FT8 co-developer Joe Taylor, K1JT, recommended in a recent post to the Pack Rats reflector that those planning to use FT8 or other WSJT-X protocols, such as MSK144, should practice using the software before jumping into a contest or other activity. A short FT8 demonstration contest will take place for Thursday, October 25, 0200 – 0300 UTC (Wednesday, October 24, in North American time zones).
“[O]ne thing is for sure: Downloading the software and trying it out a week before the contest is not a good plan, either for you or for those of us who write and polish the software,” Taylor said. “You need practice and experience with the software, before the contest.” Taylor reminded readers that the original motivation for developing nearly all of the WSJT-X modes was VHF DXing and contesting, however, the software became very popular on HF. A couple of major DXpeditions have included FT8 in their mix of modes, and FT8 lately has been edging into the contesting arena, with its inclusion in the ARRL RTTY Roundup in 2019.
A 1-hour FT8 demonstration contest is set for Thursday, October 25, 0200 – 0300 UTC (Wednesday, October 24, in North American time zones). Use dial frequency 7.078 kHz, moving up in 2 kHz increments if interference is too great. To participate, you must use WSJT-X version 2.0.0-rc3, a beta-test version. Taylor suggests reading the revised Quick-Start Guide before using WSJT-X 2.0.
FlexRadio CEO Gerald Youngblood, K5SDR, recently suggested that FT8 has attained “killer app” or “tipping point” status in Amateur Radio. The protocol permits working stations on seemingly “dead” bands, countering the current dearth of sunspots, Youngblood pointed out, and also lets operators of modest or antenna-restricted stations work HF DX, just like Big Guns.
“In my humble opinion, FT8 is at the very heart of what Amateur Radio has been about from its inception — amateurs who love the art of radio enhancing the art of radio,” Youngblood wrote. He continued, speculating, “what will ultimately kill Amateur Radio is not FT8. To the contrary, FT8 is an example of what will keep it alive and relevant. What will kill Amateur Radio is if we cease to innovate, become old and grumpy, and no longer bring new blood into the hobby.”
Taylor believes that digital modes, such as FT8, can significantly boost contact and multiplier totals in contests that permit its use, not to mention in efforts to attain DXCC and other awards. “How best to merge digi-modes into your operating plan, along with CW and SSB, will be different for each station and each operator,” he said.
Taylor has invited feedback regarding what works for FT8 users and what does not. “We get tons of useful feedback from thousands of HF users of WSJT-X,” he said. The best way to get help in setting up your station or configuring WSJT-X is by reaching out to the WSJT Group, he said.