Driveway DIY: fitting a Uniden UH9080 UHF radio in shorty Jeep Wrangler, along with a matching Uniden AT970BK 3.0dBi antenna.
Without much space inside his short-wheelbase Jeep Wrangler, Ray Cully needed a UHF with a remote head unit, and the Uniden UH9080 fit the bill perfectly. Now he just had to install it…
Words & photos: Ray Cully
After cursing my decision to sell my previous vehicle, complete with UHF, I’ve been making do with a handheld 3W unit, so the next item on a long to-do list for my JK Wrangler project build was to install some decent communications gear. As a result, here’s our latest Driveway DIY: How to fit a Uniden UH9080 UHF in a short-wheelbase Jeep Wrangler.
You might think my first consideration would be what features would I want, but the Wrangler’s design was a big influencing factor, as it ruled out several UHF radio options immediately. The JK does not have a lot of dashboard real-estate and the two door is even more challenging with limited storage and room for accessories. I’ll bet LandCruiser 79 cab chassis and Defender 90 owners are nodding their heads in sympathy.
A remote head unit was the best option for my Project Shortie. Being able to mount the main body of the unit up out of harm’s way and neatly behind the dash was essential. That meant all the radio controls had to be accessible via the hand held mic. With so many features all placed in one location, it needed to have a logical layout and be intuitive to use. The last thing I needed was a unit so complex I’d be referring to the user manual each time I wanted to make a simple adjustment.
None of us are getting any younger, and I needed a unit that had good clarity. I’ve had UHF radios in the past with such poorly designed internal speakers that I had to install an external speaker to boost the sound to understand transmissions from others in our convoy. As you’ll know, constantly repeating (or hearing) “say again” gets rather tiresome.
Another pet hate of mine is not being able to see the readout when you need it most! Most screens have no problem in the shade or early evening when not competing against bright sunlight or the glare coming off polar-white beach sand. But unless you are part vampire then, like me, you’ll do most of your driving during the day keeping evenings for relaxing around the campfire.
My next requirement is something rarely considered when blinded by the glossy brochure yelling Brand X is the perfect option for you. I’m referring to installation; if you can’t afford to pay someone else to sort the headaches, or if you enjoy DIY, then there’s significant hidden value in a company that takes the time to not only design and build a quality product but also factors in the reality and practicalities of having to install it. Inside my box, I wanted a wiring harness, fuses, mounting brackets and aerial cables with ends small enough to feed through tight spaces.
With a defined list of practical must haves and placing less importance on flashy gimmicks; my research led me to purchase a Uniden UH9080, matching it to the company’s heavy duty AT970BK 3.0dBi aerial.
Keeping in mind the mantra to maximise utilisation of space, I bent up a 2mm steel plate with enough surface area to mount the UHF on one side, using one of Uniden’s provided brackets, and a brake controller on the other. Drilling a couple of holes through the plate, I could mount everything neatly under the dash via a couple of factory bolt holes. Because the head unit of the UH9080 is so compact, it was easy to find a workable orientation with the internal speaker facing downward into the footwell to act as a mini amphitheater and boost sound.
As the unit comes with a complete wiring harness including fuses, hook up is easy with a simple red and black wire for battery positive and negative respectively. All you need do is work out how you want to wire it.
An ignition activated power supply ensures the radio is off when the vehicle is off. But connecting to the auxiliary battery, independent of the vehicle’s systems, allows you to have the radio on to monitor for mates arriving at the campsite without leaving your keys in the ignition when you’re outside the vehicle. I run my UHF from an ignition feed and, if I need to keep an ear on what’s happening, I clip a handheld to my belt to retain the freedom to move about the campsite.
The next problem of where to mount the handheld mic plug is one most people suffer. Many new 4X4s have elegantly styled dashes and consoles, with no available surface area, and they are way too flash to drill holes through! If you’re lucky, you’ll have blank factory switch covers. If the universe is kind, there will even be an aftermarket mic plug designed to fit perfectly into one of those blanks for a factory OEM finish… but in a Jeep Wrangler, good luck with that.
Scouring the internet, I located a neat little double-sided RJ45 connector housed in a flat-faced surface mount that looked like a cigarette lighter fitting or one of those USB power points. After contemplating the fluff in my navel, and much head scratching, I pulled off the top dash cover to see what was behind a small flat area just under the power window switches which face downward towards the console.
