Dashboard Mounting Options

As I am certain you are well aware, modern vehicles are mostly not built with amateur radio in mind. Finding the right spot for a remote head for your mobile radio can be quite a challenge. One of my go-tos in the past has been Lido Radio Products. They have a wide variety of mounting options. One that I have used in other vehicles is their articulating arm that attaches to the car seat bolt. It is a sturdy mount, but because it is at the end of a longish arm, it is a bit jiggly. But overall a very suitable mount. Lido supports our hobby and it was fun meeting them at the recent Pacificon.

Having recently changed vehicles after 11 years, I started the search anew for mounting options for a cell phone and a remote radio head. Some of these new options for cell phones use a custom molded piece that takes advantage of small seams or gaps in the vehicles dashboard trim to provide firm purchase. From this base piece you can then select from a wide range of cell phone mounts for your your particular devices, be it cell phone, GPS, table, or amateur radio.

For my Honda Passport I chose 2 different mounts. The first, for my cell phone, is from ProClip. Because most cars do not support wireless Apple Carplay, you have to use the lightning connector to have CarPlay work properly. ProClip has a great option for this. (Yes I have tried the wireless Car Play options and have not found one that works reliably yet.) But this mount is very solid and getting the phone in and out of the mount and on the lightning connector is quite easy. Chose your mount carefully as it can be very close to where you activate the wipers. But so far mine, while quite close, has not interfered.

For mounting my FTM-500, I chose a mount from A-Tach Mounts. This mount allowed for mounting the radio directly where the little cubby is below the HVAC controls. This has made for a very solid mount that does not shift, or wiggle, and mounts the radio at a good height for good visibility and easy access to the radio controls.

There are a lot of options out there like Ram Mounts, or those mounts that take one of your cup holders, and any of a bazillion option on Amazon (Which I do not put much faith in.) And you still always have the option of driving some screws if you need to. Only you can make that choice. I did not want to put holes in my dashboard and I found a solid solution that supports that choice. For the microphone I double side tape a steel washer to the dash somewhere and replace the button on the back of the mic with a circular neodymium magnet. Works amazingly well.

Take your time, look around, and think outside the box. The solutions I found are technically for cell phones and are marketed as such with amateur radio mentioned nowhere in their advertising. Ram typically caters to commercial installs, as do others. That does not mean that their product is not a good fit in your scenario.

Radioddity GD-88 Review

The “new” Radioddity GD-88 is a rebranded Kydera 880 DMR radio offering 7 watts of transmit power on digital or analog modes, on both UHF and VHF bands.

Sporting a 3,000mah battery (more on that in a minute), cross-band repeat modes, same frequency repeat, analog and digital APRS/GPS, IP54 water proofing, storage for 300,000 DMR contacts, and 4,000 channels (250 per zone), it sure sounds like a really great radio. Let’s dig into the details…

Starting with some of the basics, like IP54. In the IP scale the 2 numbers are on a scale out of a possible maximum of 6. So IP54, the 1st number being a 5, means the radio is relatively impervious to dust. Good! The second number, a 4 out of 6, means the radio will withstand splashing water from any direction, such as rain, or other similar scenario. It will not withstand direct jets or streams of water, or submersion. Still pretty good though. I would not hesitate to take this radio into the outdoors.

All the other features work as stated. If you wish to use the APRS/GPS it works a treat. It takes some time to learn the menus to configure all of these things, and I am not going to reinvent the wheel to show you how. There are a plethora of Youtube videos available that will walk you through the process. Other reviewers also confirm that transmit power is realistically near to stated power, which is great.

There is much to like about the radio part of this radio. It has a great hand feel when using it. The screen has all kinds of information, like zone and channel number, allows 11 characters for channel names (very nice). There are individual volume settings for each of the dual receivers. You can actually receive on both receivers simultaneously. The antenna is not the common Baofeng inverse SMA. This radio uses the female SMA connector on radio body. The included stock antenna, in my initial testing, actually works quite well on both bands.

