Category Archives: SmartSDR

Upgrading SDRs in Perspective (with Pro-Tips)

Writing this late the week FlexRadio rolled out a new version of SmartSDR v 3.3.29 and some radios had problems completing the update.

Per Facebook and Flex Community postings the internal SD Cards in a limited amount of mostly older original series radios (6300/6500/6700) are vulnerable to fatal corruption.

The solution is a replacement SD Card from FlexRadio, which they can either send to the operator or the radio can be sent in for an SD Card replacement.

As usual the posts about the small percentage that develop this temporary problem are emotional. Bluntly some folks are “drama queens” or worse.  Their core need and problems are exactly the same though from reading of their woes the certainly have personalized the problem.

About these SD Cards:, first a FlexRadio discussion about SD Cards:

Personally, I have had a SD Card fail in one of my radios. This one failed in Alpha Team testing, so it wasn’t at the same time other groups of radios had problems.

A bit of background, while a robust technology SD Cards are designed to be read and wrote to, over and over. The SD Card market offers a lot of claims about performance and durability not always achieved in field use.

So as a part of upgrading there is a bit of Stress Test through all the upgrade manipulations that can identify iffy SD cards, and some SD cards simply will fail.

Inconvenient but not horribly catastrophic – if the SD card fails you open a Help Desk ticket and FlexRadio sorts you out a fresh SD Card.

Your radio usually will be inoperable until the new card is installed, but it is NOT permanently bricked as many hand wringers lament.

Some lament why doesn’t FlexRadio offer an image that could be downloaded so the operator could roll-their-own new SD Card?

FlexRadio Systems is all about their customer’s experience, and their served customer base includes hams who understand every nuance of the radio’s design, have the techniques to deal with every level of repair – a the way through to – customers who on their own shouldn’t be inside the radio.

The image files appear not to be one-size-fit-all, and have evolutionary differences. I am uncertain if they are the same across all the world wide market of FlexRadio.

FlexRadio is using high grade SD Cards selected to best perform in their radios. While the SD Cards you buy from Amazon or other vendors could be the same, they also might not be at all the same.

So FlexRadio has kept the variables to a minimum by being the image-loaded SD Card supplier for the radios.

Not working for FlexRadio I am not privy to how big is the SD Card matrix they work with. The impression I have gained is that there are a lot of considerations for what version SD Card image is the right one for your particular radio.

My theory on why SD Card problems show up despite a huge testing processes is simple – there are radios which had SD Cards out in the general user population, where the test team with all their upgrade/downgrade/test processes largely have weeded out the suspect SD Cards long ago.

I think that is what happened to the SD Card I lost.

So in summary, if your SD card breaks during an upgrade:

  • Open a FlexRadio Help Desk Ticket
  • When you new SD Card arrives, install it
  • Then you will be able to complete your upgrade process.

Additionally (or Pro-Tips learned the hard way):

  • When an update comes out, unless you want to be bleeding-edge up to date, consider letting others “break trail” and wait a few days.
  • Never Ever – REPEAT NEVER EVER – even think of updating right before (or during) a contest you are participating in, or if you are about to do some important operating like a special DX chase or a shack tour.
  • Think about when in the week you want to run your updates – I try to do them late Sunday or on Monday, just in case.
  • If your budget allows, consider having a second radio (Flex-6300s are at a nice price point secondhand).  Some hams have a full set of duplicate gear so they can plug-n-play if anything goes down, though that strategy requires deep pockets.

Hoping your updates may always be successful and easy!




Eight-Band Propagation Continues

It is fun to have some better band conditions. (21 JAN 22 starting at 1300 UTC)

Working FT8 remote to my home station (Flex-6700 to a ZeroFive Flagpole vertical antenna in this instance) I was in fairly quick order make exactly 8 QSOs, one per band, before I switched to working for DX on 17m:

KB9ZM EM57 1.840861 mhz (160m) FT8 Sent: +04 Rcvd: -02
N5IF EM11 3.574155 mhz (80m) FT8 Sent: -07 Rcvd: -21
AI2D FM29 7.074821 mhz (40m) FT8 Sent: +02 Rcvd: +10
W2AOC FN20 10.137057 mhz (30m) FT8 Sent: +12 Rcvd: +05
N3DNA FN20 14.074903 mhz (20m) FT8 Sent: +05 Rcvd: +19
KP4JRS FK68 18.100200 mhz (17m) FT8 Sent: +01 Rcvd: +00
F5ADE JN06 21.075078 mhz (15m) FT8 Sent: -08 Rcvd: -15
CO8LY FL20 24.916068 mhz (12m) FT8 Sent: +03 Rcvd: +03

The remote setup lets me run some QSOs when physically not at the home station, by basically adding an internet link from my home station to where I am actually at.

My current series of QSL cards allows me to indicate which physical station I am using and also indicate where I was when I made the contact.

One of the new QSL Card Designs

While I much prefer being in my shack to make SSB QSOs, these remote digital QSOs are miles better than not being on the air at all!



What Big Ears you have! – Being Heard – the All-FlexRadio (AFR) Station

I mentioned the great reports I was receiving with the AFR station (All-FlexRadio), and as being heard is the the easy part of making QSO’s, it seemed a good time to talk about the “Ears” of the AFR station.

There are two parts of most aspects of reception – hearing the raw signals and having a method to reduce the signal to a particular station which you want to make a QSO.

Across the panadaper SSB signal traces crowd the screen.  Use of the various signal processing settings mitigates some of the crowd, but there remains a lot of signals to pick through.

