Sam Mulvey built his own radio station in Tacoma, WA. Is there a better way to meld ham radio practice with a colossal number of DIY electrical and computer projects? Sam would say there isn’t one! This 45-minute talk is basically the lessons-learned review of setting up KTQA 95.3 – the radio station on the hill.
Sam starts out the talk by introducing you to LPFM. And maybe you didn’t know that there’s a special type of license issued by the US FCC allowing non-profit community radio stations up to 100 W, covering an radius of around 5 km. It’s like running a pirate radio station, but by jumping through a few legal hoops, made legal.
Trash on the Radio
Putting a radio station together on a budget requires a ton of clever choices, flexibility, and above all, luck. But if you’re willing to repair a busted CD player or turntable, scrounge up some used computers, and work on your own amplifiers, the budget doesn’t have to be the limiting factor.
Being cheap means a lot of DIY. For instance, Sam and friends made a custom console to support all the gear and hide all the wiring. Some hot tips from the physical build-out: painted cinderblocks make great studio monitor stands, and Cat-5 can carry two channels of balanced audio along with power, with sufficient isolation that it all sounds clean. Continue reading “Supercon 2022: Sam Mulvey Shows You How To FM Radio”→
“They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” That might be stretching things a bit, especially when the “paradise” in question is in New Jersey, but there’s a move afoot to redevelop the site of the original “Big Bang Antenna” that has some people pretty upset. Known simply as “The Horn Antenna” since it was built by Bell Labs in 1959 atop a hill in Holmdel, New Jersey, the antenna was originally designed to study long-distance microwave communications. But in 1964, Bell Labs researchers Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson accidentally discovered the microwave remnants of the Big Bang, the cosmic background radiation, using the antenna, earning it a place in scientific history. So far, the only action taken by the township committee has been to authorize a study to look into whether the site should be redeveloped. But the fact that the site is one of the highest points in Monmouth County with sweeping views of Manhattan has some people wondering what’s really on tap for the site. A petition to save the antenna currently has about 3,400 signatures, so you might want to check that out — after all, you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.
Not that [Sebastian] of Baltic Lab was unfamiliar with multiplex FM theory, mind you. As he explains it, his goal was to generate a valid stereo FM signal with a different pure tone on each channel, 700 Hz on the left and 2,200 Hz on the right. Luckily, [Sebastian] has a nice AWG, the Siglent SDG1032X, which has an Ethernet connection that can be used to control it remotely along with PyVISA, a Python package for controlling instruments using the Virtual Instrument Software Architecture protocol.
The meat of this project, and what really helps drive home the concept of putting multiple audio signals onto an FM signal, lies in the Python code that generates the component parts. [Sebastian] does a great job explaining how he programatically generates the sum and difference signals along with the 19 kHz pilot tone, and puts them all together into one waveform. The output of the program is used to generate a series of values that are sent to the arbitrary waveform generator, which outputs the desired FM signal. Looking at the output on a spectrum analyzer, the two audio tones are clearly visible, as are the attenuated pilot tone and some other spikes a little further up.
Just add an antenna to the setup and you’d have the world’s dullest FM radio station — but at least it’d be in stereo. Or if you want to check out the origin story for FM radio, we’ve got something for that too.
Older hackers will remember that a crystal set radio receiver was often one of the first projects attempted. Times have changed, but there’s still something magical about gathering invisible signals from the air and listening to the radio on a homemade receiver. [mircemk] has brought the idea right up to date by building an FM radio with an OLED display, controlled with a rotary encoder.
The design is fairly straightforward, based as it is on another project that [mircemk] found on another site, but the build looks very slick and would take pride of place on any hacker’s workbench. An Arduino Due forms the heart of the project, controlling a TEA5767 module, an SH1106 128×64 pixel OLED display and a rotary encoder. The sound signal is passed through an LM4811 headphone amplifier for private listening, and a PAM8403 Class D audio amplifier for the built-in loudspeaker. The enclosure is made from PVC panels, and accented with colored adhesive tape for style.
It’s easier than ever before to quickly put together projects like this by connecting pre-built modules and downloading code from the Internet, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a worthwhile way to improve your skills and make some useful devices like this one. There are so many resources available to us these days and standing on the shoulders of giants has always been a great way to see farther.
Before the days of MP3 players and smartphones, and even before portable CD players, those of us of a certain age remember that our cassette players were about the only way to take music on-the-go. If we were lucky, they also had a built-in radio for when the single tape exhausted both of its sides. Compared to then, it’s much easier to build a portable radio even though cassettes are largely forgotten, as [wagiminator] shows us with this radio design based on an ATtiny.
