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Hinson tips for HF DXers on operating FT8

I’ve been steadily compiling the following tips in recent months while making over 2,000 FT8 QSOs and teaching myself how to drive the software. Some of them were prompted by suggestions from other FT8 users and the developers, including several raised on the WSJT-X reflector.

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  1. FT8 is in an experimental phase. Both the mode and the software are being actively developed and on-air operating conventions are evolving. It helps to use the latest available software.

                              Currently for FT8 that means the production version 1.8.0 of WSJT-X
                       or you might be lucky with one of the functional JTDX steps or MSHV by LZ2HV
                        

    Beta versions (also known as ‘release candidates’ and ‘steps’) typically have issues such as design flaws (program functions that are missing, don’t work at all, or don’t work very well) and bugs which the programmers are hoping users will find and report - although delicate members of the ‘supWSJTX versionport teams’ sometimes resent being told about them and are easily upset if users have the nerve to make improvement suggestions!

    If you’re unsure what version you are running, glance up at the title of the main window. For WSJT-X it should look like this -->

    Open Help -> About to find the exact version e.g.:

    JTDX help about

  2. WSJTX special keysWith the program running, press F1 to read the help file/manual. The WSJT-X help is well written, if I say so myself. You’ll discover, for instance, that the confusing combinations of shift/alt/control keys and clicks are handily explained on the screen by pressing F5 to “Display special mouse commands” (commands for special mice):


    By far the most useful key combination in WSJT-X is to shift-click on the waterfall to put your TX signal there (think of it as ‘shift my TX ’).

    If nothing else sticks in your memory from these Hinson Tips, at least remember to shift-click .

  3. Check your computer’s clock. Accurate timing is quite important for FT8: if your PC clock is wrong by more than a second or so, you will probably experience problems e.g. few if any responses to your CQs, or seemingly being ignored when you call others. If you are Internet -connected, a quick and easy way to check is to visit the Time.is website: provided your PC clock is correct, you should see something like this at the top left of the web page:

    Time is outpyut


    Provided you have Internet access, the free Meinberg NTP software maintains millisecond accuracy by synchronising your PC time to atomic clocks on the Internet. Install, configure, check, forget. It’s that easy. Some prefer other programs such as BktTimeSynch (by IZ2BKT), Dimension 4 or TimeSynchTool. If you are offline (perhaps clinging precariously to a mountain peak), you can use GPS receivers or WWV or the other radio clocks - even a reasonably accurate quartz watch will do provided it was recently checked and adjusted against a suitable reference. The crude time synchroniser built-in to Windows is poor, a next-to-last resort (it may help to configure it to update daily or hourly by meddling with the registry setting). If you see plenty of FT8 signals on the waterfall but few decodes, or a distinct bias in the dT values on the decode (e.g. mostly negative values), those are strong clues that your clock may be wrong: the last resort method is to ‘nudge’ your PC clock towards a setting where most of the decodes have zero dT.

  4. Although FT8 is a constant-carrier FSK mode (unlike PSK, CW and SSB), it is still very important to avoid overdriving. Set the transmit levels so the entire chain from AF generation through to RF transmission is operating linearly. Check your transceiver, sound system and software, preferably transmitting off-air into a dummy load using a scope and RF probe to check your signal, otherwise work it out on-air on a quiet frequency with a competent helper giving you honest feedback as you systematically adjust the settings. If you get your transmit levels wrong (such as the FT8 station labelled 0 in pink below), you may unknowingly be generating ‘ghostly barcodes’ (1-5): these are audio harmonics caused by generating too much audio output from the PC sound card which overloads the audio input circuits in the radio:

    WSJT ghostly barcodes 700


    [Thanks for the tip, Bill G4WJS].  Setting the transmit levels is a bit more complicated than it seems: simply turning down the rig’s power output control is not sufficient as even QRP signals can be rotten if the audio is overloaded. Take extra care over the level of audio output from the PC sound card. On the K3, set the PC sound card output (using the sound card headphone level slider and/or the “Pwr” slider on the WSJT-X main window) and the K3’s line input level (using the front panel “MIC” control) to indicate 4 or 5 blobs on the ALC meter. However, on rigs that use ALC to set the normal output level (Icoms?), high ALC indication is normal, even at QRP levels. On some rigs, the ALC meter is apparently, in effect, a distortion meter! Sorry I can’t be more specific here. If you are unsure, err on the side of caution by keeping the PC audio output level low, just enough drive to generate some RF output (you don’t need much!). The Spinal Tap approach, also known as Mediterranean Syndrome (“All knobs to 11”) will create more mayhem and complaints than FT8 QSOs:

