Amateur radio played a significant role in the development of early radio and communications technologies in the 20th century. However, with the maturation of wireless (and especially digital) communication systems, many amateur radio hobbyists feel that they have been left behind by radio technology. The complexity of these new technologies challenges individual hobbyists, and the hobby remains stuck, in many respects, in a communications paradigm of the 1970s.

Although digital radio has seen significant adoption by amateurs (“hams”) and their commercial amateur equipment manufacturers, the knowledge gap between hams’ federal licensing requirements and the state of the digital radio art has become quite wide. Many amateurs retain the curiousity and innovative spirit of their forebears, but lack the technical fundamentals to fully understand the new technologies and innovate in the amateur radio space.

GNU Radio provides an excellent tool with which to introduce modern digital signal processing to amateur radio hobbyists.

In the past eighteen months, the speaker has led four presentation/workshops on GNU Radio for local amateur radio clubs in the Vancouver, BC area.

These sessions run for three to four hours and introduce DSP and SDR concepts to hams using the freely-available “Live GNU Radio” ISO. Students build some simple flowgraphs, and finally, a working broadcast FM receiver using a cheap RTL dongle, which they must purchase and bring to the workshop.

The sessions have been received with enthusiasm by hams with a broad range of skill levels: from computing science students in their early 20s to very senior hams in their 60s who simply have an interest in keeping up with technological trends. Students leave the workshop with new knowledge and a stronger understanding of how and (importantly) why digital radio works.

GNU Radio is an excellent educational tool, and this talk will present the speaker’s observations on how to best utilize GNU Radio in teaching basic DSP and SDR concepts to an audience with a broad range of technological skills.