Raspberry Pi in the Ham Shack

Raspberry Pi 2
Raspberry Pi 2
The Raspberry Pi 2, a $35 Linux computer, is a capable option for a shack computer

My shack computer was old. It was slow. It took forever to boot up, load web pages, and start programs. It was inconvenient, but it worked so it was hard to justify replacing it. I used it mostly for logging contacts on QRZ.com, and occasionally to run digital modes on Fldigi. I played around with WSPR and WinLink a bit, but the decrepitude of my old netbook often made these exercises in frustration.

Then a thought occurred to me: if I had a monitor for my Raspberry Pi 2 (which I was already using in headless mode to run Xastir, a Linux APRS application), could I use it to replace my shack computer?

I started making a mental list of the things I need a shack computer to do. I settled on this list of minimum requirements:

  1. Contact logging
  2. Digital mode operation
  3. Signing and uploading to LoTW
  4.  Web surfing

I’m not a hard-core contester, but I sometimes play around in the bigger contests, so a contest logging program would be nice to have, but it wasn’t a deal-breaker for me. I already knew WSPR had a Linux version, so I left that off the list.

The most common Linux distribution on the Raspberry Pi is Raspbian, which is a variant of Debian. Much to my delight, I discovered a project in the Debian developer community called Debian Ham Radio Pure Blend. While I didn’t try to install this complete distribution onto my Pi, it did indicate to me that there was a lot of radio-related software available for Debian varieties of Linux. So that’s good.

Scanning the list, I saw:

  1. CQRLog for contact logging
  2. Fldigi for digital modes
  3. TrustedQSL for LoTW uploading
  4. The Pi has a web browser already

There’s a snag, though. Sometimes programs available for Debian don’t quite run properly on the Pi hardware. When I went looking for these packages on the Raspbian package archives, I found this to be the case. CQRLog wasn’t there at all. Fldigi installed, but I couldn’t get it to connect to my rig. TrustedQSL worked out of the box, and I was able to import my certificate file from my laptop without a problem.

I did some research on the specific packages for the Pi and found some answers. I won’t bore you with the details: you can find them all at AA5KV’s blog. It seems like the component I was missing for Fldigi was the hamlib library. After I downloaded and compiled that, Fldigi works as expected. I did find, though, that having my Signalink USB interface plugged into a powered USB hub caused a lot of signal distortion. I couldn’t decode anything. Once I plugged the interface directly into one of the Pi’s USB ports, the problem disappeared.

As AA5KV notes towards the end of his write up, there’s a newer version of CQRLog for the Pi (version 1.9.0) than the one he references in the main part of his write-up. I still had one pseudo-problem after installing it, though. After installing CQRLog, it would start up and then an error message would pop up saying it couldn’t connect to the database for storing QSO data. I tried uninstalling and reinstalling. I tinkered under the MySQL hood. Nothing seemed to solve the problem. So then, after getting the database error yet again, I went to the CQRLog forum page to ask about this issue. I hadn’t dismissed the error message while I was on the forum site. After leaving the failing program idle for a few moments, the error message disappeared and CQRLog finished starting itself up. It created the necessary database tables, and all the other components of this very well-made and full-featured logging program.

I’ve been running my shack on the Raspberry Pi 2 for several weeks. I have no complaints. I occasionally overload things by having CQRLog, fldigi, web browser, GIMP image editing software, and Xastir all running simultaneously for a long time. This sometimes requires a reboot, but there are two mitigating factors: The Pi reboots in about a minute and a half, and it’s a $35 computer. All things considered, I think it’s pretty impressive. Here are a couple of screenshots:

Fldigi screenshoot
Fldigi in action
CQRLog screenshot
CQRLog in action

Have you used a Pi in your shack? Tell me about it in the comment!

