I am finally a full-fledged, card-carrying, repeater-hitting ham! It took me a while, but the eagle has landed. You can find me on the air waves as KC1IIQ, technician class. I have a 2m Kenwood TM-281 mounted in my 2015 JKU Sport. I’ve had some ups and downs getting started in the world of ham radio, but overall I’ve enjoyed the new hobby.
Why did I get want to get my ham license? I’ve had a CB radio in my Jeep for a couple years now (Midland 75-822 mounted on the Oh-S*** bar), and I use it a lot more than I thought I would. It’s very useful on trails runs and is fun to operate while driving around with my Jeep buddies. However, with the maximum output of 4 watts on the CB, radio contacts are primarily limited to fellow Jeepers and nearby tractor-trailers talking about traffic and other such unsavory topics. I was curious about reaching people further away, as well as learning more about the science of radio. Of course, there is also that little bit of crazy Jeeper/Doomsday Prepper inside me that knows a ham radio is important to have when the Mayan calendar eventually gets something right and crap hits the fan.
I got the radio about 10 months before I got my license, though I played by the rules and did not try to transmit until I passed the test and got my FCC-assigned call sign. I had it mounted in the Jeep for a while just listening and learning the jargon, as well as playing with the settings and programming options. Eventually I found the time to study up and get my license, and am finally using the radio to its fullest!
I won’t get too much into the nitty-gritty of the install, but here is an overview. The radio is mounted above the rear-view mirror using the classic Rugged Ridge CB Radio Mount. It is snug, but the radio is just slightly bigger than most compact CBs that people put there. The Kenwood is definitely a little heavier than the mount is meant for, so there was some pretty bad bouncing going on at first. I put a couple of zip ties around the top of the mount and the footman loop. Tada! No more bouncing.
The power wires run across the windshield and down the passenger A-pillar, right to the battery. The coax cable runs the other way and down the driver side A-pillar, through the firewall behind the brake pedal. My antenna is mounted on the fender using an existing bolt. Real easy to install.
You can see in the images how the coax comes from the firewall and hangs out just a bit from the hood. After a crazy winter in Massachusetts that just dumped 23″ of snow in the middle of March, I haven’t had any exposure issues yet with the cable or antenna. My antenna is a 48″ FireStik. I have a Firestik for my CB as well, and I have Firestik-esque stubby AM/FM antenna, so now I have a full set of matching antennae! Yes, my wife thinks I’m a mad man for getting excited over a stupid amount of antennae.
The Kenwood mic came with a standard mic clip mount, but since there are so few flat surfaces in the Jeep JK, I had to improvise. I screwed it right into the sound bar next to the interior lights. The mic cable runs straight back by my right ear, and is easily reachable without looking, after a little practice. It feels pretty bad-ass to have the cable swinging around. It’s doesn’t effect my vision at all, and only really gets in the way if I’m wearing a baseball hat and looking behind me to my right.
The radio works great, and I love using it. It was a little hard to program manually, but once I tried the free programming software from Kenwood’s website, it was pretty straight forward. The radio can save 200 memories if you only use numbers to title the repeaters, but 100 if you use alpha-numeric. Personally, I don’t use it enough to need the 200 and using the available 6 characters as letters to name the memories is a big help. I probably spent about an hour tuning my antenna and was able to get my SWR within an acceptable range (just under 2.0). So far my range while driving is about 50 miles, and the signal drops pretty quickly beyond that.
All in all, being a ham is pretty cool so far. I’ve made some interesting contacts, learned a lot about radio and its uses as a hobby. I even participated in my first net last week! The ham license costs $15 and lasts 10 years. If you have the interest and some time to memorize some questions and answers, I recommend getting into it. There are radios for all types. My next radio will probably be a handheld that I can take with me hiking or in the go-bag. Getting into 6m radio would be exciting too, and hopefully I can add to the lineup over time.
I hope there are some future hams out there!