Rubicon Shawn hardwires a hidden 50W GMRS radio into his Gladiator and gets game changing long-range trail communications!
I travel solo quite a bit on trails where the best cell signal I can get is spotty or — more often — nonexistent. As I have learned over the years from walking out of places that my 4x4s refused to leave under their own power, there is NOTHING more important on the trail than good communication.
Back in the day, this meant learning the ins and outs of CB radio tech as that was the “radio of choice” of off-roaders, truckers, and guys in red shirts who wore cowboy hats and drove black Trans Ams. But the times are a-changin’, and technology as finally evolved to a newer and better way of providing communication that doesn’t involve expensive licenses and unnecessarily complicated FCC tests.
More and more off-road clubs and organized runs are using GMRS, and even Jeep Jamboree has moved on to this newer and more accessible technology.
I’ve been running GMRS handhelds for a while now, and picked up a $35 license that is good for 10 years for my whole extended family as soon as it became available. What I really wanted, though, was a higher wattage radio that didn’t required programming, and that would work with repeaters, so I had a greater communications reach. I also wanted clarity.
Enter Midland with their incredible MXT series. The new MXT575 offers maximum-wattage GMRS radios that are dead-simple to operate for the average radio guy like myself. And I can do it all one-handed!
What is GMRS?
GMRS - or “General Mobile Radio Service” - is a FCC regulated FM UHF radio service that runs on frequencies between 462 and 467 megahertz. It was designed from the get-go to use “channels” - like the way CB radio does — for short-distance, two-way voice communications as well as data messaging that can include text messages and GPS location information.
Like our classic citizen’s band or “CB” radio, GMRS has numbered channels - a total of 30 - which gives the service similar functionality to the simple low-powered Family Radio Service (FRS) handheld radios sold in blister packs at most sporting goods stores. While the GMRS and FRS radios share channels 1 through 22, the GMRS power and bandwidth is more than double that of the FRS handhelds.
Unlike our traditional CB radios, GMRS uses newer technology, including the ability to access repeaters, and there are fewer limitations. The part I like the most is that with the higher frequency and greater power output of the GRMS radio it’s producing a reliable 50-watt signal that is up to 10 times stronger than the CB’s measly 4 watt maximum. My Midland MXT575 puts out a cleaner signal that travels much further than my old CB.
The 30 numbered GMRS channels make for very user-friendly and reliable trail communications technology. Channels 1 to 7 are limited to a maximum effective radiated power (ERP) of 5 watts, channels 8 to 14 are limited to a maximum of .5 watts ERP, and channels 15 through 22 (plus eight additional repeater channels) can run at a maximum ERP of 50 watts. The “maximum” part of the description is for base stations or vehicle mounted mobile radios like the MXT575. Handheld radios are generally limited to a 5-watt output.
While using GMRS does require a license (a NO TEST, $35 license), it is good for 10 years and covers the licensee AND their immediate family members.
About the Midland MXT575 Radio
I have been waiting for this radio to come out for quite a while. This newest generation of Midland GMRS radio has awesome specs, including full power, repeater capability (with split tones), NOAA Weather Radio, and they place well with FRS and GMRS handheld radios.
Now, having a Jeep Gladiator means I’m limited on interior space. Mounting anything inside the cab is like playing the hardest level on a 3D Tetris game upside down with your head virtually inside the dashboard. So, I really like how compact the MXT575 brain is (with a footprint of 1.5" height x 5.5" width x 7.3" depth). The handheld microphone has all the radio controls fully integrated into a very familiar Midland unit that connects to the brain with a coiled CAT-5 style connector that allows for an extension cable. The unit even comes with an external MXTA51 antenna that attaches through an NMO connector (with plenty of cable) to a magnetic plate you put on a flat panel on your vehicle.
What’s in the Box? Everything you need to install the unit; it’s practically plug and play (with a minimum of wire fishing through the firewall):
Midland MXT575 Specifications:
My DIY Installation
I’ve got a Jeep Gladiator with the 3.6 Pentastar and an automatic transmission. While there’s a minimal amount of space to install the radio inside the dashboard, there’s a HUGE plastic plug on the driver’s side that allows for easy wire pass-through and greatly simplifies installation.
Before just grabbing a power drill and digging into the Jeep, I did a bit of research - reading the install guide and spending some time on YouTube with guys that had previously installed this same or a similar unit.
Thankfully, this isn’t really a difficult install. Even I can do it!
