Posts Tagged ‘WSJT’

Canada Post / QSLs / Magicband Transformations



Several weeks ago I mused about my interest in earth-mode VLF experiments, following the inspirational exploits of G3XBM in his earth-mode work a few years ago.





His low powered system utilizing a 5W audio IC and simple circuitry produced surprisingly interesting results over several kilometers.

With possible future experimenting in mind, I found a nice low-powered IC audio amplifier kit from China on e-Bay, capable of producing about 18W at 12V ... more with higher voltage and proper heat-sinking.



Whenever buying from China, I look for a dealer with the highest feedback rating and always compare their complaints versus the number of orders shipped. There always seems to be a few that are 99.9 - 100%, which, for me, has always assured that they are probably not selling junk. Anything lower than 98% can often be a red flag.

The kit was just $1.50 and with free-shipping, what's to lose?

A few weeks after I had placed my order, the nightly TV news had a spot regarding the problem that these "free shipping" packets were creating for Canada Post and their customers. It seems that in the past few months, as more and more "free" shipments were arriving from the far east, Canada Post had not been able to keep up with the processing. The news spot showed row upon row of shipping containers parked at the back of Vancouver International's (YVR) postal processing plant, with all of them filled with thousands of small "free" packets waiting to be processed!

It seems that each packet needs to be scanned by the border security folks (CBSA) for illegal material before it can be processed by Canada Post and the back-up was building at a tremendous rate. There appears to be little if any profit for Canada Post with these smaller untracked packages and they are given the lowest priority-rating possible.


In order to speed up the process, both CBSA and Canada Post facilities would need to expand their operational capabilities at the airport and I suspect there is no serious will to do this until pressured politically by angry customers.

All parcels from China that are mailed to Canada stop at Vancouver's YVR before going further. The mammoth recent increase in online "free-shipping", in spite of the normally estimated 3-4 week delivery time, has proven too attractive for customers and our domestic system has failed to meet the new load demands.

With this new information in mind, my e-Bay purchase would prove to be an interesting test of the system and of the TV news spot's accuracy. Normally, I would have expected my tiny parcel to arrive in about 30 days, but mine would be one that eventually ended up in the airport parking lot.

The kit finally arrived this week, with a delivery time of 89 days! Many online sellers will offer an inexpensive option to pay for faster shipping, something that will still take a couple of weeks but much better than three months. If you are given this inexpensive shipping option I would highly recommend that you choose it, and if not, ask for an alternative to "free shipping". Unless something changes soon, delays will continue to increase.

I also wonder, and perhaps you can comment below, are U.S. customers seeing the same long delays as we here in Canada are experiencing when the "free shipping" option is chosen?

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QSLs in my mailbox always excite me ... especially like yesterday's, arriving in a thin light-brown envelope decorated with colorful stamps.





I'm 100% certain this is because of receiving similar-appearing envelopes containing QSL cards during my formative years from age eleven onward and how much enjoyment the cards from shortwave stations all over the world brought me at this young age. For me, there is no replacement for a paper QSL, but sadly, this long-standing tradition is slowly slipping away due to the high cost of mailing even a normal-size envelope.

Earlier this summer I had a nice run of JA's on 6m Es but this time, instead of CW, they were on JT65A. Yesterday's card was for one of the digital contacts.


Signals were weak, at -23 db ... far too weak to be heard on CW but easily readable during the 60 second deep-listen period mandated by the JT65A mode. With so many stations now listening higher in the band for JT-mode signals, there has been very little activity on CW and now, with the introduction of yet another new digital mode, FT8, even the digital activity is split into sections, with neither mode being compatible.

I have held off installing the newer WSJT-X version containing the FT8 fifteen-second transmission mode until all of the bugs are ironed out ... the software will likely be tweaked a few more times yet before it reaches the polished final version we see for JT65 and others. 

FT8 has been designed for weaker 6m Es openings that are often too short in duration for the longer time periods needed by JT65's sixty-second sequences. FT8 contacts can be completed quickly, before short-lived signals can drop out, but the shorter sequences come at the cost of reduced sensitivity ... probably a worthwhile tradeoff.

Conventional mode activity on 6m has suffered tremendously with the introduction of these new modes and it seems that if you want to work weak signal DX (and not all do), sadly it may be digital or nothing at all if the trends continue.

If all of the DX moves from CW to digital, for me, much of the magic will disappear as well. Letting the computer do all of the thinking is not nearly as satisfying or enjoyable as using my brain and CW skills to put a new rare one in the log. Six meters continues to evolve and I'm not overly excited by the direction it seems to be going.

