Hackable Ham Radio Multitool Contributes To Long Term Survival Of The Hobby

Ham radio, especially the HF bands, can be intimidating for aspiring operators, many being put off by the cost of equipment. The transceiver itself is only part of the equation and proper test and measurement equipment can easily add hundreds of dollars to the bill. However, such equipment goes a long way to ease the frustrations of setting up a usable station. Fortunately [Ashhar Farhan, VU2ESE] has been at it again, and recently released the Antuino, an affordable, hackable test instrument for ham radio and general lab for use.

As you can probably guess from the name, it is primarily intended for testing antennas, and uses an Arduino Nano as a controller. It has quite a list of measurement functions including SWR, field strength, cable loss, RF cable velocity, modulation, and frequency response plotting. It also provides a signal source for testing. Its frequency range includes the HF and VHF bands, and it can even work in the UHF bands (435Mhz) if you are willing to sacrifice some sensitivity. The software is open source and available with the schematics on Github.

Most of the active ham radio operators today are of the grey haired, retired variety. If the hobby is to stand any chance of outliving them, it needs to find a way to be attractive to the younger generations who grew up with the internet. The availability of affordable and hackable equipment can go long way to making this happen, and [Ashhar Farhan] has been one of the biggest contributors in this regard. His $129 μBITX HF SSB/CW transceiver kit is by far the best value for money general coverage HF radio available.

See a short demonstration of the Antuino video after the break

[Jenny List] previously covered the μBITX, as well as its predecessors, the Minima and BITX transceivers. [Dan Maloney] also did a good job of summing up the frustrations of new operators trying to get into the hobby.

26 thoughts on “Hackable Ham Radio Multitool Contributes To Long Term Survival Of The Hobby

  1. Just out of curiosity: Is a black and white classical LCD really cheaper than a colour TFT?
    I thought that the age of smartphones and tablets had made TFTs so cheap, that nobody uses old LCDs anymore.

    1. There is probably a 2x price difference. Outdoor visibility would be negatively impacted by using a colour TFT screen, also where battery life is a factor, colour TFT screens are definitely a negative.

    2. My guess:
      – tons of existing code to reuse
      – wide availability with standardized interface across vendors
      – more robust than most TFT screen modules I’ve come across

      All of the above are big factors when it comes to hackability and reproducibility of a project. Same reason for using an Arduino Nano instead of rolling your own MCU board.

    1. I’m grey haired and over 60, but not retired. I’ve been a ham since I graduated from college in 1978. I’ve built repeaters (and 6802 and 8085 controllers for them), QRP (low power) transceivers, antennas, packet radio position reporting trackers and more. Judging from the activity of our local club, there are plenty of non-grey hairs active.

      1. Old Gray Haired operators need help too. Ham Radio has become so complicated these past 10 years the old timers have forgotten how to operate these new radios and
        Help is not available as in the past. KB0MEF

        1. Actually there’s plenty of info and help to be had…the catch is its available on the Internet. A lot of the grey haired crowd may not be as proficient with a computer as they are with their radios. Then theres DMR and the other digital modes, which require some programming. The Elmers need to get together with the youngsters and swap skill sets, computer savvy for radio expertise.

      1. You don’t list indicators, just belief. There are no sunspots, so everything is non-traditional now. HF voice will be back with sunspots, but digital modes are crazy busy and spread out between DMR, C4FM, DSTAR, not to mention things like FSK144, JT6M, JT65, and JT9, and FT8, Even Morse Code is resurging!

  2. There’s a lot of Arduino activity in amateur radio, and with circuit building, QRP, SDR, antenna design, etc., it’s always been very “hackable”. The hobby isn’t dying, it just smells funky sometimes.

  3. I’m a relatively new ham at 1.5 years old. I’m Extra just because I didn’t want to have to worry about what bands I can and cannot tx on. I’d wager a bet that many of the new ham licenses aren’t for HAM use at all, but for using the frequencies in the same range for controlling larger drones. Also many offroad 4×4 groups use ham frequencies as well . those people will never tx on HF,but yet have a license. you can’t base the entire hobby on license application numbers alone.

