How To Repair and Diagnose Problems with Your Imperial's Digital Radio 

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Tips and Trivia about the 1981 - 1983 Imperial radios:

They completely changed the radios on the 1982 models which was the last FS series year. In '81 the three styles were a digital face search/tune radio that had two vertical and two horizontal slides to the left of the face and 8 square buttons under the face, plus 8 more odd sized buttons under them.  It also remembers your favorite stations with the battery disconnected, at least for a month, so it must have a CMOS memory! Pretty exotic for 1981. No cassette player, though.

The others radios available were an analog face with cassette that had two slides to the left under the side-by-side control knobs and the other had an 8-track.

The 1982 Imperial sales brochure has 3 different radios available which also carried over thru 1983. The "electronically tuned" one had a cassette player. It's face has two rows of small buttons (8 total) to the left of an LED display and 7 larger ones at the bottom of the radio. Then there is a balance control slider under the left volume knob just above the seek and scan buttons. It says Quartz Lock Precision Series on the face. It was an early version of what would become the Infinity systems and the only radio available on the FS. The other two were a standard AM/FM 8-track with push button station buttons and the other had a 40 channel CB on it. 

Tips from Ed (1981):

A few weeks ago, I wrote looking for assistance in repairing my '81's dreadful Electronice Search Tuning Stereo or installing a modern stereo. I received many good references from members for possible repairs to my original radio as well as leads for possible wiring kits. Thank you all for your suggestions. After many weeks (actually, months) of procrastination, I chose to install a new stereo in my car. The problems I encountered included deciphering the complex wiring (which, just to exacerbate things, runs from the stereo to that awful Rear Amp before continuing on to the speakers, etc) and figuring out how to get the power antenna to operate.

Well, if any one is interested, I finally have some answers, arrived at through patient use of a Voltmeter and careful study of the Service Manual. Of course, the first problem in installing a modern, self-contained stereo is figuring out which wires go where!! In addition to the normally encountered four sets of speaker wires, the 12-volt continuous power supply, and the 12-volt switched power supply, you will find a wire that provides the dimming command to the display when the parking lights are turned on and an additional wire that provides variable voltage through the panel lamps rheostat for further dimming of the display. In addition you will need to attach the grounding strap to the new radio.

In an attempt to maintain some semblance of originality, I chose to install the stereo tape-deck that we removed from our '98 Dakota as it is of the correct double-din size and fit perfectly in the dash. I purchased a wiring harness kit at my Chrysler dealer to "ease" installation (HA!), and fortunately this radio accepted all of the power inputs mentioned above.

Yet I was still left with a power-antenna output from the new radio with no apparent place to hook it up to my old car!! Surprisingly, when I turned the ignition on, the antenna was resurrected from it's lengthy hiatus and rose to its once familiar task of providing signals to the radio. Only problem was, the radio wasn't turned on!! I was perplexed that this antenna somehow would rise and descend as the ignition was turned on and off even though I had not yet hooked up the power lead from the new radio. Again I studied the Service Manual to discover the obscure statement, " external electronic controller (which senses radio power lead current)..."

EUREKA! Suddenly it made sense: the Imperial's odd electronic controller does not get an input from the radio to tell the antenna when to go up and down, as on a modern car. Instead, the controller senses when power is being drawn by the radio to decide when to raise the antenna. All of the early '80's radios were either on or off, with no current draw when off. But most modern radios, like the one I installed, have some draw as soon as the ignition is turned on, in my case to power the clock display which is on even when the radio is off. And so, as soon as the ignition is turned on, the radio draws power to illuminate the clock, the "brilliant" controller assumes the radio is on, and raises the antenna.

I hope this info is of help to anyone considering changing out their 81-83 radios. I'm so glad to have music in my car again. 

More Information from Ed on the 1981 Imperial stereo wiring:

This applies to the 81. I have an '82 as well, but the stereo in that one works great (knock on simulated woodgrain appliqué!), and so I have never examined the wiring on that one, but I would hazard a guess that it is the same on 81-83. The wiring for the 81-83 is complicated by the fact that the wires run from the stereo to the rear amp and then on to the speakers. Since the rear amp is not really necessary with today's modern high-power systems and can in itself be troublesome, I suggest removing it as well as the original stereo from the car. (I've stored mine for safekeeping until I find someone who actually knows how to repair them.) And speaking of high-power systems, you'll probably need to replace the front (and possibly rear) speakers, even if they've not already turned to dust, as mine had. Now on to the wiring. I cut the wires just prior (on the car side) to the harness connectors. You will find a four-wire connector, a six-wire connector (with only five wires and one blank), a red two-wire connector, a white two-wire connector, a grounding strap, and of course an antenna lead. The color-coding is as follows:


