How to set up a HamClock for your shack

I appreciate that the last post here was about the HamClock and I said I wouldn’t be providing a guide to building one but I’ve been asked by a few people if I can write some instructions, showing what’s needed from start to end so I’ve decided to do it.

This is a long guide because it’s so detailed but it’s actually very straightforward to follow. Once you’ve installed HamClock, it will take you through the setup and then some suggestions to make changes to the default configuration.

What you need

You may have most of this stuff already.

A Raspberry Pi. You can use any Raspberry Pi for a HamClock. For this guide, I’m using a Raspberry Pi Zero W (with an external ethernet adapter). I know it’s going to be a bit slow during the setup process but this will prove that it will work on the most basic model. A Raspberry Pi 5 is overkill and to a lesser extent, so is a Pi 4. A Pi 3B+ is ideal but any Pi you have kicking around will work.

A micro SD card. I like SanDisk SD cards, they seem pretty reliable. An 8 Gb card will suffice but you’ll struggle to buy those nowadays. At the time of writing, you can get a pack of two 32 Gb SD cards from Amazon for under a tenner.

A PSU for the Pi. I like to use the official Raspberry Pi PSUs.

A display. You can use a HamClock with the official Raspberry Pi touchscreen but I find the resolution far too low to be usable. You can build HamClock at 800×480, 1600×960 and 3200×1920 resolutions so pick a display that will give you a decent size and resolution. I had an old Dell P2210 22″ monitor which I made space for in the shack and it runs very nicely at 1600×960. You may find you already have an old monitor that you can repurpose for your HamClock. You’ll also need the appropriate cables and adapters to connect your Pi to your monitor.

Optional – Case, heatsinks, etc. This is really up to you. You could fix the Pi to the back of the monitor so it won’t need a case but depending on the model, you might want a heatsink. A Pi Zero doesn’t need one.

Preparing the SD card

Download the Raspberry Pi Imager from here and install it. When you run it, this is what you’ll get.

Click CHOOSE DEVICE and pick your Raspberry Pi model. Make sure to select the correct one.
Then click CHOOSE OS and you are generally going to be picking the top option. You want a full port including the Raspberry Pi Desktop. Basically pick the one that says (Recommended) at the end.
Then clock CHOOSE STORAGE and select your SD card.

Click Next and then click on EDIT SETTINGS

Under the GENERAL tab, fill out your preferences. Mine is called ‘hamclock2’ for the purposes of this guide because there is already a Raspberry Pi on my network called ‘hamclock’.
Set up a username and password and make sure you have a note of this password as you may need it later.
If you’re using a Pi with WiFi, make sure you have the box ticked to Configure wireless LAN and enter your WiFi network name and password.
Also configure the Set locale settings as appropriate.
Under the SERVICES tab, tick to Enable SSH and Use password authentication. We’re going to be doing this setup on the Pi desktop but this will enable you to connect in remotely later.

When you are done, click SAVE and then YES to apply the customisations.

You will get a warning about erasing the SD card. Check to make sure you have the correct media selected and click YES.

You will be prompted to enter your password, do this and then the SD card will be written. Depending on the speed of your internet (it has to download an image) and your SD card, this will take a few minutes.

When the write completes, remove the SD card from your computer, click CONTINUE and close the Raspberry Pi Imager.

Booting the Pi for the first time and installing updates

Put the SD card in your Raspberry Pi, connect a keyboard, mouse, and display to the Pi and plug it in.

Depending on the model of the Pi, it will take some time to boot as it goes through all its own initial startup processes. The nice thing is that you’ll be able to see it go through this procedure and reboot multiple times. When it’s done, you’ll see the Raspberry Pi desktop which will be something like this.

The first thing to do is updates. Click on the terminal icon (4th from left in the top corner) and type the following commands into the box which appears.

sudo apt update ; sudo apt upgrade -y

This will take some time to complete because it’s updating everything on the Pi. Because we’re using the Raspberry Pi OS with the desktop, there’s a lot more to update than if you had just the lite installation. While it’s doing the updates, the screen will almost certainly go black due to the screensaver. If this happens, just move the mouse slightly. When it has finished and you’re back at the prompt, reboot your Pi.

sudo reboot now

Install HamClock

Once you have successfully rebooted, open the terminal again. We’ll use the provided script to install HamClock.

