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.

Icom’s Novel Idea For Ham Bands Above 2.3 GHz

Icom has announced that they are thinking about creating a new transceiver system for the 2.4 and 5.6 GHz ham bands.
What? You didn’t know we have bands in frequencies so high? Well, we do, but they’re obviously not very popular, with no current commercial radios that cover those microwave bands.
So far, they’ve published 4 very short pdf files that show what their concept is, and have just recently shown a mock-up at the 2022 Dayton HamFest in May. They are also planning to attend other major hamfests to try and gauge the level of interest.
According to their latest paper, they were very pleased with the response from hams at Dayton.

Icom has tackled one of the major problems when using these microwave frequencies. You and your transceiver want to be in your nice, warm shack, but you want your antenna to be high and outside. Running coax out to the antenna is a big problem. At these extremely high frequencies, coax loss is a real killer, even using very large and expensive hardline.

The basic concept is to use an IC-705 QRP transceiver as the controller (note the 5780 MHz frequency on the display above) for a remotely-connected, weatherproof up/down converter box that would sit outside on a pole or tower, using a very short connection to its antennas. The IC-705 has an Ethernet connection that runs up to the converter box on the tower. Power for the converter is supplied by PoE (Power over Ethernet) coming from the IC-705.

Now, I don’t know if the present IC-705 can produce that PoE voltage, or if you’ll need to buy a new one. Icom just says the concept is “based on” the IC-705 design. I guess we’ll see how it goes as they release more info. Keep in mind that this is still just an idea that they are shopping around, much like how auto companies show off their concept cars at the auto shows. If the public (us) show enough interest to justify the cost of designing it, maybe we’ll see one in a year or three.



Here is a simple block diagram showing what they’re thinking. The IC-705 is on your desk in your shack. An Ethernet cable plugs into it, and goes outside and up the tower to the transverter unit. This minimizes coax loss, which is super-important at such high frequencies:

Below is the outdoor unit that would mount on the tower. The GPS antenna connects to an internal high-precision frequency reference that will keep the microwave radio locked closely onto the frequency. This addresses another issue where normal transverters would not have tight enough frequency control to allow for an SSB or other signal to stay within the IF bandwidth of the radio in your shack.

Take 5 Minutes to Comment on USFS Fees That Will Ruin Your Repeater Fun!

mountain covered with fog under cloudy sky

The Federal government is at it again–this time they are proposing that all repeaters and radios on US Forest Service sites–and there are lots of them–pay an exorbitant (to us hams) $1400 yearly fee to be able to stay where they are. Many repeaters we use in the Bay Area are on USFS sites. The Feds say that there are thousands all over the US.

Here is a link to the ARRL website with their summary of the impact of the proposal:

http://www.arrl.org/news/arrl-to-oppose-forest-service-administrative-fees-for-amateur-facilities

Annoyingly, the ARRL doesn’t have this very important item shown prominently on their front page, nor do they provide you with a direct link to where you should post your comments. I’ve added a shortcut to where you want to go. The comment window will close on Feb. 22, 2022, so do it now! Just click on “Comment” to leave your own thoughts:

https://www.regulations.gov/document/FS-2022-0001-0001

I posted my own a few hours ago. It was quick and easy to do. You can do it anonymously if you’d like.

I suggest a few things to have the best effect:

1. Please avoid histrionics, name calling, or off-topic rants. Keep to the issue at hand, which is the proposed fee problem for hams, who can be an important emergency resource to government.

2. Double- and triple-check your spelling and grammar. You’ll make a better impression if you sound reasonable and thoughtful.

3. NO CAPS LOCK! Don’t shout with your keyboard.

4. Keep it short. A few lines are more effective than 10 paragraphs that no decision maker will take the time to read.

Even if you don’t use any repeaters, please do take the time to comment! If you are a repeater user, think of what life would be like without it, or worse yet, how it would be to get a monthly or yearly bill to continue using it.

If you leave an email address, you’ll get an acknowledgement that your comments were received, along with a copy of what you wrote. Here’s mine:

———————————————————-

Your comment was submitted successfully!
Comment Tracking Number: xxx-xxxxx-xxxx

Your comment has been sent for review. This process is dependent on agency public submission policies/procedures and processing times. Once the agency has posted your comment, you may view it on Regulations.gov using your Comment Tracking Number.

