I’ve recently got into the PSK31 data mode (as a new ham) and in a short while i have learnt a number of things that should prove useful to other amateur radio operators beginning with this facet of our hobby. So i thought i would share them here in the spirit of amateur radio.
So what is PSK31? I’ll let Randy (K7AGE) handle this one:
I’ve found operating PSK31 to be quite an easy data mode to get to grips with and have had a number of enjoyable QSOs across Europe so far, with a compromise antenna (G4TPH Magnetic Loop) hanging from the curtain rail of my ground floor living room. I’ve been running 25w or less from my Flex-3000 SDR transceiver and despite the restrictions of my QTH i have had many QSO’s on 20m, for example:
US5QO (Ukraine) | 4L8A (Georgia) | S58X (Slovenia) | RV3WT (Russia) | SP9BCH (Poland) | IK5FKB (Italy)
Top 10 PSK31 Tips
The following consists of the top 10 PSK31 tips i wish i’d known before operating with this digimode. I hope these will be of use to you and ease the learning curve resulting in more QSOs.
1. Listen (and decode) before transmitting!
The value of this cannot be underestimated, there is always (for me at least!) the temptation to begin transmitting straight away. But what became immediately obvious was that i didn’t know the operating procedure and “best practice”.
The best thing you can do is tune into 14.070MHz (the meeting point for 20m PSK31 activity) and start decoding some QSOs. Watch the conversations flowing backwards and forwards and get a feel for the nature of the contacts and the information exchanged:
2. Know the PSK31 Frequencies
PSK31 activity tends to congregate around certain frequencies on the bands which makes finding your next QSO quite straight forward.
Here are the PSK31 meeting spots on HF:
- 160 meters – 1.838.150 MHz
- 80 meters – 3.580.150 MHz
- 40 meters – 7.040.150 MHz
- 30 meters – 10.142.150 MHz
- 20 meters – 14.070.150 MHz
- 17 meters – 18.100.150 MHz
- 15 meters – 21.070.150 MHz
- 12 meters – 24.920.150 MHz
- 10 meters – 28.120.150 MHz
Everyday you can tune into 14.070 MHz and hear the warbling of PSK31, i find this a good place to start for Europe wide contacts.
3. Understand the PSK31 Terminology
A number of abbreviations are used during an average PSK31 QSO, these are all borrowed from Morse code abbreviations, which may be familiar to you if you’ve had any CW experience, but for me this was all new so i had to learn it from scratch. Here are the abbreviations i’ve encountered the most during average QSOs…
- K = Over
- KN = Over (and only the station addressed should respond)
- SK = Silent Key (used at the end of a QSO – means you’ve finished transmitting to the other station)
- BTU = Back to You
- TNX = Thanks
- PSE = Please
- OM = Old Man (used to refer to any male operator)
- FB = Fine Business (good)
- GM = Good Morning
- GD = Good Day
- GE = Good Evening
4. Macros, Macros, Macros!
There’s a certain amount of repetition that occurs during PSK31 QSO’s, so for this reason all PSK31 software comes with macro functionality. Macros are a great way of reducing the amount of typing you have to do and make for faster more accurate QSOs.
But what the heck do macros do? They’re pre-written responses which you can send at the press of a button. So for example a CQ call macro would look like this:
CQ CQ CQ <your-callsign> <your-callsign> <your-callsign> k
As the program already knows your call sign it will automatically insert it. Pressing the CQ macro button would result in me sending the following PSK31 transmission:
CQ CQ CQ 2E0JCQ 2E0JCQ 2E0JCQ k
This is a simple example, but you can have macros setup that cover almost every eventuality, the most common include the following:
- Sending a CQ call
- Answering a CQ call
- Starting a QSO (<their-call> de <your-call>)
- Your station details (Name/Location/Grid Reference/Radio/Antenna etc…)
- Ending a QSO (SK)
Word of warning: As good as macros are, i always try and type some free text to make the contact seem more “human”. Without this the contacts you make can feel quite robotic and seem to take some of the fun out of the activity. After all, a lot of us love the hobby because we like talking and learning about others.
