Friday, March 26, 2021

Is FT8 destroying ham radio?

 N0UN wrote on his blog:

"In my opinion FT8 is like a self-driving car.  No operating skills required.  How much fun is sitting in a car you’re not driving?  You get my point?"

And asked politely to write something about it on everyones own social media. So I do...

I understand Wayne's concern. I do understand he (and others) did put a lot of effort in their stations. Did put a lot of money in it. Did practise and earned, learned and worked hard to get a lot of DX and DX skills through the years. I respect that...but...

Not everyone is capable of building a great station. Not everyone is willing to learn the DX skills. And still they enjoy DX these days. Since FT8 (and before that JT65 and JT9) is a great feature for that. Yes, even if part of it is automatic many do enjoy it a lot. Finally being able to work DX with a simple wire antenna and 5, 10, 25 or 100W power. You see, I think Wayne's opinion is a little selfish, he speaks for himself and a few others that hold on to the old SSB and CW communications only. If you take a look on the "bands" you will see that the majority of ham radio is playing FT8 now. Even DXpeditions like A25RU and VK9CE are rarely heard on SSB these days. Is that a bad thing? Yes, for those that don't like FT8 it is a very bad thing. It probabely means that this is almost the end of their ham radio hobby. But for those that haven't got the ability to have large antennas, expensive radio equipment and or good DX skills it is a great thing they have finally a chance to work those rare stations.

Why are DXpeditions using that much FT8 these days. Well, I remember a presentation from a DXpedition member about 3D2EU. He told that at some moments they would call endless on CW and SSB without much reponse. Switching to FT8 gave them the pile-ups they searched for. You will hear this from other DXpeditions as well. Remember, DXpeditions want to make as many contacts and provide as many a new DXCC as possible no matter what. If that takes FT8 these days it should be a priority to have a good sensitive (wideband) FT8 station running preferable on as many bands for as long as possible. Therefore I think the initiative from the Rebel DX group "We will be testing some our new ideas to operate 5 different stations on FT8 (FOX & HUND) at the same time by 1 operator" is promising.

We can learn from the past. When SSB took over the most used CW and AM after WW2. Many of the old operators did tell the "newcomers" they wouldn't be real hamradio operators if they didn't know CW. SSB was for those without skills, what would be the fun of it? Oh, yes they were still communicating.....five by nine my friend, 73 (you see, no difference from the FT8 protocol). With FT8 on HF we look ahead into the future, What has to come? Some hamradio operators already took the opportunity to write about the future including me. I can imagine remote controlled FT8 robot stations that are dropped at rare DXCC working on solarpower for months or even years. Just like the hamradio sats in space... Of course these would be QRP stations, so it would be a challenge to work them after all. Wouldn't that be fun? At least I would have fun. Others will find it stupid, I'm shure of that. 

Finally I would like to point out some benefits of FT8:

- Ideal for fast propagation research.

- One signal only takes 50Hz of spectrum

- It is more sensitive compared to CW

- QRM and noise doesn't have much impact, except if a QRM signal is exactly on the FT8 frequency

- It is easy to use and easy to work with remote

- It doesn't annoy the rest of the family if operating is, for instance,  from the living room

- It is relatively easy to work DX stations

- You can work with low power and still have a good signal when propagation is right.

- It is possible to automate everything (although some of this is controversial)

I will not point out the disadvantages since everyone seems to know them...

FT8 is not the only thing in hamradio. It is populair right now. But I'm shure most operators do like to have a decent QSO with SSB or CW after all and use FT8 just as an extra mode with extra opportunities. After all, HF DXing is not the only thing in our hobby. There are so many other topics and interests, everyone has to decide what is most fun and what satisfies most. If you don't like FT8 you just don't join and do some SSB and or CW instead. You probabely like to take a look at the True Blue DX marathon to promote some more "human" modes. And for those that really like to do both FT8 and SSB/CW you can still join the marathon to have some fun!

Don't forget for those that really like SSB (that's me as well) this weekend there is the CQ WW WPX SSB contest. 48 hours of SSB fun with lots of DX. If you don't like contests, just work the DX of interest. Isn't that fun!

If you like to comment on this blog, you're welcome. It doesn't have to be on your own social media...


Hartmut Luedtke said...

Dear Bas, thank you very much for your thoughts. I fully agree with most of them. A now deceased OM (DJ8TS, sk) used to say: Amateur radio is the most beautiful triviality in the world! And he was right.

Our common hobby is so diverse that everyone can find a way to let off steam. Just as there are OMs who, out of conviction, only transmit digitally on VHF/UHF and actively help to expand the radio networks, there are purists who still make QSOs in CW and with 1 watt using self-built equipment and antennas. In between, the entire bandwidth can be found: CW only, SSB only, SSTV only, satellite only, contest only, no contest and so on.
If you can't find partners for a QSO, you have to change or give up the hobby. Growing flowers would be an alternative.
But just complaining and trying to force others to do other modes is the wrong way.
Who still does predominantly or exclusively AM today?

Even most CW operators and most SSB operators can no longer imagine a hobby without an electronic logbook, PSKreporter and DX Cluster.

I only use digital modes, preferably FT8, JT65 and JT9. If a contest doesn't allow digital modes, I won't be there. If a DX Expedition does not do FT8, I will not work the rare DXCC. My antennas and output power don't allow it. But I don't miss it either.
I am proud of what I have reached digitally.

If at some point no one does FT8 or JT65 or JT9, I will evolve or quit this beautiful hobby - and grow flowers.

73 Ham, DB6LL

John AE5X said...

One thing the hobby has no shortage of is people telling others how they should enjoy the hobby. I've received a few unfriendly emails due to using a QRP rig with an amplifier. Ham-Karens, I call them.


PA4JJ said...

What about rtty or psk? I see no diffefence because i never use the robot...

SV1GRN said...

Don't agree with N0UN, there is a place for all modes in the hobby 73

K7AEC said...

I enjoy the digital modes using a keyboard. That way, the conversation isn't a canned, digital contact, it has some degree of personalization. Even CW, especially with a straight key, can be personalized by the style of the operator and his fist. The automated digital modes serve a purpose but, I liken them to about the same as texting via radio because they have eliminated human interaction. Eventually, stations will have worked every country on the planet and what do you do when you've done it all in this hobby? I have done some of everything this hobby offers except the newest automated digital modes and I'm just not interested.

Unknown said...

I'm not into FT8. Don't like digital modes at all. But digital modes don't bother me at all.

Please FT8 users, have fun and work the world in this mode. Don't let anyone bully you. Hamradio can still make friends.

But... if you want to work PA3A on FT8, it will cost you :-D

73 all,
Arie PA3A

SV1GRN said...

Tks Arie for your reply and for being open minded, all modes are acceptable respect to all modes 73