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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Sorry to have to lead with this, but this post assumes you’re a licensed Ham user. If you’re not, you can’t run this rig. Rules/Restrictions where I am located might be different for where you are. Know the rules applicable to you, stick to them.

Well I’ve been meaning to post this for a while. Below is a how-to for what I think is a really good choice for a basic minimalist HF comms setup for all of the Be Prepared people out there on the internets.

Before I start, I need to get a few things out of the way. There are a few keywords written above that I’d like to define for our purposes:
  • Minimalist = Small, portable, no overly-technical drama required to set up.
  • Comms = Ability to easily send/receive accurate information to/from a specific 3rd party.
These definitions are important, as they drive the whole theory behind this setup. (More on this later.)

WHAT YOU NEED.
You need some gear. Get this stuff:
  • Rugged laptop (Mine’s a CF19 Toughbook.)
  • Venus DR4020 here.
  • 2x 3.5mm male-to-male audio cables (already come with DR4020.)
  • 12v power supply. I like this one here.
  • Antenna (Here if you want to build your own.)
  • FLDigi download here. (If you're running Windows, get the .exe one.)
  • Beverage of your choice.
That’s it. (Beverage for scale.) I have no affiliations with any vendors here. Bought all this stuff with my own money, and received the usual Wife-Flak, same as everyone else out there.


HOW TO SET UP.
In the “Comms” definition above, I mentioned the word “Easily.” Well, that’s intentional - If something isn't easily implemented, people won't bother to use it. I don't want that to happen here, so this setup is designed to be easy to set up. Here’s how to get it all working:
  • Install FLDigi on the laptop.
  • Plug the laptop HEADPHONES output to the DR4020’s data IN port.
  • Plug the laptop MIC output to the DR4020’s data OUT port.
  • Connect the antenna to the DR4020. (Assuming you’ve already set up the antenna.)
  • Connect your 12v power supply to the DR4020.
  • Turn on laptop, fire up FLDigi.
  • Turn on DR4020.
  • Done. (Remember to configure soundcard options on FLDigi - This is beyond the scope of this how-to, as it'll depend on stuff like Windows Vs Linux, onboard soundcard vs USB dongle, etc.)
No math, no forum posts, no ionosphere or sun cycle technical knowledge needed. No software configurations, drivers, hardware fights, etc. Plug and play. It's simple.

HOW TO USE IT.
Alright so you want to talk to check in with your buddies and see how TEOTWAWKI is going in their neck of the woods. Let’s get started:
  • Power up everything, get FLDigi open, etc.
  • Physically dial the DR4020 to your frequency of choice (limited to 20m or 40m bands.) If the country you’re in has digital restrictions, stick to the appropriate frequencies. (Note: Ignore the frequency on the sceen in FLDigi – it isn’t linked to your radio, and has no effect on your operations. Dial your DR4020 to make the magic happen.)
  • On the FLDigi top menu, click on “Op Mode” and select the digital mode you want to operate on. There’s a bunch of options/modes here, with hours and hours of cool reading and analysis avaialbe for all of them. To skip to it, in my opinion pick an “Olivia” mode.
  • Navigate to the “Blue Box” part of FLDigi. Type your message into the Blue box section the screen, and then click the “TX >|” button in the bottom-right. (There’s more on this later.)
There. You’re done. In theory, your pal (who in theory is tuned to the same frequency and running the appropriate Olivia mode on his/her own setup) will receive your Olivia-encoded message, and send an Olivia-encoded message back to you. FLDigi will capture it, decode it, and spit out the plain text on the screen for you to read.

That’s it. You have a simple, easy, portable setup that allows HF comms. Good luck with TEOTWAWKI and/or zombies.

For Fun:
Here's the setup in action, running a software called WSJTX, using a digital mode called FT8. Left side of the screen shows all of the signals that the laptop/4020 are picking up.


The point to be made is that a laptop + speaker wire + a bagel-sized radio = range of 2000+ miles. I don't have any pics handy of FLDigi/Olivia contacts, but I'll get something put together later that'll show everything in action.

***

That’s it for the practical application part. There’s some fluff posted below detailing the theory behind this build, if anyone cares.

THEORY/COMMENTS

Because I know there will be a bunch of “But ackshually…..” stuff pop up, I’m going to try and head those off here:

Digital? Fight me Millenial, voice is king. Yes, I picked digital on purpose. This is intentional. Digital allows for two very important things:

(1) Keeps things small. Don’t need to worry about handsets or speakers or audio or any other auxiliary bits of gear. Just a couple 3.5mm audio cables and that’s it.

