WNJC 1360 Weekly DX Test, FT8 Basics, and HSFB
Chief Engineer Duke Hamann, KC2DUX has committed to continuing weekly DX Tests late night Saturday/early Sunday mornings until at least the end of October. They will always begin at Midnight Eastern Time (0400 UTC). At this point, it looks like Duke will continue to include FT-8 transmissions as well.
Last weekend’s first-ever test of the mode brought some promising results. Conditions were poor overall yet the FT-8 transmissions from WNJC were successfully decoded on the West Coast of the United States, into Florida and Alabama and locations as distant as Spain. Most of the DX’ers who had success with the mode were hams who already had experience—but there were exceptions.
Below we’ll discuss a bit more about the mode and how you can get started on the fun. And never fear, in addition to this exotic mode, Duke plans to continue with the usual voice and Morse Code ID’s, sweep tones, and sound effects. This means you still have a great chance to log the station regardless.
If you do receive the test, you can request an e-mail verification from the station by e-mailing Duke Hamann at:
If you would prefer a QSL card, you can send reception reports along with a self-addressed stamped enveloped (SASE) to:
Duke Hamann, KC2DUX
P.O. Box 84
Dennisville, NJ 08214
THE BASICS OF FT-8 MODE
First a little Q&A:
Q. What the heck is FT-8?
A. It’s a special mode that requires a computer to decode the transmission from the station. The station transmits a series of tones, in a pre-arranged sequence with careful timing. A computer “listens” for these tones, allowing it to identify them even when no audible signal can be detected by your ears. The computer can literally hear below the noise level. It can also hear “through” QRM from other stations in some cases.
Q. Do I need an SDR (software defined radio) or a fancy receiver?
A. Nope. You can use virtually any receiver and a laptop, desktop or tablet to receive the signals. You need a way to get the audio from your radio into the computer. A patch cord from your earphone jack, a computer interface of the type used by hams, even a microphone placed close to the radio speaker can work.
Q. What software do I need on the computer?
A. There are several software packages that can be used, but the original and still the best is called WSJT-X You can download it for free here:
Q. Can I record the audio and just play it back into the computer later?
A. Technically, yes—but it’s difficult. The timing has to be precise and audio levels can be important too. Better to do it “live” during the DX Test.
Timing is critical. The software is looking for tones transmitted at a specific interval of time in “blocks” or groups that make up the text. Your computer clock has to be in perfect sync with the transmitter clock. Yes, this could be done with GPS, but the easiest way is to use a NTP application. Again, there is free software. Take a look at Meinberg. You install it as a service on your system, let it disable the built-in time sync and it just works.
MODES & BANDWIDTH
FT8 is normally done in USB mode by hams—but WNJC is transmitting the tones in AM mode as required by FCC rules. This means you want to use AM mode on your receiver. The tones vary in frequency, so you want a bandwidth of about 2.5-3 kHz…nothing too narrow.
During last week’s test some of us got better results by using LSB mode. If the test starts and you can’t decode the signal try a different mode or wider bandwidth. Each transmission can take 30 seconds or longer to decode. Be patient.
GOOGLE IS YOUR FRIEND (YOUTUBE TOO)
Do a Google search on “How to get started on FT8 mode” and you’l find lots of advice on how to get started. Likewise, YouTube has tons of videos on the topic. Search with a plus sign (+) sign and add your radio for specific advice.
I.E. "Getting started on FT8 + Drake R8B"
HOW DO I….
FT8 is one of the most popular modes of operation in amateur radio. On any given day, there are more hams using FT8 than Morse Code (CW). But it’s not the easiest thing to get working the first time. There are lots of variables…what kind of radio, what kind of connection, your computer clock, etc. Too many for me to give you a “checklist” of instructions.
Experience and trial and error are the best bets here. The good news is that it’s easy to test. Tune your receiver to 14.074 mHz in the 20 Meter ham band. Set your receiver to USB mode and start the software. Once you’ve got things set up right, you’ll quickly begin decoding signals nearly 24 hours a day.
DON’T WAIT-VOTE EARLY
Election officials across the country are advising citizens to request their absentee ballots early, fill them out, and mail them back right away. Good advice for November 3—and a DX Test too.
The time to figure all this out is now. You’ve got two full days and most of Saturday to work out the bugs and be ready for the DX Test. Don’t wait.
IS THIS ‘REAL DX?’
This trope is older than the NRC. Does it ‘count’ for the log if you don’t hear the ID on CW, only the sweep tones? Does it count if you don’t get the full, legal ID? Does it count if I can’t even hear the station with my ears?
Folks—there is no rulebook on this. It’s a hobby. It’s supposed to be fun. You decide what counts as a ‘real’ reception of a station. No one else cares—not even your wife (stop talking to her about it…trust me on this one.)
A few years ago, KFI 640 in Los Angeles had a problem with their transmitter. Their carrier frequency was ‘wandering’ all over the place—varying by several hundred hertz at times. It made a big het on 640 kHz, and on an audio spectrum analyzer on my computer, it was easily visible for several hours each night in Alabama. This continued for weeks.
No other station on 640 kHz displayed this type of drift…nor anywhere else on the band. There was no doubt at all that it was KFI. Their woes were widely reported in trade magazines and online forums.
I took a screenshot of the drift and put KFI into my logbook. To this day, I have never heard audio from KFI (though I hold out hope). But I still count the logging. Would you? I don’t know—and really don’t care. It’s my hobby…my log book…and my decision.
Does an FT8 logging of WNJC ‘count?’ Their Chief Engineer Duke Hamann says it does. Good enough for me.
Stop worrying about it and have fun.
Thanks to Chief Engineer Duke Hamann for this amazing start to the 2020 DX season. Also to the owners and managers of WNJC 1360. Also to Paul Walker and Joesph Miller—our hard-working Courtesy Program Committee.
HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL
COVID-19 continues to change the landscape of High School Football Broadcasts and your CPC is tracking it for you. Attached to his e-mail is this week’s update. Go get some new ones in the log. See you Friday night for the games and Saturday night for the test! Best of luck and good DX.
Les Rayburn, N1LF
121 Mayfair Park
Maylene, AL 35114
NRC & IRCA Courtesy Program Committee Chairman
Member WTFDA, MWC