Need advice on sensitive AM/FM radio/antenna setup for truck camper - AVS Forum | Home Theater Discussions And Reviews
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post #1 of 7 Old 03-04-2019, 07:28 PM - Thread Starter
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Need advice on sensitive AM/FM radio/antenna setup for truck camper

Not sure if there's a better place or forum to put this on, but here goes:

I've got a Lance truck camper that has no radio. It's prewired for radio and speakers, so there's that. So far, my choices are an automotive 12v receiver and mount an automotive antenna on the roof, or, something like a Sangean WR-11 or CCrane EP Pro with something like the PIXEL AFHD-4 antenna.

Background: I have a background in 2-way public safety radio communications installation/use (but I'm not an engineer or technician), and for TV, have put on my roof a Winegard HD7694P aimed toward out-of-town stations and a simple horizontal UHF band dipole perpendicular to the Winegard aimed at local UHF stations, and it works perfect. I also took a dipole element off an older Winegard TV antenna and made a vertically-polarized dipole on a standoff tuned for FM radio reception for my home AV receiver. The whole setup works really good. I just use a simple loop for AM on the home receiver.

When I was a kid (late 70s/early 80s), at night, I used to pick up KFI Los Angeles (AM) on my little KMart AM/FM portable radio, from eastern New Mexico. That's kind of what I want to do again, but not specifically with that station. When out camping in the desert or up on hills, I want to be able to tune in distant AM and FM stations.

I've read that automotive radios have highly amplified tuners, because the impedance of the antenna system for AM in particular is really high (being able to use a short vertical rod for seemingly great reception seems evidence of that). But I've never noticed any kind of real difference negatively with reception from automotive radios.

Are the Sangean/CCrane radios the best way to do this, or are the automotive radios just as capable of getting great AM/FM reception?

Thanks
-Eddie
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post #2 of 7 Old 03-05-2019, 07:36 AM
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A technical section for digital television certainly isn't the right place for analog radio discussions, that's for sure. You might try someplace such as radiodiscussions.com. I will move this to the HD Radio section as that's the closest we have.

Do know that a lot has changed since the 70s and 80s. The FM band's a lot more crowded. You can still likely pick out some Class C FMs from 100 miles away if you're away from any metro area, but the way everything's shoehorned in, it won't be easy to get much other than signals from the nearest cities.

AM's still fun to play with late at night way out in the middle of nowhere. Though the programming is vastly different, now.

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post #3 of 7 Old 03-05-2019, 01:05 PM
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AM/FM Radio Technology hasn't improved since the '70's, although some vehicle radios will perform better than others....and Compressed HD-Radio [IBOC] is now available (for what it's worth). What WILL make a significant difference is the ANTENNA(s):
https://www.nytimes.com/1981/06/30/a...fm-tuners.html
https://www.digitalhome.ca/forum/186...ml#post1369091
https://www.avsforum.com/forum/154-h...l#post57653694
https://www.avsforum.com/forum/154-h...l#post57663154

You should enter the Lat/Long Location of your favorite camping spots to see what sort of FM Signals you can receive.
IF you find (like MOST places) that you have [desired???] FM Stations in many different directions, then you might want to permanently mount the fol. OMNI FM Antenna on a suitable SHORT mast and use the fol. AM/FM/SAT Antenna Combiner to sum the signals with the usual AM Whip Antenna:
https://www.amazon.com/Stellar-Labs-.../dp/B00DHHOZBI
https://pixelsatradio.com/am-fm-sate...adio-triplexer [Use fol. 75-ohm Dummy Load on unused SAT Port]
https://www.amazon.com/Type-75-Ohm-T.../dp/B000AAN76Y

If you want to try a DIY OMNI Antenna with 6 dB higher OMNI Gain (and better SWR), I'm still hoping someone will want to try fol. 16-ft TALL DIY Swept SBGH OMNI project:
https://imageevent.com/holl_ands/omn...tsweptsbghomni
Use non-conductive cord to interconnect the three Inner Apexes [300:75-ohm Transformer Balun connects to mid-point]. Using cord or rope, you can hang it in Trees so it's off the ground...avoid mounting on Metallic Roof of Camper.

