Upcoming MW DX Test - including FT8 amateur digital mode

ka3jjz

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I wish I had gotten this sooner, from Les Rayburn on the WoR reflector, transcribed directly - all transcription errors are mine...
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Historic DX Test from WNJC-1360 late night tonight!

Duke Hamann of WNJC has announced another weekly DX Test of WNJC 1360, including a historic first-ever test of the FT-8 mode during a medium-wave broadcast test.

Reception reports can be sent to Duke at: kc2dux@duxpond.com

The test will be in two parts:

WNJC DX TEST PART ONE 0000 EDT-0100 EDT (0400-0500 UTC)

The test begin late tonight starting at midnight on the East Coast of the United States. Late Saturday/Early Sunday, 9/27 at 0000 EDT (0400 UTC) and initially air the same Morse code IDs, jingles, sweep tones, telephone off-hook sounders and other test material. This time, however, WNJC will use a backup antenna tower that has never been used before. It is located on a site the station has leased for 30 years. The land owners have refused to renew the lease as they want to develop the land, so the station will lose this tower site in 6 months. Power will be 1250 watts and the antenna pattern will be non-directional.

This should provide a good opportunity for the test to be received in Europe.

WNJC DX TEST PART TWO 0100 EDT-0200 EDT (0500-0600 UTC)

The second part of the test is really exciting.

Duke Hamann will be testing for a second hour using the amateur radio mode FT-8, developed by Joe Taylor, K1JT, a Nobel Prize winning astrophysicist.

FT-8 is a “sound card mode” where you simply input audio from your receiver into your computer’s sound card, then use software to process that audio digging out weak signals in the noise. How well does it work? Using the software and the audio from your receiver, you can decode signals that are as much as -24db below the noise.

This means if you’re on the West Coast, and ordinarily you think you would have no chance of hearing the WNJC Test, tonight you may be able to put a new station in your logbook. In fact, worldwide reception may be possible using the FT-8 mode.

Chief Engineer Duke Harman explains:

“It will be a one-way transmission every 15 seconds for 1 hour calling “CQ WNJC FM29″. I am going to try to do it Sunday at [0100-0200 EDT] 0500-0600 UTC. The audio frequency will vary between 200 hz and 4000hz in 200hz increments over a 5 minute period then repeat.

(200,400,600,800,1000hz, etc.) All you would need to do is tune your radio to 1360 in AM mode, connect to your computer and receive. Looking forward to doing this unique test!

HOW TO RECEIVE FT-8

There are a ton of resources on the Internet for hams who want to get started in FT-8. It’s one of the most popular ways for hams to communicate. Whatever you read, simply substitute the word “receiver” for transceiver. Ignore anything about transmitting, calling CQ, etc. We won’t be transmitting—just listening.

An audio cable to run from your receiver’s headphone or line out jack to your computer is helpful. But for many folks make FT8 work fine using a microphone placed near the speaker of their radio. Portable radios may work great too. No fancy SDR or communications receiver needed.

Best bet is to set it up now and test it during the day on the ham bands. The most popular frequencies for FT8 (so you can test your ability to receive) are: 14.071 mHz (20 Meters) USB

Search for YouTube videos. Tons of help on the web. But don’t wait, test our your receiver and computer today in order to be ready tonight for this historic test.

FT8—What Is It and How Can I Get Started? – OnAllBands
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I've never used FT8 but I would bet you would need to be in USB, not AM, to get this. I believe WSJT-X is the program of choice for this mode. Sorry I didn't see this sooner, but those hams among us that are already set up for FT8 have a distinct advantage.

Mike
 

ka3jjz

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I'm afraid Les's understanding of Win10 is rather poor. As anyone using a newer PC will tell you, the line in/mic in jacks are gone (I think that started with Win8.1). For those folks, a USB-Soundcard interface is the way to go just for receiving. We have some general tips on this topic here - however it should be stressed that not every PC distributor uses exactly the same setup, or would supply Stereo Mix for Win10 devices. Use the tips here as a guide, not specific instructions


Mike
 

W8WCA

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I have a 1 Year Old Dell XPS Hex Core Desktop it has Mic and Headphone jacks in front and In Back
NOt actually Line in but still has the Jacks for mic and audio out
Came with Win10 Pro naturally
 

ka3jjz

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That's a first - I would have suspected that PC had an older Windows on it that got upgraded....interesting...does it have a Control Panel entry for them? If not then even tho the jacks are there, they're not going to be supported...Mike
 

W8WCA

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The Control Panel does have Mic Control
Thhis is WIn 10 Pro 64 Bit (2004V) with all updates
 

ka3jjz

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You should be able to use it as an input, if you have a soundcard. I'm very surprised at this - when 8.1 came out there were TONS of complaints on the various boards about the line in and mic in jacks were essentially dead because there wasn't support for them..

