Tag Archives: RTL-SDR

Buyer Beware: Insane RTL-SDR pricing

$300 is an absurd price for this RTL-SDR package.

This morning, while browsing eBay, I noticed a high-production retailer selling an RTL-SDR package for $300 US! (To add insult to injury, this isn’t even the latest version of the RTL-SDR dongle!)

I post this warning message to those who are new to the world of the RTL-SDR.

You should never pay more than $30 US shipped for the latest version of the RTL-SDR dongle unless you’re buying custom enclosures, filtering, etc. In fact, the RTL-SDR package above retails for about $25 shipped via Amazon (though currently out of stock). The RTL-SDR stick alone retails for $20.95 shipped. You can find a number of models between $10-20 on Amazon and eBay.

The majority of eBay sellers list the RTL-SDR at the proper market price.

The allure of the RTL-SDR is its affordability–don’t fall for sellers on eBay, Amazon or elsewhere who list these at outrageous prices.  They’re simply trying to rip you off.

Making a FlightAware ADS-B feeder with a Raspberry Pi 3 and RTL-SDR dongle

It’s been nearly a year since I acquired both the RTL-SDR (above) and Rasperry Pi 3 (below)r.

Remember when I made a plea for Pi 3 projects just last year––?

Although many of you suggested some great projects, I never actually got around to doing any of them. Now, don’t get me wrong––I wanted to, of course, but simply got involved with reviews, NPOTA, two months of travel…and, well, life.

Then, last week at the Winter SWL Fest, a common theme emerged in both presentations and discussions:  the numerous applications of the super-cheap, and thus super-ubiquitous, RTL-SDR dongle. In their engaging presentations, both Dan Srebnick and Mark Fahey––SWLing Post contributors and good friends––focused on the power of the RTL-SDR, expounding upon some simple, inexpensive applications in their forums. It was inspiring. Also, buddy Eddie Muro showed me just how easily an ADS-B receiver could be set up using an Android phone.

Back to the Pi. Though I was already aware the Pi 3 and RTL-SDR could be united to make an ADS-B receiver, watching Mark Fahey talk about how simply one could feed the FlightAware network with ADS-B data finally hooked me.  Why not, indeed? Here was fun to be had!

Mark preparing to woo his captive audience at the Winter SWL Fest!

I couldn’t get the idea out of my head, so Tuesday, the day following my return, I set the afternoon aside.  I rolled up my sleeves, and with my long-neglected Pi 3 and RTL-SDR, got ready to cook up a flight sensor.

I figured I was probably missing a component or two, and fully expected the process to be complicated, but decided I wouldn’t let this deter me. And guess what? I was wrong on both counts!

FlightAware ADS-B feeder recipe


If you only plan to use this SDR and antenna as an ADS-B feeder, you might go for the FlightAware Dongle and 1090 MHz antenna combo.


Note: I used this excellent PiAware ADS-B feeder tutorial to build my system–it’s detailed and doesn’t make the lofty assumption that you actually understand formatting cards, building disk images, and/or editing config text files.

Directions below are a highly distilled version of that tutorial. If you’re new to all of this, as I was, follow these directions instead of the above tutorial. Be aware that the directions assume you’re using the Pi 3 and a Windows PC to burn the image file.

  1. Download PiAware image7-zipSD card formatter, and the Win32 Disk Imager. Decompress all compressed files, install and note the folder locations.
  2. Register your username at FlightAware–presuming you don’t already have an account, of course.
  3. Use SD Card Formatter to format your MicroSD card.  Just make sure you’re formatting the correct drive, else you could easily wipe the wrong disk/card!
  4. Use Win32 Disk imager to write the PiAware image to your MicroSD card.
  5. If using WiFi, open Windows Explorer.  Locate text document called piaware-config on the MicroSD card, open it with a text editor, and locate the WiFi ssid and password locations. Per the config comments, edit them to match your WiFi system. Note that any special characters in both the name and password will require the use of quotation marks (again, noted in the config file comments). Save the file in the same location on the disc image.
  6. Remove the microSD card containing the PiAware image; insert it into the Pi 3.
  7. Connect the RTL-SDR or FlightAware dongle to the Raspberry Pi. Attach an appropriate antenna to the RTL-SDR. Note:  You’ll get the best results if you place the antenna outdoors with line of sight to the skies.
  8. Plug the Raspberry Pi 3 into a power source…and cross your fingers!
  9. Grab a cup of coffee, walk the dog, or listen to this 12 minute version of the BBC countdown; it could take at least this long for FlightAware to start receiving data from your ADS-B feeder.
  10. When you see this My ADS-B button in the header of FlightAware (see below), you’ll know you’re in business. Congratulations!  You can now watch the skies.