There are, basically, three parts to be installed: the base unit, the antenna, and the microphone. In my particular Gladiator (a Sport S - and I’d be remiss if I didn’t say I had Max Tow, because for some reason important for all Sport S owners with Max Tow to point out that they have Max Tow), there’s an empty space behind the panel below the steering wheel which looked like a good fit for the radio unit, and I knew that I wanted the microphone to attach to the 20mm ball on the passenger side grab bar. The only issue with the newer JKs, JLs, and JTs is that they have a whole lot of aluminum and plastic (if you’ve got the hard top, which I do), so mounting a magnetic base was a non-starter.
Since the magnetic base wasn’t going to work for me, I did some research, and watched a few YouTube videos. The best alternative was from Brad Kowitz of TrailRecon who used a lip mount, 2-axis adjustable antenna mount to fit over the edge of his hood on his Bronco and on his JK Rubicon.
Ghost antenna installed on 2-axis antenna mount.
Because I didn’t want too much in the way of antenna wire dangling over my battery, I fit the antenna mount to the plastic panel at the base of the A-pillar and ran the antenna wire inside the cowl piece to the driver’s side where it could drop down through the plastic plug into the vehicle. What this means is that I don’t have a huge ground plane for the antenna.
I wanted to stay with Midland for the antenna, so I picked up one of their MXTA25 3db gain ghost antennas and installed it. While I like the way it looks and the range it picks up, it looks like a small black grab handle so I’m somewhat concerned that someone may use it as such. We’ll see…
I wanted the microphone on the passenger side so it could mount to the 20mm ball on the grab handle, so I had to run a CAT5E extension cable across the cabin. This, as it turns out, was the hardest part of the installation because I had to thread the cable through the dash, under the center console, and drill a hole in the console’s plastic.
The plug mounted on passenger side of center console.
I found a 2m extension with a snap-in female connector that fit the bill and installed it on the passenger side of the center console. The microphone plugged right in.
Bulletpoint mounting arm with Midland Mic mount.
I used a 1” long carbon fiber Bulletpoint Solutions mounting arm (with the ends on it, it’s about 3” in overall length) to attach the Midland mic holder, which is held in place to a 20mm ball via double-sided tape.
The MXT575 power cable plugs into the back of the radio, and the power comes from the battery. There’s no cigarette lighter option; the ends of the power cable have loops to attach them to the vehicle’s battery posts.
I ran the power cable from the battery across the top edge of the firewall, and dropped it through the plastic plug into the vehicle.
Radio mounted under steering wheel.
The spot that I mounted the radio wasn’t quite wide enough for the radio bracket, so I opted for Plan B, which was to attach it using hook and loop tape (“velcro” is a brand name for this, and I’ve got a few hundred feet of this tape with industrial-strength adhesive on the backside!) after removing the radio’s bracket. It is solidly mounted and won’t come loose unless I give it a good tug.
Radio powered on first time!
After testing the radio to ensure there was power, I buttoned everything up.
My real-world testing so far has been a bit limited. With the installation complete and everything buttoned up, I’ve left my son at home with a handheld unit and went off driving out of the neighborhood, down the freeway a bit, and onto some fire roads which put a hill or two between us.
I could hear him clearly, but eventually I was out of his transmission range. He said he could hear me the whole the time.
I did some scanning and found others out on the trail who were probably a good 20 miles away. We did some radio checks and could hear each other’s transmissions clearly — and I made a few new friends out on the trail who I haven’t met in person yet! I can’t wait to give this unit a real field test at some of the upcoming Cal4Wheel events in the mountains and deserts to see how well the radio handles great distances and obstructions.
I’m thrilled with the Midland MXT575. The broadcast power this unit puts out - even with a ghost antenna mounted low and close to the body without a large ground plane - is nothing short of amazing. I’m getting clear signal and clarity from GMRS users miles away. I’m also thrilled with the ease of installation and the install options for the mic that allow me to keep it within easy reach but disconnect and store it in seconds.
For the vast majority of off-roaders, overlanders, adventurers and people who are just ready to move on from CBs, GMRS radios are a great option.
Midland’s MXT575 is a compact unit that can be mounted in a variety of places, and it comes as a complete kit - it’s practically perfect right out of the box! The simple installation, the detailed user manual (that is also really small for us older folks with glasses), and the plug-and-play practicality makes this a winner. I’m very happy with the radio and will be a Midland guy for life!
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