    Spinal Tap 700

  5. If you are using CAT control to read and set the rig’s frequency through the PC, use the Split Operation function in WSJT-X under F2 settings, Radio tab:

    WSJTX split


    This automatically adjusts both the radio VFO frequency and the generated audio frequencies so the audio is towards the high end of the normal frequency range of SSB speech. Any audio harmonics, then, are more likely to be attenuated by the rig’s transmit shaping/filters. “Fake It” automatically QSYs VFO A back and forth on every WSJT-X split indicatorover between transmitting and receiving. The “Rig” setting attempts to use the split function built-in to modern radios by receiving on VFO A and  transmitting on VFO B but unfortunately WSJT-X v1.8.0 does not check or re-send the split command with every over. Using the “Rig” setting, if for some reason split gets disabled on the rig itself (e.g. for a simplex QSO on another mode or band), be sure to turn split back on, on the rig, when you resume using FT8. You should normally see a bold S in the green blob between band and frequency:
    “Fake It” avoids that little annoyance since it sends the QSY commands to VFO A at the start and end of every transmission. It leaves VFO B untouched, which can be handy to swap quickly back and forth between, say, the CW and FT8 parts of the band. That’ll do nicely, thank you.

  6. If you are routing transmit audio from the sound card to the front-panel microphone input on the rig, be sure to turn off the radio’s speech processor and any audio shaping/profiling when using digimodes to avoid distorting your signal. Radios with a rear-panel line-level input especially for digimodes, or a special ‘data’ mode that automatically disables the processing (such as the K3), tend not to have this issue. [Thanks for the tip Joe W4TV]
     
  7. Set the audio input level from the RX, preferably at the RX itself, to avoid under- or over-loading your sound card and software:
    • Right-click the loudspeaker in the Windows system tray and click Recording devices (or in Control Panel, run the Sound applet then open the Recording tab) and click to select the appropriate input line from your radio;
    • Click the Properties button then open the Levels tab;
    • If the level is shown as a percentage, right-click the level slider and change to decibels;
    • Slide the slider until it shows 0 dB, or as close to zero as you can get, so the sound card is neither amplifying nor attenuating input signals before the analogue-to-digital conversion. Depending on the sound card, 0 dB may be near the middle of the slider range or (as with the line input on the Xonar U7) at the very top end:

      Soundcard input level 0 dB

    • OK your way out of the Sound settings. Provided you aren’t swapping between markedly different audio sources, and provided Windows doesn’t throw a wobbly, you should not need to adjust the sound card recording level again, making it almost set and forget;
    • Level on a busy bandNow adjust the audio output level from your RX (e.g. using the rig’s Line out setting) such that the WSJT-X level meter is normally in the central green zone, neither too quiet (orange) nor too loud (red). On, say, a fairly busy 17m band with about 10 decent-strength transmissions in each time slot, I’m seeing about 50 dB on the meter, leaving plenty of headroom for the odd QRO station. On a deserted band with just background band noise and no JT8 signals on the waterfall, the little black peak level triangle should sit at about 30 dB. The dynamic range is wide so there’s no need to obsess about this. Background levels will vary from band-to-band and hour-to -hour, and you should be using your pre-amp, attenuator and RF gain controls as usual. The rig’s AGC will help keep things in the green.

  8. Generally it’s best to turn off the rig’s noise blanker, narrow filtering and fancy DSP - let the sound card and computer software do its thing, extracting signals from noises ... but under some circumstances you may like to experiment with different settings (e.g. IF shift, high- or low-cut or your notch filter may reduce overloading from strong signals such as W1AW news broadcasts or over-the-horizon radar).
     
  9. WSJTX Hold Tx FreakSelect (tick, check) the Hold Tx Freq option and leave it permanently selected to avoid your transmit frequency being continually pulled around by successive callers.