The build is about as compact as possible, with the aforementioned ATtiny 402/412 as its core, it also makes use of an integrated circuit FM tuner, an integrated audio amplifier with its own single speaker, and a small OLED display. The unit also boasts its own lithium-polymer battery charger and its user interface consists of only three buttons, plenty for browsing radio stations and controlling volume.
The entire build fits easily in the palm of a hand and is quite capable for a mobile radio, plus all of the schematics and code is available on the project page. While it doesn’t include AM capability, just the fact that FM is this accessible nowadays when a few decades ago it was cutting-edge technology is quite remarkable. If you’re looking for an even smaller FM receiver without some of the bells and whistles of this one, take a look at this project too.
With music consumption having long ago moved to a streaming model in many parts of the world, it sometimes feels as though, just like the rotary telephone dial, kids might not even know what a radio was, let alone own one. But there was a time when broadcasting pop music over the airwaves was a deeply subversive activity for Europeans at least, as the lumbering state monopoly broadcasters were challenged by illegal pirate stations carrying the cutting edge music they had failed to provide. [Ringway Manchester] has the story of one such pirate station which broadcast across the city for a few years in the 1970s, and it’s a fascinating tale indeed.
It takes the form of a series of six videos, the first of which we’ve embedded below the break. The next installment is placed as an embedded link at the end of each video, and it’s worth sitting down for the full set.
We have to admit, it was hard not to be insufferably smug this week when Facebook temporarily went dark around the globe. Sick of being stalked by crazy aunts and cousins, I opted out of that little slice of cyber-hell at least a decade ago, so Monday’s outage was no skin off my teeth. But it was nice to see that the world didn’t stop turning. More interesting are the technical postmortems on the outage, particularly this great analysis by the good folks at the University of Nottingham. Dr. Steve Bagley does a great job explaining how Facebook likely pushed a configuration change to the Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) that propagated through the Internet and eventually erased all routes to Facebook’s servers from the DNS system. He also uses a graphical map of routes to show peer-to-peer connections to Facebook dropping one at a time, until their machines were totally isolated. He also offers speculation on why Facebook engineers were denied internal access, sometimes physically, to their own systems.
It may be a couple of decades overdue, but the US Federal Communications Commission finally decided to allow FM voice transmissions on Citizen’s Band radios. It seems odd to be messing around with a radio service whose heyday was in the 1970s, but Cobra, the CB radio manufacturer, petitioned for a rule change to allow frequency modulation in addition to the standard amplitude modulation that’s currently mandatory. It’s hard to say how this will improve the CB user experience, which last time we checked is a horrifying mix of shouting, screaming voices often with a weird echo effect, all put through powerful — and illegal — linear amps that distort the signal beyond intelligibility. We can’t see how a little less static is going to improve that.
Can you steal a car with a Game Boy? Probably not, but car thieves in the UK are using some sort of device hidden in a Game Boy case to boost expensive cars. A group of three men in Yorkshire used the device, which supposedly cost £20,000 ($27,000), to wirelessly defeat the security systems on cars in seconds. They stole cars for garages and driveways to the tune of £180,000 — not a bad return on their investment. It’s not clear how the device works, but we’d love to find out — for science, of course.
There have been tons of stories lately about all the things AI is good for, and all the magical promises it will deliver on given enough time. And it may well, but we’re still early enough in the AI hype curve to take everything we see with a grain of salt. However, one area that bears watching is the ability of AI to help fill in the gaps left when an artist is struck down before completing their work. And perhaps no artist left so much on the table as Ludwig von Beethoven, with his famous unfinished 10th Symphony. When the German composer died, he had left only a few notes on what he wanted to do with the four-movement symphony. But those notes, along with a rich body of other works and deep knowledge of the composer’s creative process, have allowed a team of musicologists and AI experts to complete the 10th Symphony. The article contains a lot of technical detail, both on the musical and the informatics sides. How will it sound? Here’s a preview:
And finally, Captain Kirk is finally getting to space. William Shatner, who played captain — and later admiral — James Tiberius Kirk from the 1960s to the 1990s, will head to space aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket on Tuesday. At 90 years old, Shatner will edge out Wally Funk, who recently set the record after her Blue Origin flight at the age of 82. It’s interesting that Shatner agreed to go, since he is said to have previously refused the offer of a ride upstairs with Virgin Galactic. Whatever the reason for the change of heart, here’s hoping the flight goes well.