Why People Hate FT8

Let’s just be real for a moment. A lot of people hate FT8. You all have seen it in social media and on the air. It’s a popular mode, so popular in fact that one report citing Club Log data recently showed that 80% of HF contacts in their tracking nowadays are FT8. This increase has come at the expense of other mode activity, especially CW. What’s worse in the minds of some, is that accomplishments like DXCC which used to take several to many years to reach is being significantly shortened with the use of FT8.

I’ve often thought it’s a fait accompli achieving DXCC, one just needs to sit in a chair long enough.  FT8 has given a means to bypass a lot of that chair-sitting.  I think FT8 just exposed an inconvenient truth that there really wasn’t a whole lot of skill involved in DXCC.  Skill may lessen the amount of time it takes.  FT8 just automated the process and significantly reduced the time needed and totally removed any skill advantage.


FT8 or another similar mode was going to happen sometime.  It’s like the concept of steam engine time.  The idea or theory is that the steam engine would have been invented at probably the same time in history by anyone or several people simultaneously in the world, even if many inventors were isolated and not in contact with each other.  It was just bound to happen at some point given the progression of technology and the availability of materials and know-how to do it.  We all knew (well, those of us with engineering know-how) that a semi-synchronous extremely low baud rate, low signal-to-noise ratio mode would work and be quite robust.  It’s Shannon’s Theorem applied. What is at issue is the way Joe Taylor packaged it.  We could do great things with low baud rate/low S/N modes.  How about a TCP/IP link to a BBS on the moon or an open global resilient messaging network that works on every band in the lowest of the low sunspot cycles? Instead, it was packaged as a low effort point-and-click QSO slot machine, unable to convey anything intelligent.

There are fully automated FT8 stations out there where the operator just clicks a button and the station makes contacts all day. We all know it, we just don’t know the extent of it. This I think is the crux of the problem. FT8 has become something akin to Bitcoin-mining, but it’s QSO-mining, and FT8 with automation which is undoubtedly happening has devolved pursuit of accomplishments into a virtual QSO Battlebots competition.

Personally, I’ve become indifferent to the whole FT8 debate, and frankly anything that involves DXing, DXCC, contesting, or collecting wallpaper. I don’t hate FT8, but I get the discontent about it that is expressed in amateur radio circles. I have always been one to tell others to not be mode bigots, or put down other modes. The FT8 mode itself is not bad technology, or detrimental to amateur radio. The mindless fashion in which it is in use I’m not so sure about.

This article was originally posted on Radio Artisan.

Anthony, K3NG, is a regular contributor to AmateurRadio.com.

21 Responses to “Why People Hate FT8”

  • Goody K3NG:

    Just to be clear, this article was not in any way intended as a response to Mike VE9KK’s FT8-related articles here. It’s just a coincidence I posted about FT8 today 🙂

  • Mike VE9KK:

    Good afternoon Goody, great well-rounded post regarding FT8 I very much enjoyed reading it. It’s fantastic that we all can post and or comment about hour great hobby.
    Thanks for keeping the FT8 conversation going!
    73 and have a great what is left of the week,
    Mike
    VE9KK

  • MJ, WO9B:

    I am an occasional FT8 user. I keep it on that shelf of my operating spectrum. Nice article however. The concept of automated operating is very puzzling to me as just collecting QSO’s without context seems pointless.

    For as little FT8 mode operations that I do, what always catches my attention is the number of stations that are tagged B4 by JT Alert. Unlike other modes, repeat FT8 contacts serve no real purpose that I can see. As time goes on, I guess the real challenge is going to be working stations you’ve not worked “B4”. Just last night, maybe 1/3 of the stations on the 80 meter FT8 band were B4’s. That was a little depressing if the truth be told.

  • Steve Herrington, KH6VK:

    Anthony, thanks very much for your perspective!

    I’ve been conflicted for a while because I haven’t ‘yet’ gotten on FT8. But, within the past few months, I’ve begun to question why I would want to.