There are multiple programmable buttons for you to set to your operating style or needs. The backlight is bright, although the information is smallish, but the color display makes it easier to pick out the information you need to see. The channel and volume knobs have a short profile on the top of the radio which I like. It seems, so far, to make for less opportunity for the knobs to be accidentally turned while in use. The channel knob can be locked out in software. The volume knob has a strange “lag” in the encoder when changing the volume. You turn the knob and then wait some number of milliseconds for the radio to respond causing you to almost always overshoot or undershoot your desired setting.

There is a lot to like here, and then there is the stuff to not like as much…

Beware the “affiliate links”.

Many reports on this new radio offer fairly glowing reports, point out all the neat things this radio can do, and let’s be fair, there are features aplenty. However, under the hood are some glaring issues that are a whisker away from making the radio unusable. For a $220 (US) radio in 2022, some of these transgressions are major head scratchers.

The programming software, or CPS, is the heart of any DMR radio. Without a code plug there is no radio. So far my experience with the out-of-the-box CPS is that there is quite nearly no radio. Starting with the Windows 98 era serial driver nonsense you will have to deal with. Remember the hoops you had to go through to program a $30 Baofeng? Well, they are back on this over $200 dollar, brand-new radio. The nightmares of getting a PL2303 clone chipset serial driver to work in Windows 10 or 11 are back. And you may have to do this multiple times if you accidentally plug the radio into another USB port on your computer.

The CPS software itself is nearly unusable. In making changes to a zone, I have found it can corrupt an adjacent zone. There are essentially no editing feature whatsoever. You cannot insert a channel, move a channel, copy a channel, etc. So if you create a zone with channels, and you want a subset of chosen channels in another zone, you cannot copy and past them. If you need to insert a new channel in an already created zone, you can only add at the end of the zone, and you cannot sort. You can also not even tab between fields to speed up data entry. You have to mouse click on every single field you need to touch. If you change or edit an existing zone it may corrupt an adjacent zone, thus destroying the zone forcing the data entry all over again. There is no “save as” capability to create versions. You have to remember to manually create a new file name otherwise it is fairly easy to overwrite the previous version. There is a workaround to some of this, in that you can create CSV files for your channels in excel, manage all your zones in csv files, and them import them into the CPS. This is really the only “safe” way to manage zones without messing everything up, or is really the only way to recover if zone corruption occurs.

All that said, forget that dumpster fire, and instead…

Try a 3rd party CPS for these radios from MM7DBT called CPEditor that is becoming more and more frequently mentioned on the GD-88 posts and forums. As always, if someone from user community solves a big problem like this, please remember to support their work with a few bucks to their donation link. You still have the issues with the serial drivers, but CPEditor makes the radio usable.

And finally, let’s talk about battery life. Unfortunately there is not much positive to say here. It’s poor. very poor. The included, alleged 3,000mah battery will not even make it 8 hours with the display on. My Anytone 878, with the display on the entire time, will go about a day and a 1/2 on a 2 year old 3,100mah battery. The GD-88 will just make it to 7 hours with the display on in 3 separate tests now. This is with APRS/GPS off, and literally just sitting on my desk – not even with transmitting. The 878 will take an entire day of comms at a scout camp with regular transmissions through the day. Either the power management of the GD-88 is that poor, or the battery specifications are disingenuous.

Portable Soldering Station

Searching for a portable soldering station that does will not set you on fire? As we all know, many of the portable stations we have used in the past either require 120v which means local power or some sort of generator and or battery/inverter. The alternative is butane power which requires fuel, and can be a burn or fire hazard.

Many if not most of us have cordless tools these days, with spare batteries laying around. What if you could take one of those batteries and power a decent quality soldering iron?

There are power adapters that fit most of the common tool batteries now. The key is making sure you have one with a high enough voltage to power the soldering station. In my case I have Milwaukee M18 batteries, and they are perfect.

You will need:

  • Tool battery of your choice. 18V is ideal. Capacity does not really matter so much. A bigger battery will just give you longer run time.
  • Batter adapter that allows you to tap into the battery power. On Amazon.com you can find them by searching for power wheels adapter, or power connector. Some only have leads coming off the adapter. Others may have a built in USB charger or even a flashlight.
  • A Quicko T12-942 kit. This is a 12-24v powered soldering kit. You have to pay attention because Quicko sells several versions and most of them are 110V powered. You specifically want the DC powered one.

