Any mobile dual-band radio can be used as a base radio at your home, as well — all you need is a (good) 12V power supply for the radio and an outside antenna.
Here in the Seattle area, and most big cities, a huge percentage of the ham traffic on the 2 meter and 70 cm bands is carried on through mobile radios. What better way to while away the hours spent in our (soul crushing) traffic than in a pleasant conversation with a fellow ham? Having all those extra eyes out there is nice, too, for dodging big traffic tie-ups.
Mobile installations are, by and large, do-it-yourself projects. I doubt you’ll find any car stereo installers qualified to fully install your ham radio — they might be good at making receivers work, but they don’t usually know much about transmitters and their demands. What they are good at is getting power into the interior of the car. If you go the pro route to get that part handled, have them run the wires – the hot and the ground – directly off the battery. Insist on it — it’s the cure for many interference problems. If you can get them to handle the coax run to your antenna, too, you have 80% of the installation battle won.
BTECH MINI UV-25X4 25 Watt Tri-band Base, Mobile Radio
With this little radio, you get three bands — 2 meter, 1.25 meter (the 220 band), and 70 cm. It’s small enough to suit many installations, and it gets good reviews. 25 watts peak power on 2 meters (20 watts on 1.25 and 70 cm) doesn’t make it the highest power radio out there, but it should be more than enough in most areas.
Tri-band antennas are a bit more expensive, so it’s worth finding out if there are 220 band repeaters in your area, and if there’s anyone using them — otherwise, you can just hook up a 2 meter/70 cm antenna.
This is a basic radio — no fancy crossband repeater function or any of the other jazzier features you’ll find on more expensive radios, but for rollin’ down the road chatting with your friends, this is a good bet.
Your town or county has someone who installs the radios in their emergency vehicles — they might be willing to take on your installation.
If you go full-on DIY with your installation, there’s lots of know-how out there on the web. We cover the topic pretty thoroughly in The Fast Track to (Finally!) Getting on the Air With Ham Radio. Remember, too, you didn’t just get a license when you took that test, you got a ticket into a community of like-minded people. There’s help out there!
After the power and antenna lines, you’ll need to think about antenna placement and, of course, radio placement.
Two hazards to think about with your antenna are car washes and parking garages. People have worked these things out — go web diving for the solutions.
Radio placement is greatly simplified by “detachable faceplate” units that split the actual radio from the control unit — there are a couple of such units below to consider. On the other hand, those units are not convenient to pull out of the car and use as a base station at home. The single-unit radios just need a 12v power supply and an antenna connection to go to work on your desk.
Check your state and local regulations, but many places give hams a special exemption from the “no cell phones or other mobile communications devices” laws.
This one’s a step up in power and convenience from the BTech. It claims 50 watts on 2 meters, 35 on 70 cm.
The TYT is the lowest priced detachable faceplate radio I could find that had decent reviews, and features full-duplex crossband repeat capability. That might be a feature you really want, or one you’ll never use — it depends on your applications.
The “quad band” part of its advertising should be taken with a large grain of salt. This is an FM radio — you can set the frequency to a CB channel, but CB is AM, not FM. You need a General Class license to operate in FM mode on the 10-meter band, and so far as I know, that’s not a real popular mode there. I’ve never heard of anyone working the 6-meter band on FM, but I’m not set up for 6 meters, so I can’t say for sure. I’m no expert on the air bands either, but I believe they’re AM, too. So, consider this a dual-band radio and be pleasantly surprised if it turns out to be good for more than that!
For about $25 more than the TYT, you can step up to one of the major manufacturers and digital voice capability on System Fusion. (You also give up the removable control panel.)
The ICOM IC-2730A will set you back a bit more than the Yaesu radio above, and it does not have digital capability. It does offer a much more readable display and what I think is a user-friendly control layout.
Upper End Mobile/Base Radios
I’m very familiar with Kenwood’s TM-D710G, since it is the radio in my truck. It has many bells and whistles, including APRS with a built-in GPS, but it has no digital voice capability. I find it very easy to program and use — I own the programming software and cable for it but have never used them!
There’s one of these sitting in a box behind me at the moment. I haven’t decided if it is going to be a base station or if it will replace the Kenwood in my truck. That will depend on whether or not I can hit our club’s digital repeater from the house or if I need to go mobile.
Aside from the System Fusion digital voice capabilities, it boasts pretty much the same line-up of deluxe features as the Kenwood, plus a snazzy color display.
The 5100A is not ICOM’s top-of-the-line mobile dual band radio. That honor goes to the 100 watt IC-7100 which retails for nearly $1,000 and doesn’t have a built-in GPS. (Look for that to change soon.) The 5100A speaks digital on the D-Star system, as well as analogue FM, and it does include a built-in GPS, APRS, and many other high-end features.
There are many, many choices of antenna for your mobile/base unit, and very few of those choices are covered in the Technician exam.
There are antennas specifically designed for mounting on a vehicle, others that could be mounted on a vehicle or on a house, and still others that are fixed; in other words, they get a permanent, sturdy mount on your house.
That’s a magnetic mount antenna. As the name implies, the antenna is mounted on what you hope is a powerful magnet that holds it on your vehicle’s roof,
Beyond that, you’re most likely looking at a separate antenna and mount, such as something from the Diamond or Comet companies. Both make quite an assortment of antennas and ways to affix them to your vehicle, such as this pairing.
That antenna stands about 40 inches tall. The mount is a trunk lid mount — it hooks over the rim of your trunk lid, usually next to the rear window, and you can sneak the coax under the car’s carpeting, then into and through the trunk.
There are also “hood” mounts. They’re just a piece of sheet metal bent to the precise shape of the gap between your vehicle’s hood and the fender. You remove a bolt from the fender, then use it to install the mount. Very easy if they make a mount for your vehicle.
Hood Mount for a Ram 1500 Truck
A reasonably wide variety of mounts is available from several makers. If I was you, I’d call either DX Engineering, GigaParts, MFJ Enterprises, or Ham Radio Outlet for advice on what setup would be best for your vehicle.
Before you order any antenna, check what sort of connectors are needed. Some antennas come with a coax line already attached, and you’ll want to get one that matches the antenna connection on your radio or else order an adapter at the same time.
While I have been known to stick a mobile magnet-mount antenna on a couple of corrugated tin roofs and at least one metal water heater chimney with subsequent success, neither of those is really an ideal setup. That’s more of a “Hey guys, watch this!” deal.
Many of the Diamond and Comet style mobile vertical antennas will be perfectly happy and useful in a permanent mount on your roof, assuming you can figure out a way to mount them. I’ve never seen a “from the factory” fixed mount from either company, so it will most likely take some cleverness on your part. Just be sure the antenna you choose does not require being mounted to a ground, or that you provide ground radials of some sort for that antenna.
One popular choice for a fixed, dual band antenna is the j-pole, shown above. They’re often home-built from copper or aluminum tubing, and you can find lots of do-it-yourself plans for them on the web. You can also order commercial versions if you’re not up for the DIY route.
Finally, there are high-gain, near-professional or even professional grade antennas available from the big supply houses, ranging in price from the $150 range clear up to “if you have to ask, you can’t afford it” territory. Those are probably overkill at this stage of your career unless it is really a long way to the nearest useful repeater, but they’re out there if you want ’em!