    Note: if you can’t find the Hold Tx Freq option, are you perchance running an old beta of WSJT-X? It was introduced after RC2. Go back to the first tip.

    Even with Hold Tx Freq on, you can still put your Tx where you want by shift-clicking the waterfall, and you can call someone on their frequency (“simplex”) if you must: simply hold Ctrl as you double-click their CQ message. Generally speaking, though, split operating is more effective on FT8, especially if the stations you are calling are busy with other callers as well as you.

    ... Oh and by the way, if you select NA HF Contest, you will be perplexed to discover that your auto -generated messages no longer include signal reports. Shock! Horror ! That’s because reports are not needed for (some) North American High Frequency contests. If you are not NA HF contesting, un-tick the option to regain your composure. And stop fiddling randomly with the settings or you’ll be sent to the naughty step. Read the help.

  10. Select Auto Seq most of the time. Auto-sequencing works pretty well and cuts down on newbie operating errors (e.g. not selecting the next message in time, or not the correct one anyway). You can usually override the auto-selected message by quickly clicking the Tx message button for your choice of message during the first couple of seconds of your transmission (the first of three synchronization periods in each transmission): this may be needed if you are contacting someone still using RC1, or a newbie, or to recover from a sequence error. Alternatively, there’s still the manual option. “The auto sequencer is doing the equivalent of double-clicking each response from your QSO partner ... A QSO will be "correctly" sequenced by double-clicking each of your QSO partner's responses as they arrive. This is how you would normally use the application in modes without auto-sequencing like JT9 and JT65 although, of course, you can click through the next message manually as well, automation is an aid not a necessity.” [Tnx Bill G4WJS]
     
  11. WSJTX Settings reportingHow to call CQ: having set up WSJT-X to talk to your rig, set the receive and transmit audio levels and the rig’s power level, chosen a good Tx frequency, set the Hold Tx Freq, Auto Seq and Call 1st options, and clicked the Tx6 message box or button to select your CQ message, simply click Enable Tx to start calling CQ at the start of the next cycle. If everything goes to plan, within 15 seconds or so the rig will go into transmit and you’ll see the CQ message at the bottom left of the main WSJT-X window as your rig transmits it. When someone responds to your CQs, Auto seq will select the next message (Tx2 ) to send them. It also sets up the standard messages with their callsign and your signal report to them. When they respond with their Tx3 message, then your Tx4 will be sent and you generally exchange 73s (message Tx5) to complete the QSO. Provided you have selected Prompt me to log QSO under F2 settings, Reporting tab ... a window pops up for you to log the QSO as Enable Tx is automatically unset (only if you also have Call 1st selected though - I think that’s a bug), giving you a moment to savour the QSO ... or click it to start the sequence again with a fresh CQ. As each QSO is completed and logged, your CQ message Tx6 is automatically selected to send next but you must click Enable Tx each time to recommence CQing (that’s a deliberate choice by the developers: WSJT-X will not robotically fill your logbook for you!).

  12. WSJTX SettingsHow to respond to someone else’s CQ: first set things up as you did for calling CQ (particularly the audio and power levels, and enable/select Auto Seq and Hold Tx Freq), and check the WSJT-X settings - press F2 and select the two options shown here in red on the General tab.
    The Show DXCC entity and worked before status setting highlights decoded CQ messages for you on the Band activity pane. At first, most highlights will be dark pink/purple, indicating that you have not yet logged a digimode QSO with that DXCC country on any band in WSJT-X. Some will be green (you have already logged one or more QSOs with that station in WSJT-X) and others will be light pink (not a new country for you but you haven’t worked that particular station yet). The Double-click on call sets Tx enable setting makes it dead easy to respond to any CQ message: when you double-click a message, WSJT-X does several things for you: it puts the other station’s call and grid (if they sent one) into the DX Call and DX Grid boxes on the main window, displaying the short path beam heading (if they sent a grid); it generates the standard messages you will send, with their call and the report inserted; it selects the appropriate transmit time slots, even or odd - the opposite of whichever ones the DX station is using; it copies the message you clicked to the bottom of the Rx frequency pane on the right; it selects message Tx1; and finally it sets Tx Enable so you will start transmitting at the start of the next slot. First, though, before you double-click to respond to someone’s CQ, select a suitable transmit frequency. Shift-click a clear space on the waterfall to put the red goalpost there. If the other station copies you calling him and responds, you’ll see his response appear at the bottom of the Rx Frequency pane (usually your-callsign his -callsign his-report-to-you), and Auto Seq will automatically select your next message to send (Tx3 - with an R before the report confirming that you have received his report to you). He’ll respond with an RRR or RR73 message, and you will send your 73 message. A box will pop up prompting you to log the QSO and Enable Tx will be unset, and that’s it, you’re done! Although there’s a lot going on in the minute or two it takes for an FT8 QSO, most of it is automated ... and, trust me, it gradually becomes less stressful as you log more QSOs and gain confidence.