IF you find you want an FM Antenna with higher Gain, you COULD figure out how to Mount, Raise & ROTATE the fol. Stellar Labs 30-2460 4-Element FM Yagi with 6.5-7 dBi Gain:
https://www.amazon.com/OUTDOOR-ANTEN.../dp/B00NRHAV2K
https://www.amazon.com/Element-Direc.../dp/B00HMXX9YW

There ARE (err....mostly used to be....more likely available from Foreign supplier) LARGE FM Antennas with a LOT more Gain than the Stellar Labs 30-2460 [near bottom of chart]...if you find you "NEED" one...and don't forget a Heavy Duty (i.e. Ham Radio Quality) ROTATOR:
http://ham-radio.com/k6sti/curves.htm
http://ham-radio.com/k6sti


===============================================
If you want to improve AM Reception AFTER being parked, a LONG WIRE AM Antenna can be clipped to the existing Whip...and resist the urge to hang it HIGH in the TREES....it then becomes a LIGHTNING HAZARD:
http://www.hard-core-dx.com/nordicdx...op/amloop.html [Incl. Optional AM Rod Antenna Mods, if applicable]

Alternatively, you might want to use a 2-Port RF Switch to connect to fol. AM LOOP ANTENNA....which is preferably used Outdoors:
https://www.amazon.com/Eton-NGAN200-.../dp/B001PNNXGO
Or even LARGER AM Loop Antenna:
https://radiojayallen.com/mtm-scientific-am-loop

Yes, I am aware of the CCCrame AM Ferrite Antennas....but I doubt that it would work very well INSIDE a Metal Cage...and wouldn't work anywhere near as good as an AM Long Wire or AM Loops cited above:
https://www.ccrane.com/item/ant_am_t...signal_booster


FYI: I summarized the better AM & FM Antennas for Indoor & Outdoor use in the fol. post:
https://www.digitalhome.ca/forum/26-...ml#post2922681

Last edited by holl_ands; 03-05-2019 at 02:17 PM.
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post #4 of 7 Old 03-06-2019, 09:34 PM
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Notwithstanding the wealth of technical info from holl_ands in the previous post, car radios tend to perform really well without a lot of extra help. You say the truck is prewired so that seems like a good place to start. You sound like an old-school AM radio guy, and most factory radios with a standard, fender-mounted radio antenna pull in stations just great. I don't know anything about the Pixel antenna you mentioned but whatever you choose, I think you'll want to mount it on a metal body part to get a good ground plane, not the fiberglass camper top.

Most of the top aftermarket head unit brands also have very good radio reception (Kenwood, Pioneer, JVC, etc). But some have worse AM sound quality than the factory head units. The Pioneers and Kenwoods I've heard have sharply rolled off AM frequency response. Overall, there's not much focus on good AM sound quality across the electronics industry these days so that might be your biggest challenge.

One thing I would suggest is to get a head unit with Bluetooth music connectivity. That way you can connect to your phone and stream radio stations from TuneIn, iHeartRadio, Radio.com, etc. That's the modern day way to DX, and the sound quality is way better than AM radio. Plus honestly, there is very little to hear on AM any more. Most stations across the country are running syndicated shows especially at night, and the subject matter is all the same no matter who the host is. There's so much more out there on the streaming platforms. And since this is the HD Radio forum, don't forget to check out models that support HD Radio reception too.

As for the portable radio option, is there any reason you can't have both? If it were me I'd put a car radio in the camper and also have a CC radio to DX outside under the stars at your campsite.
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post #5 of 7 Old 03-08-2019, 06:56 PM - Thread Starter
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Thanks all for the input.

I suppose I'm what I'd admit to as stubbornly old-school. Unlike what Holl_ands stated his preferences are in a linked article, I don't mind static (reminds me of "FM" from Steely Dan "No static at all"), or more accurately, bad audio.

I grew up carrying my mid-70s KMart radio everywhere with me. Could pick up AM stations from Mexico at night. English-speaking, high-powered rock stations (except for the call letters being in Spanish). Listened to Casey Kasem's AT40 religiously. All with my shoe-box sized transistor radio. I found the exact radio a few years ago on Etsy. AM/FM/VHF-Hi/Air radio made in Hong Kong. Works like new.

So, with my slide-in truck camper, I can put a car radio in the mounting location, some speakers, and mount the standard RV whip antenna on my rubber-coated roof, just like the option from the factory. I'm sure it'd get almost as good reception as the factory radio in the cab of my truck. And maybe that's what I'll end up doing. But boondocking somewhere, I think it'd be cool to search for all those distant stations. A few months ago, on a hilltop, me and my little KMart radio picked up a fading Denver AM classic adult contemporary, from 600 miles away. Of course, I had to be on the roof of my camper, since the exterior is clad in aluminum.

Car-type radios I've been looking at are (so far) either in the Jensen line (RV, Heavy Duty or Marine versions with NOAA weather band) or the Panasonic (PanaPacific) commercial truck line (also with NOAA weather band). The bluetooth recommendation is noted. Besides the factory AM/FM/CD in my '07 F250, I've got a Kenwood TM-281 VHF 2-way in the truck cab (receives NOAA), as well as a CB with weather band, so, I'm obviously covered there, so weather band in the camper isn't a necessity, but it'd be convenient (I like having NOAA for the places there's no cell reception); otherwise, I'd definitely consider like Sony, Pioneer, JVC, Kenwood, etc. (too bad Marantz isn't still making car radios).