Once you have the parts, you will now need to do a little fabrication. You will need to get the wires from the power output of the battery adapter into the solder control box. I just drilled a pair of small holes in the back and fed the wires through, and then soldered to the back of the barrel plug internally. You can either mount the box directly to the adapter, or there are also some 3D printable boxes for a more sleek look. For my kit, I ran the wires into the box, and left the barrel plug in the back intact so I can power from the tool battery or even a laptop power supply at 19V when I have access to AC power. The batter adapter doubles as a decently stable base if using with an AC adapter.

The soldering iron works surprisingly well with the tip coming up to temperature to melt regular lead rosin core solder within about 45 seconds. It also senses movement and will shut down automatically after a short bit, and turn back on automatically when you pick it back up, and be ready to go again in about 40 seconds.

Enjoy!

RF Exposure Calculator

Probably should have brought this up on Tech Night. But we missed the opportunity. I need to keep an active sheet of all the crazy questions always popping into my head.

So why do we need an exposure calculator? Well, this bulletin kind of sums things up nicely. You should read it before proceeding. The FCC has adopted guidelines for RF safety, and let’s face it, as the FCC and ARRL continuously lowers the bar for the path to a license, and the hardware becomes more ubiquitous and available, any new ham with virtually no experience, can get a general license and then hook up a 1,500 watt linear in their bedroom with a square loop antenna over their bed with no real practical experience to clue them in that they just converted their bedroom into a microwave oven every time they key up.

Under new FCC guidelines operating stations will now be required to calculate RF exposure limits for stations. To make this easier for amateur stations, the ARRL now provides an online RF exposure calculator. To utilize the calculator, simply enter your peak envelope power (PEP), operating mode, and duty cycle. Many modern radios can tell you how much power you are putting into your antenna system. The calculator will then give you the minimum safe distance people must be from your antenna for safe RF exposure limits. You can print out or email the results and keep them with your station just in case someone with a badge shows up at the door (not likely), but it is certainly a good exercise for any Ham to to go through to learn more about the safety aspects of our hobby. We see things like antenna efficiency, propagation, and the like all the time. Everyone is always trying to make a better antenna. When is the last time you saw someone post the RF safety information for that same antenna, of for any antenna for that matter. Check it out.

By the way, my home configuration, =< 100 watts, and running digital modes, requires a minimum safe distance of about 3.5 ft or around 1 meter.

New Stamps Pay Homage To Our Hobby’s Enabler.

This could be the kick you need to send out that stack of QSL cards you keep meaning to get in the mail. The United States Postal Service has issued the Sun Science “forever stamp” series honoring the primary enabler of the ham radio hobby, Sol. The series of stamps is printed with an embedded foil process which gives the images an extra shimmer. Designed by art director Antonio Alcala using colorized photos from our nearest star.

The forever stamp will always be equal to the current First-Class Mail 1 ounce price. You may order from usps.com/shopstamps.

Radio Sport for the Weekend of 5/1

This weekend will be nuts. So I hope you have using those contour and notch controls down pat. It sounds so simple when you say “New England QSO party”, or “7th Area Call QSO Party” until you realize that this super radio sport weekend encompasses 16 state QSO parties! Consider this essentially a warm up event for field day

7th Area QSO PartyArizona
Idaho
Montana
Nevada
Oregon
Utah
Washington
Wyoming
New England QSO PartyConnecticut
Maine
Massachusetts
New Hampshire
Rhode Island
Vermont
Indiana QSO PartyIndiana
Delaware QSO PartyDelaware

As always, there are many other events taking place across the globe. Be sure to check out https://contestcalendar.com for all the Sprints, RTTY, CW, QRP, and many other events taking place on the bands.

The $50 Ham

I know what you are thinking. The $50 ham is that person in the group that buys a Baofeng for $30 and then 3 years later tries to sell it on Craigslist for $50. Or, thinks that 30 year old Kenwood, with the nice “patina” is worth original MSRP +30%. Nope. Not that guy.

The $50 ham is a series of articles by Dan Maloney over on Hackaday, one of my favorite sites on the interwebs for all things electronics and technology.

The series has several interesting pieces on WSPR, Digital modes, HF antenna building, dummy loads, and other topics for those ops on a budget, or just want to explore something new. Check it out!