Think of this like going to a crowded party where everyone is talking.  There are so many simultaneous conversations that one has to concentrate and focus to pick out just one.  A hard of hearing person may hear only a fraction of the conversations, and because of their lower ability to hear also misses much of the general “conversation buzz” that good ears need to work to pick through.

The AFR station is good ears for sure.  And I need to carefully use the software tools and my own hearing processing to pick out stations.  The challenge is to focus in on just one station.

FlexRadio has a number of videos on how to manipulate SmartSDR to achieve optimal QSO rates.  As fair warning, if you want to simulate the deafness of legacy radios you will need to work harder at tweaking settings in SmartSDR.  Conversely if you want to have run rate with the leaders in the pack, your SmartSDR settings will be less intrusive.

One obvious factor in this listening part of the equation, is the great performance of the Tennadyne T-12 Log Periodic Antenna.

I can hear you now!



Tagged ,

Hearing and Being Heard – the All-FlexRadio (AFR) Station

I have been running the All-FlexRadio (AFR) setup on phone (SSB) with the new T-12 Log Periodic, and very pleased with the balance between Reception (RX) and Transmission (TX)!

Audio to Radio Frequency Chain of the AFR setup (All-FlexRadio) is:

  • Sure SM5B Microphone
  • Behringer Audio Amp
  • Flex-6700 with SmartSDR Software
  • Flex-PGXL Amp
  • Flex-TGXL Tuner
  • AS302N Lightning Arrestor
  • Tennadyne T-12 Antenna at 76ft

All cables are hardline, Belden 9913F7 (drops) or LMR400 (jumpers).

Presently I don’t have the rotator wired at the tower base and shack ends, so the Log Periodic has been stationary. The connectors I needed to repurchase as I put them someplace so very safe when first ordered that they haven’t been found since, just arrived.

Rather enjoying reports when running barefoot of “I have you K9ZW 5-9 plus 15” and then turning on the “heater” but loafing at 500 watts, to receive 5-9 plus 30 reports!

Happy camper here!




Running a Comprehensively FlexRadio System – September 2021

It has taken quite a while to assemble an all-FlexRadio setup.

FlexRadio took longer than expected to introduce the Amplifier (PGXL) and Tuner (TGXL) components. To FlexRadio’s credit the general releases were held until the units were sorted out to some pretty exacting standards, and just like the radios the PGXL & TGXL continue to be worked on for improvements.

Here is my basic system at the Home-QTH:

Flex-6700 — PGXL Amp — TGXL Tuner — Antennas

At the Home-QTH Antenna 1 is a Zero-Five Flagpole Vertical and Antenna 2 is a T-12 12 element Log Periodic

Here is my basic system at the Island-QTH:

Flex-6700 — PGXL Amp — TGXL Tuner — PowerMaster SWR Meter — Antennas

At the Island-QTH Antenna 1 is a Zero-Five Flagpole Vertical

For reference the Work-QTH setup is:

Flex-6600M — Vertical Antenna

In all cases an Array Solutions AS302 arrestor is in-line before the antenna.

Main software is SmartSDR (Windows) either by LAN or WAN using SmartLink.  I do have SmartSDR (iOS) and SmartSDR (Maestro) to fall back on, but mostly am using the Windows version.  (Also have DogparkSDR available on my MacOS machines.)

For a while I am going to run everything in this simple configuration.  Actually rather frustrated with myself in the implementation of antenna switches and various additional sensor/software packages.

The Home-QTH and Work-QTH are able to be kept on standby 24/7, but island infrastructure being unreliable leaves the Island-QTH able to be up only when someone is in attendance.



Your ISP Must Pass All Needed Traffic to Do Remote

Been receiving reports from other amateurs on Washington Island that the once dominant ISP for the Island is not compatible with remote FlexRadio operations. Door County Broadband (DCBB) simply will not pass all the traffic types needed to do a remote connection, and when asked to pass the traffic simply say “no.”

I haven’t had reason to directly speak to Door County Broadband in some years, as I had hit this wall with them trying to configure George W9EVT’s internet for remote access.

Technically the DCBB setup blocks the port forwarding process which scuttles SmartLink.

On-Island internet options that are presently not Flex-Ready are:

Marginal for SmartLink use:

Frontier Communications aDSL – I have this and when the system is working well I can do remote from the Island station. Usually I can access my mainland stations over Frontier. It unfortunately goes down often, usually peak-load weekends when we are on the Island or during storms. Achieved throughput is a fraction of the advertised/purchased, and you need to be on the Island during the work week to get it serviced, so ours doesn’t get fixed.

Possibilities on the Horizon:

  • Island Fiber” – the physical underwater link is laid, as is a limited underground setup for a small part of the Island. Grants, resulting build-outs and connections are needed to light the fiber. If your home is in the test area, you might get Gigabyte-to-Desk in a year or so. For the rest of the island fiber hooked to the existing systems should also offer improvements, though perhaps more in reliability and non-speed aspects. The new fiber may well kill off the DCBB wireless option for much of the island, while making the WISP (Wireless ISP) options like US Cellular and Blazing Hog more viable.
  • Full Constellation” Starlink – the are some rumblings that a dual-antenna setup when the full constellation of satellites is operational may mitigate the buffering, latency and satellite switch drop-outs.

While the Island is RF-quiet making it a great place to operate from, doing remote to an Island station remains challenging. Oh, that the power goes out fairly often (momentarily a couple times a week, 15 minutes or longer about monthly) doesn’t help. While you can do batteries or a generator, the internet often seems to be down at the same time.