Is FT8 really better than No Radio at All?

First a disclaimer – as I type this post my station is running a single instance of WSJX FT8 on the other monitor. I’ve made 6 QSOs on 160m and 3 QSOs on 80m for the day so far. Missed some opportunities as I was reading which cost me the possible pounce-for-QSO opportunities while focused elsewhere.

Is FT8 really better than No Radio at All?

Had a long phone call with a ham who is setting up a new station with his brand new Flex-6400 yesterday, where we touched on the types of QSOs. Neither of us are focused on CW and while I have done a significant amount of digital HF my buddy has not. He has been voice all the way, though on the UHF/VHF end he has an interest in digitized voice.

For this post’s purposes I’ll discuss HF.

The modes of HF operation range from Transactional-QSO to Conversational-QSO as the main axis of differentiation.

Digital as a technique divides into Transactional-QSO to Conversational-QSO in the same way as Voice (Phone) or CW.

The Transactional-QSO easiest for most hams to recognize are the contacts made Contesting. The QSO is distilled down to the minimum, usually call signs, signal reports and the “message payload” specified for the particular contest. Nothing less, nothing more.

Hams do the Transactional-QSO minimum chasing DX, with the rational of minimizing use of limited DX-station availability.

Another Transactional-QSO activity are the non-contest contests like Field Day and also QSO parties. Pretty minimal QSO content if you are serious about the event.

The minimization takes on abbreviation when Transactional-QSO contacts are done in CW. Any mutually understandable abbreviation to minimize actual exchange elapsed time is favored. As each piece of information is time consuming to send and receive in CW, it makes sense to abbreviate say “Best Regards” into our familiar “73”. Or to drop three of the four time consuming dashes in “9” for the shorthand of “n”.

In digital modes many modes allow for both Transactional-QSO and Conversational-QSO contacts to be made at the operator’s choice. While your PSK31 software typically automates part of a PSK31 QSO, usually with macros the operator defined before transmitting, it is possible to hand type, do free-form QSOs, and enter into true keyboard-to-keyboard conversations using PSK31.

What is unusual in the digital modes is the Transactional-QSO digital modes like FT8/4 where a true Conversation-QSO is designed out of the mode and software.

It is technically possible to do a Conversational-QSO using FT8, but for the most part FT8 is Transactional-QSO orientated.

Whether a Transactional-QSO “does it for you” is a personal decision.

My buddy with the new Flex-6400, only a Conversational-QSO “does it for him.” And he is solidly all voice.

Another Flex user and Island neighbor George W9EVT is also all voice mode these days, and while preferring a Conversational-QSO is right in there chasing DX and other Transactional-QSO events.

Neither of these hams use CW or digital modes to any extent.

So circling around, in my world is FT8 “real radio” or not?

Begrudgingly, I say “it depends!”

If my choice is truly “No Radio” then it is a suitable placeholder.

If I can go Conversational-QSO then FT8 is a copout at best.

BTW I logged close to 100 FT8 QSOs while I has this draft up on another monitor while writing one and off during the day. I would not have been able to log a single phone QSO unless I stayed over lunch and shut the door.

You choice is personal to you, but it appears sometimes we have to compromise or do without as the two real choices.



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