May Moonbounce / More 6m WSJT Observations

Late May's EME activity seemed poorer and less active than the previous month of northern declination moonrises.

Unlike winter's northern moonrises, the summer ones occur close to 'new moon' time and for a few days on the much favored northern path, the moon is too close to the sun, resulting in lower activity and higher noise. As well, with the warmer summer weather, outdoor projects or other summer activities often take priority over ham radio operations at this time of the year.

Nevertheless, I did manage to work five stations with my small station, and added four 'new initials', bringing my total unique-station QSO total to 105 ... it seems there are still plenty of folks out there that I have yet to work!

  • VE1KG
  • OK1DIX #102
  • S53K #103
  • IK1UWL #104
  • OZ1CT #105

IK1UWL's 4 x 9el cross-polarized array

S53K's 4 x 11el array

OZ1CT's 4 x 10el cross-polarized array

Latest Incoming EME QSLs:


With the summer Sporadic-E season now in full swing, I've had the opportunity to make some early observations regarding the growing use of the weak-signal digital modes. It seems my previous suspicions about the migration from traditional modes to the digital modes is occurring even more rapidly and in much larger numbers than I had expected. Almost all early activity has been concentrated on both JT65 and JT9 modes and most of the chatter on the ON4KST 6m chat page centers around these digital modes.

So far this season I have heard much more DX on JT65 than on CW or SSB, including two stations in Europe on Tuesday (EI4DQ and F5LNU). It seems that many QSO's are taking place with signals that are usually too weak to be heard by ear (~ -16db or weaker) and if listening for CW signals, the band would appear to be pretty much dead. With no full-blown openings to Europe yet, I just wonder if stations will stay put on JT65 or move to the much faster CW mode for making quick contacts when the propagation allows?

Making JT65 contacts is not a particularly fast process, with most QSOs taking a minimum of four minutes, if both operators are well acquainted with the procedures ... longer if not or if QRM or propagation throws a spanner into the works. Some of the newer JT9 sub modes allow for quicker exchanges as does the much less sensitive MSK144 mode but with so many options now available, it's often difficult to get everyone on the same mode or at least figure out what mode you are seeing!

I can see the advantages of using these modes when conditions will not support CW but will still allow digital decodes. If the normal 'weak signal window' can be sustained for a much longer time period than the usually short-lived audible CW-level window, perhaps more stations could actually be worked on these modes even though the QSO rate is much slower. But I still think that many easy CW QSO's will inevitably be missed when operators are watching their digital waterfalls and ignoring the CW end of the band ... of course, if everyone is doing that, then there will be nothing to be heard on CW, even though conditions may well support good signals.

It's a strange new situation and I'm probably not the only one that may be worried about the negative effects of the new weak-signal modes on 6m ... time will tell, but for me, if things keep going along this path, much of 6m's magic may be gone along with it.

Some other initial observations are:

- maybe it's possible to work more DX on weak signal mode, even though it is slower, because of the possibly longer propagation window at sub audible signal levels? ... ie. on a seemingly 'dead band' by ear.

- many are using the wrong sequence when calling for EU or JA. Folks need to pay attention to what sequence the DX is using!

- if your neighbours are running on even or odd sequence, then it might be neighbourly to also use the same sequence to avoid causing disruptive QRM. This seems to go south fast, once the band breaks wide open and it seems like 'every man for himself' ... not unlike 50.125!

- there are too many weak-signal modes and it would be advantageous to settle on a 'standard' mode for 6m DX. It seems as though many are wasting valuable time either switching modes or trying to figure out what mode they are seeing but not decoding! On long haul 6m Es, things change too quickly to waste time.

- there are still a lot of over-driven signals or signals with 60Hz components causing double decodes +/- 60Hz from their main signals.

May Moonbounce / More 6m WSJT Observations

Late May's EME activity seemed poorer and less active than the previous month of northern declination moonrises.

Unlike winter's northern moonrises, the summer ones occur close to 'new moon' time and for a few days on the much favored northern path, the moon is too close to the sun, resulting in lower activity and higher noise. As well, with the warmer summer weather, outdoor projects or other summer activities often take priority over ham radio operations at this time of the year.

Nevertheless, I did manage to work five stations with my small station, and added four 'new initials', bringing my total unique-station QSO total to 105 ... it seems there are still plenty of folks out there that I have yet to work!