Feeding FlightAware

After my ADS-B receiver had been in operation for a while, I was very impressed with the data FlightAware was able to pull from my ADS-B feed. I was equally impressed with the number of distant aircraft I could receive with such a modest antenna––a number of them up to 135 miles from my location. Once I find a suitable outdoor location for the mag mount antenna, currently indoors, I expect the reception distance will increase significantly.

You can also connect to the live feed from your ADS-B receiver through your local network. Here’s a screenshot of my live data:

Future plans

At the moment, my ADS-B receiver is located indoors, in a south-facing window.

It works, but clearly isn’t ideal. Since the Pi 3 connects to my network via WiFi, I intend to install the full ADS-B receiver system into a small weatherproof case and mount it outside. My Pi 3 has no case, so I purchased an inexpensive one yesterday. I should be able to feed it power with an outdoor outlet…but I’m very tempted to experiment with making it solar powered.  To find out if this is a logical move, I need to observe and measure the power requirements first, and will be doing that in the next few weeks.

Meantime, I’m thoroughly enjoying watching the (amazingly busy) traffic in the skies…and the kid in me relishes it!

Thanks, Mark, for the great idea!

Have any SWLing Post readers attempted to build a solar-powered or outdoor ADS-B receiver? Please comment!

North American and European medium wave signals into Oxford, UK

Hi there, I’ve been rather preoccupied of late, initially with the brilliant Tecsun PL-310ET and latterly with the even more brilliant Eton Satellit. However, in the background (as always), I’ve been trying to catch transatlantic medium wave DX. My listening schedule is broadly based on shortwave DXing during daylight hours – when I’m not at work of course, typically a Friday afternoon or at weekends – and always with a portable. Evenings usually start off with a tune around the tropical bands, followed by setting up the Elad FDM DUO to run some medium wave spectrum recordings overnight. In the past few days though, my daylight DXing has been bolstered by my NooElec RTL-SDR and ‘Ham it up’ upconverter. I bought the device over a year ago and after some initial exceitement, it quickly became quite obvious that I needed a reciever with a bit more ‘oomph’! However, it’s actually proving very useful to view signals on a  spectrum, even when I’m conducting most or all of my listening on a different (i.e. higher performing) receiver. Ultimately, the RTL-SDR is always going to be a compromise, with relatively limited sensitivity, but because by it’s very nature it has excellent selectivity, overall it’s a reasonable performer. My particular RTL-SDR performs quite well if a decent antenna is employed with it, such as a longwire or the Wellbrook ALA1530 active loop.

Anyway, back to the medium wave DX. In the past month or two, I’ve copied a number of stations from North America, with really nice signals, including WRCR Rampano – New York, WFED Federal News Radio – Washington DC, WENE – Endicott and WUNR – Brookline from Newton, Mass. I’ve also recorded a lovely interval signal from RAI Radio 1, Milano and further European signals from Magyar Radio, Budapest and Radio Slovenija 1, from Ljubljana. During the past 18 months or so of DXing, I have been mostly ignoring signals coming into Oxford from the continent. However, that changed a little after I stumbled across the RAI Radio 1 interval signal, which complete with the rather rousing Italian National Anthem, inspired me to dig out some more European DX. I’m actually finding European DX quite rewarding, particularly because it feels new again – not surprising since I haven’t listened to Europeans on medium wave for any length of time since the 1980s. I hope you enjoy the reception videos – embedded video and text links follow below and I wish you all the very best DX. 

Click here to watch on YouTube


Click here to watch on YouTube


Click here to watch on YouTube


Click here to watch on YouTube


Click here to watch on YouTube


Click here to watch on YouTube


Click here to watch on youtube


Click here to watch on YouTube

Clint Gouveia is the author of this post and a regular contributor to the SWLing Post. Clint actively publishes videos of his shortwave radio excursions on his YouTube channel: Oxford Shortwave Log. Clint is based in Oxfordshire, England.

Guest Post: An Unusual Night for CB

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Mario Filippi (N2HUN) for the following guest post:

An Unusual Night for CB

by Mario Filippi (N2HUN)

December 2nd was an unusual night for CB (Citizen’s Band) radio, as the band was open late (0030 GMT) when I turned on the President Washington CB radio just to see who was on. First stop was Channel 19 (27.185 MHz), the trucker’s channel, where the QRM was high, due to the skip from the many truckers on the channel. Earlier in the day this channel was very quiet as was the rest of the band. The fact that Channel 19 was pinning the S meter after dark was a big hint that the band might be open. And it certainly was!