With a measure thrice and drill once approach, I worked out there was just enough room to mount the unit into the panel with sufficient clearance to plug in a cable from behind and still clear the window switches. With the centre marked, drill in hand, and a multi-stepped drill to do the deed, I gritted my teeth, crossed my toes and slowly drilled through my dash facia. What could go wrong? Fortunately, nothing, and I had a neat 19mm hole as the perfect receptacle to fit my newly acquired mic plug.
With the unit installed and the mic extension cable winding its way behind the dash to reach the head unit, the job was done. I was particularly chuffed with a neat installation, especially as when I unplugged the mic, the plug fitting sat flush with the facia and faced downward so it wasn’t visible.
I’ve never been a fan of antennas mounted across the bull bar. While higher might be better, with a fibreglass roof and no roof rack, this time I had to go with a rear mount option. Utilising the rear wheel mount as the attaching point, I used a bracket out of the US specifically designed for mounting an external antenna on a JK. Which seemed perfect until I tried to fit it and realised it would be great if running stock road tyres and using an antenna no fatter that a lead pencil.
Out with the angle grinder to put a little Aussie ingenuity into action. Slicing the bracket in half, I extended it by 70mm, following its original profile to clear the rear door. Now I had enough clearance for the large robust spring mount to clear my KM3 mud plugger and as a small bonus, my 725mm long Uniden AT970BK antenna sat up a bit higher.
At that point, one feature I really appreciated was Uniden’s stepped FME cable connector. A small termination fitting on the end of the cable meant winding it through the vehicle body work and interior is made all the easier. And there’s 4.5m of low-loss coax cable to reach the head unit where you spin on the supplied PL259 standard UHF plug adapter for a perfect fit. Forward thinking; I do like the Uniden designers!
With power and antenna connected, and mic plugged in, it was time to test everything before reassembling the dash and interior panels.
I pressed the power button and presto, the hand-held mic buttons all lit up, and the LCD screen displayed a good contrast, making it easily readable. A nice touch is you have several backlight colours to choose from, letting you tailor the unit to match the vehicle’s instrumentation illumination for an OEM look and feel.
Operating the unit
Looking at the handheld mic, the power button and multifunction smart switch are on the top. Below the large LCD screen is the standard volume and channel change toggles with six other dual function buttons controlled by the smart switch. The menus are logical and easy to follow, and you can soon skip through them with little effort.
Running a couple of quick checks using my handheld 3W unit, the clarity and clever design of Uniden’s dual-speaker system, one located in the head unit and the other in the hand mic, was impressive. Both can be independently adjusted for volume to provide the perfect balance. Add to this the ability to select one of five programmed squelch settings to minimise unwanted transmissions, plus the Continuous Tone Coded Squelch System (CTCSS), means you’ll only hear those in your convoy using the same code, without interruption from others using the same channel. Pair that functionality with the ability to select no less than four audio levels for voice enhancement, and you’ll rarely need my favourite party trick – Uniden’s pièce de résistance – the handy instant replay feature. Yep you heard that right! Hit the replay button located centre of the handheld mic and play up to 60 seconds of the previous transmission. Woohoo, definitely no more, “Say again?”
Another outstanding feature is the UH9080’s powerful inbuilt scanner. It not only provides the ability to scan for active channels, but it can target and listen for assigned groups, perfect when travelling in convoy. Utilising Uniden’s Bearcat scanner technology it will monitor for open non-encrypted emergency services broadcasts for fire, ambulance or police, on pre-programmed dedicated RX receive-only channels. This is a powerful bonus that could provide lifesaving information during a bush fire. I also liked the triple-watch function, allowing you to monitor two previously set priority channels of your choice every 40 milliseconds for activity whilst remaining on your current channel, which is invaluable when monitoring traffic conditions. Combine this with the UH9080’s 100 extra programmable RX channels, this unit provides great flexibility and customisation for users.
Keep in mind, a feature-rich unit of this build quality isn’t going to be the cheapest option, and maybe you don’t need all the bells and whistles. This is why Uniden makes a range of UHFs to cover almost every need with the company’s expert engineering and cutting-edge technology cascading down through every radio they make, even to the base models. Plus, they demonstrate confidence in their products by offering a five-year warranty. And that’s good enough for me!