Software Defined Radio (SDR)

If you don’t have one of the latest and greatest expensive scanners, you will struggle to listen to a lot of transmissions. While there is still a lot of Analogue transmissions today, even a lot still on AM especially when it comes to Aviation, however most have gone to digital.

There are several reasons for this, but put simply, digital seems to have a longer range, is clearer and you can do a lot more using just the one frequency.

For the hobbyist, to make matters hard, there are many digital modes.  P25, DMR, NXDM are just a few.  Some of these are popular, and some are not.  Then within these digital modes are different ways of using them.  For example, DMR can have T1, T2 or higher, where T stands for Tier.  What this is the radio will do one micro second for T1, then switch to T2 for the next micro second.  Effectively you can have two different conversations on the same frequency, and although every second micro second is lost, to the user you wouldn’t know. This is just one example of DMR.  You can also transmit text messages, your location and so on, all behind the user that is talking and on the one frequency.  So instead of needing to pay for 2 frequencies for two channels, you can have two talk groups on the one frequency.

And this is just the start.  It is clear my old scanner won’t cope with this at all.

However, you can do it all at minimal cost on your PC.  While your PC isn’t as portable as your scanner, it is a lot cheaper alternative and give you an idea on what you can here.

It is a bit fiddly though, and can take a while to setup.  One tick box wrong can silence everything.

Here is what I did, however there are many options, longer than your arm, so do what you think is best for your situation.

When Digital TV came in, a lot of people had trouble receiving it, and additional repeater stations had to be installed along with a lot of home TV antenna’s being upgraded.  So, whatever you do, make sure your antenna isn’t letting you down.  You can try what you have first if you want, but if it doesn’t work, have a think if you need to upgrade your antenna.

I downloaded AirSpy, a program where you can tune in the frequency and add a lot of plugins if you want to.  While this program is rather technical and can be hard for the first-time user, after using it a little while I think it is very well set out.  You can see this program in the picture below where I have the number 1 in red on it. I recommend you download the Community Package with Plugins. If you want some tips on how to get going, I recommend going to this page that has an easy step by step setup guide. Remember, there are so many options regarding this software so try not to get overwhelmed. Just look at what you need to, for example, don’t worry at this stage about tracking aircrafts – a good project for tomorrow!

The next step is to buy a SDR.  This can cost almost as much or as little as you want.  An entry one can cost somewhere between $30 and $50 Australian dollars.  However, I recommend you buy it via the AirSpy store, as there have been some imitations out there.  This is where I got mine from if that helps you. However there are heaps of other options available on this page also. Before it arrives however, you can use the AirSpy software to tap into other shared SDR users that share their devices over the internet.  There may be one close to you.  This post isn’t about this though or the detail of setting all this up, as it will go on for to long.  It is more about what you can do fairly easily.

An example of my interface. 1 = Airspy screen, 2 = wave, 3 = Dos screen, 4 = Decode box, 5 = Talk Groups

Once you get your dongle, plug in your dongle. Do not install any of the software that it came with (if any), and ensure that you wait a few seconds for plug and play to finish attempting to install the dongle (it will either fail or install Windows DVB-T TV drivers). If you’ve already installed the DVB-T drivers that came on the CD bundled with some dongles, uninstall them first. If you got the same dongle as I did, this is what I did to get it going:

In the folder where you extracted the sdrsharp files find the file called zadig.exe. Right click this file and select “Run as administrator”.

In Zadig, go to “Options->List All Devices” and make sure this option is checked. If you are using Windows 10, in some cases you may need to also uncheck “Ignore Hubs or Composite Parents”.

Once running Zidgig, select “Bulk-In, Interface (Interface 0)” from the drop down list. Note on some PCs you may see something like RTL2832UHIDIR or RTL2832U instead of the bulk in interface. This is also a valid selection. Do not select “USB Receiver (Interface 0) or Interface 1” or anything else or you will overwrite that driver! Double check that USB ID shows “0BDA 2838 00” as this indicates that the dongle is selected.

We need to install the WinUSB driver, so also ensure that WinUSB is selected in the box after the arrow next to where it says Driver (this is the default selection). – Note that there has been some confusion for a few people over this step. The goal is to install the WinUSB driver. So to be clear, the box to the left of the arrow shows the currently installed driver, whereas the box to the right of the arrow shows the driver that will be installed in the next step. The first time you open zadig the box on the left will show either ‘None’, or the default DVB-T drivers installed by Windows (RTL2832UUSB), depending on your Windows configuration and version.