(2) Digital modes allow “Comms” at low power levels/long distances.

#2 is critical. Again, my definition of Comms is having the ability to easily send/receive information between specific 3rd parties (ie. Your pals.) From a technical standpoint, voice modes (at low power) suck for that. I won’t get into the nerd stuff, but digital modes smack the crap out of voice in a ‘Distance vs Power’ comparison. It’s essentially why a 1-watt Morse code rig can compete with (and often do better) than 100-watt voice rigs in terms of long distance comms. (Yes, Morse is the OG digital mode.)

So if you want to make consistent, deliberate comms with specific people, to relay specific information, using a small (read: low-watt) rig, Digital is king. If you want to voice-chat with 80 year olds about your various aches and pains, this is definitely not the rig for that.

Just learn Morse Code. Sure. But when Digital modes rival or exceed CW in weak signal environments, why? (Reference here.) Everyone these days can write a text message or an email. That’s why this rig uses a laptop interface: You can get your non-prepper kid sister on the laptop, and she will intuitively understand what to do. You can’t easily do that with a Mountain Topper and a notepad. (There’s that pesky “easily” word popping up again.)

Well you can’t scan/listen to voice with this setup. It sucks. True, no classical voice or voice scanning. But, back to my definition of Comms: “The ability to easily send/receive information to specific 3rd parties.” Keywords here are Specific Parties. What this rig does is allow a person the ability to send/receive information to/from specific people. (Ham world generally calls this a “Net”.) In theory, all the appropriate people involved will have a shared comms plan, detailing times/frequencies that people will check in, protocols, etc. As long as everyone is dialed in to the right frequencies at the right times, you’ll have a very high chance of making contact.

What this means is that a person needs to have all of this stuff in place prior to the world ending. Same with your pals/buddies. Get a plan in place so that everyone knows what to do if you have to start using the radio.

What it doesn't involve is scanning the airwaves for stuff. The intention here is deliberate comms between specified users. You know, like calling mom.

Toughbook? Really? It’s maybe overkill, and a guy could get by with a regular laptop. However, because this rig is “Portable”, I’m assuming that the user is going to throw the gear into a pack or a truck, transport it somewhere, and get some work done. Electronics are no good if they won’t work. Rugged laptops are a hedge against Murphy.

Side-benefit: the CF19 has an onboard soundcard – No need for external USB soundcards/dongles. Just plug your 3.5mm cables in, and done. Pro-tip: colour-code your cables.

DR4020 is commie crap. Maybe. But, it’s the simplest digital rig I’ve found. No usb sound cards, no hamlib or Flrig or Omnirig CAT-Control troubleshooting, no software settings or tweaks involved, nothing. Literally plug in your 3.5mm connections, and that’s it. Nothing else required. If you colour-code the connections, it’s the easiest thing to set up. I can talk my kid sister through setting it up over the phone without breaking a sweat. Simple is good, and this little DR4020 rig is dead-nuts simple (Not sure how rugged it is, but it’s been holding steady so far. Get a Pelican case if you're worried.)

Olivia sucks and is too slow. That’s, like, your opinion, man. I’m not going to get into a huge technical analysis here. (Go read NBEMS theory for background if you want.) In summary, Olivia 8/500 gets decoded consistently, pretty much every single time, by all users and regardless of band conditions. Copy rates are easily 80%+ no matter what. For intentionally sharing accurate information with specific parties over HF, the Olivia modes nail it. It’s not perfect, but for my purposes it fills the role it’s supposed to: get info to people every time, without having to pray to sun cycle gods or other such nonsense.

I'm sure I missed something, but I think the above gives pretty good context into the purpose of this build. So that's all I have for now.
 

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So you're assuming that the internet will be functioning when the grid goes down?

It also assumes that you think the electric grid will be up when the grid goes down unless you have a solid plan for making electricity.

I prefer something a little simpler that assumes the repeater towers will also be down. A lot more limited but my simple system allows two way from base to 2 meter handhelds 8+ miles away and receiving only from longer distances on other bands.

For me local communications would be more important than talking to someone 300 miles away. I also understand the need to be able to receive from further distances but see little need to transmit longer distances.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 · (Edited)
Actual conversation:

me: Hey [name of non-radio female person], what about CHIRP? Are you concerned about not having that
her: What's that? Oh are you talking about radio stuff again? Go away.

