Software-Defined Radio


Receiving radio signals using a tuner dongle

While doodling around in YouTube, some videos bubbled up about SDR – Software Defined Radio. It’s an amazing topic. If I don’t screw up the explanation: Rather than a whole lot of radio receiver hardware that lets you pick up a transmission-at-a-time in a particular band that the radio’s designed to handle, an SDR receiver ($30) (in this case, a USB dongle) does some of the RF stuff, and the software (& hardware) in the computer does what the usual radio hardware does. And it adds a whole lot of flexibility. Here’s a pretty good introduction:

This kit is $28 and includes a few antenna combinations. I’ve put SDR# on my not-really-elaborate laptop (gotta follow the installation directions on this one, it’s not hard or complicated, but not being aware of some details will frustrate), and boom, it comes right up. There’s some exploration necessary to figure out what’s what, but the payoff comes quickly: Being able to see (spectrally) & hear all sorts of stuff in a wide band of freqs. For almost no money, really. And the spectrum available to even this cheapie dongle is far beyond what normal hardware-specific radios are capable of handling. Of course, you can always work on improving your antenna setup, and there are more elaborate (& expensive) radios, so there’s room to grow new capacities. For Hams, there are SDR transceivers, too. There are ways these things can provide broadcast TV reception, too. Even grabbing satellite weather images is possible if you want to chase that. It’s amazing, and cool too.

-- Wayne Ruffner 01/16/19

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