Enter the following commands.

cd
curl -O https://www.clearskyinstitute.com/ham/HamClock/install-hc-rpi
chmod u+x install-hc-rpi
./install-hc-rpi

Click y to proceed and hit enter.

running the HamClock setup script

This will appear to hang on Installing required helper packages but it’s just slow to complete.

When this has completed, it will ask what resolution you want to use. If you are using a monitor capable of 1600×960 then I highly recommend you pick this option.

HamClock will now build and give you a handy progress indicator. Now is a good time to grab a cup of tea or coffee and perhaps a digestive biscuit to dunk while you wait for this stage to complete.

Answer ‘y’ to the question about installing a HamClock desktop icon.

Answer ‘y’ to the question about the User Guide (an online version is always available here).

Answer ‘y’ to the question about auto starting HamClock.

Assuming it’s all worked correctly, you’ll have a message saying that HamClock installation is complete.

Reboot your Raspberry Pi again.

sudo reboot now

When the Pi reboots, it will automatically start HamClock and because this is the first time it’s been opened, it will drop into the setup routine.

Setup Page 1

Enter your callsign in the Call section and your grid in the Grid section. The lat and long will update automatically.
Once you are done, click on < Page 1 > in the top right corner to switch to the next page.

HamClock setup page 1

Setup Page 2

By default, Cluster will be set to No.

Tap the space bar to change this to Yes and complete Page 2 as below. It’s important that you put your callsign in the ‘login’ section and be sure to add an SSID such as -1, -2, -3 etc. This is to ensure that if you log on to the DX Cluster network from anywhere else that there won’t be any clashes between them. You should use CAPITAL letters for your callsign here.
Once you are done, click on < Page 2 > in the top right corner to switch to the next page.

HamClock setup page 2

Setup Page 3

There is nothing to change on Setup Page 3.
Click on < Page 3 > in the top right corner to switch to the next page.

Setup Page 4

You may want to change the Map center lng setting from 0E to centralise the map on your own QTH. This is entirely up to you.
Once you are done, click on < Page 4 > in the top right corner to switch to the next page.

HamClock setup page 4

Setup Page 5

There are a number of things to consider changing on Setup Page 5. The ones I suggest are.

RankSpcWx? – Change this to Yes. This configures the small space weather panel to automatically display the entries that are currently making the most impact.
Log Usage? – Change this to Opt-In. This helps the developer.
Full scrn direct? – Change this to Yes. This ensures that HamClock will completely fill your screen.

Once you are done, click on < Page 5 > in the top right corner to switch to the next page.

HamClock setup page 5

Setup Page 6

This is where you can set custom colours in HamClock. The default set of colours were designed to be high contrast but I use PSKReporter a lot and HamClock comes with a set of colours to match them. You can click on ‘pskreporter’ at the bottom so that HamClock uses the same colours. If you click on ‘default’, it sets the colours back to the original HamClock set. You can also customise the colours to your own preferences and save them in either set A or B.
Once you are done, click on < Page 6 > in the top right corner to switch to the next page.

HamClock setup page 6

Setup Page 7

Page 7 is for automatically switching off the display. I don’t have any of these set.

Once you are done, click on the Done button in the bottom right corner to save all your settings and start HamClock properly.

Configuring the panels

HamClock will load with a default set of panels and you will see various propagation beacons popping on and off on the map.

Setting a large DX Cluster panel

The DX Cluster is important to me, far more important than the DE: and DX panels and now HamClock is able to replace both those panels with a single large DX Cluster panel.

Click within the DE text in the top left corner of the DE panel and a popup box will appear.
Select Data Panes, make sure DX Cluster is selected below and click the Ok button at the bottom.

The DE and DX panels will be replaced by a single DX panel, spots will appear below and will also be plotted on the map. The panel shows the frequency, the callsign and how many minutes have passed since the spot was received. If the number is shown as a +, it means the spot was received more than nine minutes ago.

Space Weather panel

By default, the top right panel shows beacon information but I think that putting space weather there is more important. Click the NCDXF text and in the popup box, deselect NCDXF, select Spc Wx and click the Ok button.

