Background info:

I own an SDR (model "SDRPlay RSP1") and I have a fully working HDSDR software system installed on my PC. I can successfully use this to tune-in to my local airport's radio traffic and identify individual transmissions from specific aircraft that I can follow on the FlightRadar website (although the audio quality is fuzzy and indistinct for all but very close aircraft).

I am using a fairly cheap, portable discone antenna, which sits inside the front window of my house (I cannot put it on the roof for about 47 reasons I won't go into).

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I am currently studying for my Ham licence in the UK and I'd like to get some experience listening to some "normal" Ham traffic (voice and CW would be of main interest).

My problem:

I am having a great deal of difficulty actually finding anything to listen to on the air. I have used the RSGB band plan (2017) to attempt to find radio users communicating on a lot of different frequencies, but I'm rapidly realising that I must doing it all wrong.

Things that I think might be wrong with my setup:

  • Poor location for the antenna (upstairs bay window, no good solid ground plane near it). It's sitting on a wooden windowsill in a brick building.
  • User error in operating the system. I'm a newbie, but I can understand that I need to set my RX bandwidth to match the modulation and band type that I'm interested in. I understand the waterfall graph and how to size the bandwidth to encompass the full extent of the transmission.
  • Is the UK simply not very active in Ham bands? (doubtful)

Finally, the questions:

It seems like there's nothing to listen to, apart from FM national radio (obnoxiously loud and clear), Airband (sporadic, weak, garbled and frankly a bit boring) and the occasional walkie talkie on the building site over the street (highly entertaining but not likely to improve my Ham skills).

Is the problem likely to be the lack of a real physical ground-plane for my antenna? Is it an unsuitable antenna? Or is it my lack of skill in driving the HDSDR software? Or something else? Perhaps my house is a pretty decent Faraday cage.

EDIT After a few days of nothingness, I finally managed to find a rag-chew on 432,121 kHz FM. I was hearing both sides of the conversation (a fascinating discussion on the relative merits of Japanese vs Norwegian winter driving regulations). The accents were familiar to me as locals. The audio was pretty dire quality, a lot of hiss which I was able to mitigate somewhat by messing with the bandwidths and applying NR filters. Managed to get the names of both people and one of the callsigns. Looked up the callsign and he's based about 10-15 miles from me.

I thought that was pretty awesome, even though it's not exactly a DX :)

But the band has gone quiet again. I'm starting to think that my antenna placement is no good.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ so, what frequencies does your discone work well on? Your discone has a ground plane "built in", that's the cone part – and discones work pretty well with those, so you couldn't even get a significantly better reception with a different kind of antenna of the same size and a larger ground plane. The downward pointing rods are your ground plane, and the fact that a discone works relatively well over a large range of frequencies is exactly because that's how it works. $\endgroup$ Dec 14 '17 at 21:15
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Perhaps you could start by monitoring a local repeater on the 2m band. $\endgroup$
    – rclocher3
    Dec 14 '17 at 21:23
  • $\begingroup$ @rclocher3, I'm afraid I don't know what that entails. Could you pleas elaborate? $\endgroup$
    – Wossname
    Dec 14 '17 at 21:43
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    $\begingroup$ This might not exactly relate to your question, but to see if your antenna and RSP1 are working properly you could tune in to 144.800, Europe's APRS frequency. Then check on the aprs.fi website if anything is nearby. The signals will be short (~ 1sec) bursts of data but if you're just trying to test things out it may be very useful. Modulation is in narrow FM. $\endgroup$
    – captcha
    Dec 14 '17 at 21:44
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    $\begingroup$ @Wossname, your town most likely has a ham club with a 2m FM repeater. You could probably find the club's web site with a web search. Their site should give the frequency of their repeater in the 2m band (144--148 MHz). In my area there isn't a lot of chatter on FM anymore, except for a weekly net that two dozen people check into for a half hour or so. So if you find that frequency and listen, you should hear some decently strong FM signals. (The input and output frequencies of FM repeaters are different, but the quoted frequency is the repeater output, which is the one to monitor.) $\endgroup$
    – rclocher3
    Dec 14 '17 at 23:50

The UK band plan for the 2m (VHF) band can be found here on the RSGB website. In the UK, the 2m band is between 144.000MHz and 146.000MHZ.

Of note is the section 145.5935 - 145.7935MHz, which are the repeater outputs. Depending on where you are in the UK, there should be at least one repeater that you can here there. Whether or not there is any activity is another matter! If you listen on every channel between those frequencies for more than 15 minutes, you should hear something. If only because all repeaters send their ident in morse code every 15 minutes.

Similarly, the 70cm UHF band also has repeaters, with outputs in the section 432.994 – 433.381MHz (this is from the RSGB band plan for the 70cm band).

I would recommend that you also try listening on the HF bands, as these can be very busy, and tend to be longer range than VHF and UHF. For local stations (i.e. within your region of the UK), try the 40m and 80m bands. For international traffic, day and night, try the 20m band. The frequencies for these bands can be found on the RSGB's band plan for HF bands.

Good luck with your listening! We all started like this, and it's a fun part of the hobby.

  • $\begingroup$ Hi Scott, thanks for the tip, I did manage to find a short rag-chew to listen to, I've edited the Q to give details. $\endgroup$
    – Wossname
    Dec 20 '17 at 19:36

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