2017 Ford Escape Ham Radio Install

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2016-09-06 15.46

Even three years later, I still get a ton of hits on the write-up I did for the ham radio install in my 2014 Ford Escape. Well, the lease on that car has come and gone and I now have a 2017 Ford Escape. You know what that means: time to do it again.

Since I essentially got the same car again, and there is really nothing wrong with the ID-880H or the 2m/70cm antenna I have, I decided to reuse everything from the old car. The only thing I had to purchase was some hardware for the Lido mount, and a new mic holder. So for the complete list of parts see the last install article… I have links to everything I bought and why I chose what I did.

ID-880H is up and running!

As for the install itself… it went very much like the last install I did. We’ll start with the antenna. The Diamond K412CNMO mount and Comet SBB2NMO mounted onto the tailgate of the Escape, and I ran the coax through the small grommet and the back molding of the cargo area. Like last time the coax went into the spare tire area, into the back seat, under the rear passenger door molding and under the front passenger seat.

The radio itself once again went under the passenger seat. This is for two reasons. First, there is a bit more room under the passenger seat versus the driver’s seat. And since the control head is mounted on the passenger side of the console, it makes running cables a little easier. In the last article I said I used Velcro to hold the radio down to the floor, with the intent of doing something more permanent later. Surprisingly, the Velcro never had one issue that caused the radio to slide loose. So I have reused the Velcro on the bottom of the radio again.

The head unit placement in this install did change slightly. The old Escape had a manual passenger chair, whereas the new one has a powered passenger chair. Thus, there is less room under the front of the seat to attach the mount. Luckily I was able to find a hole in the power seat track for me to put a screw and attach the Lido Mount’s base.

Finally is power. While the body of the 2017 Ford Escape is different from the 2014, the overall frame is the same, thus the grommet for the firewall is in the exact same place. The only other change here is one I made. Instead of going for the large O-ring type connectors to go over the battery terminals, I opted for spade terminals to go over the battery tightening screw and negative frame terminal. I went this route because I was having issues with the O-ring connections coming loose in the old install. While I may swap out for some larger spades later, this should work better I’m thinking. They are standard run-of-the-mill 12 gauge spade terminal connectors that are available from Digikey, or really any electronics parts vendor.

And there you have it. the complete install of my Icom ID-880H in my 2017 Ford Escape. I realize I didn’t go into as much detail as last time, but again, nothing has really changed. I would encourage you to read previous install article for a more-detailed write up of the install.

Got any questions on what I did, or what I should have done differently? Throw ’em in the comments. I’m always looking for ways to make things better!

 

APRS Madness Part 2: Height helps… sometimes….

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So in Part 1 of my foray into APRS, I setup an APRS iGate and came to the conclusion that I needed to gain some height to make this thing work. And seeing as I work as a radio engineer and thus have access to towers, I decided to try it out.

Outside of my office, we have a 120 ft tower that houses STL gear and a few auxiliary FM antennas. One of the FM bays on the tower is no longer in use and is used an FM receive antenna. This is routed to my office where I have a modulation monitor and FM tuner hooked up. This antenna is 85 ft up the tower and receives excellently. So, I tapped into this and attached another RadioShack scanner to a computer in my office.

In theory, this should blow the smoke out of my N9TAX Slim-Jim, right? Well, not so much…

If you compare the stations heard in the last six weeks between the iGate at my office and the iGate at my house, my home iGate, which is only 25 feet off the ground on an indoor antenna hears way more. Why would that be?

A tower crew working on the 120 ft tower at my office a few weeks ago.
A tower crew working on the 120 ft tower at my office a few weeks ago.

There are two explanations I can come up with. As mentioned, there is some Microwave STL gear on this tower… in the order of 5 STL dishes in the 950 MHz band. While that wouldn’t effect APRS on 144.390 MHz, it could certainly produce noise that would impede reception. Not helping is a few blocks away is the studios of a competing radio group, and they have STL dishes that point towards my office to get audio to their transmitters northwest of town.

