One of my favorite hobbies of course is radio.  I own a few.

I think the most interesting “radios” are RTL-SDR devices.  The RTL stands for Realtek (which is the chipset) and SDR stands for Software Defined Radio.

They only cost a few bucks for a “generic” one and there are more sensitive and selective ones that cost bigger bucks.

Essentially if it is a radio signal of some kind, with a $20 USB Software Defined Radio you can listen to or decode a multitude of radio traffic/chatter.  In fact it seems darn near illegal, and sometimes it is.  I have other blog pages with this information but I’m just going to re-hash what I’ve been up to this week.

This week has been a week of satellite decoding.   Airplanes send satellite messages called ACARS that can be decoded by pointing a cheap antenna towards Inmarsat 4-F3 and simply running some free software.

Jaero ACARS Decoder (click to enlarge)

That’s pretty cool.  While you are on the same satellite you can point to another frequency and download EGC STD-C message with another hunk of software.  Those are Maritime warnings, distress calls, notices, etc.  Below are Iceberg warnings.

Among one of my very favorite things to do is to download weather images from passing satellites. A few of the original NOAA satellites are all operational (kinda) and more free software and a hand held antenna can get you real time telemetry from the NOAA birds. I took this grab this morning (Sunday Aug 25, 2019).  This grab shows a possible Tropical Depression forming off the coast of Florida.   I live in NC so this is of interest to me.

I guess I’m not a very trusting soul.  I prefer to grab this weather info for myself.  This was a somewhat vital part of how I got through Hurricane Florence last year as New Bern, NC where I live got somewhat devastated.   In fact these grabs and the ability to do these grabs led me to make the decision to stay in my home during Florence.  It indicated to me that we were NOT in a high winds area but a high flooding area.  I live far enough away from bodies of water that I figured I’d be okay.  I was.  I lost 3 shingles.

Here’s what happened in New Bern.  The power went out.  The TV stations went off the air. The NOAA weather radio transmitter got blasted and went off the air.   I had virtually no communications.  But guess what?  I could take my software radio, hoist an antenna and listen to AM radio stations just outside of New Bern and I could grab my own weather satellite grabs.

It may look like a stupid, geeky hobby but it saved my ass ONCE.

So with a $20 USB stick, I can listen to radio, listen to the police, listen to emergency services, I was listening to the linemen and public works guys.  I was grabbing weather information as well.

When it’s not storming I can listen to nearby baby monitors, and one of my neighbors has wireless headphones for the TV.  I can listen to that too.  I can keep track of my smart meter on my home, track airplanes overhead


There’s just all KINDS of things you can do.  In fact I can’t even list them all here, but I will list one more…………listening to spy stuff on Shortwave radio.  This is the Air Force Emergency Message Alert system.

I’m sorry, this stuff is cool.  You may not initially think so until you see what one of these things can actually do.

One thought on “RTL-SDR Fun

  1. european websdr

    SDR’s are great, because it’s so cheap (at entry level ofcourse) and allows almost anybody to get first contact with radio. Not everyone – possibly interested in this hobby – has time, possibility (finding local radio club, time, money etc) to get in touch with this hobby. Nowadays live is “quick”, people are lazy, have no time. So even existence of websdrs is good, because everyone can hear almost anywhere almost everything what is happening on amateur bands.


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