5. Answer CQ Calls before calling CQ!
When getting started you may find it easier to get results by “searching and pouncing” on PSK31 CQ calls instead of calling CQ yourself.
Doing this quickly lets you know if your setup is working for you, whereas a non-response to CQ could be just because no one saw it.
If you get a response then you’re in business, but if you didn’t then it may mean that you need to adjust your settings. You can do this quickly and then answer his next CQ call to see if you’re any luckier.
This is especially good advice if your station is running low power and you’re not one of the “big guns” (running 50w+) calling CQ, these guys seem to draw contacts like a moth to the proverbial flame!
Read more about the standard format of a PSK31 QSO.
6. Add CQ to the end of your CQ call
Depending on the PSK31 software being used the operator may need to manually click a PSK31 signal for the decoding to begin.
Think of this when you’re making a CQ call like this:
CQ CQ CQ 2E0JCQ 2E0JCQ 2E0JCQ k
This is all well and good, but what happens if the other operator clicks on the signal half way through and only decodes your callsign at the end without the CQ at the beginning? He/she is left unsure as to if they can reply. They may assume you were calling CQ or they may assume that you’re already in a QSO with another operator.
A neat trick i’ve noticed other operators using, is to simply add another CQ after your call sign like this:
CQ CQ CQ 2E0JCQ 2E0JCQ 2E0JCQ CQ k
This takes the ambiguity out and you may end up with more QSOs than you would have otherwise.
7. Wait after calling CQ or answering a CQ call
After calling CQ or answering a CQ call you should wait for the other station to reply – sounds obvious right?
I sent a reply to a station calling CQ and didn’t appear to get a reply (not entirely unusual that the station hadn’t heard me!) so i moved on to another PSK31 transmission to try my luck. About 10 seconds later i saw the previous frequency spring into life, so i quickly switched back to find him replying to my contact!
I had gotten used to near instant replies and had made an incorrect assumption and it had almost cost me a QSO.
The other station may not have been using macros and could have been typing out the response by hand or maybe his wife was distracting him with talk of taking out the rubbish?
Either way i learnt to have a bit more patience!
8. Use PSKReporter.info
This Reverse Beacon Network website shows you who has heard you on the bands. A number of hams have their PSK31 software setup to automatically report the call signs they have decoded or indeed had a QSO with.
Why is this useful? Well it lets you rest assured that your PSK31 signal is getting out. This was invaluable when i was setting up my new station and software, tweaking the settings until i was in business. This will be of great use if you are setting up and adjusting a new aerial.
Additionally and maybe more importantly to some, it will also allow you to see how far away your PSK31 signal is being heard (or not as the case may be!). Want to see how much difference an extra couple of watts makes? Up the output and send a few CQ calls and within a couple of minutes you will see the results on a nice map:
9. Use upper side band below 10MHz
Most amateurs will use Upper Side Band (USB) for PSK31 QSOs even when they are on lower frequencies (below 10MHz) which usually require the use of Lower Side Band (LSB).
USB is used so that the frequencies spread upwards from the base digi mode frequency and also because both stations must be using the same side band in order to make contact with each other.
10. Increase your speed – Use lower case characters!
Use capital letters sparingly – it takes more bits to transmit upper case letters in PSK31 than lower case letters, which results in a slower transmission speed.
You may notice some people sending their call sign in lowercase letters, even though this looks strange, it does increase the transmission speed. This may be useful when:
- Operating during a contest
- While working a pile up (when time is of the essence)
- Propagation conditions are changing (requiring you to complete the QSO asap)
Either way it is a good tip to have up your sleeve if you need to complete a QSO quickly!
PSK31 is a fascinating data mode and one which i wanted to try when i first started to read up on amateur radio as a hobby. They say it’s good to learn from your mistakes and while i agree with this, it makes life a lot easier if you can learn from other peoples mistakes! This is why i wanted to share these tips which i wish i had known when i first started.
I’m sure i will learn even more about this mode and will need to create a follow up post!
Please leave a comment if you’ve got any other tips you would like to share.
Update: I’ve written a follow up post on this (imaginatively) called More PSK31 Tips for Beginners , check it out for more of my PSK31 tips!