  • VE1KG
  • OK1DIX #102
  • S53K #103
  • IK1UWL #104
  • OZ1CT #105

IK1UWL's 4 x 9el cross-polarized array

S53K's 4 x 11el array

OZ1CT's 4 x 10el cross-polarized array

Latest Incoming EME QSLs:


With the summer Sporadic-E season now in full swing, I've had the opportunity to make some early observations regarding the growing use of the weak-signal digital modes. It seems my previous suspicions about the migration from traditional modes to the digital modes is occurring even more rapidly and in much larger numbers than I had expected. Almost all early activity has been concentrated on both JT65 and JT9 modes and most of the chatter on the ON4KST 6m chat page centers around these digital modes.

So far this season I have heard much more DX on JT65 than on CW or SSB, including two stations in Europe on Tuesday (EI4DQ and F5LNU). It seems that many QSO's are taking place with signals that are usually too weak to be heard by ear (~ -16db or weaker) and if listening for CW signals, the band would appear to be pretty much dead. With no full-blown openings to Europe yet, I just wonder if stations will stay put on JT65 or move to the much faster CW mode for making quick contacts when the propagation allows?

Making JT65 contacts is not a particularly fast process, with most QSOs taking a minimum of four minutes, if both operators are well acquainted with the procedures ... longer if not or if QRM or propagation throws a spanner into the works. Some of the newer JT9 sub modes allow for quicker exchanges as does the much less sensitive MSK144 mode but with so many options now available, it's often difficult to get everyone on the same mode or at least figure out what mode you are seeing!

I can see the advantages of using these modes when conditions will not support CW but will still allow digital decodes. If the normal 'weak signal window' can be sustained for a much longer time period than the usually short-lived audible CW-level window, perhaps more stations could actually be worked on these modes even though the QSO rate is much slower. But I still think that many easy CW QSO's will inevitably be missed when operators are watching their digital waterfalls and ignoring the CW end of the band ... of course, if everyone is doing that, then there will be nothing to be heard on CW, even though conditions may well support good signals.

It's a strange new situation and I'm probably not the only one that may be worried about the negative effects of the new weak-signal modes on 6m ... time will tell, but for me, if things keep going along this path, much of 6m's magic may be gone along with it.

Some other initial observations are:

- maybe it's possible to work more DX on weak signal mode, even though it is slower, because of the possibly longer propagation window at sub audible signal levels? ... ie. on a seemingly 'dead band' by ear.

- many are using the wrong sequence when calling for EU or JA. Folks need to pay attention to what sequence the DX is using!

- if your neighbours are running on even or odd sequence, then it might be neighbourly to also use the same sequence to avoid causing disruptive QRM. This seems to go south fast, once the band breaks wide open and it seems like 'every man for himself' ... not unlike 50.125!

- there are too many weak-signal modes and it would be advantageous to settle on a 'standard' mode for 6m DX. It seems as though many are wasting valuable time either switching modes or trying to figure out what mode they are seeing but not decoding! On long haul 6m Es, things change too quickly to waste time.

- there are still a lot of over-driven signals or signals with 60Hz components causing double decodes +/- 60Hz from their main signals.

Growing 6m JT65 Activity

image courtesy: http://g8yph.blogspot.ca/
This past week, most of my 6m time has been spent monitoring or working JT65A mode stations, up the band a bit from my usual hangout around 50.100MHz. My main interest has always been CW but for some reason, and much to my surprise, the small sliver of JT spectrum space above 50.276MHz seems to be much 'busier' than the lower end of the band!

On several occasions this week, I have heard or worked dozens of others on JT mode while the bottom end of the band appears void of signals. Thursday morning was a good example, with several contacts down into the southeastern 'EM' grids on JT mode while seeing no reports of similar contacts being made on CW or SSB from my region.

This summer, there appears to be much more interest in 6m JT65 than ever before, as I see many familiar CW operators up the band on digital. There is no doubt that JT65's ability to dig deep into the atmospheric band noise and decode signals too weak to be heard on CW, provides an advantage when conditions are marginal. Perhaps this alone explains why I see such a difference between the two segments of the band. This is when JT65 really shines as it is primarily a weak-signal mode.

When the band really opens up however, things are different ... things can get messy pretty fast when the JT65 band fills-up with S9+ signals! Under these conditions, moving well away from the crowd is often better than trying to fight overlapping signals, often made worse by S9++ signals in your own grid, transmitting on the opposite sequence. In this respect, the JT65 segment is like a wider version of the 50.125MHz calling frequency ... the one spot in the conventional mode section of the band where anything goes ... the wild west of 6m.