DARK GREEN: Left Front Speaker +

BLACK *: Left Front Speaker -

VIOLET: Right Front Speaker +

BLACK *: Right Front Speaker -

BROWN w/ YELLOW: Left Rear Speaker +

DARK BLUE w/ WHITE**: Right Rear Speaker +

*Note that the two black wires are joined to a single point in the original connector; you will need to check each one with a nine-volt battery to determine which black wire goes left and which goes right: Touch one terminal of the nine-volt battery with the dark green wire and the other terminal with one of the black wires. If the left front speaker is activated (it will “pop”), you’ve found the correct black wire for left front negative; if not, try the other black wire, and it should cause the speaker to pop (this is not harmful to the speakers).

**Note that Chrysler called this wire “dark blue with white tracer” in the service manual, but mine actually looked more “medium blue with a light blue tracer.”


DARK BLUE w/ RED: Right Rear Speaker -

BROWN w/ RED: Left Rear Speaker -

LIGHT BLUE: Rear Amp Switch (Do not utilize with new stereo)

LIGHT GREEN w/ RED: Rear Amp Switch (Do not utilize with new stereo)


RED w/ WHITE: Continuous 12-volt (for stereo memory)

YELLOW w/ BROWN Parking Lamp Feed (dims display when lights on)


BLACK w/ RED: Ignition Switch 12-volt (on when key on/acc.)

ORANGE: Panel Lamps Dimmer (further dimming of display with panel lamps rheostat)

GROUNDING STRAP: Attach to appropriate point on new radio.

ANTENNA LEAD: Don’t forget to hook it up, too!!

That’s all there is to it. As I mentioned previously, if your new stereo has an electrical draw item, like a continuously-displayed clock, the power antenna will rise as soon as the ignition is turned on, regardless of if you have the stereo turned on or off. This is because the antenna electronic controller senses draw on the power lead (the black w/ red wire) and “thinks” the stereo is on, thus raising the antenna. I feel that this is perfectly acceptable, and so left it wired thusly. If you choose, you might want to connect the stereo’s power lead to a different 12-volt switched lead at the fuse box and then hook up a draw-switch (one with a light or the like) to the black w/ red power lead to raise the antenna at your command. Also note that I cut the wires prior to the connectors, on the car side. Sometimes the colors will vary across a connector, and so if you cut them elsewhere, you may encounter different color variations. I hope that helps anyone else who is a fan of the 81-83’s.

Correction by Ed:

Upon operating the new stereo, I’ve found that the original power supply line did not provide enough power to the stereo, causing the display to dim with each bass “boom” (high amplifier draw) and the tape deck to repeatedly kick off during play. Thus, I have rerouted some of the wiring as follows: Route the new stereo’s 12-VOLT IGNITION-SWITCHED LINE to a tap on FUSE BLOCK CAVITY # 14. This was the fuse used for the rear amp (only) and so was now not providing power to any accessories. I’ve used an in-line ATO-style fuse connector with a 10-AMP fuse. (Since the stereo I’ve installed is out of a ’98 Dodge Dakota, I’ve used the same rating of fuse that is used in the truck by Dodge on that circuit, 10-amps, which powers only the stereo on the truck.) NOW, since the original equipment power-supply line (BLACK w/ RED) is not powering anything, the power antenna controller will not recognize that the stereo is on and will not raise the antenna. Thus this line must be wired to an alternate switch. I chose to use the original-equipment “REAR AMP” switch, since it was not being used anymore and to maintain an originality appearance, reducing the clutter of extra “aftermarket” switches. I’ve wired as follows:

1. Cut the wiring to the “REAR AMP” switch between the switch and the connector and wrap wires individually with electrical tape (some are still powered with ignition on).
2. Connect the car’s original 12-volt power-supply ignition-switched line (BLACK w/ RED) to the RED wire on the “REAR AMP” switch wiring harness (I’ve used a 3-amp AGC-style in-line fuse to connect them).
3. Connect a jumper line to the BLACK wire on the “REAR AMP” switch wiring harness and connect it to the STERO GROUNDING STRAP.
4. Wrap the BLUE wire coming from the “REAR AMP” switch with electrical tape (Just for kicks; I don’t think this line is powered now.)
5. Reinstall “REAR AMP” switch in instrument panel. NOW the “REAR AMP” switch may be used as a “power antenna” switch. Press it to illuminate the LED, and it will cause the antenna to rise. Press again (or turn off ignition,) and the antenna will retract!

