Getting Started with Raspberry Pi in the Ham Shack

If you are a ham radio operator, maker, techie or all of the above, you may have heard about the raspberry pi. But perhaps you were not aware how well it fits into a Ham Shack. It can be used to:

  • Decode ADS-B and MLAT data from Airplanes, Helicopters even Baloons
  • Decode Digital modes with WSJT-X (FT8, JT65, JT9, WSPR, MSK144)
  • Receive Weather Satellite images
  • Function as an iGate for APRS (Automatic Packet Reporting System)
  • Transmit WSPR with simple add-on Hardware
  • Run GNU Radio and SDR (Software Defined Radio)
  • Create hot spots for DMR, Yaesu Fusion C4FM and D-Star systems
  • Even use an everyday ham shack desktop computer
  • And much, much more!

If you are new to the Raspberry pi or just want to expand your knowledge a little, hopefully the following information will help.

So WHAT is a Raspberry Pi?

There are a few different varieties of the Raspberry Pi available on the market (Model versions are in parenthesis):

  • Pi 1 (A,B,A+ and B+) - Older models circa 2012 or so, obsolete 700Mhz CPU
  • Pi 2 (B) - 2015 version, still very usable, GPIO moved to 40 GPIO, 900Mhz CPU
  • Pi 3 (A+, B, and B+) 2016-2018, faster version of the above, 1.2-1.4Ghz
  • Pi 4 (B) - 2019 model, the latest currently, 1.5Ghz CPU, memory size options, USB 3
  • Zero (including W) - W means wireless, these are stripped down units for use where some features are not needed 2015-2017

None of these are over $35-40 USD in price. The B3+ unit is a quad-core 1.4Ghz with 1GB ram and networking capability. I recommend using this unit at this point in time for most users. The version 4 unit is available in 3 different memory sizes, 1,2 and 4GB as of 2019. A nice comparison chart can be found here on the Modmypi website.

What is needed to get one up and running:

  • 5V power source - Can be USB like ones used for phones, 2A or better
  • Good quality SD card - at least 4Gb, but under 32Gb - Class 10 is recommended
  • An Operating system - which I will provide links for

Nice to have:

  • Powered USB hub - Likely you may need to plug in more then is allowed on device but depends on your intended usage. Powered is a key word here.
  • Case - Here you will have many options although for Ham Radio use I recommend a metal enclosure.
  • POE Adapter if you want to power and network via one cable. I used these for many of my projects you will find on this website.
  • Other  accessories  if needed - Such as Mouse, Keyboard, Monitor, Ethernet cable, etc.

To Install the Operating system you will need to pick an operating system. The ones currently available are:

  • NOOBS - Recommended for Beginners
  • Rasparian - Recommended for Ham Radio

You can Download them all here. There are some other flavors aroound, some you will see listed on the website. I will not be dealing with these in this section.

You will also need to write the image to the SD card.

After downloading the image from the RaspberryPi use the appropriate software above to "burn" the image to the card. On windows software for example make note of the drive letter, format and transfer the image. Follow instructions for each software as appropriate. This part is very easy for an average PC users.

So I assume now you plugged everything in, inserted the SD Card and the unit is booting up. Here are the next few things to do BEFORE you start playing around with the unit further. Please note the $ indicates a terminal prompt.

  1. Change Password! The Default password for the RaspberryPi is raspberry username  is pi. Needless to say, this has to go! $ passwd
  2. If for some reason you are in terminal mode and want to start the GUI (Graphical User Interface) type startx
  3. Connect to a Network. If using Ethernet, plug in and you are done. For Wireless, using the GUI look for the wireless icon and enter credentials.
  4. Perform Updates: $ sudo apt-get update
  5. Perform Upgrades: $ sudo apt-get upgrade
  6. Update the RaspberryPi Firmware: $ sudo apt-get install rpi-update

Here are some other useful things to know to get you started. Not the items in <brackets> are variable and you do not type the brackets. This would be a program name or names for example. You can do more then one at the time. The term sudo is "super user do" which is comparable to running something as an administrator in windows.

  • To install programs: $ sudo apt-get install <Program>
  • To uninstall programs: $ sudo apt-get remove <Program>
  • To run the configuration untility: $ sudo raspi-config
  • To switch to Administrator: $ sudo
  • To add a user $ adduser <Name>
  • To shutdown: $ sudo shutdown -h now
  • To Reboot: $ sudo reboot -h now

If you made it this far then in all likelihood you are ready to start having some fun and get some ham radio software installed and get on the air! Continue on to the Ham Radio projects and applications page of this website.

In addition to this website of course, here are some other good places to find more information on the RaspberryPi:

Here is a list of Ham Related Projects you can build with you Raspberry Pi:

I really hope this helps someone and if you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to reach out to me!

If you find something incorrect and/or have an update, I would really appreciate if you could let me know by contacting me. I like to keep things as up-to-date as possible. Thank you! - Lucas / W6AER

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