Top 10 PSK31 Tips for Beginners (Part 1) 35


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:

HRD PSK31 & 11 QSOs!

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:


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:


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:


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

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:

PSKReporter Screenshot

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!


35 thoughts on “Top 10 PSK31 Tips for Beginners (Part 1)

  1. Reply Rob Pitman Jun 25,2013 18:49

    At last a site that tells it like it is with regard to PSK31.
    I didnt know where to look either and to be honest the books I’ve seen on operating psk weren’t too good.
    Thanks to your helpful guide to getting started I’ve made a few QSO’s.
    Still havent built the courage up to call CQ yet mind.
    73 for now
    Rob Pitman GW0RYT

    • Reply James Stevens Jun 26,2013 09:01

      Thanks for your comment Rob, this is exactly why i wrote this article, so glad it helped you get going with a few QSO’s. Getting started with PSK31 was a bit of a nightmare because as you found out the books aren’t too good and most sources assumed you had some implicit knowledge on the subject. PSK31 was the first mode i used after becoming licensed, which compounded the problems, as i had no prior experience of the Morse code abbreviations being used during PSK31 contacts.

      73’s and good DX,
      James 2E0JCQ

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  3. Reply Darrell Mortensen Dec 10,2013 13:59

    When a net is advertised and the way they list the net frequency is:
    14.065 MHz ( 1200 ± QRM )- USB

    What does the ” 1200 ” indicate ?

    Darrell, N8JTV

    • Reply James Stevens Dec 10,2013 14:54

      Hi Darrell,

      I believe the 1200 indicates that the net frequency could be 1200Hz up or down from the published frequency if man made interference (QRM) is present. As nets don’t own frequencies they need to sometimes adjust to other users.

      James, 2E0JCQ

  4. Reply Dave Robinson Jan 26,2014 14:55

    Hi Darrell/James,

    Does it not mean that you tune the transceiver to 14.065 and the signal will be at 1200Hz on the upper side – showing centered at 1200 on the waterfall, plus or minus a bit if there’s any QRM?

    Dave, 2E0HEF

  5. Reply Dieter Steiner Feb 18,2014 18:36

    Hi to all,
    thanks for your very fine PSK31 page/guide ! Its very helpfull.
    I use for several years HRD/DM780 and change now to FLDIGI.
    PSK is my favourite operating condition.

    vy 73 de Dieter DL2XM

    • Reply James Stevens Feb 18,2014 19:13

      Thanks for your kind words Dieter, i’m glad you found it helpful.

      Maybe i’ll catch you on the bands one day 🙂

      73 James (M0JCQ)

  6. Reply Marc YL3GU Jun 17,2014 06:32

    Thanks for the post. I would like to correct some things though:

    1) ‘SK’ at the end of transmission in no way means ‘silent key’ (CW abbreviation for ‘deceased radio amateur’), at least I have never read it in any of the books on telegraph procedural signs.

    2) “USB is used […] also because both stations must be using the same side band in order to make contact with each other.” — No, this is the case only in QPSK (quadrature) mode, in BPSK it does not matter.


  7. Reply Marc YL3GU Jun 17,2014 06:50

    Sorry, I forgot to add the ‘SK’ meaning (as procedural sign) — ‘end of contact’, i.e. end of the contact with the station you just worked.


  8. Reply Kash Mar 20,2016 13:25

    Does SK MEAN Signing Clear ???

    • Reply James Stevens Apr 6,2016 13:19

      Effectively yes, it’s used to indicate the sending station will stop transmitting.

  9. Reply Jann - SA0JNN Apr 7,2016 20:00

    Absolutely the best I have found about PSK31. It is almost impossible to find informative information about a “normal” QSO preventing any new HAM to take the first steps. Just became licensed and finally I found the instructions “how-to”. Great work!! I will keep an eye on your blog for sure! 🙂

    • Reply James Stevens Apr 14,2016 10:22

      Thanks Jann, I found the same when I was starting out hence why I wrote the article. Glad it was useful and welcome to the hobby!

