What a Zoo!

The question I raised in my article about JT65’s success (“Who’s next?”) has already been answered: Joe Taylor. The same guy that brought us the JT mode of families has devised the mode FT-8, developed together with Steven Franke (K9AN). It’s basically turbo charged JT65, with a message length of only 12.64 seconds and transmission beginnings synced to the next 15 second interval. It’s not as sensitive as JT65, but that might change when a priori information is added at a later stage.

My version of WSJT-X was automatically updated to 1.8.0-rc1 on July 11th and just for fun I decided to check out if there was any FT-8 activity. There was: a couple of VKs and JAs. I was a bit surprised, because I had been monitoring FSQ which has been around for a while already and I couldn’t find any activity. FT-8 had only just been introduced so that was a good sign. It got even better when I noted some European stations popping up in the local evening. I tried my hand at making a QSO, but couldn’t get through, so my first ever FT-8 QSO was with HS7WMU from Thailand. The reason why I couldn’t get through became clear later: the delta loop for 6 meters was still hooked up to the rig! After switching to a proper antenna if became apparent that even my modest verticals didn’t have any problem in getting through to Europe. Even better, stations from the east coast of the US were also coming in fine early evening and I also had no problem working them. (Over here in Taiwan the eastern US is one of the more difficult regions of the world to work).

Over the course of the next few weeks I noticed a steady increase in the number of stations I could receive. The statistics page of pskreporter.info backs this up. As I write this the number of FT-8 spots over the last 2 hours outnumber the JT65 spots 2 to 1. JT9 has already been relegated to the margins, so it seems Amateur Radio’s new favourite mode has become FT-8.

I have always been critical of the JT modes, mainly because they reduce QSOs to a 599 exchange with no possibilities to engage in a more meaningful conversation. Plus, JT65 is boringly slow. So, how do I feel about FT-8? Well, it’s not slow at all. In fact, you don’t even have time to push the appropriate macro buttons on the screen, so let WSPR-X do all the work for you. Even answering a reply to your own CQ can be handled automatically, which frees your hands into doing something else (In my case practising guitar. I’m working on Lindsey Buckingham’s “Never Going Back Again“, but don’t expect any performance soon). Arm chair DXing but still no possibility to start a real conversation with the other party. Not great in my book.

Screen capture of WSJT-X with my first ever FT-8 QSO. Notice the checks with “Auto Seq” and “Call 1st”. Keep these on if you want smooth, automatically sequenced QSOs.

Still, I’ve been playing with FT-8 a lot and it is kind of fun. I normally only log some four hundred QSOs a year and in the last two years that has been reduced to forty or less. Honestly, till July 14 I only had 22 QSOs in my log for 2017. Now I’m way over 240 of which 212 are FT-8 QSOs. July 8th was the highlight so far: SSN of 11 and the K index only 1, so pretty good ionospheric conditions. Within 4.5 hours I worked 50 stations from 19 DXCC entities, working from the east coast to the west coast of the US (I added four new states for my WAS), then into Europe. I hardly had any time to put out CQs, because the next station was already calling me before the previous QSO was finished. The pass band on the scope was filled to the brim, when one anonymous ham sent out the cry that became the title of this post: “What a Zoo!”

Screen capture of pskreporter with all the stations I received on August 8 in the span of 4.5 hours.

He may have found it a zoo, but I like zoos, a lot. All joking aside, the one thing that really attracts me to FT-8 is the fact that you can do real time ionospheric observations. WSPR was meant for this, but the number of WSPR stations is too small and signals are too infrequent to be very accurate in my opinion. By constantly monitoring the FT-8 pass band I already noted a couple of sudden ionospheric disturbances and even a complete black out. Sometimes it only takes minutes for conditions to change from favourable to abismal and as a self reliant ham FT-8 is then a nice monitoring tool to have.

So apart from Antenna Summer, this has also become FT-8 Summer. Until the end of August (summer break) I will be active from 05 to 15 UTC most days, calling CQ a lot. I’m on 20 meters only, so if you see me on your waterfall there give me a call.

Hans "Fong" van den Boogert, BX2ABT, is a regular contributor to AmateurRadio.com and writes from Taiwan. Contact him at [email protected].

4 Responses to “What a Zoo!”

  • Tony N8WAC:

    “still no possibility to start a real conversation with the other party. Not great in my book”.

    Keep in mind that the JT modes are not for long term qso modes. And the original JT mode was for EME. If I’m not mistaken the FT8 mode was designed for quick contacts on VHF because of the fast up and down sporadic E band openings on VHF. So for what it was designed for I think it’s absolutely fabulous. You still have a great article.

  • Walt n5eqy:

    I just tried to dl the FT-8 software and all my security programs in win 10 and malwarebytes and firefox blocked the download because of a “non-secure site.
    Is there a site that is secure to dl and try the FT8 software.

  • Hello Walt, sorry to hear you have problems, but a quick google search didn’t show that it is a problem others are having, too. Downloading WSJT-X from K1JT’s page hosted as Princeton University is safe, so I suggest you tweak your security settings to allow downloading from there. Scroll down and download the 1.8.0 version.

    Sorry I can’t help you any further. I’m not familiar with Windows anymore.

  • Kent Johnstone KB7QBZ:

    Malwarebytes can be turned off temporarily. Firefox has a setting that says “Ask Me” for “unsafe” sites. Most government sites are unsafe according to Firefox and Norton but I just click “Allow”.

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