Dead Band Spots - courtesy: https://www.pskreporter.info/pskmap.html

During one particularly noteworthy period of no action in the lower part of the band, JT65 signals were either copied or exchanged with CO8, V31, TG9, KP4 and XE. Many of these signals were heard for several hours, making the difference even more striking.

Perhaps having all of the JT signals crammed into a 2kHz sliver just makes it seem busier but the mode is certainly gaining steam. Now actually working guys on JT65 is akin to watching paint dry, as its weak-signal sensitivity comes at the expense of time ... the same information that could be sent on CW in 10 seconds, requires a full minute. A complete QSO takes a minimum of four minutes and the 13-character message buffer does not exactly encourage much conversation, other than calls, signal reports, grid squares and 'RRs'. All the same, calling CQ and waiting for the telltale signs of a reply to appear on the scrolling waterfall is somewhat mesmerizing, not unlike an addictive video game of sorts ... just one more CQ!

Will I abandon the CW end of the band? Never ... but having another mode to play with on the magic band is proving to be much more interesting than listening to the usual din of white noise, waiting for the band to 'really' open.

You can read more about JT65 and download the free software, WSJT-X, here.

CW Forever …?

24 Hour 'JT' 6m Activity
For the past few weeks I've been able to transmit in the WSPR mode on 630m for the first time. For a long while I've tried to avoid it since the mode does not allow for two-way QSO's to be made. For that, excluding CW, one of the other weak-signal digital-modes such as JT-9 would need to be used. I've been using a new transverter sent to me for Beta testing ... hopefully I'll be able to report more if the unit receives final approval for production.

The transverter develops just over 70 watts output when run on 13V and so far, has been able to take all of the nightly punishment I've been able to throw at it with flying colors. Here is a WSPRnet screen shot taken from a typical night of my WSPR beaconing on 630m:

courtesy: KB5NJD's 630m Info

I was also able to have my first JT-9 mode QSO this week, with Toby, VE7CNF. This mode is the weak-signal WSPR QSO mode, tailored for LF/MF work and allows for calls, signal reports and confirmations (R's) to be exchanged ... the minimum requirements needed to claim a contact. Although additional information can be exchanged, its 13-letter message buffer does not exactly promote ragchew style conversations and some creativity is required to exchange more than the basics.

With many of our newer 'digital-savy' amateurs not necessarily being proficient in CW, I suspect that JT-9 may well evolve to become the go-to weak signal communication mode on 630m, much as it has in Europe. In fact, popularity of this mode in Europe has already spawned a few JT-9 contest weekends on 630m, with high activity levels being reported. I'm really looking forward to a 630m JT-9 QSO party in North America, once the band becomes a reality in the U.S.A.

JT-9 is capable of decoding signals reliably down to -24db SNR and boasts a 50% reliability of decoding at -26db SNR. Audible CW drops out at around -16 to -18db SNR, so communicating with JT-9 is the equivalent of going from 100 watts to around 800 watts ... a significant improvement and very helpful on 630m! Like WSPR, JT-9 will work with non-linear transverters and amplifiers such as the commonly-used and simple to build switching MOSFET Class D/E styles.

There also appears to be a fast-growing use of JT-65A on the 6m band this summer, with numerous 'CW forever' operators finding the mode's ability to dig up to 10db deeper into the noise paying off with surprising results. Some western North American operators have noticed that European JT-65A signal levels indicate that they should be in the CW-copiable range yet no CW activity is heard, for which there seems to be no ready explanation. Perhaps more will be learned this summer as the use of this mode continues to expand.

As one of the 'CW forever' proponents willing to try something different, I also have been listening for and working stations on 6m over the past few days on JT-65A. With the IC-756ProIII throttled back to 25 watts, I've found it fairly easy to make contacts when the band is open but have yet to hear or work anything unusual.

I'd love to hear your own comments on the use of JT-9 or JT-65A, particularly on 630m or on 6m ... maybe you can pass along some tips for those of us that are new to the mode on this band.

I may have to reconsider this 'CW forever' thing!

Single Yagi Moonbounce

courtesy: JPL/NASA
After installing my new USB serial adapter and being able to key my 2m transceiver's PTT line once again, I noticed that a full moon would be coming up the following evening and thought it would be interesting to see if my old, but simple system, was still capable of working stations off the moon.

In early 2007, I decided to try 2m moonbounce using WSJT's JT65B digital mode. Over the years, moonbounce has gradually drifted away from CW to the much less demanding weak signal digital mode, allowing smaller stations to still explore the excitement of exchanging signals via reflection from the lunar surface. I am fortunate to have an excellent QTH for such an endeavour, being located beside the ocean with a saltwater horizon favoring moonrises, especially during the winter months of more northerly lunar declinations.