    I then realized that I got into the hobby in order to COMMUNICATE with other hams, both local and DX, and get to know about them and their lives, their countries, etc. And, that is something that FT8 clearly cannot provide. So, I’ve given up on that particular quest…and trying to decide which other digital mode – one with a little QSO flexibility – I will pursue.

    Thanks again!

  • Larry VE7VJ:

    A mode is a mode is a mode. Someone will always find something to complain about in this hobby. To be honest, I have to say that Amateur radio has a higher percentage of complainers than most hobbies I’m involved in. We have some that are so vexed by digital that if you look closely enough there are veins bulging and pulsing 🙂 Not sure what the reason is?
    I am one of the few to not try FT8 yet but it is on the list.

  • AK3Y:

    Thanks for the article — it is something that needed to be said, even though it was probably in the thoughts of many hams whether they like FT8 or not. Until fairly recently, FT8 was a mode that was something that one could indeed be indifferent to — it used a well-defined set of frequencies, and occupied very little bandwidth, essentially the equivalent of one SSB channel. You knew where to stay away from if you wanted to operate CW or another digital mode.

    Unfortunately, those times seem to be behind us as I am finding more and more DXpeditions (or just plain special events) using FT8 while operating in Fox/Hound mode on frequencies that were formerly rather sacrosanct for CW. On more than a few occasions, I have found myself being clobbered by an “errant” FT8 pileup gob smack in the middle of what used to be allocated (albeit informally) to CW. For example, one often finds FT8 pileups in the 7.050 to 7.060 MHz region where many of us SKCC folks gather.

    I have heard the argument made that CW, for example, can operate anywhere in the band so what’s the problem? I’m not sure many SSB QSO’s would like to have a CW net or contest taking place on top of them.

    Unfortunately, like most ham radio allocations, you use it or lose it. Nearly every morning (I’m an early riser) I get on 40 CW to find the band mostly dead, except for a giant blip on the FT8 frequency where my S-meter is registering 30 over 9. Is the band really dead, or is it that we are getting fat and happy using FT8?

    As Mike said, thanks for keeping the FT8 conversation going!
    73,
    Bob AK3Y

  • Desmond Walsh EI5CD:

    No doubt FT8 is a useful tool for researching propagation . Other than that it is as interesting as a camera taking snapshots of vehicle registrations . Minimal messaging for some people . It takes all types !

  • Dr. Frank M. Howell:

    Anthony,

    I have a different take on the FT8 “encroachment” on what has been CW space in contest competition. From some research in progress with Dr. Scott Wright K0MD on ARRL Sweepstakes contests over the past two decades, it is striking how especially the CW part is dominated by Baby Boomers as the Traditionalists (their predecessor generation) have moved more and more into SK status. Millennials have not taken to CW like they have SSB in large measure. The emotional attachment to a mode—-like AMers who called SSB “mush mouths” because the former didn’t have a BFO—-has a strong and clear history.

    Will CW seriously diminish in contests as Boomers (to which I belong) move into SK status? Will FT8 continue to rise in use once Cycle 25 allows phone to reach long distances on a regular basis? This history remains to be written. But the aging out of the Boomers will indeed brung about change in the cultural beliefs regarding CW.

    Thanks for your candid thoughts on FT8. I enjoyed working DX via FT8 for my team last Saturday in the MS QSO Party. We had a top flight CW op on the team as a specialist as the other two members worked SSB. We had a great time but there may be a time when we have no one working CW unless the mode is propped up by contest rule makers to give additional multipliers for it,

    We shall see..

    73,

    Frank
    K4FMH

  • Vic KB7GL:

    I have a bit of a different cut on FT8. I initially tried it when it first came out, because I found the new technology fascinating. However, I quickly got bored with it, since the computer was doing all the heavy lifting.

    Recently, I’ve discovered another use for it. I frequently suffer from insomnia in wee hours of the morning. Rather than thrash around for an hour or more trying to get back asleep, I’ve found that, if I get up and make a few FT8 contacts, within an hour or so I’m sleepy enough to crawl back in bed. Doing CW (or SSB) would take too much concentration and keep me alert. FT8 is kinda like watching a “B” movie.