      73, James M0JCQ

  10. Reply Tom Esmond Jul 1,2016 19:04

    This has helped a lot, just getting in to psk . Have hot trance yet. Decoding now Thanks Tom kd4fwj

  11. Reply Tom, K2BEW Oct 4,2016 18:44

    Great article on psk31, I read all your articles on psk31 and found them all very helpful. Thanks and 73, tom

    • Reply James Stevens Oct 5,2016 12:23

      Thanks Tom, I’m glad you’ve found them useful. I might try and get around to writing a few more once I get back into PSK 🙂

      73, James M0JCQ

  12. Reply VE7JH Feb 16,2017 19:01

    I am an OM but new to PSK. I was quite frustrated about the gibberish I get, almost as bad as RTTY.HI.
    Thanks for the tips it sure helped get started!

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  14. Reply John Simons G8HWI Sep 27,2018 08:31

    I’ve been a “PSK only” station since 2003, as I now have to wear hearing aids, and I still miss info even when wearing headphones.

    PSK means that I can “See you speak”, it’s [almost], like lip reading for me!

    A superb webpage, thoroughly recommended, as is K7AGE’s PSK set-up instructions on “You Tube”

  15. Reply DAVID DOLLING Oct 18,2018 09:04

    James, I got interested in PSK way back in 2009, but cannot to this day edit any of the macros, how the hell can I change the PSK contest macro, to what I want and save the settings ?

    • Reply James Stevens Oct 18,2018 12:56

      Hi David,

      It really depends which software your using, but assuming it’s Fldigi you can edit each macro button by right clicking on it.

      Saving can be done by going to File > Marcos > Save. I have a whole set of different macros for different PSK/RTTY contests and can switch between them. I even have

      That’s all from memory, but I’m pretty sure that’s how it works!

      I can send you my macro files if you use fldigi.

      73 James M0JCQ

      • Reply DAVID DOLLING Oct 18,2018 13:21

        Hi James, thanks for getting back to me, not using fldigi, using HRD+DM780, I have printed off instructions from the help menu, but the changes wont save ??


        • Reply James Stevens Oct 18,2018 13:31

          That much I can’t help with David, I’ve not used DM780 for a good many years now. If you’re on HRD v6 (paid for) I hear the support is pretty good, might be worth pursuing.

          My combination is Log4OM and Fldigi.

          • Reply DAVID DOLLING Oct 18,2018 14:02

            Thanks James, but I am using an old free version, I guess there’s no help available any more ?
            Think I will have to stick with CW ?



          • Reply James Stevens Oct 19,2018 13:38

            Why not try some other datamode software David? As I say I use Fldigi (free) and macros work well.

          • Reply DAVID DOLLING Oct 19,2018 13:52

            Hi James, do it give you all the datamodes ?
            I might try it, but I’m not good at downloading / installing stuff, and getting it to work, over the years, I have downloaded tons, only to delete it, cos I cant get it to work !!

          • Reply James Stevens Oct 19,2018 13:56

            It does everything except the WSJT datamodes (JT/FT8/WSPR), it’s really quick to switch between modes, which is very useful in the RSGB 80m data contests when you can make contacts on both PSK63 and RTTY.

            Good luck with the setup, I’d say it’s no harder than any other software but still requires a bit of configuration.

            73 James M0JCQ

          • Reply DAVID DOLLING Oct 19,2018 14:41

            Hi again James, fldigi downloaded and installed, have tried to configue, but pc not talking to radio, not sure which boxes to tick or untick ?

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  18. Reply W7KFT Feb 18,2022 16:50

    Excellent article, James! I just got my rig set up for PSK31 and this is just what I needed. Thanks for this wonderful contribution to our hobby!

  19. Reply Peter Pasgaard May 18,2022 18:59

    I am a beginner. Do you use the same hardware as for FT8?
    Is it just another software to operate PSK31?
    Where do I find the newest software?

    Vy 73 de OZ4XP

    • Reply James Stevens May 19,2022 08:35

      Hi Peter,

      Yes, you’ll use the same hardware for PSK31, the software I use is called FLDigi and is free. It supports many data modes (except FT8) including PSK31.

      James M0JCQ

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