Watch your levels - some mic in jacks have a 'boost' - if you use it for decoding, you likely will need to turn it off. Overdriving your inputs will just cause garbage on the screen. Mike
 

Boombox

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....And the use of FT8 cause a certain amount of controversy in some MW circles... I can see how its inclusion would have been helpful, though. The tones themselves would be effective for DXers because no MW stations use FT8. I didn't try to hear the DX test because I learned about it late in the game, but it would have been interesting to listen for the tones, at the very least.
 

ka3jjz

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You're kidding, right? See below, and I have edited this somewhat to remove the election and Covid references...as always transcription errors are entirely mine...(same sources as the first message, by the way)
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Chief Engineer Duke Hamann, KC2DUX has committed to continuing weekly DX Tests late night Saturday/early Sunday mornings until at least the end of October. They will always begin at Midnight Eastern Time (0400 UTC). At this point, it looks like Duke will continue to include FT-8 transmissions as well.

Last weekend’s first-ever test of the mode brought some promising results. Conditions were poor overall yet the FT-8 transmissions from WNJC were successfully decoded on the West Coast of the United States, into Florida and Alabama and locations as distant as Spain. Most of the DX’ers who had success with the mode were hams who already had experience—but there were exceptions.

Below we’ll discuss a bit more about the mode and how you can get started on the fun. And never fear, in addition to this exotic mode, Duke plans to continue with the usual voice and Morse Code ID’s, sweep tones, and sound effects. This means you still have a great chance to log the station regardless.

If you do receive the test, you can request an e-mail verification from the station by e-mailing Duke Hamann at:

KC2DUX@duxpond.com

If you would prefer a QSL card, you can send reception reports along with a self-addressed stamped enveloped (SASE) to:

Duke Hamann, KC2DUX
P.O. Box 84
Dennisville, NJ 08214


THE BASICS OF FT-8 MODE

First a little Q&A:

Q. What the heck is FT-8?

A. It’s a special mode that requires a computer to decode the transmission from the station. The station transmits a series of tones, in a pre-arranged sequence with careful timing. A computer “listens” for these tones, allowing it to identify them even when no audible signal can be detected by your ears. The computer can literally hear below the noise level. It can also hear “through” QRM from other stations in some cases.

Q. Do I need an SDR (software defined radio) or a fancy receiver?

A. Nope. You can use virtually any receiver and a laptop, desktop or tablet to receive the signals. You need a way to get the audio from your radio into the computer. A patch cord from your earphone jack, a computer interface of the type used by hams, even a microphone placed close to the radio speaker can work.

Q. What software do I need on the computer?

A. There are several software packages that can be used, but the original and still the best is called WSJT-X You can download it for free here:

WSJT Home Page

Q. Can I record the audio and just play it back into the computer later?

A. Technically, yes—but it’s difficult. The timing has to be precise and audio levels can be important too. Better to do it “live” during the DX Test.


TIME SYNC

Timing is critical. The software is looking for tones transmitted at a specific interval of time in “blocks” or groups that make up the text. Your computer clock has to be in perfect sync with the transmitter clock. Yes, this could be done with GPS, but the easiest way is to use a NTP application. Again, there is free software. Take a look at Meinberg. You install it as a service on your system, let it disable the built-in time sync and it just works.



MODES & BANDWIDTH

FT8 is normally done in USB mode by hams—but WNJC is transmitting the tones in AM mode as required by FCC rules. This means you want to use AM mode on your receiver. The tones vary in frequency, so you want a bandwidth of about 2.5-3 kHz…nothing too narrow.

During last week’s test some of us got better results by using LSB mode. If the test starts and you can’t decode the signal try a different mode or wider bandwidth. Each transmission can take 30 seconds or longer to decode. Be patient.

GOOGLE IS YOUR FRIEND (YOUTUBE TOO)

Do a Google search on “How to get started on FT8 mode” and you’l find lots of advice on how to get started. Likewise, YouTube has tons of videos on the topic. Search with a plus sign (+) sign and add your radio for specific advice.

I.E. "Getting started on FT8 + Drake R8B"


HOW DO I….

FT8 is one of the most popular modes of operation in amateur radio. On any given day, there are more hams using FT8 than Morse Code (CW). But it’s not the easiest thing to get working the first time. There are lots of variables…what kind of radio, what kind of connection, your computer clock, etc. Too many for me to give you a “checklist” of instructions.

Experience and trial and error are the best bets here. The good news is that it’s easy to test. Tune your receiver to 14.074 mHz in the 20 Meter ham band. Set your receiver to USB mode and start the software. Once you’ve got things set up right, you’ll quickly begin decoding signals nearly 24 hours a day.


IS THIS ‘REAL DX?’

This trope is older than the NRC. Does it ‘count’ for the log if you don’t hear the ID on CW, only the sweep tones? Does it count if you don’t get the full, legal ID? Does it count if I can’t even hear the station with my ears?

