I’ve been planning a trip to the Kimberley for a while now, and part of this process has been setting up the car.
Satellite phones are now common, and many people have moved to this technology for remote area contact, but many still use the good old RFDS/HF radio phone network. I was lucky enough to come across a reasonably priced second hand codan NGT land mobile radio and auto tune antenna with many features including Ham bands and GPS tracking. The idea of remote area contact, the tracking features, the ability to make phone calls and keep in touch with parents and have them contact us while at the far end of the country is appealing. The ability to have one neat ham radio in the car with an auto tune antenna, full ham access and these other features was great. Added to this, a number of my ham friends use codans and have setup selcall which is handy for those bands as well. Its been the ideal car setup.
There are a number of 4WD/HF clubs in Australia ( HF Radio Club and VKS737 ) that offer a license and access to the RFDS network, Selcall as well as daily check in skeds, tracking and Phone interconnect.
For the first year, i’ve joined both of the above clubs, but so far have a leaning to the HF Radio Club, they are a little less formal on the skeds, and offer real GPS tracking from their website, as well as substatitally cheaper access to the telephone interconnect. The down side with HFRC is they only have 4 base sites through Australia, and the feedback on a number of 4wd forums is their far north west Kimberley coverage isn’t great. The vks737 network is much more extensive with many base sites all over Australia. Ill keep HRFC for the second year, still unsure of ongoing VKS737 membership, but the trip to the kimberley will determine what I do. (its only money$)
HFRC base locations and GPS member positions
VKS737 base station locations (no gps tracking – YET)
Once I had a radio, i had to work out how to install this on the car. One day I drove past a Prado with my ideal setup, pulled over for a look and then found a a name of the mount and then a website for this neat rear wheel carrier antenna mount from Kaymar. The mount sits between the car and the rear spare tyre, and is designed for the codan 9350 auto tune antenna.
To make the installation neat, i took some time with wiring and installed the coax and control cables inside the rear door skin. It pops out through a rubber grommet used for the rear view camera. I also wired in a 12V lead for a future rear light, the Kaymar mount offers the ability to put a rear light on the car.
The radio body is installed inside the car, tucked away under the wheel arch plastic work (that took some effort), and all cables neatly run under the carpets, with the remote head/handpiece sitting up the front on its mount. This installation even gets approval from Christine, its much neater than my past efforts that took a lot of passenger footwell space up!. The GPS antenna is mounted inside the back of the car out of the way, while not outside, i havent had an experience where this lack of horizon/clear sky view has stopped the GPS working, i can always stop and pop it outside the car if need be.
So how does it work, so far, its great, the radio performs to a similar level as my old ic706 (and Terlin) did on the old car, though its so much more enjoyable being able to quickly change bands while driving with the auto tune antenna. Contacts to some known sydney ham stations on our 40m chat channel from some known locations provide an equivalent experience as the old radio, not having a voice compressor may have knocked a small bit of punch off the radios audio, but its also reduced background road and kid noise while using the radio. Contacts all over the world on 80m, 40m, 20m, and 10m driving, The BIG car does seem to make the antenna a little directional, noticeable in the city when driving and changing direction often, on the highway this isn’t such an issue, and its really not that bad. The auto tune feature is quick, tuning the antenna in a couple of seconds. The prado still has a little bit of electrical noise, and my efforts in removing this are ongoing, and I have managed to get rid of a lot of the noise, i have increased some earthing and continue to work through the car earthing thinks and fitting RFI filters / torriods. The codan runs to a secondary battery in the car. Im told the exhaust can cause a bit of noise on the D4D diesel prado, and thats the next earthing project!.
The NGT is pretty simple to use, once programmed for your networks it easily allows phone calls, scanning, selcall paging and other functions. The all in one hand piece terminal is a nice size and easy to use in the car even when driving. Using the GPS tracking function on HFRC is also easy, and has been a useful feature. From Melbourne daytime tracking is generally via the Alice Springs HFRC base and at night to the central NSW base.
If you are looking for software updates and programming help for your codan, I can recommend peter at LARA electronics he helped setup my radio.