Uniden President Washington AM/SSB Base Station

Being a CB’er from back in the 70’s (call sign KBN-8387), this band was my first serious introduction to two-way radio communication, and after 40+ years it’s still an enjoyable experience to listen in to the local, and sometimes DX chatter. For the most part the CB band mimics 10 meters, basically open during the day (except when sunspot numbers are low) and closed at night. That’s the usual drill, but Mother Nature doesn’t always go by the playbook and sometimes the band is opened at the darnedest times, sometimes even after midnight!

So this evening around 8:30 EST the President Washington CB base station was fired up and CB operators were heard in Maine, Illinois, and as far as Wisconsin, definitely what would be considered out of the ordinary range of CB, which is generally several miles. Now FCC rules still state that it’s illegal to communicate over 155 miles but it’s a non-issue when the band’s open. For the most part, AM is used on most of the channels but you’ll find LSB activity on Channel 36 (27.365 MHz). And when the band gets busy and crowded, you’ll hear LSB QSOs from Channels 36 – 39 (27.365 – 27.395 MHz) as sidebanders spread out among the channels so that they can work each other through the QRM.

To get a better idea of what the CB band “looks” like during a band opening, a spectral scan of the band (26.965 – 27.405 MHz) would be useful. This can be achieved using an SDR dongle, such as the RTL-SDR.com version which is a diminutive broadband receiver with an analog to digital converter and covers from about 26 – 1670 MHz. Used in conjunction with an up-converter (from Nooelec), software such as SDR# (SDR Sharp) and a computer (Smartphone apps are available also) you’ll be able to put up a spectral scan of the band as well as hear what’s happening.

RTL-SDR.com dongle – a small broadband receiver covering all modes

Nooelec’s Ham It Up RF Upconverter expands dongle’s receiving range to the entire HF and MW band

As the old adage goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words” so tonight the SDR dongle, along with SDR# software was fired up to get an idea of how many stations were on during the opening. The antenna used was an S9 43 foot vertical, the same one I use for HF. Using the dongle, it’s an easy feat to visualize the entire CB band on the spectral scan, which is a plot of frequency (X axis) versus signal strength (Y axis). The top half of the screen is the spectral scan and the lower half is the “waterfall” which is a time lapse recording of the spectral scan.

Screenshot of CB Band (wide red stripe) during tonight’s opening.

Normally at this time of night a spectral scan of the CB band would be flat-lining, but as you can see there are plenty of stations conducting QSOs, with the stronger stations having higher peaks and more intense tracings on the waterfall. Seeing the entire CB band visually gives one lots of information such as what channels are active, how many stations are on, what stations might be running higher power (limit is 4 W AM, 12W PEP SSB output), whether outbanders are active or whether DX stations outside the US are partaking of the opening.

Over the years I’ve heard the CB band open beyond midnight and on a winter’s night during a snowstorm. Some openings have lasted for hours. Last year, using the mobile CB, operators from Europe, the Caribbean, and as far away as Australia were heard during my commute to work. At the opposite extreme some days all you’ll hear is ignition noise, hihi. It’s a lot like 10 meters and even a bit like 6 meters; you never know what surprises Mother Nature has in store. Spin the tuning dial over to the CB band and take a listen one of these days.

Thank you so much, Mario!

Only a few weeks ago, I noticed on my SDR’s wideband spectrum display that the 11 meter band was very active.  I started listening around and was absolutely amazed at how organized some of the nets were and how reliable skip was. Signals were blanketing all of the eastern US and even into the west. Sometimes I think there are openings on the 10 meter band, for example, but there are so few users there in comparison, no one notices. The CB frequencies are pretty much always active, when conditions are favorable for DX, everyone instantly notices!

Many might not realize that even their portable shortwave radio can tune the CB frequencies. Thank you again!

Advice using the RTL-SDR on the Mac OS operating system?


Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Gary Wise (W4EEY), who writes:

A good friend of mine recently bought an RTL-SDR (Version 3) from Amazon after seeing the unit in action at my house.

He primarily uses Apple computers, however, and the software selections for Apple’s IOS recommended at the RTL-SDR Quick Start Guide (http://www.rtl-sdr.com/rtl-sdr-quick-start-guide/) don’t install easily (I understand they refuse to install due to security issues or restrictions).

What could you or your readers recommend for my friend (doesn’t have to be free)?

Thanks for sharing your question, Gary. I would also love to know a way to use my MacBook Air with the new RTL-SDR without having to run a dual-boot of Windows.

Earlier this year, Chris Smolinski, developed an easier way to run the RTL-SDR on a Mac, but I’m not sure if it can take advantage of the new HF coverage. Has anyone tried?

Readers: please comment if you have suggestions for Gary or if you’ve successfully used the new RTL-SDR on a Mac OSX.