So you are in receipt of a shiny new Realtek RTL2832U+R820T SDR dongle and I understand the first thing you want to do is start decoding ADS-B, ACARS or some other exotic data format. Maybe you just want to listen in to some local comms? Well we really need to get some software loaded up.
There are two popular SDR tuning programs and both are freeware: SDR# (SDRSharp) and HDSDR. I’ve tried both, but highly recommend SDR# as its more user friendly – especially for newcomers so we’ll stick with that.
There are numerous SDR# versions available (stable/nightly builds) and a degree of experimentation is required to get the program up and running. Installation worked flawlessly on one PC but was a total nightmare on another. Eventually I got it working on both (funnily identical Windows XP platforms!). SDR# requires .NET Framework to be installed prior to running and the problems I had installing SDR# on my laptop was because I had 4.5 installed and not 3.5. To be on the safe side I ended up installing .NET Framework versions 1.0, 2.0, 3.5 and 4.5 (overkill or what?!).
I had my first real taste of radio decoding back in the 90’s. Things were a little different then though. For starters you needed a scanner or HF radio (or both), a demodulator (from Pervisell), leads to connect the radio audio output to a computer soundcard and of course software (or just plain old DOS) and a PC to process everything. At the time I had a subscription to Shortwave Magazine (sadly no longer in print) and the decode section was a godsend.
Each decoding practice had different protocols and often things didn’t work out as planned. Many hours (or days) were spent tinkering with leads, interface settings (bloody COM ports!) and antenna locations. If you were unlucky the Windows blue screen of death would make an appearance every now and again!
The BaoFeng UV-5 is a neatly engineered little radio. And it is little: 55mm (wide) x 150mm (L) x 27mm (D) approx (measured at widest/longest parts and with no antenna). The plastic moulding is good and belies the price tag.
Before we proceed to operating/programming, a quick tour of the unit is in order.
The tri-colour LED backlit dual frequency display sits above a small speaker that provides good clean audio. The mic aperture is positioned to the left of the speaker (viewed from the front) and just below the RX/TX LED and orange VFO/MR button. Same side and from the top is the Call button, PTT (Push To Talk) and MONI (monitor) button. On the right side is the combined SP (speaker) MIC (microphone) socket – accessed via an attached flexible plastic cover.