Software-Defined Radio Made Easy

Just a few decades ago, getting into hobby radio meant lots of specialty hardware, and making changes to your setup to work on various frequencies wasn’t particularly easy. Since software-defined radio (SDR) came onto the scene in an accessible way for most of us, this barrier to entry was reduced significantly and made the process of getting on the air a lot easier. It goes without saying that it does require some software, but [Aaron]’s latest project makes even getting that software extremely simple.

What he has done is created a custom Linux distribution based on Debian, called DragonOS, with the entire suite of SDR programs needed to get up and running. Out of the box, it supports RTL-SDR, HackRF and LimeSDR packages and even includes other fun tools you’ll need like Kismet. There are several video demonstrations of his distribution, including using RTL-SDR for ADS-B reception, and also shows off several custom implementations of the OS in various scenarios on his YouTube channel. The video linked below also shows how to set up the distribution in a virtual machine, so you can run this even if you don’t have a computer to dedicate to SDR.

Getting into SDR has never been easier, and the odds of having something floating around in the junk drawer that you can use to get started are pretty high. The process is exceptionally streamlined with [Aaron]’s software suite. If you’re a little short on hardware, though, there’s no better place to get started than with the classic TV-tuner-to-SDR hack from a few years back.

25 thoughts on “Software-Defined Radio Made Easy

  1. If it was made as a Docker container, it could be easily ran on any other existing system without the need for VM. And it runs only on x86. Very, very useful. Forget your Raspberry Pis, this is the way. One IBM PC for every single task you want to do. And the only documentation for this is one YouTube video. Seriously? Does this even deserve attention? Maybe if it was April the 1st.

    1. After spending many hours trying to get a Lime Mini working on various flavours of Linux and Windows then I very much welcome this effort. I’m sure most of us have some old laptops around that we can dedicate to a RF workstation.

      1. Few decades ago there was much to hear than today. To be precise 40 years ago it was the last of the gold years to hear something useful on sw, lw but also on am and fm.
        Now you can say what you want. You only live your childhood dream with this hobby today and nothing else.

        1. You seem to be one of the girls or boys, who just doesn’t know, or just doesn’t care, just complains about radio not being there.

          SDR has a lot more to it than just ham.
          Surely you know this?

          1. Paul, Guardian Observer is CORRECT. Radio is now a shell of its former glory. I’ve been SWLing for 57 years and hamming for over 50. I also have time in broadcasting (9 years). I’m talking quality programming and variety. Sheer numbers of hams or commercial lw and sw stations does not make Pauls comments valid. Paul, just because you disagree with someone, does not give you the right to be INSULTING. Shame on you. Different people have different opinions.

    2. Hi MS-Boss. Totally welcome any and all feedback. I actually started this for a classroom environment that has plenty of laptops and desktops (both PC and Mac). With the corona virus it’s kept me busy. Not really intended to run as a VM, but it can and it was easier recording the install that way. There’s about a dozen videos so far showing how to use the preinstalled software. I’ll have to do up a readme with all the software and versions and any changes moving forward. I’ve got pis and other SBCs but typically find things run better on my laptop or desktop. Docker might be something I look into, thanks!

      1. I’d still love to see this on a Pi4. It’s great when you can strap it to the back of a monitor, and get it up off your bench via articulating arm for more real estate. Even a laptop gets in the way on a small bench, like mine.

        1. If I get stuck home for much longer I just might have to work on something like that. Like a companion image for the pi. I do have some ideas on incorporating the pi into the videos for such things as Kismet remote or maybe as a Gqrx client.

        2. I read that, and thought to myself:
          “Hmm, its funny how this thing of sticking R.Pis onto articulating arms is becoming a thing. Why, just the other day, this dude called benchly did just so. It seems to be catching on.”

          And then I looked at the username.

    3. One PC for every SDR dongle that I have will make me leave my car outside my garage. (ADS-B, ATC, NOAA weather, TPMS detector for cars driving in our alley, solar emission detector, etc.). @MS-BOSS, you echoed my sentiments succinctly!

      1. @Matha

        I was going more for one PC with multiple dongles at one time. Example being the KerberosSDR could cover everything you mention above at the same time and requires only one usb connection. In fact there’s already a video of it doing just that somewhere. Another way would be to use the newer kismet which can run multiple rtl-SDR dongles at the same time to cover ADS-B and rtl_433 (TPMS). You gave me an idea for one of my next videos. Thank you.

    1. Double check the integrity of the ISO against the md5 and/or try and burn it to usb again or DVD. Also sounds like not have enough ram. How much ram do you have installed?

  2. From what I have read on Reddit, weather satellite decoding involves getting audio with one app, then feeding it to a second app to create actual images. Setting up the virtual patch cable can be tricky for newer users.
    While a single app would be easier, a preconfigured OS does the trick too.

    1. Of course. Because in the old days you’d build or scrounge a VHF FM receiver, then buikd a decoder to handle the audio.

      Now people want to be able to do all that without any effort, so of course the details are out of sight, and an expectation that everything be off tbe shelf.

      People don’t go far without making the intermediate steps.

      1. It be like that. I’m about to jump in and give SDR a proper crack. I’m supposed to be a seasoned (seasoned, not veteran) electronics person, with okayish coding skills, comfortable with soldering irons, and a feel for spellcasting with current and silicon. And I’m terrified. I don’t know how far I will go, and how much I will actually understand, or how much gear I lack.

        What makes a cool “hello world” for SDR? And then, to carry on learning, what is a sensible track to follow?

  3. If you’re in it just for the listening hobby, surprised anyone is putting in this much effort. I’d rather download ‘SDR-Console V3’ from and stream an served RF feed from someone else’s shared SDR via the Internet. Several people host from around the world. But I also understand wanting your own to build whatever decoder strikes your fancy.

  4. If you wanna dedicate a pc to it I guess, I did not have any issued grabbing the sdr sharp package, following the instructions installing it and getting it running. At some point in time if the linux install gets enough bells and whistles it may be interesting. Having plug and play support for P25 phase 2 would be a major leg up.

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