Building a Raspberry PI WebSDR node part 1

TL;DR; https://github.com/reynico/raspberry-websdr

Some years ago my father shown me a pretty awesome piece of software created by Pieter-Tjerk de Boer. And I was absolutely surprised about this. Pieter built WebSDR, a software defined radio receiver thru Internet with the great gift of many simultaneous users listening to different frequencies.

Recently, Pieter added Raspberry PI support to his software, so it was a great moment to get hands dirty on this project: A fully automated Raspberry PI 3 powered WebSDR receiver. I had a spare Raspberry PI3, and also a RTL-SDR RTL2838u usb dongle ready to be used.

I asked Pieter for a copy of WebSDR, and he answered my email with an attached compressed file with webSDR binaries and files.

Everything wired, burnt a Raspbian 9 image on a SD card and got it working after some setup

My father asked for some kind of dual band setup, for 80 and 40 meter band. (3.5-7Mhz) not simultaneous, but time based. As long as band conditions aren’t the same during the day/night, it’s better to have 40 meter band on daylight, then 80 meter band all night long.

First challenge

To get a single SDR receiver working for two bands. Easy

This is easy. I’m using rtl_tcp as hardware-software interface

/usr/bin/rtl_tcp -s 1024000 -g 10 -d0 -p9990

So the thing is: I need to swap over WebSDR’s configuration. One for 40-meter band, one for 80-meter band.

I got then, websdr-40m.cfg

...
band 40m
device !rtlsdr 127.0.0.1:9990 0
samplerate 1024000
centerfreq 7100
initial 7100 lsb
antenna 40 meter double bazooka
gain -25

And websdr-80m.cfg

...
band 80m
device !rtlsdr 127.0.0.1:9990 0
samplerate 1024000
centerfreq 3700
initial 3650 lsb
antenna Half wave 80 meter dipole
gain -25

Then I made a single Systemctl unit to manage both configurations: /etc/systemd/system/websdr@.service

[Unit]
Description=WebSDR server
After=multi-user.target
Requires=rtl_tcp@.service

[Service]
Type=simple
WorkingDirectory=/home/pi/dist11/
ExecStartPre=/bin/sleep 5
ExecStart=/home/pi/dist11/websdr-rpi /home/pi/dist11/websdr-%Im.cfg
Restart=on-abort

[Install]
WantedBy=multi-user.target

%I is the band variable. So I can use systemctl start websdr@40.service to just start the 40-meter band receiver, and, of course, systemctl start websdr@80.service for 80-meter band receiver.

And using crontab, I made a software switch for both bands. But, but but but…

Second challenge

40 and 80 meter band doesn’t use the same antenna. So I need something to manage two antennas in one receiver. Something like.. An antenna switch

I can use a GPIO pin from my Raspberry PI to handle the antenna switching. Challenge sorted.

Doing some tests we noticed that our RTLSDR receiver isn’t going very well below 30 Mhz due to bandpass filters, amplifiers and discriminators inside the RTLSDR board. So….

Third challenge

Listen to under-30mhz bands, without losing any reception signal/level. So we got a 100Mhz Upconverter.

An upconverter uses a local oscillator running at very high frequency (100Mhz is very high compared to 3.5-7Mhz heh) mixed with the receiver frequency creating an Heterodyne. So if you want to hear 7100 Khz, you must tune 107100 Khz. (7100 + 100000). But but but…

That would show us we are tuning 107100 khz on our websdr webpage, and that doesn’t look really good, as long as it’s not the real tuned frequency. Thankfully, WebSDR has a parameter to fix this

progfreq x
 In case you have external SDR hardware of which the WebSDR software
 controls the frequency (practically speaking: RTL-SDRs), this setting
 can be used to specify to what frequency (in kHz) the hardware should
 be programmed, different from centerfreq. This is useful in case of
use with an up/down converter.

But but but, Pieter said to me at the first email:

 Note that due to a bug in this version, you may need to restart the
 rtl_tcp driver after starting the WebSDR for it to be programmed
 correctly for use with a converter (which may be inside your "generic"
 receiver).

So I wrote a new bash script to fix this:

#!/bin/bash
if pgrep -x "websdr-rpi" > /dev/null
then
 echo "Running"
else
 sudo systemctl start websdr@$1.service
 sudo kill -9 `pidof rtl_tcp`
 sleep 3
 sudo renice -10 `pidof websdr-rpi`
 sudo renice -10 `pidof rtl_tcp`
 if [ "$1" == "40" ]; then
 echo 1 > /sys/class/gpio/gpio3/value
 else
 echo 0 > /sys/class/gpio/gpio3/value
 fi
fi

The script checks if websdr-rpi is working, if it’s working it just print “Running”. If not:

  • Starts the websdr receiver at desired band (as an argument)
  • kills rtl_tcp process.
  • due to Restart=on-abort setting on rt_tcp systemctl unit file, rtl_tcp brings again after websdr. This is the proposed fix by Pieter.
  • renice both rtl_tcp and websdr-rpi processes in order to get a smoother operation, since both of them now have higher priority.
  • then, if we’re operating on 40 meter band, GPIO3 takes a “power-on” value, which means the relay must be activated to select the second antenna.

This script is part of my cron and runs every minute. If websdr-rpi fails, exits, crashes or whatever, cron will bring it up again in a minute (or less). Done? no.

Fourth challenge

We’ve been doing a lot of tests, setting up websdr, rtl_tcp parameters, tuning wifi connection, trying to get a super standalone raspberry pi setup but, but but but. We missed something.

Been using both 40 and 80 meter antennas thru a Yaesu FF-501 LPF/HPF filter, who grants us an incredible clean signal. We noticed that when doing some other tests and we connected the RTL-SDR source directly to the antennas, then we got a LOT of noise. So for now we are working on a compact low pass filter to get rid of all those noise.

 

Read the second part here

One thought on “Building a Raspberry PI WebSDR node part 1”

Comments are closed.