To date, all of my radio contacts have been voice contacts, mostly SSB with a little bit of FM on 2 meters. I’m still amazed that a little Superantenna MP1 antenna clamped to the rail on my deck allows me any contacts at all. However, making voice contacts isn’t always easy here, so I decided to try a digital mode last week.
The connection from my Yaesu FT-857D to my Mac was straightforward, and the software was readily available. Plus, there is a lot of helpful information on the internet. I was able to fashion an interface cable out of spare parts, get everything connected and make a few PSK31 contacts in an evening.
The short story is that I’ve really enjoyed PSK31. It reminds me of the days when my friend Mike and I would call each other with our Commodore 64 modems and “chat”. Sure, the bandwidth was much less than if we had just used that same phone connection to talk, but it was fun. In the case of amateur radio, not only is it fun, but it allows for contacts that probably wouldn’t be possible with SSB voice.
If you’re interested in the longer story, including the resources I found helpful, keep reading.
There is no shortage of information on the internet about getting on the air with digital modes. I’m not going to repeat everything here, rather, I’ll just point the more in-depth information. I chose to start with PSK31, but isn’t the only digital mode out there. G4UCJ has a nice roundup of digital modes and is a good place to start. If you’re set on PSK, N1NKM’s PSK31 Elmer page is an excellent resource.
As for FT-857D specific information, the Yaesu operator’s manual isn’t totally horrible, but it might leave you wanting for more information. This short post on getting started with PSK on a Yaesu FT-897 was a big help for me. It is applicable to the 857D as well, and it goes into some of the specific menu settings on the radio.
It took some time for me to adjust everything so I was producing a decent signal. I think it is in good shape now. The photo above is a screenshot of my signal from another station’s waterfall (on 20 meters, the other station was 14 miles away). Many thanks to N2WKS for the screenshot.
Once you’re making contacts, you’ll want to give accurate signal reports. The Readability Strength Quality (RSQ) site outlines what “599” really means and is worth a look before you start.
My home-brew radio interface cable got me on the air quickly and at no cost. However, the barebones method is not without drawbacks, which I might detail in a separate post. For now, it’s a great start, and I’ve very happy with PSK31.