Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Back To The Magic

The magic band has always had a strong pull on me, ever since being put under its spell in the late 60s. I quickly learned that the surest way to guarantee a band opening was to leave the house for a few hours. Invariably when returning, the other local 6m addicts would gleefully describe everything that you had ‘just missed’. The 6m gods were rarely forgiving and this unfailing behaviour became part of the band's mystique.

This odd love-hate relationship continues to this day but with the FT8 mode being used almost exclusively now on 6m, it’s your computer that now snickers at you for any untimely excursions from the shack ... showing you, in any delightful color scheme that you choose, all of the DX that you 'just missed' once again!

It happened to me again yesterday, while out in the yard stacking next winter's firewood.

It was just a short excursion, as the eastern stations were working Europeans and all of the VE4 beacons were very loud back here on the coast. The possibilities of a link to the European path kept my excursion to only 10 minutes but sure enough, there it was on my WSJT-X list of decodes .... several CQs from CT7ANG in Portugal! My laptop could barely stop giggling. This would have been the first PNW-EU QSO of the summer had I been maintaining vigilance!

163315 -14 0.1 738 ~ CQ CT7ANG IM67

I continued to stack firewood and to watch the band more closely, knowing that every once in awhile, for entertainment purposes, the prop gods will toss out a bone or two, just to keep you on the hook.

A later check indicated that CT1HZE’s CQs had been decoded just a few moments earlier ... there was renewed hope!

185100 -2 0.2 2134 ~ CQ NA CT1HZE IM57

Joe’s strong FT8 CQ popped-up again a few minutes later and he came right back to my initial call. Although that was it for the day, the 2019 PNW-EU path had begun!

courtesy: PSK Reporter

I’m still somewhat ambivalent about FT8 and its ‘coldness’ when it comes to person-to-person interaction, but since most of the DX action on 6m is now digital, it’s either embrace it or miss out. At the moment, I’m at least prepared to hug it and see how it behaves. If it puts more Europeans and new DXCCs into my magic band log, then that’s a worthwhile investment.

Unlike way too many others, I’m not prepared to let my computer endlessly CQ for hours at a time. In a crowded local environment, with big strong signals being the norm, this method of operating is simply disrespectful to other amateurs as this mostly useless CQing will usually make reception of any weaker signals impossible.

FT8 is a weak-signal mode and the interfaces used do not handle extremely strong local signals very well. I would urge others to think about this poor operating practice and adopt what has always proved to be the best tactic for catching DX ... listen, listen, listen. The same tactic works just as well on FT8 as it does on CW.

Back to stacking firewood but having tossed me a bone yesterday, I’m sure the prop gods will be out to get even for awhile!


Markus and Gaye said...

Wow, if only it had been CW. Just can't face using a FT 8 to make my contacts. I guess it's back to 40 Meters where there is still lots of CW.

Steve McDonald said...

Love 40m! If I was forced to only have one band at my disposal, I would always choose forty! Always some good CW ragchews to be had just like when I was a kid :-)

Photon said...

I enjoyed that post! Well done on all fronts!

I agree that auto-CQing is a very bad idea. But with the age-old, competitive nature of so much of amateur radio, I think we have an uphill struggle to contain it.

As for FT8, well, it's here now, so we may as well use it.

Steve McDonald said...

Yes Photon, the genie is out of the bottle for sure. Definitely progress as far as weak-signal comms go. I know that using JT9 on 630m allows for some excellent two-way work, well below the noise level, so I shouldn't complain about FT8...other than it's boring as hell. There is no excuse for terrible operating procedures however, for which these auto-CQs that go on forever certainly qualify.