The FT8 Paradox

Mostly running as a background activity I’ve now made quite a few FT8 contacts.

In background-mode a typical day logs about 50 contacts.  I would be able to do more if I was focused on the actual radio activity, did something other than calling CQ, and wasn’t off the air for long periods where I really need my focus elsewhere.

FT8 is a Paradox.

Like or dislike FT8, or it is something in the middle?

Let’s get the negatives our of the way first – on the Dislike side:

  • FT8 is ultra basic and non-conversational
  • FT8 is highly automated with a contact requiring at best a couple mouse clicks to log and restart calling CQ
  • FT8 avoids “the hunt” searching frequencies for activity being mostly on agreed frequency
  • FT8 contacts are fleeting in both time and substance
  • FT8 largely reduces your station and computer into “emulating an old school modem” but without serious traffic
  • FT8 isn’t very exciting and is all routine
  • FT8 DX is pretty impersonal
  • FT8 information is “flat” lacking the non-verbalized communication we get in other QSOs
  • FT8 operations are a bit lame for shack demonstrations
  • FT8 SWL ranks in the least involved SWL operation imaginable

On the Like side:

  • FT8 operations are possible when you have to share your attention and focus
  • FT8 operations are super easy to manage
  • FT8 operations are non-intrusive to others in your operating space
  • FT8 seems to do well when the bands are very poor
  • FT8 background remote allows operations from places you couldn’t run Phone, CW or more involved digital modes
  • FT8 lends itself to the very hard of hearing/deaf amateur – the ones you otherwise find on SSTV, other digital modes, CWX or other no-listen modes
  • FT8 once configured is pretty stable
  • FT8 currently has a LOT of stations on the air, racking up QSOs

Some In-The-Middle observations:

  • FT8 contacts are better than no contacts
  • FT8 is very easy
  • FT8 awards are mostly about being on FT8 long enough to get the needed contacts
  • FT8 is possible from very modest stations and compromised antennas

So where am I on FT8?

Pretty much solidly in the “better than not operating” camp but otherwise under-enthused.  I’m tending to run FT8 during the week as a background activity, and on weekends/time-off I find myself switching to SSB for the most part.

Kind of the difference of whether I run music at a low level in the background, perhaps on some Sonos gear vs whether I play a symphony through the Revox & Altec “real stereo gear” setup at realistic volumes- or even more of a contrast from the elevator music to the musical experience if I am playing as a bari saxophone sideman a show band.

Would I build a station if all I could run was FT8?  Kind of think not so much.  At least not much more than the absolute basics.

Do I get a kick out of FT8 contacts and FT8 awards?  Again not so much.  It is nice to pick up an uncommon DX on FT8 for sure, but it is more a “check the box” experience than an accomplishment.  The awards reflect & take on the “meh” of the contacts.  I cannot get excited about FT8 based awards.

Obviously your mileage may vary, and you may find FT8 better or worse than I am finding FT8.



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