How To – Winlink Radio Email

Winlink (https://winlink.org, https://wikipedia.org/wiki/Winlink) is “a worldwide radio messaging system that uses amateur-band radio frequencies to provide radio interconnection services that include email with attachments, position reporting, weather bulletins, emergency relief communications, and message relay.  The system is built and administered by volunteers and administered by the Amateur Radio Safety Foundation Inc., an American charitable entity and 501c(3) non-profit organization.”

Winlink is a powerful tool for communication in emergencies due to it’s ability to continue functioning during localized Internet outages and, with proper configuration, to operate entirely without access to the Internet.  ARES®/RACES of Virginia is increasingly relying on Winlink for digital communications in disaster response.

Local access to Winlink in Central Virginia is provided via the W4UVA-10 (145.510 MHz) Winlink RMS Gateway at the Amateur Radio Club at the University of Virginia (UVa), located on Observatory Hill (also known as Mt. Jefferson) on the UVa Grounds in Charlottesville; WR4CV-10 (145.550 MHz) at the Central Virginia Repeater Association (CVRA) site at Wintergreen; and KE4LWT-10 (145.730 MHz) south of Ruckersville.  Combined coverage is something like:

There are lots of references and how-to’s on how to get connected to Winlink via VHF packet radio, so I won’t describe the process in detail here.  Take a look at the Winlink Book of Knowledge (https://winlink.org/content/winlink_book_knowledge) for authoritative information.  A quick search on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com) will also produce a wealth of information, videos such as the collection created by K4REF (https://www.youtube.com/user/K4REF) for Middle East Tennessee ARES®, and the presentation by our very own Greg KW6GB (founder of the Virginia Winlink Net) at https://youtu.be/UTx9pY1Akl8.

Software TNC

I will offer up my personal home configuration, which I find works quite well.  Rather than go the traditional hardware TNC route (which was my starting point, as it is for most hams), I ended up with a software TNC, the most excellent DireWolf (https://github.com/wb2osz/direwolf) by WB2OSZ.  It outperforms all hardware TNCs in testing, is as good as or better than the competing software TNCs, and is multi-platform (Windows, MacOS, Linux).

If you have a soundcard interface that you can use on your VHF radio (such as those used for HF digital modes) then you have all the hardware you need.  On a Windows system, install DireWolf following the instructions at the bottom of the DireWolf GitHub page, then install Winlink Express (https://winlink.org/ClientSoftware).

For DireWolf configuration, you will need to edit the “direwolf.conf” file and modify the following lines appropriately in the “CHANNEL 0” section:

  • ADEVICE – set using the instructions found in “direwolf.conf” just above the ADEVICE line
  • MYCALL – set to your callsign without an SSID (mine is “MYCALL KQ9P”)
  • PTT – set to the serial port you will use to key up your radio (mine is “PTT COM8 RTS”)

My configuration for Winlink Express is as follows:

Tune your radio to 145.510 MHz simplex (no repeater shift on transmit), no PL tone.

One thing to watch for on Windows.  Each time you run DireWolf, check to make sure the correct audio input and output interfaces are selected (see below).  Windows changes the order of audio interfaces and COM ports as devices are added to and removed from the computer.  I’ve found that this is usually the problem if Winlink suddenly stops working.

Kenwood built-in TNCs

If you have one of the Kenwood radios with a built-in TNC (TS-2000, TM-D710, TM-D700, TH-D74A, TH-D72A) then you are all set.  Connect the appropriate cable between your computer and radio and in Winlink Express select your radio from the “Packet TNC Type” dropdown menu.

Send me a test message to my Winlink address, KQ9P.