Category Archives: secondary radio for vandwelling

Accessorizing Violet

I love Violet the campervan. She is perfect, yet I’m always modifying her. I guess that is the way many relationships are… both constant and changing at the same time.

Although her main “bones” were forged at Wayfarer Van Conversions in Colorado Springs in 2018, I have been adding and subtracting to her build since that time. Some of the changes that I made that I thought would be great actually turned out to be ho-hum, while other changes that I thought would be so-so turned out to be great additions.

I understand that what works for me may not be someone else’s cup of tea. However, I offer the following as an idea springboard for potential new van builders. You may disagree with me; you do you.

Violet is constantly changing so it is likely that she will be further modified as time goes on. Her most recent addition is a Moodshade, but it isn’t mentioned in today’s post. Why? Because I haven’t set it up yet so I don’t feel that I can share my honest opinion.

You will also note that I’m not including any links. I’m not interested in making a few pennies by being an “affiliate.” I’m just trying to spread the gospel of the wonders of life in a van.

Let’s look at some of the good and the less good changes that have been made to Violet the campervan.

I have 400 watts of solar on Violet’s roof. That is the maximum that I’m able to fit, but if I could have more I would add more. On a clear sunny day, I have an abundance of free power. However, on a cloudy day, the panels may only generate 25-50 watts of electricity. I like having panels on the roof, although they are more difficult to orient than free-standing ones. Yet, they are always working and I never have to set them up. I also have a folding panel that I can use…but frankly I haven’t done so in 4 years. The roof panels have been enough and when the skies are cloudy I just conserve a little more.
I installed a side window on Violet’s sliding door and I’m grateful that I have it every time I drive her. Not only does the window add light to her cabin it also gives visibility when I”m backing Violet out of a driveway or parking space.
I also added these rear windows, but I almost always keep them covered. If I had to do it again I would have forgone the expense of adding them.
The yellow arrow points to Violet’s rain guards. I think that this simple addition is a must. I can crack the windows open around an inch for ventilation. No rain gets in and the windows look completely closed from an outside observer’s point of view.
Anyone who owns a campervan will tell you that having a fan is needed. Small USB-type fans can work in a pinch, but a roof exhaust fan is a game-changer. This is a Fantastic Fan vent fan, which was the popular brand when I added it. Now, many vandwellers put in a similar Maxxair fan. These fans don’t use a lot of power, but their use is constant. They can drain your house battery if you leave them on continuously. You can save some power by running them at a lower speed. However, I find that running them at full tilt makes the biggest cooling difference. I usually run mine for several bedtime hours which is enough to cool things off.
This little door stop was easy to install and allows me to open my sliding door 1/3rd of the way. In the past, if I wasn’t on perfectly level ground I only had two choices, fully open or fully closed. I really like this addition. I found the stop on Amazon.
Here we have the tale of two modifications. I thought I would really like to have a sink, but I never use it. It is more practical for me to carry water in jugs and I wash my dishes using the “vinegar method.” I added the induction burner so I could reclassify Violet as an RV; I had planned on removing it once I passed the inspection. However, I have found that the little burner works great and I use it all of the time.
When boondocking I like to listen to the radio, however, I don’t want to run down my car’s starter battery by using the in-dash system. Additionally, I can’t get good reception using a portable radio inside Violet’s metal shell. This year I mounted an antenna on her roof and installed an inexpensive second car radio which uses Violet’s house battery for power. It has been a very welcome addition.
I also put in an aftermarket cruise control. It was surprisingly easy to install and it has been a fantastic addition on long highway trips.
This BlueParrott trucker-style Bluetooth headset wasn’t cheap, but it was definitely worth the money. It does a great job at canceling road noise for the person on the other end and is far superior to anything else that I have tried including AirPod Pros. If you like to make calls while you are driving I would advise getting one of these.
There are a couple of things to note in this photo. The bed platform was built by Wayfarer. It works well, but I wish that the mattress was just a bit thicker. My friend and I build the organization box below the bed and that has worked out great. I’m one of those “everything in its place” kind of guys and I love having separate areas for my pantry (the wicker baskets), storage (the Rubbermaid containers on the left), and the fridge. My Dometic fridge is on a slideout and that gadget has worked well. However, its price has gone up since I bought it and so I would consider a Chinese clone in the future. We also converted the Wayfarer “boot box” into the van’s power center and it houses a Bluetti AC200 1.7 kilowatt Solar Generator. I’m pretty happy. with the Bluetti and I wrote a complete review on it a few weeks ago. Yet, I’m always looking for more power.
I didn’t like the stock radio so I changed it out for this Kenwood unit which has built-in GPS. Why have a dedicated GPS unit when I could just use my phone? Because I’m often in places where I don’t have a good enough cell signal for the map app to work. This radio also gave me Car Play and many other features that I like. Its addition was definitely a plus.
I had the dealer install this trailer hitch when I bought the van. It has many uses, but I have never used it.
The yellow circle highlights my WeBoost cell booster antenna. I think this was a marginal purchase as it was expensive yet only slightly useful. It can take me from being able to sporadically send a text message to being able to do so more consistently. However, other important tasks like loading web pages can still be impossible.
Another feature that I added “right away” was an external power port. It turns out that it is easier to run an extension through the sliding door. Additionally, I mostly boondock so I don’t have access to AC power much of the time. The port above the power connector is a water inlet that I had to add to have Violet classified as an RV. I used the port once to demonstrate that it worked and I have not used it since.
My wife loves having the front seat swivel. It is a relatively simple DIY project to re-mount the seat.