    And, every now and then, I snag a new country! Different strokes…

    73, Vic KB7GL

  • Harry K7ZOV:

    Sparkgap hams hated CW hams… CW hams hated AM hams…AM hams hated SSB “Donald Duck” hams …SSB hams hated AM and FM hams.. When PSK31 came CW and SSB hams hated it and cried that it will kill ham radio.. It didn’t, however it did changed the world ham radio forever.

    For those who missed it, it was the mode that killed the KING CW in almost every country of the world to such a level the CW was dropped in almost all the countries of the world, the US not being the first to do so. Digital like psk31/63, Olivia, and many others do a better job of getting though when even the King, CW either can’t or does it badly. This was the first major blow to CW ops who were forced to learn and use CW, and the hate flowed (to some degree it leaked over to some SSB ops also).

    WSJT-X made things worst when JT-65 became the new king of the air… People are forgetting that. FT8 came in and now we have a new mode that allows people living in condo’s, HOA’s, compromise antennas, with little to no money for a contest radio, DX station who can speak any language but their own to be able to work the world during this “Grand Solar Minimum” that will out last me, assuming I live past my 100th birthday (I am now 73 and been a ham for 57 yrs).

    To me FT8 is just one mode of many. I do some bad CW, but I do some. I am into HF SSB, some RTTY, 10 meter FM, 2 and 6 meter SSB, FM and yes FT8 and now satellite.

    In my 57 yrs as a ham working most DX and many none DX stations was nothing more than a fast 599, 59, name, city, state, sometime rig..73.. Total time seconds to minutes. Gee not much different the JT-65 and FT8…The two biggest difference I can do that on what we would call “dead bands” anytime time day or night and log on the fly, where as logging before was by hand and lots of mistakes.

    My rule is turn on the radio and first listen to each band, or in my case listen and watch the band scopes on my IC-7300, IC-9700 and TS-990S. I am looking for anything. In nothing I will go to FT8 for that band. If FT8 is dead, then I can assume it really is, If not next I check the signal reports. 0 to -5 tells me CW and SSB contacts are possible and go back and call CQ. 90% of the time I will make contacts. Too many people are NOT call CQ but are just watching the waterfall and jumping on others who are calling CQ like they should be doing. If you want more CW and SSB activity spot watching the damn waterfall can all CW more often.

    FT8 Signal of -6 to -9 means some CW contacts can still be made. -10 to -22 forget CW, RTTY, AM or SSB. You will be wasting you time since they will be lost in the floor… Only deep digital will work… Such as the evil FT8.

    I will repeat this process for each band. If all else fails it will be IC-9700 and my eggbeater antennas and satellite time..

    I am a old op.. a baby boomer.. I have wonderful retirement toys and why in my remaining years should I give a damn about what mode I am using as long as the radio and antennas are being used and not going to waste. I am also waiting for the next digital mode. I am sure it is coming and will make FT8 outdated. Bet a new hate love group will follow. Why not.. It has been going on since the spark days.. I guess it is just part of ham radio.

    73 Harry K7ZOV

  • Goody K3NG:

    Frank, you raise a very valid point regarding contests propping up CW. However, I’ve thought that “propping up” has been happening for years. Case in point, I know of contesters who run QRP in contests due to the bonus points or special categories. You won’t see these operators doing the “normal” or commonplace QRP activities, like building equipment, experimenting, SOTA, etc. or at QRP “watering holes”, ever. They only operate QRP during contests. I think the same goes for CW and the QSO points contests often have for CW operation. I say this as an op who does probably 95% CW. I personally like the points for operating CW, but I’ve thought for years that it “artificially” creates CW activity, if that makes any sense. Is it right? I don’t know. I’ve heard arguments that CW operation deserves the extra points because it’s a skill. That’s true. I was a 100% phone op 25 years ago before giving CW a try. After I learned CW, I found CW QSOs in contests are actually much, much easier than phone contacts. It’s like Unix. Hard to learn initially, but once you know it, you can run circles around others when it comes to computing and automation. But I digress. One thing I don’t like is the mode bigotry that is common in CW op ranks. It’s a big turn off to newcomers trying CW.