  13. When the band is humming and the DX is busy, spread out! Any decoded message containing your callsign will be highlighted for you, wherever it is being transmitted on the waterfall, so there is no need to work simplex. Calling or working simplex is a bad idea, especially with any popular station, since others will generally be doing the same, QRMing each other. As Hasan N0AN put it:

                                    “Don't call me on my TX freq, as it is full of callers.”

    Rather than zero-beat to call someone on their working frequency, take a moment to shift-click your transmitted signal (the red goalpost above the waterfall) elsewhere on the waterfall, somewhere quiet. Unlike conventional analog (legacy) modes, split operation is preferred on FT8. The idea that split operation on FT8 “ties up two frequencies for one QSO” and is therefore an inefficient use of spectrum is a common misunderstanding. Don’t forget that each party to a QSO transmits in a different time slot (half-duplex). Even and odd time slots are orthogonal or independent, and should be considered separately. Within each time slot, each party is “tying up” (= using!) one very small slice of spectrum, a narrow column on the waterfall just 50 Hz wide.  After they end their transmission, their transmit frequency is then released for anyone else to use: it is no longer “tied up”. However, what does make inefficient use of our shared spectrum is when several people pile on the same frequency, QRMing each other, leading to repeats, delays and abandoned QSOs. Another inefficient practice is calling continuously or out -of-turn, especially calling right on top of a QSO in progress – again something that is made worse by multiple people attempting to use the same working frequency simultaneously.  It’s not so much that zero-beat operating is inherently bad and patently it does work, rather that on FT8 split works even better.
     
  14. Although FT8 is a weak signal mode, not necessarily a QRP mode, keep your transmit power down. Generally on HF, if a path is open, just a few watts will do. Put your amplifier on standby. Turn down the wick to QRP levels. Try it! If you don’t get any responses at all, try 10 watts, maybe 20 or 30. Aside from QRO being antisocial and usually unnecessary, if your signal is too strong, it may be dirty and may overload receivers and audio cards at the DX end, preventing your signal from decodi58 dbs - possible but unlikelyng reliably. Take your cue from the signal reports you receive: if you are getting positive reports, you can probably do just as well (maybe even better) with a fraction of the power. Remember: decibels are logarithmic. Cutting your power in half will reduce average reports by just 3 db. If you are receiving mostly negative or zero reports, you are in the right region. I normally adjust my transmit power to get reports around -10 db. If you receive a 58 report and you’re not using SSB, something may be amiss.

  15. FT8 waterfallE s p e ci al ly w h e n t h e b a n d is busy, monitor for a couple of minutes before selecting your transmit frequency. Look for a continuous blank column on the waterfall, ideally, and shift-click to move the red goalpost there. Here’s part of the waterfall around 18100kHz one lazy Sunday lunchtime in ZL, beaming at NA:
    Not bad for low power DXing on a seemingly deserted band! If I was planning to transmit in this range, I’d probably choose 1140, 1490 or 1650 Hz, or hold back in the hope of seeing other free columns open up. Another possibility is 760, but notice the strong signal at 830 with distinct sidebands due to overload in his TX and/or my RX - hard to know which. The sidebands might mask any weak callers who zero beat with me, unless I transmit at the same time as him . If the problem is his end, his sidebands may prevent others copying me.