Click Replace Driver. On some PC’s you might get a warning that the publisher cannot be verified, but just accept it by clicking on “Install this driver software anyway”. This will install the drivers necessary to run the dongle as a software defined radio. Note that you may need to run zadig.exe again if you move the dongle to another USB port, or want to use two or more dongles together.

Open SDRSharp.exe and set the “Source” drop down box to ‘RTL-SDR (USB)’. This “Source” tab is on the top left. (Note that the first time you do this you may get a smart screen message indicating that Windows has protected your PC, this is a false alarm. Simply click on “more info” and then “run anyway”).

Press the Play button (the right facing triangle). Your RTL-SDR software radio should now be set up and ready to use! If everything has worked you should be able to start tuning to frequencies.

Important! Don’t forget to also adjust the RF gain settings by pressing the Configure button (looks like a cog) up the top next to the Play button. By default the RF gain is set at zero. A gain of zero will probably receive nothing but very strong broadcast FM – increase the gain until you start seeing other signals.

Decode Digital Signals using DSD Plus

So now your on the air, you can take it to the next level now and decode the digital signals you haven’t been able to in the past.

Here’s what you are going to need:

Uncompressed DSDPlus and DSDPlusDLLs. Copy the DLLs into the extracted DSDPlus folder. Now all the DSD Plus files are in the same folder.

Then extract DSD, then copy SDRSharp.DSD.dll into the Sdrsharp folder. Copy the text in the text file and add it to the plugins.xml file in the Sharsharp folder.

Extract VBCable. Find the setup file (use x64 if you have that pc) and run the file as administrator. Then install driver. You will have to reboot afterwards.

Then have a look from 5:58 in the video below and do the following.

After that, open SDR Sharp.

Go to Audio, and for the output, select cable input – this will pump the audio from the SDR to the Virtual cable input.

From DSD interface, select cable imput here. This will mean the audio from the SDR now goes down the Virtual Cable to the DSD software. Select configure in the DSD interface and change the input audio device number to the input of AirSpy and not something else. Once you have done this, test by changing frequency or pressing the stop button, the blue wave box (number 2 in the above picture) should stop.

If you are not sure what numbers to use, the dos screen that opens when you start DSD has the numbers of input and output devices. Make sure you set this correctly else your input will not work, or you output will give you no sound. Once you have set it correctly, press Create Command Line to update.

On the Decoder Options tab, you can leave it at Auto Detect, but if you know what it is, then you can manually select the mode you want. Once you select the mode you want, press Create command line then ok so the settings get updated.

Tune into the correct frequency that has the digital transmission, then enable aux audio output. In DSD Interface, press enable Aux Audio Output.

Once on a digital frequency, press Start DSD. It then opens a dos screen, this will tell you where the audio output will be, eg speakers. Audio input device will be where you selected on DSD plus, which is the virtual cable.

If it all works, you should hear slot 1 in your left speaker, and slot 2 in your right speaker. If not, check you are on a frequency that has a transmission. Then the graph (2 above) is moving (if not your audio to DSD isn’t getting there), then the dos screen should have lots of text running (if not it may not be a digital transmission).


If your still struggling getting this set up, try the following web site: SDR Users Guide.

There are heaps of more information I could post here, but here are some of the plugins I recommend:

Plugins

Shuttle Plugin

Scanner Frequency – here is a video on this plugin.

DSD Plus – as mentioned above. Here is another video to look at.


Further Reading

Enjoyed that? Please add your comments below or let us know how you went. I hope it was useful. Remember to subscribe so you don’t miss out on our future posts. Here are some other similar articles you may enjoy:

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BlueDV Windows 10 GD-77

I found it hard to find useful information on how to run the OpenGD-77 hotpot mode with Windows 10. At the time of writing this, there is a lot about this topic using a pistar and even android or ISO, but not much with Windows 10. This is my experence with BlueDV and Open GD-77 using a Windows 10 PC.

Someone once asked me after reading this page, why would you want to do this? So I have added this paragraph to try and explain. One reason is to extend your hotspot range. For example, if you use a normal regular hotspot, it will only have a small range around or in the house. If you want to go for a walk or dig in the garden, you either have to take a battery pack to plug your hotspot in and your mobile plus your radio. This is something I have done many time, especially while camping and in outback Australia – I have added a photo of it below. However if you have a spare digital radio, then you can plug in your GD77 into an external antenna and via BlueDV as explained below, and then almost run your own 5W repeater into the talk group you want. I have done this and been able to walk several kms from home and still have full access yet only taking my GD77 radio with me. The other reason you can do this is because you can. To make your own repeater is a bit of fun.