  • Goody K3NG:

    Thanks everyone for your comments. The goal of my article wasn’t to spread the hate or stir it up, but rather understand or perhaps rationalize it. I can see where it could come across as being apologetic for the FT8 “haters”. It’s a difficult topic. I like to use the “different strokes for different folks” mantra, and not poo poo anything which is providing people with enjoyment as long as it doesn’t harm someone else. I question how much enjoyment it’s really providing. I can make the same argument about sitting in a chair inside a whole sunny and warm weekend exchanging “599” via CW or phone. Regardless, I hope that the use of modes for DXing and contesting comes back to some sort of more even distribution. But as I mention in the article, we could be utilizing the technology for something more productive, advancing the radio art, if you will.

    Anyway, I’m glad this is cultivating some intelligent discussion.

  • Charles Reifsnyder ADYOY:

    Ham radio operators are in many ways just like Chicken Little. The sky is falling and the hobby will be destroyed any minute now. I remember a similar amount of discussion of the impending doom of amateur radio when CW requirements were lifted and it was all going to come to an end. As for FT8 it provides contacts when low power stations struggle with atmospheric conditions using other modes. I worked for two weeks recently with SSB and struggled to make contacts, then I decided to give FT8 a try. In two weeks of casual hamming I put over 200 contacts with 11 new countries into the log. Will I work a lot of FT8 when the bands are open? Probably not that much. Its time to accept that the only thing constant is change. If you don’t like FT8, or any new mode for that matter just don’t us it. 73.

  • Bob N8QE:

    I was a late comer to FT-8, but I now find it my go to mode to make contacts with my small pistol station. Last night for example 10 meters was dead on the bandscope on my IC-7300, but FT-8 was alive with signals from SA offering many DX contacts. An ardent 6 meter user, it is now the only way to make lots of contacts during VHF contests. Finally allowing me to work Japan and Hawaii on 6 meters too. After 55 years of ham radio operating, it offers a new way to have fun with ham radio.

  • Hans BX2ABT:

    Nice article, well said, but nothing is going to change. Hams are just ordinary people, only our equipment is different. In the non-ham world everybody is fixed to their smartphone screen for easy consumerism, in the ham-world to WSJT-X for easy QSOs. Same difference. We humans are a lazy bunch and nowadays we are saturated with everything we need, so why go through any effort? Good luck changing that!

    It’s only a pity that it has become so massive that all other modes are relegated to dinosaur territory. For you folks in Europe and NA there is enough activity close by, so you will and can work “fun” modes like CW, Olivia, Thor, RTTY, etc. Over here in Asia it’s a different story and I’m waiting for some sunspots so I can maybe maybe work some other modes than FT8 outside of the weekend contests. If the sunspots don’t arrive……I will keep on being a lonely ham calling CQ in the middle of the desert called HF.

    In any case, my 6m beam is not going back in the tower anymore.

  • Dr. Frank M. howell:

    Goody,

    Thanks for your reply to my thoughts. I’ll add a couple more.

    Your comment, “One thing I don’t like is the mode bigotry that is common in CW op ranks. It’s a big turn off to newcomers trying CW.” rings a clear bell for me. When the Manager asked me by email to supply a “Stray” entry for his eHam section, I sent in what I assumed would be a rather bland statement: “Real hams are…Ones with a valid license!” Boy, was I wrong. I literally got hate mail…one ham in NC sent an email threatening personal violence to me if he saw me at a hamfest. I call these prejudices “hardening of the categories.” As a sociologist and statistician, it is almost always predicated on the basis of a lack of exposure to the “other” category. As we’ve become more specialized as the hobby has proliferated more modes and technologies, we collectively do not know from direct experience about many others.