  16. Higher frequencies towards the righthand end of the waterfall are slightly advantageous for two reasons: (1) harmonics caused by overdriving something in the audio chain are more likely to be blocked by your rig’s filters [don’t rely on this though! Keep your audio level down!]; and (2) on a busy band, decodes in the band activity pane scroll past quickly in frequency order, so anyone CQing towards the left of the waterfall is more likely to scroll off the top of the pane. [It helps to stretch the WSJT-X window towards the full screen height, and unselect Menus to maximise the number of decode lines shown.] However, don’t go too far to the right of the waterfall.
     
  17. If you CQ, try transmitting in the same time slots as any neighbours with strong signals to minimize mutual interference (transmit when they transmit, receive when they receive).
     
  18. Be kind to other digi-users. Keep within the FT8 sub-band: weak signal DXers using Olivia, JT65 and other digimodes, mostly above 2000 Hz or so on the waterfall, will not appreciate you stomping all over them. You may not even see their barcodes on the waterfall: that’s why it’s called weak-signal DXing!
     
  19. Keep an eye on what’s going on, especially when you are new to the game. It’s tempting to set the Auto Seq and Call 1st options, then start CQing or calling someone and wander off ... but the sequencing function is easily confused by custom messages, or by messages received sequence out of. As with all DXing, the key is to listen more than you transmit. Two ears, one mouth, remember.
     
  20. If you are CQing, making a run of QSOs or calling and working several people, take a break every so often to check that your TX frequency and slot remains clear. The easy way is not to re-Enable Tx immediately after you log a completed QSO - skip a slot. The lazy option is to wait for the watchdog timer to kick in. By taking a break, you may see other stations transmitting on ‘your’ frequency and time slot, or encroaching on it ... so shift-click yourself somewhere else on the waterfall. If you don’t take a break, you might think ‘your’ TX frequency is clear whereas someone else is sharing ‘your’ slot. FT8 is extremely good at unpicking interwoven signals, but having a reasonably clear frequency helps, especially with weak signals.
     
  21. Don’t worry too much about your RX frequency: you can safely ignore the dead green goalpost above the waterfall, leaving WSJT-X to move it around for you. The software is decoding the entire waterfall, all at once, right? Well, yes and no: apparently it focuses on the area under the dead green goalpost, decoding first and more deeply there. So you might want to set the RX frequency manually if you are monitoring some juicy but weak DX, waiting for him to complete QSOs so you know when to call. Also, on a busy band, the band activity screen scrolls too fast to ‘read the mail’, whereas the Rx Frequency pane scrolls at a far more sedate pace (stretching the main WSJT-X window to full screen height may help also).
     
  22. Please don’t continuously call someone who is calling or working someone else, even if you are calling them off-frequency. Be nice: wait your turn! It’s polite to wait until the DX sends RRR, RR73, 73 or CQ before calling them.

    If you call continuously, or try to barge-in on a QSO in progress, you will simply waste watts, create QRM, cause delay, and you may even be blacklisted by the DX. [Recent versions of WSJT-X automatically stop you calling someone simplex if they respond to someone else, but you should be keeping an eye on things anyway, and simplex is not recommended anyway.]

    Use the waiting time wisely. Look at who else is QRV and where they are on the waterfall. Find and shift-click your TX to a different clear frequency. If you simply continue calling, you may be missing out on even more exotic DX stations who are transmitting in the same time slots as you!
     
  23. ... Talking of which, don't reflexively double-click to call that unbelievably exotic DX station you just decoded - wait for another transmission to double-check his callsign, meanwhile looking him up on QRZ or Google. If it seems too good to be true, it is quite likely a false decode, ”CQ XIXIMARIA” for instance, or “7T4W?0D A+ O2”. The educated AP (a priori) guesswork that can help dig out deep deep decodes is more error-prone than the usual decoding so you’ll see more exotica if you enable AP decoding. That said, there are some weird and wonderful novice and special-issue callsigns QRV on FT8, so don’t dismiss them all as freaky decodes. [Thanks for the tip John NA6L.]
     
