I originally wrote my Top 10 PSK31 Tips for Beginners post to help others overcome the hurdles i had to work out for myself. The blog post has proved quite popular, so i thought i’d continue with some additional tips i have learnt since writing the first post. I hope you find something useful here to improve your PSK31 operating.
Transmit symbols before your callsign
I have found that quite often when i am receiving a response at the start of a QSO that the initial decoded callsign is only a partial copy, normally missing a vital letter or two from the start. Here’s an example of the partial copy i am talking about:
0JCQ 2E0JCQ de RX1AB RX1AB
You’d imagine this would still be ok because the callsign has been sent a 2nd time right? Well under less than ideal conditions this may also be a bit scrambled and either way you cannot be sure you have the correct callsign. I’ve observed a number of people get around this issue by adding symbols before their callsign:
****2E0JCQ 2E0JCQ de RX1AB RX1AB
By doing this it doesn’t matter if your decoder struggles with the 1st couple of characters as it’s not going to lose any vital data and will be decoding nicely by the time the call sign comes in. I don’t know why this delay occurs but i imagine it takes a second or two for the decoder to slightly adjust the receive frequency to get a good decode.
Repeat the vitals three times
Things like your call sign and RST should be transmitted three times. Seems excessive right? Well under good conditions maybe, but when you are struggling with bad decodes, supplying these three times will help the other chap to know exactly what is the correct decode. Take this example:
***RA6WY RA6WY de 2E0JCQ 2M0JCQ kn
In this situation because i’ve only sent my callsign twice and one of those hasn’t been decoded correctly, the other chap doesn’t know for sure what my call sign is. Sending this three times gives the other guy more confidence in the correct callsign:
***RA6WY RA6WY de 2E0JCQ 2M0JCQ 2E0JCQ kn
From this they should be able to ascertain which callsign is the correct one, as we’ve provided some validation by providing it three times.
Note: You wouldn’t normally want to do this during a contest, it may just be slowing things down for you and the other chap, lowering your rate of QSO’s.
Move away from 20m!
The 20m band seems to be the centre of PSK31 activity on HF, this means that there’s always QSO’s going on night and day. This is of course good, but it gets very crowded and there can be interference from higher power stations. Finding DX in these conditions can be hard.
Quite often when i move off 20m and go to 17m (18,100MHz) i have some interesting QSO’s, instead of the usual proliferation of Italian and Russian stations. For example in the past day i have worked JA5BVO (Japan), OX3DB (Greenland), N1HNY (U.S) and PY2TWI (Brazil) after switching to 17m and they’ve all been responding to my CQ calls! The chance of this happening on 20m seems substantially less likely, as there are many more higher power stations calling CQ there! It’s also a safe sanctuary away from the contests
Keep some QSO’s short
Sometimes you may need to keep a QSO as brief as possible in order to finish it effectively. I often do this when propagation is less than ideal and there’s QSB (fading) present. Time is of the essence in this situation and it is not the time to be sending your full station details! JA5BVO (Japan) recently responded to my CQ under such conditions, to the extent that i wasn’t certain what his call sign was (i made an educated guess). However i kept things brief, just exchanging signal reports and managed to complete a contact with a new country! Here’s the screenshot from fldigi:
Join the European PSK Club (EPC)
If you’re active on 20m PSK31 (14.070MHz) you may have noticed people including an EPC serial number in their macros, i initially wondered what this was. Turns out EPC is a club dedicated to PSK variants and offer a number of PSK specific awards. You use the serial number to apply for these. EPC offers 75 different awards at present, all for PSK modes, so there’s plenty of challenges here. There’s even an Italian award so you can make use of the large amount of Italian stations on 20m! The EPC is free to join and you might just get a few more awards
Start sending eQSL cards
Electronic QSL cards may not be as special as a paper card or indeed as useful for awards, but they none the less offer a bunch of advantages. Especially when you can link your Digimode software to eQSL.cc and set it to automatically send an eQSL card each time you log a new QSO. Here’s a screenshot of the eQSL setup screen in fldigi:
A lot of PSK31 amateurs use eQSL and have setup their Digimode/logging software to automatically send them as soon as they log a new QSO. This means that by the end of a session you may have a whole bunch of new eQSL cards waiting for you, now that’s quicker than the bureux! eQSL.cc offer a number of awards based on the eQSLs you receive so you may even end up with a few more awards. You can always print the received eQSLs out, but what i plan on doing is downloading them all to an SD card and displaying them in a digital photo frame in the shack. Here’s some that i’ve recently received from some of my PSK31 QSO’s:
Report the stations you decode
I mentioned pskreporter.info in my first top 10 PSK31 tips as a useful way of finding out which stations have received your PSK31 transmissions. Now it’s time to return the favour! Most digimode software can automatically send decoded stations (known as “spots”) back to pskreporter. If that station then looks up their callsign, they will see that we have received them and will know where their signal is hitting. The following screenshot shows the difference between the stations that we’ve reported and the stations that have heard us:
The different coloured speech bubbles represent the different bands i was heard on. Here it shows that i was heard across Europe & the United States on 20m (orange), 17m (yellow) and 15m (brown).
To setup automatic spotting in fldigi, open the configuration window then go to Misc > Spotting tabs and enter the following details:
You will need to press the Initialize button after entering the details and then the Save button. After this you would imagine everything is setup, but no, there is one more step to turn on the reporting, click the Spot button on the main screen, so it goes green:
Once this is green any callsign you decode will be reported to pskreporter.info and you’ll be doing your fellow amateurs a good service
Don’t only use macros
PSK31 operating seems to be centered around the use of macros to the extent that it can sometimes feel like two robots communicating and not two human operators! I like to intersperse my macros with handwritten messages that relate to the station i’m having a QSO with. In all my QSOs on PSK31 i’ve only had one “rag chew” with KC4TIE which was very enjoyable and refreshing. The worst situation is when you ask the other station a question and instead of answering it they just send more macros! I repeatedly told one station that they had my callsign wrong but they just carried on with the rubber stamp macros, this lasted for the whole QSO! Try it next time you have a QSO with someone who understands English.
I hope you have found this post useful and please do mention any of your tips, there’s sure to be many as we’re all learning here.