, I wonder if we can stray off a little? I have this odd automobile pleasure in snowy or snowish conditions: Parking exactly where I came from, leaving only two tire lines. This has to work at first attempt obviously, because you can’t erase the lines. Just coming home again from kindergarten/school delivery, the following made me happy. Guess this here is one of a few places where this behavior could be understood well – you guys do anything similar?
    https://i.imgur.com/SLa9NFil.jpg

  • SlowJoeCrow

    Currently nothing more than phones in the cars, but I do have a pair of old Collett Communicator 900Mhz headsets for motorcycle to motorcycle comms. Also one of my ambitions is to own a military Series III Landrover set up as a Yeomanry reconnaissance vehicle with a full Clansman VHF radio installation.

  • Luxury Lexus Land-yacht

    Depends on how we’re traveling, but I always have a handheld, but full power, CB radio in the coach with a tuned antenna set so the tip is 13’5″ off the ground.

    If, for whatever reason, my wife is following me in her car (usually due to major relocation of vehicles/houses), I’ll carry both the low-power GRMS (?) radios and mobile telephones, as there’s plenty of places out west where mobile telephones are paperweights.

    BTW, mid-to-late 70s, each of the Big Three had OEM, in-dash AM/FM/CB radios. I’m still searching for a ’77 or ’78 New Yorker Brougham with an OEM CB radio.

    • PaulE

      Those in-dash OEM CBs were pretty cool. However, the antennas (power AM/FM/CB) were likely somewhere near worthless. But still cool.

      • Luxury Lexus Land-yacht

        Oh, the in-fender antennas were a huge let down.

        • PaulE

          So to speak.