Tagged: SCA

Experimenting with Broadcast FM RDS (TMC, RT+) and SCA Audio

A typical broadcast FM station can sometimes contain “hidden” subcarriers embedded within the main signal. The subcarriers contain data or audio services.

An example of a data subcarrier hidden within broadcast FM is the “Traffic Message Channel” (TMC). The TMC contains traffic data, and is used on GPS devices that advertise as having live traffic capabilities. TMC data is encrypted so that it can be sold, but is very easily broken. Another data service is RDS-RT+ data which transmits song information, for radios that can display it.

An example of a voice subcarrier (SCA/ACS) might be niche radio stations, such as ethnic stations, elevator music, music for doctors offices etc. Usually a specialized radio is required to receive a SCA channel. In a previous post we showed how a user was able to receive SCA on Windows.

Over on his blog Gough Lui has been investigating the broadcast FM subcarriers in his home town of Sydney, Australia. In his post he looks at TMC, RDS-RT+ and SCA subcarriers and explains a bit about what they are and how they work. He also goes on to receive and decode the subcarriers with an RTL-SDR, gr-rds and GNU Radio. While Gough doesn’t bother to decrypt the TMC service, he can still see when an event occurs and what the even was. Without decryption he just doesn’t know where the location on the event is. For SCA he wrote a GNU Radio program to extract the audio subcarrier and was able to decode audio from a local Indian station for migrants.

SCA GNU Radio Decoder
SCA GNU Radio Decoder

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#
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hF6nCtayKek