Category: Applications

Listening to SCA with HDSDR, SDR# and an RTL-SDR

In the USA and Canada a subcarrier called SCA (Subsidary Communications Authority) is used to add additional services to a broadcast FM signal. Some examples of the extra services provided are live financial stock telemetry, audio books for the blind, specialized audio radio programs for doctors etc and background music for supermarkets and stores. These SCA signals are modulated into standard broadcast FM radio signals, but require a special radio to receive them. Subcarrier signals can easily be spotted in the audio/baseband waterfall and spectrum plots available in most SDR software.

Over on the new RTL-SDR DX blog, the author (Jay Moore) has uploaded an article showing how to use an RTL-SDR dongle to listen to audio SCA signals. The process involves using HDSDR to receive the broadcast FM signal, then using Virtual Audio Cable to pipe the audio into SDR#, where it is then possible to tune to the audio SCA signal.

The same process could also be used to receive different subcarriers used in other countries such as Finland where a subcarrier is used to transmit DARC encoded bus stop sign telemetry.

SCA audio received via a combination of HDSDR and SDR#
SCA audio received via a combination of HDSDR and SDR#

RTL-SDR Panadapter Using Hardware Radio Receiver IF Stages

Over on YouTube user Jay Moore has uploaded a video explaining how to connect an RTL-SDR dongle to the IF stage of a hardware radio in order to create a panadapter. In the video Jay briefly explains how a radio with an IF stage works and then shows how he tapped into his Sansui 2000 hardware radio’s IF stage directly from the circuit board. The IF stage then connects to a ham-it-up upconverter which connects to the RTL-SDR.

By connecting the IF stage of a hardware radio to the RTL-SDR it is possible to use the hardware radio as the receiver while using the RTL-SDR to still maintain the benefits of a spectrum display. Most purpose built hardware radios will have better reception than the RTL-SDR.

Updates to the Power Line Noise Detector “Driveby” System

A few days ago we posted about Tim Havens “driveby” project, which is a RTL-SDR based system he developed to help create heatmaps of power line noise in his neighborhood. Upon doing further research, Tim discovered that the main source of power line interference was appearing at a frequency of 44.252 MHz. Then by using his driveby system to create a heatmap of his area at this frequency and also by using a hand held radio he was able to pinpoint a massive source of power line noise.

The noise appears to be coming from a faulty and unsafe power pole near a local school. He writes that the power poles primary ground line has been severed and that a wire from the AC line is simply dangling in the air, ready to be grabbed by school children.

Heatmap showing sources of powerline interference
Heatmap showing sources of powerline interference
The faulty power pole
The faulty power pole with dangling AC line
Severed grounding line
Severed grounding line

Measuring Frequency Deviation of an FM Transmitter with an RTL-SDR

Over on YouTube user KP4MD has uploaded a video showing how she uses an RTL-SDR together with SDR#, a program called Visual Analyzer and an AEA PK-232 Terminal Node Controller to measure the frequency deviation of a Yaesu FT-8800R Transceiver. She writes:

The SDR# receiver is tuned to 145.050 MHz and the bandwidth set to 20 kHz.

The deviation level of the 1200 Hz tone is increased until a null appeared on the carrier frequency.

This is called a Bessel Zero and occurs at various predicted modulation indices (2.4, 5.52, 8.66, etc).

The Modulation Index is defined as the peak frequency deviation divided by the modulation frequency.

This Bessel Zero occurred at a modulation index of 2.4 corresponding to a frequency deviation of ±2.88 kHz (2.4 x 1.2 kHz).

The oscilloscope indicates that a peak to peak amplitude of 54.3% corresponds to ±2.88 kHz deviation.

The 1200 Hz tone modulation is increased to yield a peak to peak amplitude of 66%.

This corresponds to the desired ±3.5 kHz frequency deviation.

New Oregon Scientific Temperature/Humidity Data Receiver Software for MacOS and RTL-SDR

Recently programmer Erik Larsen wrote in to us to let us know about a MacOS application he has been developing to receive temperature and humidity data from Oregon Scientific v2.1 sensors. Oregon Scientific manufactures popular electronic weather stations that transmit data from remote sensors wirelessly. Using an RTL-SDR and Eriks software it is possible to receive the weather station data on a Mac computer and display the data on a GUI. The software can be downloaded from the releases section on its GitHub page.

Note that there are also several Linux based Oregon Scientific decoders available including rtl-433m-sensor, rtl_osv21, and rtl-wx.

Oregon Weather Decoder
Oregon Weather Decoder

Receiving VOR Radio Navigation with an RTL-SDR and GNU Radio

Over on YouTube user hpux735 has uploaded a video where he explores the feasibility of receiving VOR radio navigation signals using GNU Radio and an RTL-SDR. VOR is an acronym for VHF Omni Directional Radio Range and is an older method of navigation used by aircraft which is quickly being made redundant due to GPS navigation. VOR uses two signals, one master omnidirectional signal and one rotating directional signal. By doing some calculations on the received phase of these two signals it is possible to determine the angle of the aircraft from the transmitter.

In the video hpux735 explains and discusses the VOR signal and also shows how to use these signals for navigation with an RTL-SDR and GNU Radio flowchart. To receive the VOR signal he uses an RTL-SDR to record the VOR signal while he drives around with a car. Then later he uses his GNU Radio program to generate a plot that shows when he is moving and in which direction.

hpux735 has also uploaded some supplemental material over on his blog. In the future he hopes to correlate his VOR results with GPS coordinates that he will take whilst actually flying around.

Compiling and using DSD 1.7 for D-STAR on Linux

Amateur Radio hobbyist George Smart has recently written a tutorial showing how to compile and install DSD v1.7 on a Linux computer in order to receive D-STAR digital voice. D-STAR is a digital voice protocol used by hams at a frequency of 145.670 MHz.

The tutorial shows the entire set up process from installing the required dependencies to running DSD 1.7 with GQRX by piping audio through UDP into DSD. He also shows how to run DSD 1.7 on a Raspberry Pi.

Note that DSD v1.7 also runs on Windows, and this previous post links to a precompiled Windows binary file.

GQRX Receiving D-STAR
GQRX Receiving D-STAR

Beaglebone Black FM/Internet Radio Combo Receiver using an RTL-SDR

Last year we missed this interesting project by Frederick Vandenbosch where he created a FM/internet radio combination receiver using a BeagleBone Black mini embedded PC and an RTL-SDR dongle.

The idea is that the system will receive FM radio through the RTL-SDR normally, but when reception is poor or unavailable you can switch to internet radio which is received through WiFi. The radio is controlled through an LCD screen attached to the BeagleBone Black.

Frederick used Linux on the BeagleBone and created a custom GUI that allows for easy tuning using rtl_fm as the RTL-SDR back end, setting channel presets and for switching between internet and live FM radio.

BeagleBone Blade FM/Internet Radio Combo Receiver
BeagleBone Blade FM/Internet Radio Combo Receiver