Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Installing a Software Defined Radio on Debian Linux 9 using RTL-SDR

So this one is so simple that it's only three steps (as root)

  • Get the radio - and a GOOD antenna.  The one that came with the thing is crap. is a good first resource to learn about this stuff, but you should be able to get one online from $10 to $20.
  • Install the driver software - It's in the Repository.  apt install rtl-sdr librtlsdr-dev
  • Install the tuner of your choice - gqrx is in the Repo.  apt install gqrx-sdr

Then have fun.  This was GQRX and the RTL-SDR tuned into Radio Martí En Español from my South Florida home.  Your Income Tax Dollars At Work.  I clearly need a better antenna for Shortwave.

A short description.  RTL-SDR is a Software Defined Radio built on specific set of chips including the RTL tuner as well as others.  They are thumb drive sized and work out of the box from 24MHz give or take and as high as 5GHz on some specialized models.

Some of them using a "Direct Sample" mode or an "Upconverter" will receive from 0 cycles to 29 MHz.

They receive in AM, FM (narrow, wide, and stereo), and Single Side Band.  With companion software you can receive all sorts of things like Baby Monitors, Pagers, Weather Radar, FM Broadcast, and more static and pops and clicks than you will ever figure out what to do with.

In Debian 9 Stretch, everything is found in your software repository.  It is accessible with many of the Debian Derived Distributions such as Ubuntu and Q4OS as well as others.  It's available for Fedora, although I could not tell you a thing about that other than "I read something about that somewhere".

With Debian 8 and earlier you had to compile some of the software.  I never got it working on Debian 7.  There were also distributions of Debian that would have a complete environment set up for you to boot from USB or DVD Rom, and they would work if a bit slow due to DVD I/O speeds.

But this way if you have a Debian Derived computer, you are almost there.

  • One thing to consider.  The Direct Sample Mode is accessed via an entry in gqrx.
  • Select "Other" for your RTL-SDR stick
  • Enter rtl=0,direct_samp=2 in "Configure I/O Devices" or File I/O devices
  • Bandwidth should be 2MHz
However to use it with gqrx
  • Start your stick by Plugging the stick in the port
  • Start gqrx, although SDRSharp works via WINE
  • Select the Device in the Configure I/O Devices prompt, and click OK.
  • Click the Play icon in the toolbar.
  • Change your frequency to test by either hitting the (WFM Stereo) FM band and scanning or in the US weather radio is at Narrow FM 162.45-162.65 MHz

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