FT8, VHF and a side of W*TF
For a hobby that’s been around for years, there’s always something new with amateur radio – and right now that thing is FT8. Released as a new mode as part of WSJT-X in 2017, it’s quickly become the dominant digital mode due to its ease of use, suitability for low signal environments and fast exchanges. Such is its popularity, the vast majority of spots currently submitted to PSK Reporter are FT8 (and you can see the current statistics here). For those familiar with other modes, the best way to describe it is as JT65 but transmitted by excited raccoons on crack, with each cycle taking just 15 seconds instead of JT65’s 60. This allows for a complete exchange from an initial CQ to the final 73 to take just 90 seconds. It’s definitely not a ragchewing mode though – again like JT65, each transmission is only capable of carrying a handful of characters – 13 in free text mode, and slightly more when using one of the predefined formats. Like most things related to amateur radio, it has its detractors (even I’ve moaned on Twitter about the effect it’s had on other digital modes), but that still doesn’t take away from the fun of having a new mode that makes it possible to make a whole bunch of contacts in sometimes less than favourable conditions.
Anyway, as fun as it is, there’s nothing more fun than pushing the envelope a bit. I’m not going to win any prizes for anything novel, but going a little bit outside of the norm is always good for a laugh. So, this past Saturday I decided to give 6m a try. Checking PSK Reporter showed a few stations monitoring 6m in and around the Pacific Northwest, so I dusted off the multiband vertical, stuck it on the roof of the truck and tuned it for 6m while sitting at my usual spot on Mt Tolmie. After a few tests to make sure nothing caught fire (did you know you can melt the glue around the relays inside a Z100 tuner? Neither did I), I set WSJT-X CQing.
And nothing happened.
And still nothing happened.
The weather was nice though…
And then finally, after about 20 minutes of not much happening, I got a response from VE7DAY, who after a quick QRZ search is in Campbell River – about 250km to the northwest. Signal reports were exchanged, and then a minute or so later I got another response, this time from VE7DXW in North Vancouver. I didn’t manage to get any more bites after these two, but it proves that even with a small setup, you can still have fun with VHF.
Not being one to settle though, later on Saturday – after a few well-received cans of cider – Jordan VA7TLZ and I wondered if we could manage an FT8 contact, but this time on 2m.
We’re about 4.5km apart, which would normally be easy, but we’re both in apartment buildings full of metal, and facing the wrong side of our respective buildings – Jordan facing south, and me facing west…
But just because not every idea you have after a few drinks is a good idea, it doesn’t mean that all of them are terrible, because eventually…
…Jordan’s responses to my repeated CQs came through, and both of us now have an FT8 contact on 2m in our respective logs.
I guess the moral of this story is that just because it sounds like a stupid idea, it doesn’t mean that… okay fine, it was a stupid idea.
Look forward to my next post, where we try moonbounce with stock antennas on a pair of Baofengs!*
* probably not, unless someone lets me at the liquor store again