Hotspot with battery pack and mobile phone on a park bench.

Before you read on, it should be noted that the Open GD-77 firmware and software is changing all the time, so some of the steps below may change. I will do my best to keep this page up to date, however please message me or leave a comment if you have any suggestions.

First install the Open GD-77 firmware and comm driver. There are instructions on my other post here.

Then once complete, make sure your GD77 is plugged into your USB on your PC. Then type in Device manager in the Windows 10 search box to open the Device Manager. Go to Ports and there you should see OpenGD77 followed by a COM number. If you do not, then you need to install the Comm Driver again. Take note of this Com number.

Now open the GD-77 CPS Community Edition and once loaded make sure it has an Extras menu between the View and Language menus. Click on the Extras menu and select OpenGD77 support. Click on Read codeplug and make sure that works. Obviously you need the radio plugged in and turned on to do this.

Now download the latest BlueDV install file from the following web site. Make sure you select the Windows version. There may be beta versions available if you want to try them.

Download and then install the msi file inside the zip file.

Keep the radio plugged into the USB port on your PC. Turn on the radio and press the green button to go into the OpenGD77 menu. Scroll down to options and then go up to Hotspot and when on hotspot press the right button until it changes to BlueDv. Press the green button to save.

Next open BlueDV and once opened, click on Menu then Setup. Put in your callsign, then change the serial port radio to the Com port noted earlier. Tick on RX/TX Colors, enter in the Frequency you wish to use, enter your DMR ID in both boxes, then select the Brandmeister DMR Master server you want to connect to and put in your password. Select Save to save these settings and close the setup box.

Now turn on Serial (top left under menu) by pressing the slide switch to the left, and DMR in the BlueDV interface. If you can not turn on DMR then you have the same problem I did, then you have not turned your radio on correctly or turned the hotspot mode on. If you have not turned on the hotspot, see two paragraphs above. Then, make sure the radio is in VFO mode by pressing the red button, you should see two lines of frequencies. Make sure they are both the frequency you are using in BlueDV. Turn your radio off, connect the cable and plug it into the PC, then hold down the small black button above the blue button and PTT button, and while holding the button, turn the radio on. The radio should say Hotspot along the top of the screen.

It should now work. Adjust your power level on this radio and plug into a nice antenna, then you can use another DMR radio on the same frequency and you now have your own hotspot that will cover an area that your GD77 will cover.

If you put in the DStar or Fusion settings, you can cross mode across to these networks also if you use the latest BlueDV version.

For more information, here is a video I found that got me going with this project. If you look at this video from 6:34 you can see how to do it without BlueDV and using MMDVMHost instead.

I hope you have found this useful. Please see below some other similar articles I have written that might be of interest. Please leave me some feedback if this has been of some help.

Australian DMR Repeaters

There are several DMR networks around the world, and more and more start all the time. The Australian DMR network currently covers the entire country and is for Australian residents only.

It can often be hard to find which DMR repeaters are online, offline and where they are, especially if you travel a bit like me.

Here is a few links that may be of some use. Please let me know if these links no longer work.

A map of all DMR repeaters around Australia is available here.

If you want to check the status of these above repeaters, have a look at this page. It shows which ones are currently online, or offline.

Online repeater map is a great page showing all repeaters around Australia. It is well worth the look at if you are traveling or are going to be in Australia. https://www.onlinerepeatermap.com/

Another way is via the DMR database. If you put the start of the repeater call sign in the middle repeater section it will list the repeaters in your area. For example, all repeaters in my area start with VK3, so I put in VK3 in the middle callsign box and selected begins with and got a list of registered repeaters. This will work all over the world. https://www.radioid.net/database/search#!

Further Reading

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Amateur Radio Nets

Below is a list of Radio nets we have gathered from web pages around the world, as well as friends etc.

Clearly nets change all the time, so please let me know if there is anything you notice as potentially being wrong, needing to be updated, not clear of if you would like to add one you know.

You can then sync this calendar to your device so you have all the nets available just by clicking on the Add to Google Calendar button down the bottom. It will update as we are notified of changes.

I suggest you click on the weekly or daily view of the calendar below to see it correctly.

If you found something missing, or incorrect, or just have some suggestions, please send us a message via the form below. It will be great to hear from you.

While you are here, there is lots of other useful information on this site:

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