FM Snake Feeds Off Radio Waves

[Eric Brasseur] built a radio-detecting snake that consists of a LED that lights up when around reasonably strong radio waves. Near an FM radio mast you’ll find a huge amount of waste energy being dumped out in the 88 to 108 MHz range.

[Eric]’s rig consists of a pair of 1N6263 Schottky diodes, flip-flopped with one set of ends soldered to the antenna and the other ends soldered to the leads of the LED with about a foot of wire in between. The antenna can be a single wire as the diodes are soldered together. This one is around 4 feet in length for a total length of around 160 cm or a little over 5 feet. He went with a red LED just to give it a greater chance of being seen when illuminated by a distant or weak source of radio waves.

Hackaday loves its radio hacks; check out our posts on improving WiFi throughput with FM radio and building a modern DIY FM radio.

[Thanks, Alain!]

Decoding NRSC-5 with SDR to Get In Your Car

NRSC-5 is a high-definition radio standard, used primarily in the United States. It allows for digital and analog transmissions to share the original FM bandwidth allocations. Theori are a cybersecurity research startup in the US, and have set out to build a receiver that can capture and decode these signals for research purposes, and documented it online.

Their research began on the NRSC website, where the NRSC-5 standard is documented, however the team notes that the audio compression details are conspicuously missing. They then step through the physical layer, multiplexing layer, and finally the application layer, taking apart the standard piece by piece. This all culminates in the group’s development of an open-source receiver for NRSC-5 that works with RTL-SDR – perhaps the most ubiquitous SDR platform in the world. 

The group’s primary interest in NRSC-5 is its presence in cars as a part of in-car entertainment systems. As NRSC-5 allows data to be transmitted in various formats, the group suspects there may be security implications for vehicles that do not securely process this data — getting inside your car through the entertainment system by sending bad ID3 tags, for instance. We look forward to seeing results of this ongoing research.

[Thanks to Gary McMaster for the tip!]

Modern DIY FM radio

Back in the day, building a DIY radio was fun! We only had to get our hands at a germanium diode, make some coils, and with a resistor and long wire as an antenna maybe we could get some sound out of those old white earplugs. That was back then. Now we have things like the Si4703 FM tuner chip that can tune in FM radio in the 76–108 MHz range, comes with integrated AGC and AFC, controlled by I2C, as well as a bunch of other acronyms which seem to make the whole DIY radio-building process outdated. The challenges of the past resulted in the proven solutions of the present in which we build upon.

This little project by [Patrick Müller] is a modern radio DIY tutorial. With an Arduino Nano as the brains and controller for an Si4703 breakout board, he builds a completely functional and portable FM radio. A small OLED display lets the user see audio volume, frequency, selected station and still has space left to show the current available battery voltage. It has volume control, radio station seek, and four buttons that allows quick access to memorized stations. The source code shows how it is possible to control the Si4703 FM tuner chip to suit your needs.

As for ICs, not everything is new, [Patrick] still used the good old LM386 amp to drive the speaker, which is almost 35 years old by now. As we can listen in the demo video, it can still output some seriously loud music sounds!

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PCB Design Guidelines to Minimize RF Transmissions

There are certain design guidelines for PCBs that don’t make a lot of sense, and practices that seem excessive and unnecessary. Often these are motivated by the black magic that is RF transmission. This is either an unfortunate and unintended consequence of electronic circuits, or a magical and useful feature of them, and a lot of design time goes into reducing or removing these effects or tuning them.

You’re wondering how important this is for your projects and whether you should worry about unintentional radiated emissions. On the Baddeley scale of importance:

  • Pffffft – You’re building a one-off project that uses battery power and a single microcontroller with a few GPIO. Basically all your Arduino projects and around-the-house fun.
  • Meh – You’re building a one-off that plugs into a wall or has an intentional radio on board — a run-of-the-mill IoT thingamajig. Or you’re selling a product that is battery powered but doesn’t intentionally transmit anything.
  • Yeeeaaaaahhhhhhh – You’re selling a product that is wall powered.
  • YES – You’re selling a product that is an intentional transmitter, or has a lot of fast signals, or is manufactured in large volumes.
  • SMH – You’re the manufacturer of a neon sign that is taking out all wireless signals within a few blocks.

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Parts Bin Bonanza Leads to Arduino FM Radio

Trolling eBay for parts can be bad for your wallet and your parts bin. Yes, it’s nice to be well stocked, but eventually you get to critical mass and things start to take on a life of their own.

This unconventional Arduino-based FM receiver is the result of one such inventory overflow, and even though it may take the long way around to listening to NPR, [Kevin Darrah]’s build has some great tips in it for other projects. Still in the mess-o-wires phase, the radio is centered around an ATmega328 talking to a TEA5767 FM radio module over I²C. Tuning is accomplished by a 10-turn vernier pot with an analog meter for frequency display. A 15-Watt amp drives a pair of speakers, but [Kevin] ran into some quality control issues with the amp and tuner modules that required a little extra soldering as a workaround. The longish video below offers a complete tutorial on the hardware and software and shows the radio in action.

We like the unconventional UI for this one, but a more traditional tuning method using the same guts is also possible, as this retro-radio refit shows.

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Fail of the Week: The Accidental FM Radio

[B Arnold] is hearing voices and needs help from the Hackaday community. But before any of you armchair psychiatrists run off to WebMD, rest assured that [B Arnold] suffers not from schizophrenia but rather has an RF coupling problem.

The project (which isn’t posted yet) is an attempt to turn a C.H.I.P into an Amazon Echo, for which [B Arnold] needed an audio amplifier. Turning to the junk bin, he unearthed an LM386, that venerable power amp chip that first appeared in the mid-70s. Dead simple and able to run off a 9-volt battery, the LM386 that has found its way into thousands of commercial products and countless hacks.

Shortly after applying power to the amp, [B Arnold] started hearing things – faint, far-off voices, scratchy but discernible. A bit of repositioning of wires and hands improved the signal enough for a station ID – an FM talk radio station on 97.1 MHz. [B Arnold] doesn’t mention the call sign, but it might have been KFTK out of St. Louis, Missouri; in any case, it would be helpful to know the range from the transmitter to the inadvertent receiver. Two low-fidelity audio clips are included below for your listening pleasure – you’ll want your headphones on, and Sample 2 is better than Sample 1 – as are photos of the offending circuit.

What do you think is going on here? We’ve heard of RF coupling of AM radio stations before, but how would FM signals be making it into this circuit and out of the speaker? Is there anything [B Arnold] did wrong to get this result? Sound off in the comments and let us know your horror stories of RF coupling.

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ARM Board Transmits FM

There is more than a casual link between computer people and musicians. Computers have created music since 1961 when an IBM7094 sang the song Daisy Bell (later inspiring another computer, the HAL 9000, to do the same).

[Vinod.S] wanted to create music on an STM32F407 Discovery board, but he also wanted it to play on his FM radio. He did it, and his technique was surprising and straightforward. The key is that the ARM processor on the Discovery board uses an 8MHz crystal, but internally (using a phase-locked loop, or PLL) it produces a 100MHz system clock. This happens to be right in the middle of the FM radio band. Bringing that signal back out of the chip on a spare output pin gives you the FM carrier.

That’s simple, but a carrier all by itself isn’t sufficient. You need to FM modulate the carrier. [Vinod.S] did the music playback in the usual way and fed the analog signal via a resistor to the crystal. With some experimentation, he found a value that would pull the crystal frequency enough that when multiplied up to 100MHz, it would produce the desired amount of FM deviation. You can see a video of the whole thing in action, below.

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