Agency: FOREST SERVICE (FS)
Document Type: Proposed Rule
Title: Land Uses: Special Uses; Annual Programmatic Administrative Fee for Communications Use Authorizations
Document ID: FS-2022-0001-0001

Comment:
I am strongly opposed to this proposal to charge an administrative fee, if it includes Amateur Radio (FCC Part 97) repeaters and radios. Amateurs have a long and rich history of working directly with the Federal government, as well as local government agencies, in times of disaster or other emergencies. One of the primary tools Amateurs use to enable emergency communications is mountaintop repeater systems. The proposal to charge such a relatively high fee for Amateur Radio repeaters will effectively drive them off most of the USFS sites. This is due to the fact that they are maintained by individuals or small club groups, not corporate entities that can include the proposed fees in their budgets as a cost of doing business. Please consider amending this proposal to exclude repeaters and radios licensed under FCC Part 97 from being required to pay the proposed site fees.

Apollo 11: How NASA Got All That RF From The Moon Back To Earth

space research science astronaut

This is a very good article that we hams might enjoy reading! It’s about the first moon landing in 1969, and how video, voice, and astronauts’ heartbeats were all sent back to Earth using frequencies and modes we are familiar with today. It was all analog stuff back then, and communications were sent “in the clear” without encryption. Of course, that meant some hams got to listen in!

Read all about it here:

https://www.rfcafe.com/references/electronics-world/communications-moon-electronics-world-august-1969.htm

Note that the “S” band microwave frequencies mentioned in the article are just a hair outside of our present 13 centimeter ham band that covers 2300 to 2450 MHz. A chunk of our 13 cm band (2310-2390 MHz) got taken away a few years back, and is now used by, among others, Sirius/XM satellite radio. If you’re one of their subscribers, it might be fun to know that the music coming out of the speakers in your car is from a satellite transmitting inside of an Amateur Radio band. Think about that while you’re driving around, listening to the Beatles Channel (Ch.18)! Oh, and of course, we also share almost half of the 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi and Bluetooth band with the world. Ask me sometime how we got there…

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.

Talking About 10 Meters

In last month’s Tech Net, we talked quite a bit about the fact that 10 Meters has been open. In fact, Jack, W6KRK, told us that he had been able to check into a 10 Meter net being held by the Utah County hams earlier that evening, covering a distance of about 850 miles.

10 Meters is typically described as a daylight-only band that is more often than not closed. If we stop right there, we may not realize that we’re missing out on some big fun and possibly some very interesting contacts.

Another thing of great interest is that 10 Meters contains the only sub-band that allows Novice and Technician licensees to transmit data and SSB voice signals. This gives Techs a good chance to experience the fun and technical challenges of operating on the HF bands. Technicians have unlimited operation on 6 Meters and higher, but most of the time, those high-frequency signals behave more like a beam of light, where contacts can be made locally as long as antennas can “see” each other. There is more to it than that, but I’ll leave that description to be expanded upon in another post.

Being able to get a taste of HF operation, meaning operating in the shortwave bands from about 1.8 to 30 MHz, can be both exciting and challenging to a Tech who has not had any previous experience. When I say “challenging”, I don’t mean that it represents an unpleasant or insurmountable task, only one that is new and unfamiliar. You’ll have to decide on an antenna and transceiver to use, and also learn a bit about how signals on 10 Meters behave so that you don’t waste lots of time trying to make contacts when the band is not open.

Before we talk about antennas, radios and how signals bounce around the globe, let me briefly mention some of my own experiences with the 10 Meter band. On the net, I mentioned one of my favorites being a station from French Polynesia that came on 28.410 MHz, as I recall. I had a mobile station then (about 2010), and I was on 10 Meters only because I was checking the SWR of my antenna, a Lil’ Tarheel HP “screwdriver” antenna. This antenna covers 40 through 6 meters, and uses a motor to expose more or less of the internal inductor coil, tuning it to a particular frequency. In the earliest versions of these antennas, the motor from a battery-operated electric screwdriver was used because it was cylindrically-shaped and had high torque, hence the name “scredriver” applying to all motor-tuned mobile antennas.

Anyway, as I was checking my SWR on 10 Meters in the early evening, I heard this very strong S9+10 signal that I found was from French Polynesia. Interestingly, I couldn’t hear any of the stations calling him, but he was very strong. I gave him a call on my 100-watt Yaesu FT-857 transceiver, and he answered me on my first call with an S9 report! Cool! Interestingly, his signal persisted strong and clear until he finally said he was closing down for the night, at about 9:15 PM California time. Wow! That’s unusual, but not unheard of.

