Most parts of the radio spectrum are shared between more than one user, and there is usually a primary occupant and a secondary one whose usage is dependent upon not interfering with other users. If you’ve used 435 MHz radio modems you will have encountered this, that’s a band shared with both radio amateurs and others including government users. While some countries have wider band limits, the two-meter band between 144 MHz and 146 MHz is allocated with primary status to radio amateurs worldwide, and it is this status that is placed under threat. The latest ARRL news is that there has been little opposition at the pan-European regulator CEPT level, which appears to be causing concern among the amateur radio community.
Why should this bother you? If you are a radio amateur it should be a grave concern that a band which has provided the “glue” for so many vital services over many decades might come under threat, and if you are not a radio amateur it should concern you that a commercial defence contractor in one country can so easily set in motion the degradation of a globally open resource governed by international treaties penned in your grandparents’ time. Amateur radio is a different regulatory being from the licence-free spectrum that we now depend upon for so many things, but the principle of it being a free resource to all its users remains the same. If you have an interest in retaining the spectrum you use wherever on the dial it may lie, we suggest you support your national amateur radio organisation in opposing this measure.
Software-defined radios or SDRs have provided a step-change in the way we use radio. From your FM broadcast receiver which very likely now has single-application SDR technology embedded in a chip through to the all-singing-all-dancing general purpose SDR you’d find on an experimenter’s bench, control over signal processing has moved from the analogue domain into the digital. The possibilities are limitless, and some of the old ways of building a radio now seem antiquated.
[Pete Juliano N6QW] is an expert radio home-brewer of very long standing, and he’s proved there’s plenty of scope for old-fashioned radio homebrewing in an SDR with his RADIG project. It’s an SDR transceiver for HF which does all the work of quadrature splitting and mixing with homebrewed modules rather than the more usual technique of hiding it in an SDR chip. It’s a very long read in a diary format from the bottom up, and what’s remarkable is that he’s gone from idea to working SDR over the space of about three weeks.
So what goes into a homebrew SDR? Both RF preamplifier, filters, and PA are conventional as you might expect, switched between transmit and receive with relays. A common transmit and receive signal path is split into two and fed to a pair of ADE-1 mixers where they are mixed with quadrature local oscillator signals to produce I and Q that is fed to (or from in the case of transmit) a StarTech sound card. The local oscillator is an Si5351 synthesiser chip in the form of an SDR-Kits USB-driven module, and the 90 degree phased quadrature signals are generated with a set of 74AC74 flip-flops as a divider.
Running the show is a Raspberry Pi running Quisk, and though he mentions using a Teensy to control the Si5351 at the start of his diary it seems from the pictures of the final radio that the Pi has taken on that work. It’s clear that this is very much an experimental radio as it stands with wired-together modules on a wooden board, so we look forward to whatever refinements will come. This has the feel of a design that could eventually be built by many other radio amateurs, so it’s fascinating to be in at the start.
Over the winter, [Michael LeBlanc] thought a good way to spend his time during those long dark nights would be to scratch build his own direct conversion receiver. He was able to find plans for such a project easily enough online, but where’s the fun in following instructions? The final result incorporates what he found online with his own unique tweaks and artistic style.
[Michael] based his receiver on a modified approach to the DC40 created by [Ashhar Farhan], a name likely familiar to readers involved in amatuer radio. He further modified the design by swapping out the audio amplifier for a TDA2003A, and bolted on a digital tuner by way of an Arduino and a Si5351 clock generator. There’s a small OLED to show the current frequency, which is adjusted with a high-quality Bourns EM14 optical encoder so he can surf the airwaves in the comfort and style.
The digital tuner mated to the analog DC40 receiver gives the radio an interesting duality, which [Michael] really embraces with his enclosure design. From a practical standpoint he wanted to keep the two halves of the system in their own boxes to minimize any interference, but the 3D printed case exaggerates that practical consideration into a fascinating conversation piece.
The analog and digital compartments are askew, and their rotary controls are on opposite sides. The radio looks like it might topple over if it wasn’t for the fact that the whole thing is bolted together, complete with brass inserts for the printed parts. The integrated carry handle at the top somehow manages to make it look vintage and ultra-modern at the same time. Rarely do you see a printed enclosure that’s both meticulously designed inside and aesthetically pleasing externally. [Michael] earned his 3D Printing Merit Badge for sure with this one.
