Adding radios and communication gear was not on my 'list' of mods early on in my build. After all, I have a smart phone!
It was not until after being on Kane Creek Trail in Moab for most of the day and then having to tackle 'Hamburger Hill' that I realized if something happened, we're out here alone with no way to ask for help. The places we were wheeling in, I did not have cell service.
As I typically do, the long drive home had me mulling this over in my mind. I knew I wanted a CB radio in the Jeep. It would be great to be able to communicate Jeep to Jeep while on the trails. However, I also knew that a CB radio was not the equipment I was looking for in an emergency. Here's why, generally speaking, CB radios are good for about 1-2 mi.. All this depends on many variables of course, like terrain, antenna length, unit power, etc.. The CB wave can not transmit through solid objects, so if we go around a boulder, mountain for example, we lose the signal. Ok then, CB for vehicle to vehicle while on the trails, and perhaps some fun on the interstate. I can also get the NOAA weather and emergency band on some of the better radios. It's time to pick a CB for Rubi! Here's my choice for CB.
Cobra 75 WX st
I really liked the super compact design of the 75. All controls are in the handset. We don't have a lot of room in the Wrangler for installs, so this made sense to me. Here's the specs.
- Remote Mount System
- SoundTracker System cuts noise by 90% for clearer communications
- NOAA Weather Alerts & Emergency Notification
- Illuminated LCD display
- Instant 9/19 Immediate access to Emergency Channel 9 or Information Channel 19
- Channel Scanning
- RF Output Power: 4 Watts
- Frequency Control: Phase Lock Loop Synthesizer
- CB Channels: 40
- Weather Channels: 10 NOAA
This is the main unit, which I mounted under the passengers seat. Power was routed under the carpet and up the firewall pass through to the battery.
This is the handset, installed in Rubi...
As I considered where to locate the handset, I was looking to integrate the CB into the JKU cabin. I'm not a fan of having cables flopping around, on the trail or in town. I really like how nicely this integrates into the cabin, occupying unused free space.
These are the components I used for my antenna hook up...
I'm running the TeraFlex Alpha HD Spare Tire Carrier. TeraFlex makes the antenna mount to bolt directly to the carrier. I have a quick disconnect on the antenna base.
I ran my antenna cable through the rubber weather strip on the rear glass, and along the outside of the tub, under the carpet to the receiver mounted under the passenger seat. This has worked very well, with no issues opening and closing the tailgate.
I tuned my antennas using an SWR meter. I was able to get a ratio reading of 1.3.
The CB is easy to reach and use, and does not interfere with the passenger legroom. I will remove the handset if I push the passenger seat all the way forward, as it just begins to make contact with the radio. That is a rare exception for me. For 95% of the time I'm using my Jeep as my daily driver, the CB is nicely out of the way. On some commutes, I will switch it on and catch the NOAA weather advisory...as I live in tumultuous Chicago :)
This is how the headset lays out from the drivers seat...
The below chart will be handy for referencing distances covered by various radios...
Ok, so the CB radio is in Rubi, but I'm still looking for the ultimate radio if we find ourselves in an emergency situation. What is the best radio to have in the Jeep when you absolutely must count on it?
An amateur radio, or HAM radio is what we need in the Jeep. Here's why. HAM radio is the go-to communication system for pretty much every emergency response system and what MARS(Military Auxiliary Radio System)and ARES(Amateur Radio Emergency Service)both use, as well as many search and rescue and other emergency groups. HAM radio signals use repeaters to push the radio signal over great distances. This is what allows you to be in contact with persons both near and far. To operate a HAM radio, you must be licensed. Part of the licensing is emergency response training over the radio. So, the types of people who operate HAM radios are there to help in an emergency. Ok, I know i've only barely touched on the intricacies of HAM radio operation. The point was to help explain why I chose this type of radio when I need it to work.
So...which HAM radio then? I chose the Yaesu FTM-400XDR. This radio employs the latest in GPS technology, providing faster and more accurate satellite searching functionality. The built-in GPS receiver and antenna provides location, time, direction and APRS that can be so vital when minutes count. This unit will function on both Analog FM and C4FM Digital.
The Yaesu FTM-400XDR is a Dual Band Transceiver. It operates in three(3) digital modes and one(1) Anaolog mode. It features a 3.5" full color touch panel screen. Built in GPS receiver and antenna provides location, time, direction and APRS information. The power unit is separate from the face plate, requiring a smaller footprint.