The radios I was alternatively looking at are DSP receivers, but have analog-style tuning mechanisms, more like my old transistor radio, which, in my mind, is like I used to use, turning the dial slowly, trying to see what it picks up.

One thing I factor into whatever antenna(s) I put on my camper, is the ability to use it not only in developed camp sites, but also when camping in truck stops, Walmart, or stealth camping, and wanting to have good reception without looking like I'm "set up."

For the FM antenna, I could just mount a vertical whip on my Winegard Sensar TV antenna, so that when the Sensar is cranked up into position, I can use one of its support legs as one element of a vertical FM dipole, and the whip as the other element. Of course it'd be vertically polarized, so no directional gain, but I think I can live with that, thinking it'd be worth the sacrifice to be able to constantly rescan the FM band. Otherwise, even with the Sensar down and stowed, I'll still have one vertical element for okay FM reception.

I ended up putting just a vertical dipole on the roof of my house. I'd looked at the Stellar, among others, but just made my own vertically-polarized dipole cut to the FM broadcast band, as I had lots of parts from extra TV OTA antennas with VHF-Low that I could cut, plus, I already had a perfect horizontal standoff about 4 feet below my main TV antenna to mount the FM vertical dipole.

The AM antenna is a different matter. My little KMart radio doesn't have any external antenna inputs. I could make ones, 75ohm for FM and 300ohm for AM, like referenced in one of the articles linked by Holl_ands, and I may end up doing that, as I've read the old transistor radios have superior sensitivity/selectivity compared to the DSP units. Not sure if that's altogether true, though. And, I just don't know if I can do that to a relic of my younger days without regretting it.

The car units seem to do a decent job of tuning AM with an FM-band whip, and I'm assuming the circuitry has accommodations to allow it; but, the alternate radios I'm looking at have external inputs for both:

https://www.amazon.com/s?k=sangean+w...f=nb_sb_noss_1
https://www.ccrane.com/item/rad_ccra...antenna_inside

But, the Pixel antenna is something I'm not familiar with, as far as how well the AM component will work, since it appear to be about a 300" length of wire wrapped around the FM whip, and separated by band into 75ohm and 300ohm outputs for the radio:

https://www.solidsignal.com/pview.asp?p=afhd-4

I've never used an external loop or long wire antenna on an AM receiver that also has an internal ferrite bar antenna, but I do have experience with car radios and how well they seem to pick up AM broadcast, so, I suppose that's where I'm in unknown territory, deciding between the two.

FWIW, I don't have satellite radio or TV, and don't have any amplified OTA TV systems in my house or my camper. It's all unamplified by design. I even bought a residential, non-amplified Winegard Sensar TV antenna head for my camper, and bypassed the signal amplifier/12v circuitry inside to a straight 75ohm coax direct to the TV from the antenna. I just prefer it that way... for now!

Last edited by mcnally; 03-08-2019 at 09:27 PM.
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post #6 of 7 Old 03-11-2019, 05:03 PM
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The FM dial has become way too crowded, as they have allowed low power signals on the same channel as full power signals from neighboring markets. This causes noise and interference, and limits reception of distant signals which used to come in clear.
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post #7 of 7 Old 03-12-2019, 11:05 PM
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That's why they invented Hi-Gain Directional FM Antennas on a Rotator....to suppress Undesired Signals....which in some cases MAY involve Rotating so the Sidelobe NULL is directed towards the Undesired, rather than the Max Beam toward the Desired direction....

Also: FM Tuner "Alternate Channel Selectivity, i.e. 400-kHz" (and esp. "Adjacent Channel Selectivity", i.e. 200-kHz) specs CAN vary quite a bit between older "classic" FM Tuners with 4 or more "Gangs" [i.e. 3 or more Tuned RF Stages]....and today's "good enough for an AVR" FM Tuner that is unused in most AVR's [today, most AVR mfrs don't even provide Tuner specs]. Also bear in mind that old Tuners using Variable Air Dielectric Capacitor's resulted in very high "Q" RF Filters versus modern Varactor Voltage Variable Capacitors which resulted in much lower "Q" RF Filters and hence require more RF Gain/Filter Stages to provide the same performance:
http://www.fmtunerinfo.com/index.html#technical
http://www.fmtunerinfo.com/specs.html

Last edited by holl_ands; 03-13-2019 at 12:08 AM.
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