The SDR I’ve Been Waiting For?

A somewhat crappy photo of the Elad FDm-S2 sitting on my desk at work. There's a  lot of radio inside that tiny box.
A somewhat crappy photo of the Elad FDm-S2 sitting on my desk at work. There’s a lot of radio inside that tiny box.

When I bought my 1st SDR back in May of 2012, the Bonito 1102s, I really expected it to be a revolution in how I listened to the radio. It wasn’t. Don’t get me wrong, the Bonito is a great little radio, but it didn’t really do it for me. It’s limited spectrum bandwidth and somewhat overly complicated software severely limited it in my mind.*

About a year later, I decided to pick up a Perseus while I was at Dayton. I had a lot pepole tell me this was the best receiver in the world, and that I would find it to be vastly superior to my existing boat anchors. Well, I didn’t. Again, while I think the Perseus is a fine radio, it just didn’t grab me. The software was kind of buggy, mine never seemed to be the super hot performer I was expecting. The whole thing left me wondering if maybe I wasn’t an SDR guy afterall?  Maybe I really am one of those luddites who believe real radios not only glow in the dark, but they have knobs and tuning dials as well.

It is too early to tell whether or not I am still that guy or not,but I can tell you that the Elad FDM-S2 has made me rethink my attitude towards the SDR. I had one of these delivered on Friday, and I can honestly say this is the revolutionary device I was waiting for back in 2012. It seems to hear about as well as anything else in the shack, maybe even better. More importantly, it allows me to ‘see’ more station on the waterfall than I ever could before, which means I’m hearing more. It’s not an exaggeration to say that having this radio in the shack has given me an opportunity to become re-acquainted with the HF spectum in a way I haven’t been since I got my first digital readout receiver. It may not exactly be bandscanning in the traditional sense of the word, but it is very similar. In other words, the FDM-S2 has changed the way I listen to the radio.

A screenshot of the Elad software at work.
A screenshot of the Elad software at work.

One of these days, probably in a month or so, I hope to be able to sit down with all three of these SDRs and give you a thorough head to head comparison of the three. Until then though, I will continue to put the new Elad through its paces. There’s still a lot of learning curve to climb with this radio, and I’m having a lot of fun wading through everything it can do.

*Bonito has recently performed a major update to their software, which in my opinion has added a lot of functionality and eliminated some of the complications. All in all, a very worthy upgrade.

Just the WeFax, Ma’am…

It’s kind of interesting how entries for this blog will sometimes just jump out at you out of nowhere. Weather faxes are a great example of this.

Weather fax, also known as wefax, is one of those interesting technologies that’s been around forever on the shortwave bands. Back before satellites and the internet, this could’ve been the only way for a ship at sea to get any kind of weather forecast maps. It’s also something that’s never worked for me.

I have been trying to decode weather faxes on and off now since 1993. It’s not like I’ve tried for 20 years straight either, but every time I have given it a whirl I’ve failed. Chalk it up to crappy software, a poor interface, misconfigured computers, or just plain old operator error (my bet is on the latter), but I’ve never been able to pull it off.

Now, armed with a Perseus SDR and a program called SeaTTY, I decided to give it another whirl. Much to my amazement, I ended up with the following on my screen:

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Holy crap, it’s working!

I think the key to getting it to work this time is a combination of the SeaTTY software and the Perseus SDR. The SeaTTY software is nice in that it has a built in automatic frequency control (AFC), which makes tuning the signal a relatively simple procedure. Just get the station in the pass band, switch the program over to WEFAX mode, and off you go. The Perseus also takes some of the guess work out of the process by letting you see the signal as well as hear it. Being an SDR, it’s also a lot easier to get the signal from the radio into the computer. With the Perseus, it’s just a matter of configuring the virtual audio cable software once and you’re good to go for just about every digital mode, whether it be PSK31, slow scan TV (SSTV), or weather faxes.

Obviously the image quality isn’t all that great. All in all, it looks just like what it is: a fax. You’ll also see that there’s some work that needs to be done on some of these images after you’ve grabbed them. Sometimes the ‘skew’ can be off, and the image will need to be adjusted. You can see a litle of that in the image above, but this one wasn’t too bad. Others have required some TLC in Photoshop, but it didn’t take too long to put them back in to a coherent image. here’s a couple that went through some time in Photoshop:

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That blob of clouds off the Northern coast of South America is a baby picture of tropical storm Chantal, which could be affecting the US sometime later this week.

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All of these weather faxes originate from here in the US, but there are other applications out there. Supposedly there is a Japanese station that’s broadcasting newspapers in both English and Japan. I haven’t found that one yet, but I’ll keep you posted. Until then, here’s a list of weather fax stations around the world, courtesy of NOAA, in pdf form.