    On that note, there are other commentators here who embody the tolerance and diversity of using various modes without emotional attachment to them with regard to what “all” hams should use. And, while I do not consider myself an ardent contest participant, there are many contest rule documents that award some form of advantageous multiplier for operating CW. This happens without any “theory” of why! Is it supposed to be because CW is “harder” than speaking into a mic? Or is it merely propping up CW as a mode? Only the organizers could effectively answer that. But it seems to me that having a theory of the contest articulating why multipliers are prescribed would be more transparent.

    Finally, most of this discussion has emphasized using FT8, CW et al. in contesting rather than rag-chewing (LOL on FT8! But that’s why JS8CALL was developed), etc. Some in the hobby who are not ardent contest participants think that the scarce resources of band allocations are too dominated by the activity of contesting. Some bands (WARC, for example) are generally not included by agreement. But the competition for relatively scarce resources, exacerbated by the low Sunspot Cycle inhibiting phone and CW somwhat, have become more acute in recent years.

    Thanks again for a great, civil discussion here!

    73,

    Frank
    K4FMH

  • Layne AE1N:

    FT8 is not a spectrum hog: it only takes a few kHz to support hundreds of stations simultaneously. Not needed: headset, micophone, key, speaker any power speak of. There are thousands of hams stuck in their tiny apartments with low power rigs and simple indoor wires who are now ejoying communications (if you want to call it that) with others.
    FT8 and other digital modes are the dominant ones today. Remember when SSB came online; it didn’t take long before AM virtually disappeared!

  • Elwood Downey:

    That I can use a tiny radio with a little current in a short wire, no more than a night light, to communicate around the world at all is still a wonderment to me. The modulation technique or the message content is of minor importance in comparison.

    As for FT8 in particular, the protocol captures pretty much exactly what a typical CW or SSB DX contact consists of anyway, so I don’t see it as any different.

    73 to all.

  • Bruce K8CJM:

    Most prior comments make good points and are well stated. Some brief points to consider. 1) FT8 an easy way to quickly check propagation. 2) Good check on your system to see if you are getting out. 3) Many hams enjoy FT8 and this can be draw to increase our ranks.

  • Lenny W2BVH:

    Keep in mind WSJT-X is meant as a weak signal tool. Joe Taylor et. al. specialized the various modes to the characteristics (impairments) of the various communication channels. No matter the mode, no one rag chews on EME, meteor scatter, tropo, during a contest, etc. I have a suburban lot, without the space or money for a tower, so I use whatever other technology there is, like WSJT-X, to improve my ability to make weak signal qso’s. There’s no one complaining about folks with giant antenna farms, or lna front ends in their vhf rigs. WSJT-X allows me to hear and work hams I otherwise wouldn’t hear. WSJT-X is just another technology for hearing weak signals. If I have to compromise and limit the information I can exchange in order to make a qso I otherwise couldn’t make, that’s a fair trade-off to me. WSJT-X is just a tool, and it can be mis-applied. People ought to choose it when it can be used to best advantage. I worked the 222 MHz Spring Sprint last night. When there were no more phone or cw stations to be heard, I switched to FT8. Some of the FT8 q’s were folks I could have worked on phone, but they were on FT8 so I worked them. But quite a few FT8 q’s were so weak, I would have missed them entirly so it was well worth using the FT8. “Horses for courses”.

  • Stu AI7AN:

    FT8 and to a lesser degree other fully automated modes remind me of the animated movie Wall-e. Except these modes lack the charm written into the scripts used by the robots in the movie. FT8 itself was a clever development but the way it was implemented I find annoying, particular when in bot mode. Furthermore, the way the early FT8 compatible transceiver kits were crystaled put them right smack into the accepted area for other modes I find a great deal more interesting and useful. It would have been better had this been coordinated rather than just thrust forth the way it was. We all know that band plans require adjustment from time to time and compromise is a necessary virtue. But approaching it with a little forethought and a gentle attitude would have gone a long ways towards keeping in the spirit we are supposedly known for. YMMV…. Suffice it to say I too easily understand why many of us don’t much care for this “intruder” in our HF bands. The flip side I (begrudgingly?) have to admit is that at least there is more activity which helps us justify our claim on our alotted bandwidth.

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