Topic: How to Build a WORKING Radio Set-Up for ~$400
After much gnashing of teeth and WAY too much time researching, I thought I'd share what we used recently at MSR here in Houston for our 24 hour race. For less than $300 you can have a rig that rocks or for a little more, you can have a set-up that works like the pros!
Measured according to GoogleMaps, the furthest distance apart we experienced was 2/3 of a mile and all comms were 5X5...even with structure between us and even when we were sitting inside the RV! We were careful with our frequencies and didn't have any issues with being stepped-on or cross-talk.
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B007H … &psc=1 This is the 'second' generation version - there's a 3rd out now...only difference I can tell is that the 3rd gen has 8W vs. 5W for this one. TRUST me - those 3W ain't gonna matter for reasons I'll explain later. I wouldn't worry about a 'crew chief' headset unless you just wanna...these radios come with a earpiece/mic combo that works....and it's better than holding the damn radio up to your ear for the whole race.
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0774 … &psc=1 This is the wiring that connects everything together. A lower-priced harness, but it worked great for us and seems to be built well. Utilizes three connections: to the radio, to the PTT button, and to the drivers headsets. Mount to the vehicle structure and the rollcage securely with zipties. We placed the helmet jack directly behind centerline of the seat with about a foot dangling so that drivers could hook-up left or right as they desired.
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00CU … &psc=1 Connects the radio to the harness.
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00M3 … &psc=1 There are less expensive buttons out there, but this mounts to the wheel which we thoughts is a better option than velcro...and it was. Plugs into the harness.
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B008B … &psc=1 Is the 3rd and final connection to the harness. We spent far too much time worrying about getting the 'better' noise cancelling mic set-ups....we shouldn't have. This rig worked perfectly - noise simply wasn't an issue and they were 5X5 in use. This kit uses a standard 1/4" headphone jack and we used existing earbuds - some used Apple some used Android and all worked fine. Be aware that the plug is MONO which means you'll only get sound in one ear. You can buy a mono-to-stereo adapter if you wish....we did but abandoned it shortly during the race 'cause it really wasn't necessary. Mind you: this will be $79 per driver unless you want to switch these between helmets at every stop/driver change.
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00ID … &psc=1 Worked PERFECT and was cheaper than any of the 'easy' magnetic-mount units we found. Yes, you do need to drill a hole in your roof and buy a cable to use it, but it WORKED! BE AWARE that you need to have a full 18" of flat metal roof radiating on all sides from the antenna for this to work properly. If your car cannot provide that, get the ground plane shown below.
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00ZO … &psc=1 Well made, plenty long to mount anywhere and worked.
Total cost at this point is $296.41 and it WILL work. You can just ziptie the radio to a spot on the car at this time, but a mount is a better option. For a few bucks more, you can make your life easier and it'll work better....
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00KZ … &psc=1 While the life of the batteries in these radios was good (good enough to get through a 'standard' race, I'd assume) you'll want to consider a battery eliminator for a 24 hour race...or just for peace of mind. $15 plus another $10 for a cigarette lighter/plug to wire into the car is cheap not to have to worry about batts dying in the middle of the race.
Upgraded antenna for handheld:
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00KC … &psc=1 Again, the crappy little 'ducky' antennas that come with these radios worked fine, but we did find that this upgraded antenna added to the range of the rig. What's another $17 at this point??
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0744 … &psc=1 If you don't have a metal roof on your car (we don't) this little gem will make your life complete! It's a easy addition that simply mounts between the whip and the mounting base - so simple my kids could install it. This is where the extra 3W from the newer (and more expensive) BaoFeng radio really doesn't matter - a GOOD antenna will make-up for a crappy radio to a large degree. Remember, no radio will work w/o a proper antenna, properly mounted.
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00CP … &psc=1 This is the BaoFeng unit and worth it if you want to save yourself TONS of hassle programming frequencies into the radio. You can program these radios manually, but it's a true PITA. You'll have to download the CHIRP software from BaoFeng (https://chirp.danplanet.com/projects/chirp/wiki/Home) but it's really easy to use. Best part is that once you get it all hooked-up, it can download all the FMRS, GMRS, and MURS frequencies for you!
Radio Mount Inside Car:
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07G7 … &psc=1 This mount is SO much easier than the boxes that you see advertised and it works great! Simply uses the belt-clips that come with the radios to clip-in....we took a piece of scrap steel and made a pedestal mount which allowed it to be easily adjusted for volume. Add a ziptie if you're worried about it coming loose when you roll over! :-)
These additions takes the total to $407.22 for a system that I promise will work!
DISCLAIMER: yes, according to the FCC, you must have licensing to use this stuff legally. You're on your own for that - I offer no advice or guidance. Be smart.