The other possible issue is the fact I’m using an FM antenna bay to receive. This antenna is broad-banded, but is designed to operate between 88-108MHz. While I have put a 2m rig on this antenna before, there is a possibility that being slightly out of tune could hinder reception.

My guess is that it is a combination of the two here. I do have a 2m/440cm J-pole on the tower for my 2m rig (yes, I have one of those at work too) and  I could try that out and see if that helps. But personally I think there is just a lot of RF noise in the vicinity of the office.

So for the time being, my home APRS setup is my primary iGate. That being said there are a group of hams from the area club (me included) that are looking into finding a site for an APRS Digipeter. And perhaps that is the solution. But until then…

APRS Madness Part 1

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in Ham Radio, Tech

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So this week I took the plunge and picked up a Yaesu FT1XD Handheld. This is one of the new Yaesu HTs that supports C4FM Digital (ie: Yaesu SystemFusion). Since we now have two SystemFusion repeaters here in Fargo (WØHSC at NDSU and WØJPJ in Moorhead) I thought it was worth picking up and trying out. I may do a full review later, but right now I’m still trying to get familiar with the radio.

One additional feature it has that I haven’t had in previous radios is APRS (Automatic Packet Reporting System).  APRS is a single frequency (144.390 MHz here in North America) that gives the mobile ham a place to monitor Announcements, Bulletins, Messages, Alerts, Weather, etc. It also takes location coordinates (if equipped with a GPS) and can map out stations across the web, such as aprs.fi. My Icom ID-880H supports DPRS (which is kinda the same thing but with D-STAR) but I’ve never had any luck with it. There’s a lot more to APRS than what I just described. If you’re interested check out APRS.org for more info.

So wanting to get my hands on APRS, I got it setup on my HT yesterday. But I quickly realized that I wasn’t getting anywhere, because for some reason there isn’t a single APRS reporting station (either iGate or Digipeater) in the Fargo area. APRS is only useful if there are stations receiving or transmitting info. The main thing I was trying to do was to get my coordinates onto aprsi.fi, and for You can guess where that got me thinking next.

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WAS Progress: 5 to go!

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It’s been a while since I’ve updated, the blog, so thought I would quick do an update on my Worked All States progress.

Last time around, I had 31 states down with 19 more to go. Since then, I have added 14 more to the count. The Iowa and Vermont contacts I mentioned last time around did get confirmed, and I have since made contacts with Maine, my own state of North Dakota, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Indiana, South Carolina, Michigan, Indiana, Wyoming, Nebraska, Alabama, and Colorado.

That just leaves me with 5 states: Minnesota, South Dakota, Oklahoma, and Kansas. Oklahoma and Kansas shouldn’t be too hard to snag, but Minnesota and South Dakota will be pretty difficult due to their close proximity to Fargo.

So the race is on! Conditions on the air have been horrible the last few weeks so I haven’t made all that much progress, but I have recently delved into PSK and RTTY (which I’ll take about in another post soon), and that has helped some.

I will continue to update my WAS progress… and if you’re a ham in OK or KS reading and want to help me get those two states, please let me know!

Antenna Tuning Goodness!

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in Ham Radio, Musings

IMG_0045Now that Spring has FINALLY arrived, it’s time for me to get some of my outdoor projects done at home. One of those was doing some major tweaks to my MFJ-1622 antenna. I discovered over the winter that my balcony is not all that accessible when it’s cold out, due to issues with the door, so I was more or less stuck with whatever setting I left my antenna at in the fall. That particular setting did well on 10m and 15m, but not so great on 20m or 40m. So in an effort to avoid that problem again, I decided to find the sweet spot.

I’ve talked about this antenna before, but the MFJ-1622 is a balcony mount antenna with a coil tap that shorts out for “lengths” and the SWR adjusts accordingly. Now in theory, you would move the coil every time you switch bands, and I try to do that as much as possible. But given the winter situation, I need to find a setting that’s tunable on all bands. So I found a warm day a few weeks ago, dug out the MFJ-266 analyzer, and got to work.

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Worked All States progress

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It’s been a while since I’ve posted on here, so I thought I would do a quick update on one thing that’s been consuming my time lately: the Worked All States award. The premise of the award is simple: make a contact in all 50 states. And since I’m a relatively new ham, I figured this would be a pretty good piece of wallpaper to start working on.