These are just a few of the modifications that I have made to Violet the campervan. It is my hope that it will help new van owners decide on some of the additions that they may want to make.



Adding A House Battery Powered Radio To A Camper Van.

One of the best parts of adventuring in a van is that you can camp anywhere, including isolated BLM and national forest land. Unfortunately, this often means you are boondocking in less than ideal cell coverage places. Even when using a cell signal booster, it is not uncommon for me to have a single bar, and that signal is only present when I’m seated in the van’s cab area.

Luckily, there is a fantastic fallback for information and entertainment- radio. I have never been in a location where I couldn’t receive multiple AM and FM stations. Of course, I have a car radio, but I don’t use it when the engine isn’t running as I have fallen asleep in the past while listening. I don’t need the hassle of waking up with a dead car battery 20 miles from the nearest town.

I converted my camper van in 2018, and my previous solution was to carry a portable radio with me. This option works great when used outside the vehicle, but reception is impossible inside the van’s signal-blocking metal cabin. 

I have left my cargo door open and placed my portable radio half in and half out of the van. At other times I have precariously perched my radio next to the driver’s side window to eke out a scratchy signal. Neither solution is ideal.

Yesterday I installed a better option, a secondary car radio that runs off of my house battery. High-end aftermarket car radios are expensive, but basic models are surprisingly cheap. Over the last few years, radios have been redesigned where almost all of their circuitry can be placed on a single IC chip. This has reduced their price, and it has also allowed fancy features to be built in at no additional cost. These features include large station storage presets, loudness compensation, equalization controls, and the ability to play MP3 files from a flash drive. Most of these inexpensive radios feature Bluetooth, so you can stream from your phone. Many also have a remote control option (either a little RC or a phone app).  

You can buy these radios for under thirty dollars. In addition, you will need to buy a second outside radio antenna. Small speakers complete the setup and can be repurposed or purchased. The photos below will outline my simple DIY process.

This is the inexpensive radio that I purchased on Amazon. It has Bluetooth and it also came with a little remote.
This Dual brand has good reviews and can be purchased for less than $25 from Walmart. It uses a phone app for a remote.
I liked this all-in-one solution from Amazon, as the speakers are included. It was suggested by someone on a car stereo forum. However, it only receives FM and I wanted a radio that could also receive AM.
You will also need an external antenna. There are many choices on Amazon, eBay, and
Lastly, you will need some speakers. These are small and inexpensive. They are 8 ohms and most car radios have a 4-ohm output. It is OK to use a speaker with a higher impedance, but your volume may be reduced. It will still be fine for most purposes. It is not OK to use a speaker that has a lower impedance than the rated output as this can overdrive the radio’s amplifier. You can also repurpose other home speakers if they fit into your design. Old rear channel surround speakers are small and may do the trick.
You could also use an inexpensive set of car speakers which are 4 ohms. You won’t get monster sound, just nice audio. If you go this route you will need to come up with some sort of a mount for the speakers.
Installing the antenna only involves using a drill with a hole saw. I’m always afraid to drill on my van so my friend, Tom did the drilling for me. Buy an antenna that has the coax attached to make your job easier. The length of coax will likely be long enough, if not you can buy a short extension.
The antenna fully attached. This antenna can be attached as a side or vertical mount depending on your needs. I was concerned with the height of the antenna, but it is a “rubber ducky” type and flexible.
I had this switch left over from a different project. It allows me to cut all power to the radio when desired. My radio pulls around 2 watts when off. When on it uses around 5 watts at moderate volume. If I’m conserving my house battery power I can eliminate the small 2-watt loss if desired with the switch. Any switch that will break the circuit will do. This is a DPST (double pole single throw) switch, but an SPST (single pole single throw) switch would also work. Since I use a Solar Generator I connected both the + and – to my fused break out-box (instead of connecting the negative to ground as you would do with a car battery).
I found these connectors on the Crutchfield website. There were very cheap and worked very well. However, you can use whatever method that you want when connecting wires to the radio’s pigtails.
As an aside, buy a multimeter and keep it in your van. I used it to make sure that all of my radio connections were solid and that I was delivering power to the radio. However, this is a device that has a million and one van/home uses. You can check for broken wires, battery strength, and so much more. Mine is pretty old (I know, it looks crusty) and probably cost around $10.
Here I’m connecting wires to one of the radio’s pigtails. This radio had a pigtail for audio and another one for power. Some radios may combine both functions with one pigtail, so read the manual that comes with the radio. When it comes to power, you will likely have one negative and two positive leads. One positive is for continuous power and the other is designed to be active only when the car’s ignition is on. The continuous power is there so that the radio can retain data like station presets. I just connected both positives together. When the power is switched off to the radio you will lose your presets, but that isn’t a big deal. If you have enough solar you can leave the power on to your system and set local stations. Note that I’m using those little Crutchfield connectors to attach my wire to the pigtail.
Here you can see the radio set up on the shelf above my bunk. I attached it with sticky pads and reinforced the system with bungee cords; it is staying in place well. However, you can attach your set-up any way that you choose. It was easy to run wires behind panels due to my Wayfarer buildout.
A close-up view. The system is very compact and sounds surprisingly good.
A quick demo. Yes, I’m lounging on my bunk… perfect, don’t you think!