Connect An iPod To Your Beater's Theft-Deterring Radio With A Wired FM Modulator

The sub-$20 theft-proof stereo installation works pretty well, but let's say your local crackheads aren't desperate enough to bust your windows to steal a factory AM/FM radio, yet they will steal anything nicer? How will you listen to your MP3s?

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You can forget all about those wireless FM transmitters, because their weak-ass signal gets stepped on when you're driving in any region more populated than Antarctica. You don't want to run a cassette adapter in a factory tape deck, because intoxicant-seeking entrepreneurs can get 58 cents closer to their next rock simply by hurling a spark plug through your side glass and prying that deck out of your dash (and cassette adapters sound terrible, anyway). What you need, my tunage-deprived friend, is an FM modulator that pumps its signal directly into your radio's antenna input. Don't worry about breaking the bank, because they're dirt cheap!

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Some of you may remember my brother-in-law's well-worn-but-completely-functional '88 Toyota truck, which often parks in quasi-sketchy Oakland neighborhoods.

Illustration for article titled Connect An iPod To Your Beaters Theft-Deterring Radio With A Wired FM Modulator

Having already lost a half-dozen tape decks and CD players to thieves over the years, the truck now has a horrible-looking junkyard sound system that doesn't tempt even the most motivated baddies.

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Illustration for article titled Connect An iPod To Your Beaters Theft-Deterring Radio With A Wired FM Modulator

We decided on the Boss FM-MOD wired modulator, available for under $25 shipped on eBay. Sure, it's cheap Chinese crap, but it gets the job done and sounds fine.

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Illustration for article titled Connect An iPod To Your Beaters Theft-Deterring Radio With A Wired FM Modulator

We're looking at your standard plywood-and-wood-screw mounting system for a separate-radio-and-tape-deck setup from a junkyard mid-80s Subaru GL.

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Illustration for article titled Connect An iPod To Your Beaters Theft-Deterring Radio With A Wired FM Modulator

We'll need to get access to the radio's antenna input, so the mounting screws come out.

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Illustration for article titled Connect An iPod To Your Beaters Theft-Deterring Radio With A Wired FM Modulator

You need to decide which frequency will be used by the modulator. Since it feeds its signal straight into the radio via a cable, it should be able to override any FM stations. However, it makes sense to choose an empty frequency. Just flip the DIP switches according to the diagram; we're using 88.3 MHz.

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Illustration for article titled Connect An iPod To Your Beaters Theft-Deterring Radio With A Wired FM Modulator

If you're using an iPod or other device with a 3.5mm stereo headphone jack (i.e., damn near every MP3 player in the world), you'll need to pick up an adapter cable with dual RCA plugs on one end and a 3.5mm (aka 1/8") stereo plug on the other. These are readily available for cheap on eBay. Plug the RCA plugs into the corresponding jacks on the modulator.

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Illustration for article titled Connect An iPod To Your Beaters Theft-Deterring Radio With A Wired FM Modulator

The cable from the vehicle's antenna plugs into the modulator as well; this enables you to get radio reception when the modulator is turned off.

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Illustration for article titled Connect An iPod To Your Beaters Theft-Deterring Radio With A Wired FM Modulator

You'll need to install an on/off switch for the modulator, so that you'll still have the ability to listen to the radio. We drilled a hole for the switch, next to the parking brake.

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Illustration for article titled Connect An iPod To Your Beaters Theft-Deterring Radio With A Wired FM Modulator

Because so many thieves have sliced up the stereo wiring harness while making off with various audio components over the years, there's a cat's cradle of crazy field-expedient patches and jumpers behind the radio. How about pink notebook paper labels scotch-taped onto wires? Hey, it works!

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Illustration for article titled Connect An iPod To Your Beaters Theft-Deterring Radio With A Wired FM Modulator

For the modulator's power, you need to tap into a source of 12 volts that's powered up when the ignition switch is in the "ACC" or "IGN" positions. Not completely trusting in the old labels, I used a voltmeter to test for the appropriate wires. Here we see a nice solder octopus, prior to the application of many layers of black tape; good thing everything is fused!