- Digital and Analog Capable
- 3.5" Screen Features:
-Built in GPS Receiver
-Smart Navigation Screen
-Frequency Direct Input Screen
- BackTrack Function Enables navigation to a registered location at the touch of a button.
Like all radio installs, this will require deciding on radio location and mounting, as well as antenna location and mounting. In the case of the 400XDR, I will need to mount both the radio, and the screen(faceplate). Let's start first with the custom mounts I made for the screen.
custom install bracket
Here's a look at how I installed the 400XDR in Rubi. Again, I was looking to make this install feel as clean and logical, as if the factory might have done it. Looking around the cabin, I realized that the top of the E-Brake lever was prime real-estate for mounting the 3.5" Yaesu screen. Here's a walk through on how I did that.
I first designed a backing plate to attach the screen to the clamps...
After making the backing plate template, I fabbed the plate out of 3/16" aluminum plate...
In the above pic, you can see the 'Original' QuickFist clamps and how I attach the plate. I have the radio screen sitting on rubber feet as well to provide some vibration dampening. In the next pic, I have the screen attached and ready for fitting into Rubi...
As I designed this mounting system, I selected the height by sitting in Rubi, and placing my right hand down within comfortable reach. I tried a couple of different heights, driving around for a few days getting my own feedback on this location. The final height puts the radio just below seat height. Because of the way the cables connect to the screen, the screen travels up and down on the E-Brake lever. The E-Brake lever is still very easy to reach and use!
Let's get a look at this fitted in Rubi...
One of the cool features of the way this mount is designed, is that you can simply release the QuickClaws, unplug the screen from the feed cable and store it. I can install it, or remove it in a matter of seconds.
Next, it was time to install the actual radio unit itself. I will be putting that under the drivers seat. Here's how that came together. There is a sturdy the factory provides on my Rubicon power seats to simply hold a wiring harness. This bracket is a case of over engineering as a wiring harness support. This will be strong enough to bolt my radio to. Here's the factory wiring harness support bracket out of the Jeep...
And here is the radio bolted into the Yaesu mounting bracket...
I marked it and drilled a couple of holes in the factory bracket so I could bolt the radio bracket to it...
Now it's time to install the radio under the seat in Rubi. This took a little patience working the small bolts in and tightening it down. For projects like these, I wish my hands weren't so damn big...oh well, I got it done!
The radio sits about two and a half inches off the carpet. I would have to really flood the interior to drown the radio. Next up, antenna install!
HAM Antenna Install
- Laird SBTS 3400 Stainless Steel Mount
- Larsen MNO-2/70B Antenna Base
- Larsen NMOK 18' Cable Hard Mount Kit w/PL-259 solderable connector
Antenna location is critical for HAM radios. Here's a few guidelines for antenna location:
- The largest horizontal ground plane the better. A horizontal ground plane is exactly that, a flat piece of metal.
- The farther away from a flat metal surface the better.
- Keep the antennas separated a foot or more.
- Do not put your antenna between the tailgate and the spare tire.
- Avoid bumper and license plate mounts if possible.
After a great deal of reading on the topic, I decided the front drivers fender was an ideal spot. Here's a look at how I did that. After looking at various mounts, I settled on the Laird SBTB 3400 Stainless Steel Mount. This will attach directly to the drivers fender, between the top of the fender and hood.
When I got looking at this, I realized the fender is made of extremely thin steel. To use this mount, I wanted to reinforce the area. To do this, I cut a piece of 3/16" aluminum plate that I slid inside the fender. This gave a lot more material to screw the antenna mount on to. The aluminum reinforcement is attached roughly 3" ahead of the cowl. Here's a look...
I painted this piece to minimize any possibility of galvanic corrosion occurring between the two metals.
The trick is to get this piece inside the fender, in place so I could attach it with a couple of rivets. I was able to slide it in through a small opening in the top of the fender to position it and drill it for the rivets. Here it is installed...
After the hard work is done, it's time to attach the antenna mount via three stainless steel screws...
Here it is all put together. The reinforcement of the top of the fender really strengthened the fender, and alleviate any metal fatigue occurring and the antenna works back and forth.
I ran the antenna cable through the factory wiring pass-through, down the drivers foot well, under the carpet to the radio. This was a custom cut and soldier at the PL-259 connector.
Here's more views of the interior with both radios installed. I really like how clean the install looks, and the functionality...
Now that the work is done, I need to get busy studying for my HAM operators license:>)