FT8 beginners guide to digital modes

Firstly FT8 is not the only digital mode, amateur radio has been using “digital” to send messages from RTTY to Helscriber and even CW. FT8 is just an evolution, and while it fulfils the basic QSO criteria the exchange is minimal and this is not a chat mode.

If you are looking for a digital chat mode, then why not try Olivia or read my digital modes for all occasions PDF

If you have a modern radio, with a USB connector then it couldn’t be easier to get online. I will concentrate on FT8, but the principles discussed and the software used will often support multiple digital modes.

FT8 is ideal for weak signal communication, and so a modest 5 or 10w radio will provide surprisingly good results, giving newcomers to the hobby a great feel for propagation and working DX. It’s also great for people who don’t feel comfortable talking on the radio, but still want to enjoy the thrill of seeing a station from several thousand kilometres appear on the screen.

It’s not for everyone, but the hobby is wide and diverse and FT8 provides a very easy way for newcomers in the hobby and old hands to work stations with a very modest setup.

Download the latest version of WSJTX from the website, and connect your USB from the computer to the radio, then open the software. You will need to define your call on the configuration pages and select the radio from the pull-down menu, then choose the soundcard from the audio section. In most cases when you have selected the correct COM port, radio and audio card these will remain correct and will not require constant adjustment.

Using the Windows Device Manager to locate your COM port number

The com port number and speed may take some testing, for reference you can see my settings above based on the IC705.

For the sound card, look for the USB Audio CODEC as this is most likely the digital audio needed.

WSJT may not have all the frequencies set correctly for your region, these can be modified quite easily using the menu in WSJT (File/Settings/Frequencies)

If you have the audio sound card and CAT configured correctly WSJT should read the radio frequency, and control the PTT. You can hopefully hear signals and see them on the waterfall.

Dial Frequencies USB

Dial Freq USB
3.537
5.357
7.074
10.136
14.074
18.100
21.074
28.074
50.313
70.154
144.174

Lastly but most importantly the clock on your PC needs to be accurate, within a few seconds otherwise it will not decode any signals and you will not be decoded by anyone. The windows time management is typically not good enough, so you should either manually calibrate the clock (not easy) or get some free software to manage this for you.

You can’t underestimate the thrill of working VK or JA on 10w, and despite what you think of FT8 if this mode helps inspire a new breed of digital operators to explore and enjoy amateur radio then we have a lot to thank Joe Taylor for.

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