To be serious, CHIRP is no factor. If you really want to be switched-on, the DR4020 has a memory function and can save the frequencies you want. Turn the knob, and it'll immediately jump to your saved frequencies. (Long-press, and you can fine-tune in xxx.1x increments. Slooooow, but doable.)

More importantly, you can just open your comms plan binder, read where you need to be, and dial to that frequency. Analog CHIRP. (You do have a comms binder, right?)

What about CHIRP for channel programming?
That's a useful tool.
What about CHIRP for channel programming?
That's a useful tool.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Umm, did I miss something?

Laptop = Solar charged.
12V battery = Solar charged.
Radio = Runs off 12v battery that was solar charged...
HF Comms = No grid needed... (That's kind of the point.)

I don't think the internet is needed for anything listed above, but I'm also an idiot most of the time, so it's definitely possible.



So you're assuming that the internet will be functioning when the grid goes down?

It also assumes that you think the electric grid will be up when the grid goes down.

I prefer something a little simpler that assumes the repeater towers will also be down. A lot more limited but my simple system allows two way from base to 2 meter handhelds 8+ miles away and receiving from longer distances on other bands.
 

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Umm, did I miss something?

Laptop = Solar charged.
12V battery = Solar charged.
Radio = Runs off 12v battery that was solar charged...
HF Comms = No grid needed... (That's kind of the point.)

I don't think the internet is needed for anything listed above, but I'm also an idiot most of the time, so it's definitely possible.
I stand corrected. But I'll stick with my simpler system.

So exactly what solar system do you have all of this running off of? And can you contact someone who hasn't downloaded the same program into their computer?
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
All good sir, I'm not trying to talk you personally into/out of anything. If you have something that works, awesome. This post probably isn't relevant for you. (And that's a good thing.)

There's no "solar system" needed. It just runs off any 12v battery. Use any solar panel you want (or a vehicle DC alternator/12v battery, or whatever else you can think of) and go nuts. As long as your laptop is charged, and you have a 12v power supply to run the radio, you're good to go.

100% off grid, and man-portable anywhere.

I stand corrected. But I'll stick with my simpler system.

So exactly what solar system do you have all of this running off of? And can you contact someone who hasn't downloaded the same program into their computer?
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
It's moreso the lack of both a physical mic jack and as well as headphones jack. Most new-ish laptops only have a single jack. The radio world uses a USB soundcard dongle as a workaround for this problem .

The older laptops (CF19 included) have both mic/phones jacks on the onboard soundcard. I did a poor job of articulating this earlier, so thanks for pointing it out.

I've never heard of a laptop that didn't have an internal sound card, is that a thing?
 

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I've never heard of a laptop that didn't have an internal sound card, is that a thing?
They are all integrated on the motherboard these days, hardwired and embedded in the mobo.
I've repaired over 10k laptops in the past 25 years, mostly Dells, HP's and a few Acers, Toshibas and Sonys to boot. They used to be a separate riser card / daughterboard, but no longer is that true. Video is also integrated, however, WIFI / Bluetooth is a separate card, nearly identical in size (but thicker) than a cell phone sim card, or SD memory card.

Maybe I'm just a poor schlub with no base station and only a pair of HT's, but all the guys at the 2 main radio clubs here in the capitol of our state use CHIRP for programming. When in Rome...

But I digress. I'm only a novice.
I defer to your greater knowledge base.
 

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It's moreso the lack of both a physical mic jack and as well as headphones jack. Most new-ish laptops only have a single jack. The radio world uses a USB soundcard dongle as a workaround for this problem .

The older laptops (CF19 included) have both mic/phones jacks on the onboard soundcard. I did a poor job of articulating this earlier, so thanks for pointing it out.
gotcha. if you do need a usb dongle, I got a 3 pack for $9 off amazon, they are dirt cheap (use for better audio on rasp pi but now i see why others may need one).
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
No need to defer. I really don't have a knowledge base - I just stumbled through a few things, and wrote down my findings on the forum here. I'm a guy with a few Baofengs, some ebay refurbished gear, and some zip ties. Beyond that, I don't know much.

There's way smarter people on the forum, who have years of experience doing this stuff on two-way ranges. I'm not one of those guys.

[snip]
I defer to your greater knowledge base.
 

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Desperta Ferro!
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It's moreso the lack of both a physical mic jack and as well as headphones jack. Most new-ish laptops only have a single jack. The radio world uses a USB soundcard dongle as a workaround for this problem .