  24. Tail-ending with FT8 is a bit awkward: first type the DX call into the DX Call box and click Generate Std Msgs to set up the appropriate messages (or double-click the DX station’s CQ message and quickly hit Halt Tx to abort your transmission if now is not the perfect time to call ). Remain on your chosen TX frequency to complete the QSO (Hold Tx Freq should be selected, remember): if you start callling the DX off-frequency then suddenly shift your TX to his frequency (simplex) when he calls you, you will be joining the big red blob of other callers, causing QRM. If you find your TX being “pulled” around, check that Hold Tx Freq is selected.
     
  25. In a DX pileup situation, a shortened Auto Seq helps maximise the QSO rate. To set things up for this, double-click message Tx1 to skip it (it will be greyed out). Now when you double-click to call someone, you will start with Tx2 instead i.e. sending both callsigns plus your report on their signal, rather than both calls plus your grid. Next, double-click Tx4 to toggle from the conventional RRR message to RR73, short for ‘Yup, got it, thanks, let’s end the QSO right here: there is no need for us to swap 73’s as well. Good luck with the rest of the pile, CUL, please QSL on LoTW...’.
     
  26. Broken something? No decodes? You’ll probably find that the software is not dead, just resting. Check (A) that the Monitor button is still enabled (bright green) and (B) there is sufficient audio input (the thermometer/tricorder/indicator thing should be around mid-range or higher when the band is busy):

    WSJTX broken something


    Do you see a smattering of yellow blobs on the waterfall? Are you on an FT8 frequency? Is the rig on the right mode and antenna? Can you hear signals on your receiver? Is the rig on? FT8 is a weak-signal, not a no-signal mode!

  27. The stock DXing advice to LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN applies equally to FT8 and other digimodes, well almost: I normally have the RX audio turned right down, the headphones sitting on the desk. So the advice becomes WATCH, WATCH, WATCH. Learn to interpret the waterfall and decodes to figure out what’s happening. Are the DX stations CQing, searching-and-pouncing, or just quietly monitoring the band (in which case they may appear on PSKreporter, and if you call them speculatively they may just respond!)? Notice how the signals grow stronger as you turn your beam towards directions where there is better propagation. Magic! Logger32’s UDP band monitor is well worth showing on the screen too: it highlights new ones - new DXCCs and new grids.
     
  28. Call patiently. If ‘some idiot’ is QRMing you, you may struggle to make or complete a QSO until the idiot stops. After 2 or 3 failed calls, try shift-clicking your TX to a different clear frequency and continue calling. If that still doesn’t work, maybe your signal is just a little too weak, so try turning your beam or wait and call again later. Hey, that’s DXing.
     
  29. Use your favorite screen capture tool to record those special QSOs for posterity. Aside from the ADIF log and ALL.TXT file containing all your decodes and transmissions, screen-grabs taken at the time are good evidence that you made a QSO with someone. Emailing captured images of phantom barcodes on the waterfall, along with the decodes showing who is responsible and maybe a pointer to these tips, may be enough to convince them to turn down their audio on Tx [thanks David WA9ONY for the tip].
     
  30. If a stalker is hounding you for a QSO, constantly calling you (regardless of what you send) but never sending you a report, or repeatedly sending the same message over and over and over like a stuck record, here are a few things you can do:
    • Be patient. Most of us struggle to master the weirdness of the WSJT-X interface, so the caller may have foolishly or accidentally unselected Auto Seq and neglected to select the next message manually. Hopefully he will eventually notice the error of his ways and do something. Perhaps he is distracted by reading the help file ... well, we live in hope.
    • Try composing a free-text message, something subtle like “NEXT MSG” or “READ HELP”, or maybe the more direct “GO AWAY PEST”.
    • Visit Time.is to double-check that your computer clock is set accurately, especially if this is a frequent occurrence. Is your NTP software running? If you are using Meinberg, under the Windows Start menu, select Meinberg then Network Time Protocol, then click the “Quick NTP status” to display a simple text window listing the time servers it is using. Are there any error messages, or is it all normal? The offset should typically be in the low single digits (i.e. within a few milliseconds):