The Live Spots panel

As well as DX Cluster spots, I like to have spots from PSKReporter plotted on my map as well and to do that, I’m going to use the panel that defaults to VOACAP DE-DX.
Click anywhere in the VOACAP DE-DX text, select Live Spots, deselect VOACAP and click the Ok button.

This panel itself now needs some configuring.

Click within the panel itself and the config screen will pop up. This is how I have it configured.
Top row is set to PSK so I’m seeing PSK Reporter spots.
Second row is set to ‘of DE’, so it will plots spots of the DE location.
Third row is set to Grid so it plots spots of stations transmitting from my grid square.
Fourth row is set to Count so I can see how many stations are reporting.
Firth row is set to 15 min so it only plots stations from the last fifteen minutes. The map can get very busy, this helps keep it in check.
At the bottom is a list of bands. I select the bands I’m interested in monitoring.
Once you have configured this panel how you want it, click the Ok button at the bottom.

The Live Spots panel is perhaps the most useful out of all of the panels to show you what’s actually happening on the bands at the moment. When you have it configured as above, the panel will show you how many transmissions from your grid square are being heard on each band. With it set to 15 minutes, it’s effectively real time so you can see where you could be able to work on each band. With this configuration, it’s using PSK Reporter as the source and as there always people using FT8, it’s a very good indicator. The reception reports are plotted on the map with little squares on the end and the best DX on each band is indicated by a little circle with a cross and the callsign prefix.

For example, this zoomed in picture shows the furthest anyone in my grid square has been heard on 10m is this PY2 in Brazil and there have also been other reception reports from my square in the same country but not quite so far away.

Setting the final two panels

There are two other panels, by default they are set to X-Ray and SDO (images from the Solar Dynamics Observatory satellite). I have pertinent information displayed in the Space WX panel and I’m not especially interested in the SDO images so I’ve changed these to be a permanent display of Sunspot Number and Solar Flux respectively. You can pick anything you like from the many display options that HamClock has available by clicking within the panel and choosing what you want.

Changing how your callsign is displayed

To change the way your callsign is displayed in the top left corner, click to the right side of your callsign to change the background colour and the left side to change your callsign colour. I prefer a solid colour on a black background.

Changing the map type

By default, the HamClock map shows terrain which is pretty but not very useful for amateur radio purposes. Click in the top left corner of the map where it says Terrain and you’ll get a popup with all the available options. I’m not going to go through them all here, the best way to see how they all work and to decide what’s most useful to you is to work your way through them and pick whatever you like the best.

My personal preference is to set the Style to be DRAP, the Grid to None and the Projection to Robinson. I don’t have the RSS feed enabled and I have Night and Cities turned off.

With all these options set, this is how my HamClock looks. This capture was taken about 36 hours after a huge CME struck the Earth and totally flattened all the HF bands with visible aurora all the way to the south of the UK. This was the biggest storm in around twenty years.

DX Cluster filtering

By default, you’ll receive all DX Cluster spots, for all bands and as reported by everyone. You may find this is too much and you want to tidy it up. You can do this by entering basic filter commands in setup Page 2.

To re-enter setup, click the padlock icon, select Restart HamClock and click Ok. Click Ok again when prompted and HamClock will restart. Click anywhere on the screen within ten seconds to enter setup and click < Page 1 > in the top right corner to move to the next setup page.

On the right side of the screen, there are multiple lines for Cluster Commands. You can use standard DX Cluster filter commands in these lines to restrict what you see. These commands are beyond the scope of this guide, please see the Filtering Primer by W3BG here.

Updating HamClock

HamClock is updated regularly. When an update is available, the version number in the top left panel will change to red. I recommend that you always update HamClock as soon as possible so if you see this version number is red, click on it and follow the prompts to update.

Conclusion

This guide takes you through the process of setting up a HamClock from scratch, starting with writing the Raspberry Pi operating system to an SD card through to having a fully working HamClock. I’m only scratching the surface of the things which can be displayed on your HamClock so please take the time to fully read the instructions and decide what’s important to you.

A HamClock is a very useful addition to any amateur radio shack, it’s easy to build, you probably already have pretty much everything you already need and the nice thing is that a Raspberry Pi uses so little power that you can leave it running all the time and simply switch the screen on when you go into the shack. If you’re interested in HF, space weather or propagation then a HamClock can only improve your amateur radio experience.

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