Folks—there is no rulebook on this. It’s a hobby. It’s supposed to be fun. You decide what counts as a ‘real’ reception of a station. No one else cares—not even your wife (stop talking to her about it…trust me on this one.)

A few years ago, KFI 640 in Los Angeles had a problem with their transmitter. Their carrier frequency was ‘wandering’ all over the place—varying by several hundred hertz at times. It made a big het on 640 kHz, and on an audio spectrum analyzer on my computer, it was easily visible for several hours each night in Alabama. This continued for weeks.

No other station on 640 kHz displayed this type of drift…nor anywhere else on the band. There was no doubt at all that it was KFI. Their woes were widely reported in trade magazines and online forums.

I took a screenshot of the drift and put KFI into my logbook. To this day, I have never heard audio from KFI (though I hold out hope). But I still count the logging. Would you? I don’t know—and really don’t care. It’s my hobby…my log book…and my decision.

Does an FT8 logging of WNJC ‘count?’ Their Chief Engineer Duke Hamann says it does. Good enough for me.

Stop worrying about it and have fun.

CREDITS

Thanks to Chief Engineer Duke Hamann for this amazing start to the 2020 DX season. Also to the owners and managers of WNJC 1360. Also to Paul Walker and Joesph Miller—our hard-working Courtesy Program Committee.
 

ka3jjz

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Even though the coverage on the station doesn't really go in that general direction, I see a report on the World of Radio reflector from Walt Salmaniw in Victoria BC where he copied the station and the FT8...just goes to show you what a good setup can do, when the gods of propagation are smiling....Mike
 

Boombox

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In my own view, even if you do not have the computer app to decipher it (as I do not), as long as you can hear the tones, and there are no other stations on that frequency broadcasting in FT8, it should count as a log. Of course, everyone has their own idea of IDing a MW DX station... Either way, it's an interesting way for a MW DX test to get out there and be heard and IDed, even if the idea of FT8 isn't exactly embraced by a lot of MW DXers.
 

ka3jjz

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I could see that, Boom, but consider that CW IDs have been used in these tests for as long as I remember. The guy who arranged this test is a ham, so I could see that the attempt was being made to do something that had, at least as far as i know, never been done before. It's a little ham-centric to be sure, but it is unique....Mike
 

Boombox

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I think enough of us MW DXers have heard FT8 on SW ham bands to know what it is. For that reason alone I think it's a cool idea -- although if I were a ham, I would be CW-SSB only. Just not into digital mode decoding -- even as an SWL. But the tones are pretty distinctive.
 

ka3jjz

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I kinda doubt that the assertion that MW DXers have heard FT8 before this test is true, Boom. Most MW (and HF BC) DXers aren't hams, and even many hams haven't heard about FT8. FT8 is very much a niche application (hence the description that the announcement gave). I give the folks running this test points for uniqueness, but I'm willing to bet that most MW DXers were scrambling a bit to get FT8 set up properly. Heck they may not even have any HF gear. You can certainly do MW DX on an AM/FM consumer radio....Mike
 

ka3jjz

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The test now has a Facebook page...


And from Les Rayburn N1LF on he World of Radio reflector...likely this simply how the radios folks are using are passing the tones better on LSB...

Many DX’ers have had success using their receivers in the lower-sideband mode (LSB). Since the WNJC transmissions are in AM Mode, they are effectively double-sideband (DSB). Either sideband should work for reception.

Mike
 

Boombox

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I kinda doubt that the assertion that MW DXers have heard FT8 before this test is true, Boom. Most MW (and HF BC) DXers aren't hams, and even many hams haven't heard about FT8. FT8 is very much a niche application (hence the description that the announcement gave). I give the folks running this test points for uniqueness, but I'm willing to bet that most MW DXers were scrambling a bit to get FT8 set up properly. Heck they may not even have any HF gear. You can certainly do MW DX on an AM/FM consumer radio....Mike
I've seen more than one query on SWL forums about those tones in the ham bands that sound like a sick ice cream truck... And a lot of MW DXers double as SWLs. They may not actually understand the mode, though. I always thought it was called JT65, but obviously it has different sub modes, new versions, etc.
 

DS506

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Catching this now from NE Ohio on RTL-SDR with a BONI-Whip mounted about 30" up the mast. Definitely under other stations, however it matches what is on their live stream.
 

ka3jjz

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New details per the World of Radio reflector

This week I am going to be airing a Halloween special on WNJC 1360 AM. There will be no FT-8 test this week. I am going to play Halloween sound effects and music mixed with DX audio test clips. I will be starting at 00:00 UTC 11/1 (08:00 PM EDT 10/31). This will continue all night and morning till 1100 UTC (6:00 AM EST). It’s the end of Daylight savings time, so I even get an extra hour to broadcast! Power levels and pattern along with more details will be announced before the event.

Duke Hamann in WNJC 1360 AM DX Tests fb group (2020-10-27) (via Medium Wave Info)
 
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