      Meinberg status

    • Take a break: maybe someone is transmitting over you. Skip a transmit slot to check whether your TX frequency and time slot is quiet without you.
    • Try shift-clicking to move your TX frequency. If all that achieves is to drag the stalker to your new frequency (probably because he has unwisely chosen not to select Hold Tx Freq) and he’s still not responding, QSY further and toggle the Tx even/1st option to swap time-slots, transmitting your CQs at the same time as the stalker is plaintively calling you. Maybe then he’ll get the hint.
    • Check your beam heading and power: perhaps your signal is just too weak for the stalker to decode? Try beaming directly at him (SP or LP) and give it just a few more watts. Conversely, deliberately beam away from the stalker and turn your power down, in the hope that having noticed you disappear from his waterfall, he’ll crawl away to his cave.
    • Last resort: give up. Change mode or band. QRT. Make a cup of tea. Walk the dog. Poke the fire. Hug a stranger. Tidy the cave. Email Gary with more tips.
       
  31. Don’t get too fancy with the custom messages and shortcuts. There is clever programming under the hood to optimize communications with the standard messages in FT8, which means some compromises. On top of that, you normally only have 13 places to fill in each free-text message from a very limited character set (just numerals, capitals, hyphen, plus, slash, dot and space ... and slash is best avoided as it may be misinterpreted as a callsign separator). In particular, you will soon discover that most users are reliant on Auto Seq, which is easily confused by anything out of the ordinary. An occasional example on the air right now is if you select the RR73 message instead of RRR to confirm receipt of your report and skip forward a message. That evidently triggers RC1’s Auto Seq at the far end to send you back a report without the R - a bizarre response that takes the sequence backwards, the very opposite of what you probably intended! It is as if it interprets RR73 as a grid. Custom final messages are less of an issue though, so it’s worth composing and storing a few in your quick-select list (under F2 Settings - Tx Macros) especially if you are not so good at typing fast under pressure e.g. NO DECODE SRI, QRZ CALL AGN, SRI TOO WEAK, CALL LATER, 5W G5RV 73, FB LP QSO 73, CHECK UR CLK, SPREAD OUT, WAIT UR TURN, UPD8 WSJTX 73 ... and perhaps even TNX TIPS GARY! Messages containing “73” trigger the far end’s Auto Seq to realize the QSO is over - although clued-up chatty ops can continue conversing by editing and sending message Tx5 indefinitely. Try it! There’s more to the hobby than swapping calls, grids and reports.
     
  32. With so little information exchanged on each 15 second over, a sequence of even the most efficient and succinct QSOs in FT8 hardly qualifies as running - more of a jog, or a slow stroll in the woods, hesitating every 15 seconds to smell the bluebells. The pace is easy enough once you get the hang of it (it took me a few hundred FT8 QSOs). Here’s a screenshot during a leisurely 30m jog early one ZL evening:

    FT8 jog


    I started by finding and then CQing on a clear frequency with Auto Seq and Call 1st selected. The program automatically responded to a decoded caller, taking us through the conventional sequence of overs until the “Log QSO” pane appeared when I received a 73 message signalling the end of the QSO. All I had to do was click the OK button to log the QSO then click the Enable Tx button to have the program re-start CQing after it had finished sending my 73 message and waited for any final-final from the far side. If another caller called me in that gap, or later in response to my CQs, Auto Seq generated the standard messages and started a QSO with them . Meanwhile, I was easily able to work, catch up with emails, check for new DXCCs in Logger32 etc. on the other screen on my dual-screen Windows desktop.

  33. Confused as me over whether a station is transmitting on the odd or even timeslots? If you normally start a QSO by double-clicking a decoded CQ call, it doesn’t matter: WSJT-X automatically selects the appropriate timeslot in which to call them. But what if you want to call someone who is not CQing, perhaps just finished working someone else? What if you start calling someone but they disappear without a trace? It’s worth checking that you’re on the right timeslot, not doubling with them. Mike W9MDB pointed out a simple way to tell is to look at the final digit of the timestamp for their transmissions: if the times end in a zero, they are using the even slots, so we need to call them on the odds. Times ending in 5 indicate they are odd (!). If that’s still too hard to figure out in the heat of the moment, here’s a Hinson tip. Simply make sure the Tx even/1st selector looks the same as the last digit of the time e.g. both ‘empty shapes’ like this:

