SDR experiments, and how early is too early?

Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of work with 6LoWPAN on the 2.4GHz band. I didn’t have anything that would receive arbitrary signals on this frequency, so I decided to splurge. I got myself my first bit of tax-deductible amateur radio equipment: a HackRF One.

It’s been handy, fire up CubicSDR, and immediately you get a picture of what’s happening on the frequency. In the future I hope to get the WIME framework working so I can decode the 802.15.4 frames and pipe them to Wireshark, but so far, this has been handy.

Since I’m not using it every day, I also put it to a second use, DAB+ reception. I used to listen to various stations a lot, and whilst FM stereo is built into my phone, I’ve got nothing that will do medium-wave AM. The HackRF stops short at 1MHz (officially 10MHz), and needs a suitable antenna to do so. However, it occurred to me that it was more than capable of doing DAB+, so after some experimentation, I managed to get qt-dab working.

Since getting that working, I bought a second SDR, a RTL-SDR v3. The idea is I’d be setting this up on the bicycle with a Raspberry Pi 3 which also has a DRAWS board fitted (the successor to the UDRC). I figured I could use this as a second receiver for amateur radio stuff, or use it for FM stereo/DAB+, maybe short wave.

So today, I was testing this: using the RTL-SDR with a Pi 3, seeing whether it would perform acceptably for that task. Interestingly, CubicSDR will de-modulate FM stereo quite happily when you’re running it via a X11 session forwarded over SSH, but it stutters its way though if you try to run it natively. I think the waterfall displays are too much for the machine to cope with: it can render them, but painting them on the screen causes too much CPU load.

qt-dab however works quite well. It occupies about 60% CPU, which means you don’t want to be doing much else. Whether I can do AX.25 packet simultaneously as planned or not is a valid question. Audio quality through the PWM output on the Pi3 is good too — I did try this with an original Pi and got an aural assault courtesy of the noisy 3.3V power rail, but it seems this problem is largely fixed on the Pi3.

In truth, I’ll probably be using the GNURadio framework directly when I get to implementing this on the bicycle. That makes a custom tailored UI a little easier to implement.

The WTF moment though was whilst putting this rig through its paces… I noticed a new station:

ELF Radio, a station dedicated to Christmas Carols

A new station, “ELF Radio” had appeared in multiplex 9A (202.928MHz)… this is exactly what it sounds like, a station dedicated to Christmas carols. We’re not even half-way though October, and they’re already out to flog the genre to death.

Now, Christmas rage was not a thing when I was younger, it seems the marketing world is intent on ruining this tradition by making excuses for starting the sales earlier and earlier… and it seems the “ambience” is part of the package deal that they insist must start long before that Celtic tradition, Halloween! As a result, most of us are thoroughly fed up by the time December rolls around.

Here’s a hint advertisers: playing this crap so soon in the year will not result in higher sales. It’s a sales repellent!