Radio Receiver or Art? Why not Both?

We’ve heard it said before that you should build things twice. Once to learn how to build it and the second time to build it right. [AA7EE] must agree. He was happy with his homebrew regenerative receiver that he called Sproutie. But he also wanted to build one more and use what he learned to make an even better receiver. The Sproutie Mark II was born.

This isn’t some rip off of an old P-Box kit either. [AA7EE] used a four-device RF stage with FET isolation back to the antenna and a regulated power supply. Plug in coils allow reception on multiple bands ranging from about 3 to 13 MHz. There’s an audio stage with multiple selectable audio filters, and–the best part–a National HRO tuning dial that is a work of art all by itself.

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Arduino Masters Ham Radio Digital Mode

[jmilldrum] really gets a lot of use out of his Si5351A breakout board. He’s a ham [NT7S], and the Si5351A can generate multiple square waves ranging from 8 kHz to 160 MHz, so it only stands to reason that it is going to be a useful tool for any RF hacker. His most recent exploit is to use the I2C-controllable chip to implement a Fast Simple QSO (FSQ) beacon with an Arduino.

FSQ is a relatively new digital mode that uses a form of low rate FSK to send text and images in a way that is robust under difficult RF propagation. There are 32 different tones used for symbols so common characters only require a single tone. No character takes more than two tones.

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Steal This Ham Radio (Technology)

Although I see a lot of wireless projects, I’m always surprised at the lack of diversity in the radio portions of them. I’m a ham radio operator (WD5GNR; I was licensed in 1977) and hams use a variety of radio techniques. If you think hams just use Morse code and voice communications, you are thinking of your grandfather’s ham radio. Modern hams have gone digital and communicate via satellites, video, and many different digital techniques that could easily have applicability to different wireless projects.

Of course, Morse code may have been one of the first digital modes. But hams have used teletype, FAX, and other digital modes for years. Now with PCs and soundcards in common use, hams have been on the forefront of devising sophisticated digital radio techniques.

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Hams Talk Digital

Morse code qualifies as a digital mode, although organic brains are somewhat better at copying it than electronic ones. Ham radio operators that did “phone” (ham-talk for voice) started out with AM modulation. Sometime after World War II, there was widespread adoption of single side band or SSB. SSB takes up less bandwidth and is more reliable than AM modulation. On the digital side, hams turned to different and more sophisticated digital transmission types with computers pushing bandwidth down and reliability up. However, a recent trend has been to encode voice over ham radio–sort of VoIP with radio instead of Ethernet–using an open source program called freedv.

[AA6E] made a very informative video where he carries on a QSO (a conversation) with a distant station using freedv. What makes it interesting, is towards the end when the two stations switch to regular SSB. The difference is dramatic and really points out how even with less bandwidth (roughly 3 kHz for SSB vs 1.25 kHz), the digital mode is superior. The freedv software (available for Windows or Linux) compresses audio to 700-1600 bits per second and spreads it over 16 QPSK signals.

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Slimline USB Charger for tiny ham Radios

The recent trend to smaller and smaller handy talkie (HT) transceivers is approaching the limits of the human interface. Sure, engineers could probably continue shrinking the Baofeng and Wouxun HTs further, but pretty soon they’ll just be too small to operate. And it’s getting to the point where the accessories, particularly the battery charging trays, are getting bulkier than the radios. With that in mind, [Mads Hobye] decided to slim down his backpacking loadout by designing a slimline USB charger for his Baofeng HT.

Lacking an external charging jack but sporting a 3.7 volt battery pack with exposed charging terminals on the rear, [Mads] cleverly capitalized on the belt clip to apply spring tension to a laser-cut acrylic plate. A pair of bolts makes contact with the charging terminals on the battery pack, and the attached USB cable allows him to connect to an off-the-shelf 3.7 volt LiPo USB charger, easy to come by in multicopter circles. YMMV – the Baofeng UV-5R dual-band HT sitting on my desk has a 7.4 volt battery pack, so I’d have to make some adjustments. But you have to applaud the simplicity of the build and its packability relative to the OEM charging setup.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen [Mads] on Hackaday. He and the FabLab RUC crew were recently featured with their open-source robotic arm.

