Tuesday, July 1, 2008

I Wanna Rockkkkkkk!!!!!!!

It's official. I've become a rock-hound. This morning, I made my first two official Meteor Scatter QSO's using the digital sound card mode WSJT!

For those forced to operate with less than optimum antennas or power, this mode is a god-send. Also if you're planning a expedition to a rare grid, WSJT should certainly be in your bag of tricks. It allows propagation in a range of 500-1400 miles virtually round the clock, and it's possible to work a ton of stations using small antennas and low power.

This morning, I was able to work W9NHE in EN53 (WI) and WA5UFH in EL19 (TX) within the span of about an hour. Both operators are experienced meteor scatter operators and were very patient with me as I struggled to master the software and exchanges. In both cases, "pings" or meteors entering the atmosphere were few and far between, so contacts took a while, but I've worked much harder on SSB and CW to work someone two grids square distant from my location!

I used my standard VHF/UHF rig (An Icom IC-910H) along with a soundcard interface like you'd use for PSK-31 or other modes. In my case, I'm using a SignaLink USB interface made by Tigertronics. I got it from DX Engineering, which is one of the best companies that I've ever dealt with.

This interface is a great one, because it has a built in sound card, leaving your computer's free for other tasks. Set up is simple and requires only the single USB cable. They sell inexpensive cables to connect the radio to the interface too.

If you're new to the mode like me, let me give you a few pointers. The "Calling Frequency" for the mode is 144.140khz. Most activity takes place in the morning hours starting around 6AM Central time. There is also activity in the evenings just after dark, and few die-hards who are available just about 24/7.

You can call "CQ" on the calling frequency but most contacts are scheduled or arranged on the fly using an special internet chat server called "PingJockey". You can simply post a message that you'd like to try a contact and one of the more experienced operators will guide you from there. You agree on a frequency, and a message format (short or long), etc. Usually the station that is the furthest West will transmit first in exact 30 second time periods.

It sounds a lot harder than it is...but much like PSK-31 and other digital modes, once you get started it seems to come easy.

I highly recommend that you download the software for the mode, which is free of charge here at:


You should also download and read the short manual, which helps you understand how to operate the mode at:


And lastly, you should download and view a great PowerPoint presentation on the mode created by K0SM.


There is a lot of information out there on the web, but frankly it can all make this mode seem mysterious and complicated, it's neither. Just give it a try!

Some have questioned the validity of contacts that involve the PingJockey chat server, but I think this isn't a valid concern. Using the chat server allows you to make a schedule. Same has having a schedule to try and work someone on SSB or CW. You know you're you're trying to work (callsign), where to point your antenna (grid square), and what frequency.

But at the end of the day, you still have to work them! Is it possible to cheat using the chat room? Sure...but it's easier to cheat using a telephone or private e-mail. In the case of the chat room, the postings are all on record and could be used to question the validity of a contact.

If you watch the postings, you'll notice a lot of busted QSO's, where folks just give up because the rocks aren't cooperating at that time. In my case, I actually made two previous "learning" QSO's just prior to the June Contest, but neither one counted as a valid QSO, because we exchanged other data on the chat server. These were still very helpful in getting me comfortable with the mode. But not good for VUCC credit.

For me it's simple math. 2 new grid squares, in 2 new states in about an hour on 2 meters! This mode may become my not-so-secret weapon! Thanks to Ted and Tip for my first QSO's on WSJT.

From now on, I plan to order my DX "On the Rocks!"

73 DE N1LF

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