The older laptops (CF19 included) have both mic/phones jacks on the onboard soundcard. I did a poor job of articulating this earlier, so thanks for pointing it out.
Why not just use Bluetooth earbuds or headset and use the 1/8th inch TRS jack for the wired mic?
 

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Not a fan of notebooks in the field.

Even more minimal for PSK 31/RTTY/CW and SSB + SWL on out of band parts of the spectrum

(tr)uSDX
Digital modem (runs on 2xAA or a pair of LiPo cells)
Communication Device Portable communications device Gadget Mobile phone Font

antenna, battery (9 to 19VDC) and small keyboard (rollup/waterproof)
The modem will work for PSK 31, RTTY and as a CW memory keyer with paddles & no keyboard required - but you havta know code.

Or for just CW/SSB - the rig, antenna, battery and a small paddle.
 

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Not exactly what you're talking about, but........Our neighborhood 'group' uses handheld radios to check in nightly and /or discuss events that may be of concern. Range is about 12 miles radius. A couple guys are HAMS and can connect with the next group over.
 

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Why not just use Bluetooth earbuds or headset and use the 1/8th inch TRS jack for the wired mic?
I'm not sure it needs a mic, I did a little research (lazily grabbed the first search that came up), and, though I am not versed in digital, it seems that a mic is not needed, it's more of a glorified, clunky, (albeit useful in certain circumstances) texting tool.


I downloaded the JT65 Powerpoint, I'm still on the fence but leaning toward useful. I thought digital was proprietary to specific radio mfgr's like D-star or something. I admit I didn't study but memorized those parts of the Technical exam...

I definitely have more to learn.
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 · (Edited)
Bold below (mine) is the rub. CW rigs always have the caveat of having to learn Morse code.

Keyword for this rig was the ability to "Easily" send/receive messages. Learning another language is not something that your average, non-radio individual is going to do.

Sidebar: What's the difference between notebook/laptop and the "Digital modem"? Functionally, I'd argue they accomplish the same thing, except the digital modem is lacking about 90% of the digital modes out there.

(Also, not disagreeing with you. Pure CW is still my favourite.)

Not a fan of notebooks in the field.

[snip] but you havta know code.

Or for just CW/SSB - the rig, antenna, battery and a small paddle.
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
For what purpose would you need a headset?

Digital radio modes send glorified fax machine noises to each other. Lots of buzzing and boops and R2D2 noises. The 3.5mm cables are the highways for that digital noise:

-- The "mic" cable takes the fax noises the radio receives, and feeds it to the laptop. The laptop then deciphers the fax noises.

-- The "Phones" cable takes the laptop output noises (ie. the message you want to send) and feeds it out to the radio. The radio then blasts it over the airwaves.

As another poster put it, digital modes are conceptually similar to texts or emails. You don't actively "Listen" to text messages, you read them. Same concept here.

Why not just use Bluetooth earbuds or headset and use the 1/8th inch TRS jack for the wired mic?
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
You got it: glorified texting essentially.

"Digital modes" are just like fax machine noises, or the oldschool 56k modem noises. Same concept: a bunch of squeals and bibs and boops and somehow data is magically transferred. Nothing proprietary or "locked down" about them.

I'm going to throw up a video later showing what the whole thing looks like.

I'm not sure it needs a mic, I did a little research (lazily grabbed the first search that came up), and, though I am not versed in digital, it seems that a mic is not needed, it's more of a glorified, clunky, (albeit useful in certain circumstances) texting tool.


I downloaded the JT65 Powerpoint, I'm still on the fence but leaning toward useful. I thought digital was proprietary to specific radio mfgr's like D-star or something. I admit I didn't study but memorized those parts of the Technical exam...

I definitely have more to learn.
 

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Desperta Ferro!
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For what purpose would you need a headset?

Digital radio modes send glorified fax machine noises to each other. Lots of buzzing and boops and R2D2 noises. The 3.5mm cables are the highways for that digital noise:

-- The "mic" cable takes the fax noises the radio receives, and feeds it to the laptop. The laptop then deciphers the fax noises.

-- The "Phones" cable takes the laptop output noises (ie. the message you want to send) and feeds it out to the radio. The radio then blasts it over the airwaves.

As another poster put it, digital modes are conceptually similar to texts or emails. You don't actively "Listen" to text messages, you read them. Same concept here.
Not sure why you brought it up in the first place.
I was just trying to offer a potential solution that didn't involve additional soundcards nor dongles.
Not seeing any benefits monitoring this thread.
Unsubscribed.
 
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