    FT8 timeslots

  34. With so much going on, especially when the band is busy, I sometimes got confused over who I’ve just worked and logged. Unfortunately, prior to Logger32’s integration with WSJT-X, there was no easy way to display and check the log. Thanks to an idea floated on the WSJT reflector, I wrote a simple batch file to call Windows PowerShell to display the last few QSOs from the WSJT-X log, updating itself as each new QSO is logged (and delete orhpaned WAVs - see next tip). With the black and grey PowerShell window at the edge of the screen, it shows the callsigns most recently logged (4L1MA in this screenshot - thanks Toly!):

    FT8 log scroller


    To do this for yourself, the Windows PowerShell command line is:

         powershell.exe get-content %LOCALAPPDATA%\WSJT-X\wsjtx.log -tail 3 -wait

    Courtesy of VE2EVN, the Linux equivalent is something like:

         tail -n 3 -f ~/.local/share/WSJT-X/wsjtx.log

  35. WSJTX save WAV faveWSJT-X routinely writes a WAV file of received audio to disk while it processes it. Even if you configure WSJT-X not to save its WAV files using the obscure option “None” under F2 Settings --> Save, it still does. The reason is that normally the WAV file is deleted automatically by WSJT-X after the processing is completed. However, when you exit WSJT -X, the current WAV file is abandoned, remaining orphaned on disk. If you start and stop WSJT-X repeatedly, you’ll eventually discover an orphanage full of abandoned WAVs, cluttering up your hard drive. It’s probably worth clearing out the orphans from time to time, either manually or using a simple Windows batch file with the following line (perhaps the same batch file that displays your WSJT-X ADIF log ):

                                                  del %LOCALAPPDATA%\WSJT-X\save\*.wav

  36. If WSJT-X configuration changes don’t seem to work immediately, close and restart the program to pick them up. I’ve noticed this when changing soundcard settings. Maybe the config changes are stored in an .INI file that is read and interpreted as the program starts? It could be something unique to my setup. Maybe I’m as special as my mouse ...
     
  37. There are pros and cons to using FT8 on DXpeditions . On the upside, it is clearly a very popular HF mode, good for weak signal DXing even for stations limited to low power and basic aEdmund Hillary 250ntennas. It can make even short openings and marginal paths productive. On the downside, the maximum QSO rate with WSJT-X is about 60 QSOs per hour per transmitter. In practice, experienced digimode DXers (such as Roly P29RR) can sustain about 50 QSOs per hour, provided they have the ability to concentrate intently on the screen and cope with the occasional need for repeats and the sequence-out-ofs. QRM and contention for bandwidth would probably reduce the rate still further for very rare and popular DX. In comparison, a competitive CW, SSB or RTTY op on a good station can sustain a rate of 200+ QSOs per hour, maybe 250 or more for a similar level of operator effort - so that’s potentially 4 or 5 times as many DXpedition QSOs per hour using legacy modes. Having said that, FT8 can be fully automated, replacing operator effort with CPU cycles and clever programming. I envisage futuristic DXpeditioners taking robotic fully-automated and self -contained FT8 stations with them, to sit silently in the corner making QSOs for the duration of the trip and perhaps beyond (ruggedized solar-powered FT8 robots with satellite links could potentially be left behind when the team leaves, perhaps with weather station or environmental monitoring capabilities to justify their existence). With suitable custom programming, it is feasible to generate and transmit multiple FT8 signals simultaneously, allowing for multiple QSOs in parallel. As to whether that would be a sensible approach, I will simply say that the challenge of working very rare DX is a large part of the allure of DXCC: making DX less rare and DXCC easier is not necessarily a worthwhile objective. Would Sir Edmund have agreed to carving-off the top few thousand toughest feet of Everest, or installing a walkway to the summit, complete with safety handrail, oxygen bottles and warning signs?

  38. Remember, it’s only a hobby. Most of the issues with FT8 operating are not due to malice but ordinary hams like you and me, exploring the new mode and picking up tricks as we go. We make mistakes. We all get things wrong. We experiment. We try. We learn. We enjoy ourselves and help each other out. Slack needs to be cut. Stay cool. Chill bro.

PS.  Logger32 can receive QSO information from WSJT-X and JTDX (at least) via UDP, as you complete and log FT8 QSOs, without your having to re-type the info or import the .ADI file into Logger32.  See here for setup instructions.