Before everyone had a cell phone alarm to wake them up in the mornings, most of us used clock radios that would faithfully sit by our beds for years. You could have either a blaring alarm to wake you up, or be gently roused from slumber by one of your local radio stations. These devices aren’t as commonly used anymore, so if you have one sitting in your parts drawer you can make some small changes and use it to receive radio stations from a little further away than you’d expect.
This Panasonic clock radio from [Ryan Flowers] has several upgrades compared to the old clock radio hardware. For one, it now can receive signals on the 7 and 14 MHz bands (40 and 20 meters). It does this by using separate bandpass filters for each frequency range, controlled by a QRP Labs VFO kit which can switch between the two filters automatically once programmed. The whole thing is powered by 8 AA batteries, true to form with a clock radio from the ’90s.
[Ryan] notes that his first iteration was a little quiet but he’s now able to receive radio stations from as far away from Japan with this receiver. Even without a license, you can make these changes and listen in to stations from all around the world, as long as you don’t start transmitting. If you want to make a small upgrade from this clock radio though, it’s not that hard to get into.
So far in this series, we’ve covered the absolute basics of getting on the air as a radio amateur – getting licensed, and getting a transceiver. Both have been very low-cost exercises, at least in terms of wallet impact. Passing the test is only a matter of spending the time to study and perhaps shelling out a nominal fee, and a handy-talkie transceiver for the 2-meter and 70-centimeter ham bands can be had for well under $50. If you’re playing along at home, you haven’t really invested much yet.
The total won’t go up much this week, if at all. This time we’re going to talk about what to actually do with your new privileges. The first step for most Technician-class amateur radio operators is checking out the local repeaters, most of which are set up exactly for the bands that Techs have access to. We’ll cover what exactly repeaters are, what they’re used for, and how to go about keying up for the first time to talk to your fellow hams.
There used to be a time when amateur radio was a fairly static pursuit. There was a lot of fascination to be had with building radios, but what you did with them remained constant year on year. Morse code was sent by hand with a key, voice was on FM or SSB with a few old-timers using AM, and you’d hear the warbling tones of RTTY traffic generated by mechanical teletypes.
By contrast the radio amateur of today lives in a fast-paced world of ever-evolving digital modes, in which much of the excitement comes in pushing the boundaries of what is possible when a radio is connected to a computer. A new contender in one part of the hobby has come our way from [Guillaume, F4HDK], in the form of his NPR, or New Packet Radio mode.
NPR is intended to bring high bandwidth IP networking to radio amateurs in the 70 cm band, and it does this rather cleverly with a modem that contains a single-chip FSK transceiver intended for use in licence-free ISM band applications. There is an Ethernet module and an Mbed microcontroller board on a custom PCB, which when assembled produces a few hundred milliwatts of RF that can be fed to an off-the-shelf DMR power amplifier.
Each network is configured around a master node intended to use an omnidirectional antenna, to which individual nodes connect. Time-division multiplexing is enforced by the master so there should be no collisions, and this coupled with the relatively wide radio bandwidth of the ISM transceiver gives the system a high usable data bandwidth.
Whether or not the mode is taken up and becomes a success depends upon the will of individual radio amateurs. But it does hold the interesting feature of relying upon relatively inexpensive parts, so the barrier to entry is lower than it might be otherwise. If you are wondering where you might have seen [F4HDK] before, we’ve previously brought you his FPGA computer.
In the radio business, getting the high ground is key to covering as much territory from as few installations as possible. Anything that has a high profile, from a big municipal water tank to a roadside billboard to a remote hilltop, will likely be bristling with antennas, and different services compete for the best spots to locate their antennas. Amateur radio clubs will be there too, looking for space to locate their repeaters, which allow hams to use low-power mobile and handheld radios to make contact over a vastly greater range than they could otherwise.
Now some hams have claimed the highest of high ground for their repeater: space. For the first time, an amateur radio repeater has gone to space aboard a geosynchronous satellite, giving hams the ability to link up over a third of the globe. It’s a huge development, and while it takes some effort to use this new space-based radio, it’s a game changer in the amateur radio community.