When I found that FM radio reception inside the Scamp
was spotty and my USB charger (a switching power supply) obliterated what reception I did have when it was turned it on, I started to consider satellite radio for the camper. I did not find much recent information on adding sat radio to a fiberglass trailer so I thought I would share my experience with the addition (if you only want to know about my “no more leaks” installation then skip to the last section)
The Deal (or Why Pay for Radio?)
When I bought my new van I got the six month promo deal for satellite radio, and when it was time to renew the price was going to be more than $20 a month for the XM Select package. I found out that my brother was getting the same service for $24.99 plus taxes and fees for SIX months! So I called and was able to get the same deal after telling them I would pay no more and I would have to cancel. With taxes and fees it is $30.34 for me, or just over $5 a month. They always tell you that the promotional deal is a onetime offer, but they really do not want to lose subscribers. I have got the same deal three times in a row now. Every six months I have to call and spend 20 minutes on the phone while they try to extract more money from me (including an offer for $99 a year plus taxes and fees for a year). I politely explain that since the radio is built into the car, I only use it occasionally. In fact, since I am retired, I do not commute and I only use sat radio for two out-of-town trips a year (at least that’s the story I tell them). After I tell them it is just not worth more money to me, and I am on fixed income, bla bla bla… I walk away with the deal. If you are already paying more for the XM Select package then they might not be so willing to take less. And if you have a different package, then YMMV. But "XM Select" is good for me and $5 a month makes it worthwhile. If it were much more than that then I would go back to tuning around the FM dial and listening to the same old songs in my library, or some podcast I downloaded for the trip.
As I mentioned, satellite radio was built into my new car. This limits the usefulness quite a bit. You can get online streaming by paying more, but IMHO if you have internet service and that much data available, there are plenty of free alternatives. So I looked into portable receivers and decided on the Onyx Plus (not the Onyx “non-plus”). This radio uses a docking station so it can easily be moved to different locations with multiple docking stations. It also has a 30 minute buffer so you can pause and rewind the audio. It also uses the buffers for something they call TuneMix, which allows you to scroll through songs, stopping on the ones you like and skipping the others. It has a FM transmitter built in but no Bluetooth (although a Bluetooth transmitter could be added). I found that the FM transmitter did not work well so I am sticking with using an audio cable. Remote controls are available for about $10.
The Onyx Plus, with car kit, sells for $65 at Amazon, and a second car kit which I needed for the second docking station, power supply and antenna in the van is $45. I got lucky and picked up the radio with car kit for $42 on eBay (brand new) and the second car kit for $38.44 (refurbished) from TSS-Radio.com. Add in a remote control and I was able to equip both the camper and the car for under $100. It cost me $15 to move the subscription from the car radio to the transportable unit (Onyx Plus). My car mount is done in such a way that the entire docking station could be moved to the house without too much effort except for the antenna. A third antenna for the house would cost under $20 and I have a 12 volt power supply in the house already that I could use. I was pleased to find that the antenna worked fine inside my single story home even not being near a window and on the wrong (north) side of the house so I might use the radio in the house also (again, YMMV).
I had already installed an under-cabinet radio with Bluetooth receiver and audio input in the Scamp
. The sound is OK but not great. Of course, the digital audio on satellite radio is quite compressed so even with the best amplifier and speakers it is not the best audio in the world. But I am primarily interested in voice programming so that’s fine. And after all, it’s camping. The FM reception on the under-cabinet radio inside the Scamp
is almost non-existent, especially without using the 120 VAC power adapter that also works as an antenna so I might upgrade it at some point. But at about $40, it was a good deal.
Satellite radio reception was marginally good enough with the antenna inside my single story home (even on the north side) and also inside the Scamp in my driveway. On the dash of the van it was OK when it was stationary but there were a lot of drop-outs when driving around. If you wanted to use the Onyx Plus with the car antenna inside the Scamp it might well work for you. The home antenna can be aimed so it might work better but I don’t have one to try. With the car antenna on the countertop inside my Scamp, which was parked in my driveway and with no overhead obstructions, I got about one half of full strength and almost no drop outs. This was even with the foil-backed insulation that acts like a radio frequency shield, but with the antenna near a window. However I suspect that there would be places where reception would be problematic with the antenna inside so I sought out a better alternative.
I thought about mounting the antenna on the roof and running the cable down the roof mounted fridge
vent. The cable is long enough but it is rather thin and fragile so I do not know how well it would hold up with the hot air coming off the fridge
. The car antenna is a magnetic mount and when placed on a vehicle’s roof, the metal roof might act as a ground plane (strengthening the signal). Of course the roof on the Scamp is Fiberglass so the antenna would have to be affixed with adhesive. Its hard to say if the insulation under the fiberglass would behave similarly to the metal roof of a vehicle, when the antenna was mounted on the roof of the Scamp.
My objective was first to get the antenna on the outside of the foil-backed insulation, and second, to get it higher where it might get a slightly better view of the southern sky (the satellite is over the equator). So what I did was to cut a small slit in the rat fur and insulation, under the roof, and inside an overhead compartment where it will not been seen except when the door is opened. I then pealed the insulation off the fiberglass in an area just large enough to put the antenna in. It’s a bit of a challenge to get the insulation separated from the fiberglass but not too hard if you take your time. And, since it’s a tight fit, no additional support is needed to keep the antenna in place. This simple antenna placement (with no holes in the Scamp’s body) gave me almost 100% signal strength in the two locations I have parked the trailer (the second being under a heave tree canopy). You still might find some places where obstructions cause signal drop-out (such as around tall buildings) but I think this is totally adequate and a good thing to try before drilling a hole or spending more money on better antennas.
The docking station is mounted with the swivel mount that is included in the car kit. It comes with pre-applied 3M VHB tape for secure mounting on a flat surface. However, it is a short mount and in order to mount the radio in-between the cabinets, as shown in the below photo, I needed to make a raised mounting block about one inch thick for the swivel mount. You could use a number of different materials. I found that two layers of Starboard brand marine board that I had lying around worked perfectly. I cut it into circles the same size as the swivel mount base, and used VHB tape to make it double thickness. Then I used VHB tape to affix it to the side of the cabinet and added the mount with the docking station. Regardless of where and how you mount it, be sure to test fit everything, including the cabinet door swings. The cabinet doors are the reason I chose to mount the radio between the cabinets, recessed slightly behind flush with their fronts.
So far in this project I had avoided drilling any holes in the fiberglass but now I did make one hole, just large enough to pass the wires with plugs through from inside the overhead compartment to the radio dock. The antenna, power, and audio cables go from the docking station to the inside of the cabinet where the antenna is. I had to drill this hole from the inside of the cabinet and when I broke through some of the gel coat chipped, so a small cosmetic repair is in order. I was able to pass the audio cable from inside the cabinet, behind it, to the under-cabinet radio. It’s a tight fit and might wear on the cable, eventually damaging it, but that would not hurt anything else and the cable can easily and cheaply be replaced if needed. For the power, I tapped onto the reading light
power connection and added an in-line cigarette lighter style outlet. I could have cut the plug off the satellite radio power cord and wired it direct, but I did not want to alter the original power cord.
The Onyx Plus satellite radio and under-cabinet radio draw a little more than 1/3 of an amp when on. It should not be a problem to add this load on the circuit but you should make sure that all wiring and fuses are appropriately sized. The under-cabinet radio draws a little current even when off (for the clock display and DC to DC converter in stand-by status). The Onyx Plus plug draws a little also but it is almost un-measurable. So I might add a switch to control the power to the entire set-up. Or, I might just use solar
to keep the battery
up so that the small power draw will not be an issue.