Too few Operators or station problems?

I recently posted the image at the top of this post to a user group in Facebook, in response to the complaints about low activity for some digital modes compared to FT8.

Never mind about the title, this post is not meant to offend anyone. However, I usually have a pretty low tolerance when hearing moaning and complaining about why something sucks. If I have a problem with my station either at home of in the field, I prefer to experient, learn then adapt. Sometimes I incorrectly assume this is standard practise for all operators (it is not). Hopefully what I shared in that group can be useful to others experiencing similar problems, regardless of the mode in question.

The point of this post was simply getting people to talk about it. We’ve had this same discussion in the PD&Qrp, in the Groups IO for JS8Call, … So certainly there are times when the band is dead, operators are doing something else, or are not calling or answering CQ, but… In all honesty, I have exactly the same problem with PSK these days. Everyone has moved to FT8, and that is where we will find the most activity. . For me, winning two awards in less than 60 days with FT8, was enough to turn me off with the mode. IT IS SIMPLY TOO EASY “FOR ME”! I’m sure it is still a blast for others 🙂 So I have gladly gone back to something more interesting, useful, and perhaps more challenging. If nothing else, it is more rewarding, since I can actually exchange real messages for utility purposes.

Here are a few things to do insuring we are not creating a self inflicted wound on our stations.

  • Make certain our noise floor is as low as possible. I know this sounds like a no-brainer. Someone may be returning our cq, but the noise floor is so high, we simply can’t hear them. With JS8 our goal is quality over auantity, so many of us are running low power. There have been times trying to reach a few of my buddies in the UK while portable. They come to me at SNR +10, but they can’t hear me, even when I am using 50 watts through an efficient antenna. In many cases, the noise floor at their qth is the problem, not the mode, not my TX level. The lesson? If we want to do weak signal work, we need to find ways of reducing the noise at our stations.
  • Using the proper band for the time of day. Ham Radio at 65N is already difficult since high latitudes have a negative affect on RF. So it is critical that I use the right band, at the right time of day/night. Unfortunately, It is not always as simple as 20 during day, 40 at night because (at the time of this writing) there is no day here now, and in summer, there is no night 😀 so experiment, watch Tamitha to understand solar conditions, and use pskreporter to find the highest cluster of stations nearest to us on a given band.
  • Unless it is a magloop, an antenna below the roof line, is not going to work very well. Many of us use digital modes because we have issues with our stations, making them less than ideal. That’s ok! We can still improve on our stations with a little creativity and experimentation. Again we need to be reminded, JS8 and especially portable digital operators are often running low(er) power. A low slung antenna hurts both RX and TX, making it more difficult to hear that weak station. Add in a high noise floor, … You see where we are going? Poly stealth line for invisible antennas, big magnetic loops on rotators in the garden, terminated antennas (notoriously quiet) , and band pass filters for out of band rejection at the antenna can all help.
  • We should also think about antenna configurations. Inverted-L, Inverted Vee, Horizontal, Sloper, Sloping Vee, Terminated Vee, Terminated U, delta loop, the direction our loops are pointing, the height of the antenna, … In my experience, at my location, Setting up an antenna for DX, performs poorly for stations within 2k from me. The opposite is also true as we are not going to work DX with an NVIS antenna. This is why I sometimes run an Inverted L. I also occasionally run a Sloping Vee towards the largest cluster of activity from my location, Southwest. For a weak signal station with poor propagation, sending RF in a direction where there are no stations to hear or hear us is a waste.

To be fair, there are fewer JS8 users compared to FT8. That is true to many digital modes these days. Even so, we can still improve our weak signal capabilities (for any mode) by getting away from the cookie cutter DX configurations, reducing the noise floor, and optimising our stations for the conditions we actually have to work with. We are not helpless, but if we don’t try to experiment, learn then adapt, the situation won’t change or improve. Having more JS8 (or other mode) operators covers up the underlying symptoms our stations are experiencing. The cure in many cases, is improving the station, not adding more high power operators to get over the noise floor.
Julian oh8stn
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