Over the years I have tried to find a solution to get a decent HF solution into my car. I started with a Radio Shack HTX-10 10 meter rig, but the sunspots and mag mount antenna did not yield much of anything. I also had an Icom 706 hooked up to a ham stick / tuner, but that didn’t work very well either. Since moving a few years ago, I have been unable to install anything at home due to antenna restrictions so HF operation has been impossible. I even tried a Yaesu FT-817 QRP rig indoors with various antennas, but there was just too much noise to hear anything. Was I completely out of luck for HF?
A few weeks ago I decided to sell my FT-817 and accessories to help fund a new radio/antenna. I ended up choosing the Yaesu FT-857D and the ATAS-120A mobile antenna. Now I know there are limitations to this antenna as well as it being a little more expensive than a hamstick, but I had to give it a shot. Everything in the past has been a painful time consuming process just to get on one band, let alone trying to switch between bands quickly. I wanted something that would be as easy as turning on the radio and getting on the air. Would this setup disappoint me as well?
I chose the recommended Diamond K400C trunk mount which doesn’t require any drilling. I wasn’t sure how well this mount would work as all my other mounts have been magnet mounts. Obviously with this antenna being a little heavier and taller than most dual band antennas, a regular mag mount wouldn’t work. I installed it on the drivers side of the trunk and ran the cable in through the backseat with all my other cables. As for the radio, I mounted on the floor board behind the passenger seat with my other radio. I use the word mounted loosely as it’s really just velcroed but it’s not going anywhere.
The radio came with the separation kit, so that saved me some money. I currently have the faceplate mounted on a vent mount above my XM radio on the dash. I’m really not impressed with this type of mount as it moves around too much, so I will look for a different solution. The microphone and speaker are loosely mounted so I can hide them away when I’m done using them. The power cord is run directly to the battery through the firewall.
When I first turned the radio on, I was a little overwhelmed by all the menu settings. However, after thumbing through the manual I became a little more familiar with them. I found the setting to enable the ATAS-120A antenna and hit the tune button. The first time you run it, it takes a few minutes to initialize but after that it’s pretty quick. I flipped through all the bands and it was able to establish a 2:1 or less SWR every time even on the WARC bands. (according to the built-in SWR meter anyways) I tuned around the bands and was hearing numerous signals, so that was another promising discovery.
I decided to visit a local park about 8 miles NW of town which would hopefully get me away from most of the noise of the city. The Michigan QSO party was going strong and I thought I’d try responding to one of them just for kicks. NV8N was coming in pretty strong on 40m so I threw out my call running 50 watts. He heard me on the first try which threw me off guard as I had no idea what the exchange for the contest was. 🙂 Luckily he was patient and explained what info he needed from me and like that my first contact had been made! Not too shabby I thought.
I continued scanning around the bands and landed on 17m. I heard ON4HIL calling CQ, so I tried calling him. It took numerous tries as others were calling and the band was up and down, but I eventually got him. He gave me a 5×2 report and said that wasn’t too bad for my 50 watts. After the brief QSO, I looked up the prefix on my phone and discovered he was in Belgium! I know for most hams with big stations at home this would be boring, but for me to work another country in the mobile with 50 watts is pretty darn cool to me. I was actually quick enough to record the QSO on my phone just so I had proof of the contact.
Later that evening, I went for a drive and tuned around on 40m. I noticed that the Ontario QSO party was also going on. I managed to work several stations while I was driving, so that was pretty cool despite the increased noise from the car. I managed to snag a recording of the QSO with VA3SWG.
I know it’s just a handful of contacts but I’m really impressed so far. The ability to hit a button to tune the antenna and get on the air in a few seconds is pretty awesome. I can’t wait to try it out this summer and see what other contacts I can make. 73!