Old dog (very old!), new tricks

I’ve been slow to adopt digital communications for a very practical reason: between the day job and writing books, I spend ten to twelve hours a day on a computer keyboard. When I get on the air, I prefer my keyer paddle or microphone when I reach out and touch. But friends kept evangelizing about the wonderment of PSK31, and I kept seeing rare DX entities that I covet being spotted on PSK31 and RTTY, so I finally bit the bullet. Well, sir, I have seen the light! I am officially converted!

I was on the verge of doing a quick and dirty hookup just to get a feel for the stuff but I had an order I was submitting to DX Engineering anyway so I included a SignaLink USB in the shopping cart. Of course, I managed to order the wrong interface cable for my Kenwood TS-2000…it would have worked but I would have had to plug and unplug the microphone…but DXE handled the swap seamlessly. And in no time, I was PSKing with the best of ’em. Downloading and setting up my software
of choice took most of the time. The SignaLink only required setting some jumpers internally for my radio. The manual and an extra sheet were well-written, though I did have to go to the Internet to get some tips on working with Microsoft Vista. That should make it into the standard manual soon, I would hope.

I confess I did quite a bit of RTTY back in the ’70s, when we used old, noisy, oil-and-sprocket-slinging surplus teletype machines and boxes of fan-fold paper. I recall that back then, unless you were blessed with pretty decent power, and with constant duty that required a hefty amp and power supply, the mode was susceptible to QRM as well as drifting, and more. I did enjoy it, despite these drawbacks.

But I’ve quickly learned there is no comparison with PSK31. I have not even tried RTTY yet due to my fascination with this narrow, narrow mode. Friends told me, but I didn’t believe them. When I was ready to go and tuned the receiver to 14.070 and heard that caterwauling bunch of cats in heat, I smirked and said to myself, “Self, there is no way you can pull any intelligence out of all that screeching!”

But there on the waterfall (I use Ham Radio Deluxe Digital Master 780 software) were a good dozen clearly defined traces. I could copy any one of them. I tried a couple of them so dim I could hardly see them in the clutter and got almost solid print on them, too. Finally, I clicked on one and saw it was a UA9. When he finished his QSO and called CQ, I answered, making sure to keep the power level low…about 20 watts…as advised. He came right back and we proceeded to have a nice chat. I’ve had a bunch since, all over Europe, the US, and South and Central America, mostly on 20 and 17.

Just the other night, I gave UX1IW a call and, as I have grown accustomed to, he came right back. We were chatting away (he gave me an RSQ of 599) when I noticed each of my wattmeters were barely moving off the peg. Huh? Oh. I had been using the amp on CW earlier in the evening and had left the RF out on the TS-2000 on 35 watts. With the audio out from my sound card set as usual, I was barely running 5 watts!

So, I’m evangelized. I do wish there was a little less reliance on the canned macros, one of the other things I did not like so much in the old RTTY days. But all in all, I am darned impressed with this PSK31 stuff.

Moral of the story is that we can always learn something new. And it is always surprising how something as simple as trying a new band or mode can reinvigorate our interest in this wonderful hobby.

As if I need reinvigorating!


Don Keith N4KC

Don Keith, N4KC, is a regular contributor to AmateurRadio.com and writes from Alabama, USA. Contact him at [email protected].

4 Responses to “Old dog (very old!), new tricks”

  • Ernest Gregoire, AA1IK:

    WoooBoy! You did it now Don! There ain’t no going back! Just like jumping off a cliff, the PSK bug had bitten you!

    I’ve been operating CW since my first license arrived in the mail as a novice, but I was fascinated with digital modes. It was AMTOR in those days, and this was followed up by the other ~TOR modes as advances were make in equipment and software. The thing that drew me is the real conversations that people were having using these modes.

    I got tired of the (ur 599 tnx for the qso 73 sk) QSO’s real fast. I want to ‘talk’ to people in far away places. PSK has some wham bang, good bye, QSO’s as well but for the most part, there is a lot of rag chewing to be had using this mode.

    The most unique one was with a guy from Mississippi who was the captain of a sea going tug boat in the mouth of the Congo River in Africa. I was camping in a small Airstream travel trailer in Florida and had an off center fed dipole for an antenna strung through the trees. (Very Stealthy antenna too)

    There is a MM operator who regularly works PSK in the Carabean~Atlantic Ocean. I work him every once in a while too.

    The worst part of PSK is the ‘Just one more call’ syndrome! Its late at night, my eyes are closing with fatigue and my mind says, ‘Just one more call’ OK I reason, I’ll just tap the water fall stream and see who is there. I won’t call CQ but I’ll just peak at him to see who it is. (Big Mistake)

    The next thing I know is that its 45 minutes into a very interesting QSO with a guy who has the same mutual interests as I do. Sigh~~~~~ Just one more!

    Only one~~~~

  • Don N4KC:

    Hey, Ernest, I have that problem with ALL kinds of QSOs! Thanks for the comments.

    Don N4KC

  • N5TGL:

    PSK is a very cool mode. Robust and fast. Oliva has it in the spades for polar path work, but WOW is it slooooooow. PSK is a great mode for low power and marginal antenna installations. It is an AMAZING mode with a decent antenna. Pretty much if 25w doesn’t get you there, more power won’t help. Have fun!

  • Joe VK6AAO:

    It happened to me also .
    Now hooked on psk 31

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