I can give you many examples of contacts I’ve made on 10 Meters when the band appeared to be shut down. The usual thing to do is to tune around, and if you don’t hear anyone, set your dial to 28.400 MHz, the SSB calling frequency, and call CQ. Like me, you might be surprised to get someone calling you back! If I had just listened instead of calling CQ, I might have not made any contacts because everyone else was just listening also. So by all means, get on the mike and call if you don’t hear much.

Even in “down” times, when the 11-year sunspot cycle is at a low ebb, there are contacts to be made. Each year, from about May through September in the Northern Hemisphere, the band tends to open up, sometimes allowing even daily contacts. This will happen mostly from late morning through to early evening, but there are plenty of exceptions to that timetable as well, such as my hours-long connection to French Polynesia.

As we are now climbing up the 11-year sunspot cycle roller coaster, things are heating up on 6 and 10 meters. Especially if you are a Technician class ham with a shiny new HF transceiver, this is your moment! You can work the world when these two bands are open. 10 meters should be your “go-to” band right now, as it will open more reliably, possibly on a daily basis. 6 meters is a bit more tricky, relying most on what’s called E-Skip propagation. But when it’s open, fun things can happen as well.

Something else to listen for on both bands are the beacons. Hams have put up simple CW beacons all over the world, and they provide an easy means of telling when the band is open. Have a look at these two links to get you started with understanding how to listen for and identify what frequencies to use, and where the beacons are calling from:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5uk2tC18mOs

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amateur_radio_propagation_beacon

Build a Super-Simple Radio, Get it on the Air, and Learn CW Along the Way

Tuna Can QRP Radio

One of our group is working on a very simple little one-transistor low-power 40 meter transmitter. No, the picture above is not it, although this is a fun little receiver kit you can build if you want to start with a simple kit.

Anyway, when he’s done with his little transmitter, he then faces his next hurdle: The dreaded CW monster!

The CW Monster!
Does that maybe ring true for you as well? Let me give you some encouragement, and maybe we can shine some light on the monster. You may find that he doesn’t actually bite, and is even friendly!

I’m re-posting some comments I made to Bob just tonight, and I thought I’d pass this along for you to consider:

When you get a simple radio put together, you might find that CW is your biggest challenge. I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with it–mostly love. The hard part, of course, is in getting started.

There are lots of QRP clubs around to offer encouragement and also even on-air schedules. I know I’ve mentioned the QRPARCI club on our net nights before. You may also find lots of encouragement in learning CW with the SKCC, the Straight Key Century Club: http://www.skccgroup.com/membership_data/opfreq.php

This page shows their “watering hole” frequencies. I’m listening to two SKCC members right now on 7055 kHz. They are going along at about 7 words per minute or less. The idea, of course, is to use a simple hand key instead of an electronic keyer, and to (usually, but not always) slow down. They usually call “CQ SKCC” and then exchange numbers and pleasantries. The two guys I’ve been listening to are in Florida and Rhode Island. I can hear them easily with my G5RV dipole antenna, so they’re probably running 100 watts. You don’t have to use QRP power levels if you don’t want to.

It’s fun to sit here and hand write each letter on the back of a piece of junk mail I received today as they send them. I get to think about other things for a moment, and then write down the next letter sent, etc. Very pleasant actually. Kind of like taking a slow ride through the back country roads instead of zipping down the interstate highway.

Anyway, just thought I’d pass that along to you. It’s always a bit intimidating to get on the air with CW for the first time. By the way, Jack, W6KRK, can be counted on as a helpful guy when it comes to CW. He just decided last year to dig in and re-learn CW. So if you can get him to take a few minutes on the air with you, it might help to get over the “first call” jitters. Oh wait–I could do that, too, from here in Utah! Just ask. I can be as sloooow as you’d like! We could try 20, 40 or 80 meters just about any time you want to try.

Maybe you could find some of our other friends to try, too. Building radios and then putting them on the air, at least for me, has been a lifetime passion. The “putting them on the air” part usually means CW for the simple gear, of course, and it can be tremendously satisfying when you make a contact with your little radio. Remember, too, that your first attempt does not have to be a full-on transceiver. A one- or two-transistor, crystal-controlled peanut whistle transmitter can be used just fine with your “big” HF transceiver.