73,

WZØW

16 thoughts on “Raspberry Pi in the Ham Shack

  1. I too am getting tired of figuring out which laptop works better: the one that overheats and slows down, or the one that doesn’t boot and you have to take the battery out, hold the power button for one minute then it might work. I’d love to go Chromebook, but nothing works for ham radio. I don’t want a keyboard or monitor hogging my desk space either. Am I being too picky?

    1. One thing you can do, Dave, is set up Xtightvnc on a Pi, and use a vnc client on the Chromebook. That allows you to remotely access thew Pi desktop. I have done this quite a lot in the past, and it works pretty well.

      1. I’m OK with running Pi only, I ran Ubuntu for awhile on my old desktop, but I missed using HRD for everything so I went back to Windows. Now it’s just aggravating with the equipment being old/expensive. I do have W10, which I love over 7, but that’s good for blogging, financial stuff, etc. Maybe I just need to get over the barrier and make the switch.

        1. For audio out, there is either HDMI or a 1/8″ stereo out. For audio in, I think you’ll need a USB interface. I use a Signalink USB which uses USB for both audio in and out.

  2. I have NEVER been able to get xastir running on ANY computer. PERIOD. Is there a way I could pay somebody to ship me a microSD card with xastir (rpi2) on it that I can just use on my pi2? Everybody laughs at me but I have never been able to make it work. I would love a copy of a working image…

    1. So it doesn’t start up after you install it? Or it starts but then doesn’t connect to your TNC? What actually happens? I’ve only ever tried it on a Raspberry Pi 2 running Raspbian Wheezy first, then upgraded to Raspbian Jessie, and it took me a little bit of fiddling to get it to connect to the Bluetooth TNC, but once I figured out those settings, it works fine.

  3. Hi Scott,

    Nice write-up!

    I ‘ve been using Xastir on a Raspberry Pi (version B) to cover my area and it works flawlessly since 2012 although I ‘m also scheduling for a Pi 2 upgrade which offer a better UX in general!

    73,

    SV2HZK

  4. Hi Scott!
    Got my Raspberry Pi 2 about a week ago and love it! I run mostly D-Star for now. Excited to see what else I can do with it!

    1. Great! I don’t have a D-Star radio, so don’t know about that. The main thing that my ham shack Pi is missing now is a contest logging program.

  5. I would love to have a PI3. I have a few B models though. I like my Mint Linux netbook in my shack. Can’t open too much at once. I have the latest TrustedQSL, fldigi, and flrig that I compiled and installed. I use my PI as a file server. I do a daily upload of my logs and important scripts and files using SCP from the netbook. The PI puts them on the USB drive attached to it. I use the other PI to connect to a TNC. I use Minicom to communicate with my KAM TNC to do packet radio. I SSH into the PI to do that.

    I would use the PI for more if I had a SignalLink. I use my netbook’s internal sound card and a home brew audio isolation and PTT box. For the $10 I have in it, I am not ready to move on. Hahaha

    Maybe my wife with buy me a PI3 this year and I might change my mind about how I do it now! 73 de W1RCP

  6. I am using a Pi3 and have installed Fldigi and WSJT-X, both work great on it. My hangup is logging. CQRLOG installs and works but it is problematic. No rig control for the IC-7300, won’t extract duplicates from logs, won’t upload to HRDLog, etc., etc. It’s a work in progress.

    Icom 7300 is my rig. I use VNC and have a USB splitter (switch) going from my radio to both of my computers. The Pi and a Windows laptop. I can go back and forth pretty easy.

    Thanks for the nice write. Let’s see if we can get CQRLOG 2.0.4 installed and working on the Pi3 🙂

    73,
    Rich, K0PIR

    1. Rich, thanks for the comments. I have spent a little time trying to get a newer version of cqrlog on my Pi. The biggest challenge is getting the newer versions of the Fortran compiler and Lazarus that are required to build from source. I’ve managed to get that done, and now there is a compile error in the cqrlog code itself. If I get that sorted out, I’ll write a post about it.

      Given how popular the 7300 has become, I expect outs only a matter of time before it gets support.

      73,
      Scott WZØW

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