Hacklet 69 – Morse Code Projects

With over 160 years of history under its belt, Morse code is by far the oldest digital signaling system known to man. Originally developed for telegraph systems, [Samuel Morse’s] code has been sent over wires, via radio, and even with flashes of light. Hackers, makers and engineers have been working with Morse code throughout history. For many years, simple code keys and practice oscillators were the “hello world” of hobby electronics. In fact, a company which started out selling a Morse key has gone on to become one of the largest electronic component distributors in the world. The company still bears the name of that project: Digi-Key. This week’s Hacklet is all about some of the best Morse code projects on!

key1We start with [voxnulla] and Morse key HID + ugly hack. [voxnulla] found an old key at his favorite thrift store. It was dusty, greasy, and for some reason had been painted hospital green. Once the paint and grime were removed, and the original wooden plate restored, the key actually looked pretty good. [Voxnulla] then decided to turn it into a USB Human Interface Device (HID), emulating the keyboard of his computer. An Arduino converts Morse code characters tapped at the key into keystrokes over USB. As [voxnulla] knows, when butterflies aren’t available, real programmers drive vim with a Morse key!

code2Next up is [Voja Antonic] with Daddy, I don’t have the key. If you didn’t read [Voja’s] article about Hacking the Digital and Social System, check it out! Many apartments have an intercom system where you have to “buzz” someone in, activating a solenoid lock in the door. [Voja] inserted a Microchip PIC12 series microcontroller between the speaker and the unlock button. All a user has to do is tap out the right Morse code password on the call button in the lobby. If the code is accepted, the PIC unlocks the door, and you’re in!


morseterminal[kodera2t] took things into the digital age with Stand-alone Tiny Morse code encoder/decoder. This project grew out of his general purpose Portable tiny IoT device project. [kodera2t] rolled his own Arduino-compatible board for this project. The tiny ATmega1284 powered computer allows him to encode and decode Morse code. A smartphone-sized keyboard and a lilliputian OLED display serve as the user interface, while rotary encoder allows for variable code speed. You can even “tap” Morse out on one of the tactile buttons!


morselightFinally, we have [Yannick (Gigawipf)] with Portable (morsing) 100W led flashlight. 100 watt LEDs have gotten quite cheap these days, and they’re perfect when you absolutely, positively have to blind everyone around you. These LEDs can also be switched on and off quickly, which makes them perfect for Morse code. In years past, mechanical shutters had to be used to perform the same feat. [Yannick] used a 5000mAh 5S Zippy Li-Po to supply electrons to this hungry beast, while a 600 Watt constant current boost converter keeps that power under control. An Arduino running Morse code converter software controls the boost convert and LED.  [Yannick] uses his computer to send a message over the Arduino’s serial link, and the light does the rest, flashing out the message for all to see.

If you want more Morse goodness, check out our brand new Morse code project list! My Morse is a bit rusty, so if I wasn’t able to copy your transmission and missed your project, don’t hesitate to drop me a message on That’s it for this week’s Hacklet. As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of!

$40 Antenna Analyzer with Arduino and AD9850

If you are a hacker, you might consider ham radio operators as innovative. Most people, however, just see them as cheap. So it is no surprise that hams like [jmharvey] will build an antenna analyzer from a DDS module and an Arduino instead of dropping a few hundred dollars on a commercial unit. As he points out, you probably only need an analyzer for a day or two while you set up an antenna. Unless you are a big time antenna builder, the unit will then sit idle on the shelf (or will wind up on loan to hams even cheaper than you are).

The design is rooted in another proven design, but changed to take advantage of parts he happened to have on hand. Although the build is on a universal circuit board, [jmharvey] used Eagle to lay out the circuit as though it were a PCB. Since placement can be important with an RF circuit, this isn’t a bad idea. It’s always easier to move stuff around on the screen than on the perf board.

Since this is a no frills, unit, you are expected to grab the output from the Arduino and manually put it in a spreadsheet to plot the results. There is another version of the Arduino code that drives an OLED screen, although you still need a PC to kick the process off. One interesting feature of the Arduino code is how it deals with the nonlinear nature of the diodes used in the circuit. After plotting the values with known loads, [jmharvey] broke the diode operation into three regions and used different equations for each region. Even so, he warns that readings higher than 1:1 VSWR are only accurate to 10% or 20% – still good enough for ham shack use.

If you want an antenna analyzer for $40 (or less, if you have a good stock of parts) this looks like a worthwhile project. If, however, you want to repurpose it to Rickroll your neighbor’s AM radio, you might want to go with the commercial unit.

Click past the break to see the analyzer in action.

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