Mobile HAM radio console

I have seen nightmares (like this) on the internet of mobile stations that have radios that take up every square inch of a vehicles interior.  Mics hanging from the ceiling… mounts attached directly into the dashboard and wires running all over the seats and floor boards.  First of all, I don’t see why anyone needs all of those radios in the mobile at once.  It would take me 10 minutes to figure out what mic I was supposed to be using!  Secondly, how do you ever know which wire is which and where it even goes to?  Trouble shooting would be total chaos.  Fire hazard doesn’t even begin to describe this situation.

In any event, this was something that I totally wanted to avoid when I began to plan for my mobile radio setup.  My YL was on board with this idea as well.

With my public safety background, I have been in multiple emergency vehicles of all sizes that had several different radio setups.  Law enforcement vehicles usually have the center console that integrated the radio(s), lights and sirens into one console.  Fire apparatus and ambulances usually spread their controls out a bit more but they have the space to do so without making them awkward to get to.  So I began to research methods for integrating a few ideas into my personal vehicle.

I have a 2008 Dodge Ram 1500 Quad Cab.  It has the bench seat across the front with a fold down center console in the middle.  Just under the stereo, a panel folds down that exposes 2 drink holders and a small storage place that I used for coins and such.  I did notice that when the drink holder was folded away, I had some dead space between the console and the bench.  After all, who needs drink holders anyway, right?

I couldn’t find any commercially made consoles specifically for my truck.  If I was driving a Crown Vic or Dodge Charger or Challenger, I would be looking at a totally different story.  I might even be able to find one of those corner mounted spot lights for the driver to operate from inside the vehicle!  But for mine, no luck.

What I did find were the faceplates that you would customize the other public safety consoles.  They made them for just about radio, light panel and siren on the market.  Not to mention the accessory panels for extra switches and power outlets.  This got me to thinking, “Could I make a box that would fit in the void between the dash and the bench seat that would also accept the faceplates that are available for the individual radios?”  Answer: yes I can!  A hobby of mine that was handed down to me from my father is woodworking.  So I went to the workshop and started rummaging around for some scrap boards that I could put together for a test.

I went with some 1/2 inch baltic birch plywood and designed the sides of the box first.  This was simply using a couple of measurements from the area where I wanted to place the box.  I measured the height from the floor to the dashboard just under the first control panel that I didn’t want to obstruct.  I then measured from the floor to the top of the bench seat.  I drew out a few angles to connect the two and voila!  Once I had the profile made, I was able to estimate the width that would fit between the drivers compartment and the passenger compartment without creating an obstruction.  The horizontal piece closest to the dash board was simply to contour the box around the dash to make the whole thing look like it fit.  The slanted panel was where I had to get creative with the placement of everything.  After I few trial and errors, this is what I came up with.

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It gives me my 2 meter radio on the “rack” along with an aux panel that added 2 switches, and (3) 12-volt outlets.  I also mounted an old switch box that I had kept from my volunteer firefighter days.  These are switches that are individually fused with lighted displays for the ID tags.  The other two black switches are…  we’ll… are two black switches for looks!  Yeah right.  Ha!  That space could have easily been for an additional radio, a panel of (5) 12-volt outlets or matching plates that reserve the space for future use.

To prevent from having the collection of radios in my truck, I chose the Yaseu 857-D.  It is an all mode radio that covers every ham band except for 220.  Even with the modification, it covers more but still not the 220 band.  One feature of this radio that I liked was the detachable, remote mountable faceplate.  I didn’t think I would ever need to remotely mount the radio until I started tying to figure out how I was going to mount this radio in my box.  There wasn’t a faceplate for this radio due to the large knob making the foot print of the radio anything but standard.  After toying around for a few days, I figured to explore the options of the remote head.  I could easily mount the radio under the driver seat but I still needed a place for the faceplate.

I saw the commercial mounting accessories for the radio but none of them fit my needs.  I didn’t have any cup holders anymore to use the flexible arm and I didn’t want to drill into the dash board for a flush mount.  I could have attached it directly to the box but it would have been at the wrong angle for the driver to see or operate.

A few months ago, I installed surround speakers in my living area and remembered that I had a speaker mount left over.  I mounted the base to the box and adjusted the joints on the speaker mount to face directly toward the driver.  Since the holes didn’t line up from the remote mount and the speaker mount, I was then able to use a small piece of oak as an adapter.  It screwed it from both sides and provide a stable buffer for the two to meet.  My Yaseu 857-D was not remotely mounted and the head was right in arms reach of the driver and adjustable if it needed to be turned another direction.  (A great idea for a 2 person station)

The SWR/Power meter was a great addition to the box and gave it a different dimension.  Speaking of additions… did you see the DC to AC inverter on the passenger side of the box?  You can hook up a laptop and even experience mobile rig control if so inclined!

For the wiring, I opted to go with 4 gauge wire directly from the battery, ran directly through the firewall and fused on both at the battery.  It terminates just outside of the dashboard on the floor into the large Anderson power poles.  This makes the box virtually a snap to unplug and remove from the truck with very little effort.  Who wants their ham station sitting in their vehicle while sitting in an airport lot for days to weeks at a time.  Not me!

I also ran a wire from the lighter plug that was only active with the key was on.  This allowed me to create a circuit that provided power only when the switch was on.  I am currently using it for the backlights of the SWR/power meter and the illuminated switch box.  A small addition but you can get pretty creative to the usage for it.

Other than the power wires mentioned above, the antenna coax, external speaker, mic and remote head extension is all that is connected somewhere on the box.  If you decide to supply power to external sources with switches, you’ll have those connections to make as well.  For simple wire connections, I use the anderson power poles for the quick disconnect feature.  And for multiple pairs or wires coming from a switch box, they make the anderson power poles in different colors.  For reconnection, just match the colors up and you’re easily reconnected without any complicated wiring diagrams.

Below is how the box looks now.  I made some modifications to it.

I changed the power/SWR meter in the pic below.  I liked the LDG better and it has more options when connecting it to the 857.  I also added the volt/amp meter that works very well.  You can see the remote mount on the pedestal on the right for my new IC-880H.  I also did away with the non skid phone older and am currently trying another solution.  You will also notice that the speaker changed on the driver side.  No real reason other than I like the way the Motorola speakers sound over the cheaper one that I probably got from Radio Shack some years ago.

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Hope you can take something away from this project and come up with some of our own ideas.  Feel free to drop you comments below!  I’d love to see them.

– 73

2 thoughts on “Mobile HAM radio console”

  1. Like your idea with the wood but I can’t do woodworking for beans. I will be soon be redoing or running new wires in my truck 2002 Dodge Dakota. It is going into the body shop to have two new front fenders and a new box installed all under a rust proof warranty. So while they are doing that I want to run conduit through the frame areas from front to box. Lots of ideas. I like your setup with the switches and meter. If you have any other ideas to share or suggest I would appreciate as I want to be a fully functional emergency ham truck.
    73s Dave

  2. We enjoyed looking at your work and your concepts. I also have done some morphing of Ham radio and woodworking and I have some ideas we could work on. Your work is beautiful and your web site is inviting!

    73

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