Moonrise from front yard
Theoretically, the ocean horizon produces about 6db of added gain to my system, making my 9el yagi produce gains approaching 19dbd ... about 2dbd more than a 24 element yagi and similar to a box of four 9el yagis mounted in an H-frame.

I soon realized that the actual numbers appeared very close to predicted values and using an inexpensive 2m FM/SSB 'brick amplifier' (with built-in GasFet preamp) delivering approximately 140 watts, I was able to work 54 different stations over the next twelve months. All of the stations worked were doing the heavy lifting, with the majority running typical 4-yagi H-frame arrays using yagis from 6 to 17 elements each. I did work one station that was using two small yagis during a period of excellent conditions. Somewhat surprisingly, a large majority of the stations I worked were strong enough to be heard audibly from the transceiver's speaker.

I'm always amazed at the truly small amount of RF energy that is actually left, after the round trip to the moon ... yet information can still be exchanged. On 144MHz, the round trip losses are a minimum of 250db. Factoring-in my antenna's gain and ignoring the coaxial losses in 70' of RG213, there is a scant 1.56 x10^-9 W arriving at the moon ... that's .00000000156 W! Considering how much RF is absorbed in the lunar dirt and what's left over for the -125db home trip, it's a miracle that some signals are loud enough to be heard by ear at all. EME is really one of ham radio's most fascinating activities.

Reacquainting myself with the newer version of the JT65B software, and testing out the system, I was ready to go on the next evening's moonrise. Unfortunately the moon was rising just a little too far south to give me a really clear shot and I would be pointing into the next door neighbour's trees. Being unable to track the elevation, my operating time is limited to about two hours per session, over a period of several successive days (or nights).

Almost coincidental with the night's moonrise, I heard the strong signals of RX1AS (Alex) in St. Petersburg, calling CQ. I called him and he came right back with my signal report. His station is shown below, along with his large homebuilt strip-line amplifier.

RX1AS
The next station I worked was DL8FBD (Gerald) near Frankfurt ... a new 'initial' for me, #55.

The following evening, the moon was buried even deeper into the trees but initials #56 and #57 were worked ... YL2GD (Gunars), in northern Latvia and RX3A (Nikolay), in Moscow city.

YL2GD and his EME station

RX3A's 2m EME array

Nikolay was worked with the moon at 11 degrees above the horizon. I'm not sure just what my upper limit for lunar elevation might be with this small antenna but the highest elevation I have worked anyone was at 18 degrees.

The third night found less activity on the band as well as a more southerly moonrise, burying my target even further into the neighbour's trees. Few signal were heard but one contact was easily completed with I3MEK (Mario), near Venice ... initial #58.

I3MEK's 4-yagi 2m EME array
Mario's signal, shown here on the waterfall display, comes from his four 19 element yagi array and 1 kW amplifier. His signal peaked at only -21db, indicative of the poorer conditions and heavier tree line obstruction.

I3MEK's 2m JT65b signal
I've contemplated building a small 500 watt amplifier which would give me another 6db ... really a huge increase when it comes to EME, but I'd still be stuck with the same receiving capability. Having more power might put me in the position of being heard better but not being able to hear other stations any better. At my present power level, there appears to be an entire new crop of stations within my present reach, that weren't around in 2007 ... but constructing the amplifier would be a fun project!

With so many larger (four or more yagis) stations around the world, a huge antenna is not needed to have success on 2m JT65B moonbounce ... nor is an over-the-ocean moonrise. I've also been able to work stations on moonset where I am pointing over hilly terrain and trees, nowhere near the ocean.

The WSJT (JT65B mode) software is freely available and very easy to implement, but spend some time reading the manual and playing with the software first, perhaps getting used to QSO procedures on 20m.

If you are running a small FM/SSB amplifier on 2m, such as the typical 'brick' I have been using, make sure to add a blower to keep the heatsink cool, as JT65 has a 100% duty cycle and these small amplifiers can get hot pretty fast. I use a small squirrel-cage blower from an old microwave oven to direct a blast of air onto the cooling fins.

Wondering where to point your antenna? One handy site that will provide the moon's position in the sky, for any time and any location, is the U.S. Naval Observatory's 'Sun or Moon Altitude/Azimuth Table'. As well, you can keep abreast of real-time activity or set up skeds, via NØUR's Ping Jockey JT65 EME page.

If you do decide to give this a shot, I'd be interested to hear how you do ... maybe your system is big enough already to let us work each other via the moon.

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