I decided to start focusing on this the 2nd or 3rd week of January, right before the North America QSO Party. Going in, I already had Mississippi, Florida, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania. During the NAQP, I was able to knock out 13 more states, including Alaska. Since then, I’ve been diligently trying to get more states crossed off the list, mainly working the W1AW portable stations. That have helped me knock out 6 more states.

This last weekend, I thought it would be a good idea to participate in the CQ WW WPX contest to help knock out a few more states. In the 48 hours, only made 102 contacts, but I knocked out 3 more states, including Hawaii, with a few more yet to confirm. I also got a lot of great DX stations that weekend… conditions were great, so I was able to add a few more countries to my list.

So, as of right now, I sit at 31 states. I have two more W1AW contacts that should get confirmed next week (Iowa and Vermont), and two other contacts I hope can get confirmed soon (New Jersey and Oklahoma). That would bring the count to 35.

So what do I have left? Well, 15 states of course. The hardest ones being in the midwest close to me. I blame that on the fact I’ve been trying on 10m, 15m, and 20m, which are not great for close by states. This weekend is the Missouri QSO party, so I should be able to get Missouri in the log this weekend.Then the weekend of Easter is both the Michigan QSO party and the North Dakota QSO party (which I will be participating in!), so I should be able to make more progress later on this month.

I will continue to update my progress on my WAS, and hopefully I can start posting a little more on here from now on.

Repairing Ancient Technology

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in Ham Radio, Musings, Radio, Tech

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If there’s one thing you’ve learned about me, it’s that I like to pick up weird projects. This one isn’t so much weird, as it is… why?

As most of you probably know, radio stations do live broadcasts from area businesses. In the broadcast industry we call these “remotes”. Remotes are done with either some sort of internet device, or with an old-school Remote Pickup Unit. An RPU is essentially a one-way radio that transmits broadcast quality audio in the 150 MHz or 450 MHz range back to the studio. Since they only use 15W-40W of power, they work very much like a ham radio. In most major markets RPU’s are considered “ancient technology”… they’ve already moved away from RPU’s in favor of the other internet devices out there. In smaller markets like mine, RPU’s are commonplace and are still used all the time. Ancient, yes… but they’re still used.

IMG_0132Back at the end of October, I came across a Marti RPT-15 on eBay for a little over $125. It looked in good condition online, but the seller had no way of testing, which I believe scared off all the buyers. Except me, that is. Seeing as it is something I could use, and something that I have the gear to test out, I bought it.

When it arrived I immediately threw it on the bench and tested it out. It outputed the full 15W as it should, and overall the unit was in good condition. The only problem? It was setup for a frequency that my stations are not allowed to use. And unlike most modern two-way radios where you can just put in a frequency, this particular Marti unit uses frequency crystals, which basically means to change the operating frequency, I needed to order new crystals. The larger problem? Finding someone who still makes crystals!

Luckily, International Crystal Manufacturing in Oklahoma City still does, and they were able to make two crystal that would get my Marti to work on two frequencies my stations are authorized to use. They arrived right before Thanksgiving. I popped them in, did a little bit of tweaking, and I was right on frequency.

Now the main question I kept getting… what I am I going to do with this? To be honest, I have no idea. I have the feeling though it could come in handy if we run into a situation where one of our RPUs fails, we could use mine a backup. If nothing else, I got a little electronics tinkering in.

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2014 Ford Escape Ham Radio Setup

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As I mentioned in a previous post, I purchased a new car back in September. It’s a 2014 Ford Escape SE in black. I wasn’t planning on a new car until next year, but the stars aligned and I was able to make it happen.

So with any new car a ham gets, what must he do? Put a radio in it! As I did with the Taurus, I wanted to put a radio in the Escape without drilling any holes, and make it look a nice as possible… like the radio is supposed to be there. I know of so many people who put radios in their cars and it just looks awful. I’m one of those people that are super-concerned about what my car looks like (my Dad gave me that particular trait), so I wanted it to look professional clean.

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