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Illustration for article titled Connect An iPod To Your Beaters Theft-Deterring Radio With A Wired FM Modulator

The modulator comes with a low-quality switch, but I decided to grab a better one from my stash-o-electronics-junk. Power from the wiring harness goes to the switch and then to the modulator.

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Illustration for article titled Connect An iPod To Your Beaters Theft-Deterring Radio With A Wired FM Modulator

Before we start buttoning things up, let's test the setup. It's a little more challenging getting the exact frequency with a non-digital tuner, but the sound quality is great.

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Illustration for article titled Connect An iPod To Your Beaters Theft-Deterring Radio With A Wired FM Modulator

Back into the dash with the radio!

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Zip-ties hold the modulator in place, behind the radio.

Illustration for article titled Connect An iPod To Your Beaters Theft-Deterring Radio With A Wired FM Modulator
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Everything is back together and the system works fine. Total cost, including iPod Shuffle, junkyard radio, modulator, switch, and cable: under a hundred bucks.

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DISCUSSION

1991brougham-old
1991Brougham

How I solved the problem: Bought an Alpine stereo and parametric equalizer. That combo was professionally installed in the dash of my 1991 Brougham. Go ahead and see how much time the usual crackhead has to dig away for that unit, which is iPod-compatible. I can run the iPod in the glove box with the Alpine cord provided for that purpose and it keeps the old iPod charged up.

So let's say they finally do steal the Alpine deck and parametric equalizer. Is it still hopeless for me? Let's see, in the front dash speaker areas is a pair of Boston Acoustic 4x6 plate speakers. Good luck getting to those! In the back are a pair of Pioneer's top of the line Kevlar 6x9's and then the amp is in the trunk, nicely hidden behind a factory panel. Unless someone wants to steal the whole car and give themselves a private place with lots of time to dig all the gear out, it will be staying put. Should the stereo setup get stolen, I would just replace the head unit with whatever turns up as dirt cheap on Craigslist if I'm hard up and move on with da' tunes or buy an older Alpine with the same specs (this one is a 2007 model) on eBay for cheap.

Besides, what's an used aftermarket car stereo worth these days, especially for a thief trying to get money quickly? Heck, between Craigslist and Freecycle, a person can get so many material possessions for nada it's unbelieveable. Net access at the library is free and so are net-based email accounts. Get a Trac-Phone for a pittance, buy a $20 card once every 3 months and there's your phone. If a person wants goods to play the Sanford and Son Junk Game, this country so is overflowing with stuff for free that can find as much value if not more than used stolen car stereos...LOL! Want more money for your bad habits? Pick up cans and bottles if you live in a state with bottle deposits. Cash direct to you! Then keep an eye on the ground for real cash to show up. I've had as much as $35 come my way just from watching where I was walking!

Want to really make money? Beg for it. I've picked up people in the years I drove cab and they would fill my trunk with bags of groceries and have a thick wad of cash. These were genuine hobos doing this so if you look scummy and dirty, that's no handicap. Scoring $200+ a day plus a ton of food is better than stealing and the risk of jail time is a whole lot less. Remember folks, people beg because it WORKS!

In the USA, the streets are not paved with gold but they might as well be for all the money that floats around out there. Stealing is such a hassle when there is such a surplus of material goods and money to be had for those who want it. Heck, if you live in a state with medpot and you have a qualifying condition, you can even find sources of free weed! Abbie Hoffman wrote a book called "Steal This Book!". The idea of theft is so obsolete in these times. Just look at all the Stor-N-Locks people rent space at to store all their extra stuff. We're overflowing with goods even in the middle of a bad recession. Cash in on the cornucopia, literally. Some one some where wants to GIVE you Something. Pretty soon even the poorest of us can be inundated with more than they can use and we haven't even gotten to the nanotech replicator era.