Question from Dave (1981):

I am attempting to remove radio from my 1981 Imperial... Must be original equipment because it's held in place by two tamper-resistant screws. The heads are tapered, with three slots, between 7 and 8 mm wide. They are not torx, and have been very resistant to my attempts to tamper with Dremel, vise grip, hammer and awl, etc. Local dealer says they do not have socket in their tool box, and haven't had luck at Napa, Radio Shack.

Does anyone have any ideas on a supplier for such a socket, or alternative means of removal?


From Dick:

Snap-on tools sells the special socket for this theft resistant screw. Or, if you are friendly with your local Chrysler dealer's service manager, you could perhaps get him to have someone loosen the screws for you. You're right, these are the original screws. They are hard as the hubs of hell, so almost any tool you try to grab them with will slip right off, as you've no doubt learned

From Charlie:

You might also try a distributor of nuts, bolts, etc. I used to use these in installing security systems. Bought screws and drivers from "Bolts America".

Question from Tony (1981):

My 1981 Imperial has the basic radio in it and I have picked up a radio cassette unit from a 1983 Imperial. Today my friend and I took the radio out of my 1981 and it had two antennas wires on it and the 1983 only had one.. When we tried to get the 1983 radio to work there was severe noise and whining along with the music, also the cassette player did not work. After looking at the wiring we noticed there are more wires on the 1983 unit than the 1981. Does anyone have advice or is it not worth the trouble of changing ? The 1983 unit was working before it was taken out.


From Bob:

The '83 radio has to have a different rear speaker amplifier which is located the the center cavity of the upper dash panel. I changed my '81 to an '83 radio and it worked fine.

From Dave:

Don't bother trying to install the '83 into the '81 if the '83 had the premium sound system with the rear amp, there are too many wires to mess with to make it practical. Any standard Chrysler radio from the early 80's to 2000, not the Infinity systems, should just plug into your '81 and you can get them off of e-bay pretty cheap. I just installed one of these radios in my '81 and it came out of my '94 Dakota. The only difference for me was my early production model car's wiring did not match the schematic, it now matches my 94 Dakota. I did not re-use the amp so if anyone would like it let me know, I don't know if it works as the original radio did not which is why I replaced it. By the way I now use the amp switch to raise and lower the antennae, I just have to remember to lower it when I get out of the car.

From Roger:

Not sure what you mean by "basic radio;" AFAIK there were four radios available in '81, AM/FM/8 track, AM/FM/cassette, AM/FM electronic search tune and AM/FM/CB. IMHO the electronic search tune is the most modern; though it only has a radio it does have 10 key electronic control. Much better than an arrow pulled by a string.

A power amplifier for the premium rear speakers was included, which is about the size of a TV remote and is mounted under the dash where a single front speaker might be.

With the schematics there's no reason you can't retrofit any number of Chrysler radios to the Imp.

Question from Phil (1982):

Chrysler made radios with two wiring configurations in the '80's... My '82 is wired for two radio plugs: a rectangular six pin and a separate two pin connector. The car is also equipped with the "Audio Power Amplifer" that the six pin connector mates with.

The radio I want to put in the Imperial is an electronically tuned premium radio form an '87 Lebaron. This radio has the more familiar connectors: a straight six pin and a straight seven pin. Most of the extra wires are separate grounds for each speaker.

My '86 Service Manual shows a wiring diagram connecting the 6/7 configuration radio to the old power amp. The only difference is the jumpering of two of the speaker connections outside the power amp while on the '82 those connections are shown going inside the power amp.

This question is: Can I wire the '87 radio as shown in the manual mating it to the old power amp or should I bypass the power amp and run ground wires to each speaker?

Reply from Brad:

Do not connect the ground wires on a floating ground system. (separate ground wires for each speaker = floating ground. speakers grounded to car body = common ground).

Question from Larry (1982):

The tape player in my '82 is not working. I think the drive belt is the problem. It seams to work when I operate the wheels by hand power instead of belt power. I have to go to town tomorrow to the dentist-I always liked to go the dentist. Ha Ha I found a Electronic Service center in town, the man said he thinks he would have a belt that would fit.

Reply from Dan:

I had the same problem with my '83 tape deck. The belt that turns the capstan (the tape drive pin) also works the tape loading mechanism. It is probably stretched out after sitting unused for a long time. Replacement belts are still available at any larger audio repair place. I replaced mine without too much trouble. Just take your time and you can do it.

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