  4. What is your source of data that shows the breakdown of active amateur radio operators by hair color or age?
    The number of licenses issued are up an upgrading to extra class (the highest level) is a popular trend right now, I’m not sure what evidence there is to suggest the hobby is endangered due to lack of interest and it’s possible that not all young people see the newer way of doing things as a better way of doing things.

  5. This is a silly headline. One of the great myths about Ham Radio is that it is a “technical” hobby. Tune the bands with the Antunio. What you will hear will be elderly white men talking about radios that were new decades ago. Their productive lives are over– and they have little to say. You will not hear discourse about the last book you read, what Video games you’re addicted to, recent film you liked. Nor will you hear discussions of Machine learning, VR, AI or the “singularity”. These contemporary technologies are foreign to most hams. They don’t even have a general awareness of these fields which will bring radical change to Civilization. Even SDR’s which have come on to the scene in the past few years are incomprehensible to most hams. Few even know what an FPGA is as the central device that makes a Software Defined Radio possible. (How do I know this you ask? — I recently happened across 4 hams all running the popular Icom entry-level rig the IC-7300. I checked in and asked them all. Do you know what an FPGA is? Know how many knew what it was? Zero!)

    There are “technically inclined” hams yes. But they are in the distinct minority. Whether Ham Radio survives is dependent on those who come into the hobby. If they listen to the Septuagenarian White Men in Newington , Ct who profess to be the stewards of the hobby– then there is little chance it will evolve. New people need to redefine the hobby. End the ridiculous and farcical in my opinion, Emcomm emphasis . New entrants to the hobby need “New and young” leadership to make it their own. Don’t let people who live in the analog past– tell you how or what Ham Radio should be. Re-Invent it. Ruthlessly.

    Mike
    WebSite: WA4D.Radio

  6. If you want to save ham radio, make a digital texting device that would basically be an echolink for texting. That would absolutely rock. You could text buddies around the globe interfacing ham radio with internet. You know people would start linking it to their emails and then to smartphones, but let the FCC track ’em down like they do the boys on 20m. I would love to set up a station at my house, turn on my device (which my home station would recognize – like a cell tower) and I could digitally send my texting packets through my portable ham radio texting device. That would be so much fun and I guarantee you it would kickstart the ham radio hobby like nothing else would.

  7. Ham radio will indeed be dying. Just look at comments left by the hams that had to pass the code requirement. They are very often rude, insulting and unwilling to help. It is a small but vocal minority and it is a shame as I love the hobby returning after 40 years of life since my novice license. K5AKM

  8. Radio transmitters and receivers are special cases of test equipment (generators and detectors). If you stick with the HF / VHF bands, you can simplify the “back end” designs with other bands eventually being covered by down converters.

    Improving signal accuracy, in both generation and measurement, is a great goal to aim for. Even if you never actually transmit, you can slowly build up a suite of test equipment that [commercially] would cost a fortune to buy in a single hit.

    1. recently during a Demo at a STEM Fair, I set up my FT8 station and using an OCF dipole i worked Algeria and most of europe. I was shocked when i saw over 100 teenagers looking at the screen enrapt with the concept of working the word. I pointed out there was a version which allowed conversation, js8call, and free texting. the next testing session had 15 new hams and 1 teacher and 14 students. I been working with them all summer and fall. They hope to on the air in a few weeks.

      1. I think this is really interesting. Maybe the insight here is that younger people don’t talk on the phone nearly as much as they text and post to social media. This means that message aggregation, content based linking and time shifting need to be a part of modern ham radio services.

        The way I explain the appeal of real time ham activity is that it is like fishing. Conditions, equipment, skill and luck all have a part in the results. If all you want is a reliable source of fish, go to the market. If you want to catch fish, and enjoy the challenge, real time ham radio might be something you would enjoy.

        I am a gray haired technical ham who loves to make stuff and try new things. The way things used to be is nostalgic but not where I live.

  9. Some younger people only text and post to social media websites unless a voice call is required. Ham radio might do well to include message sharing, content based linking and time shifting as well as real time communication.

    I explain the appeal of real time ham radio communication by comparing it to fishing. If all you want is a reliable source of fish, the market is the place to go. But if you enjoy the challenge of trying to catch your own fish, then there is nothing like it! Conditions, equipment, skill and luck all are part of the equation in both pursuits.

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