What The FT8 Is Happening To Our World!


(In defence of [so called] machine generated modes)


In discussion about the reaction of some to FT8 a friend of mine pointed out that many radio amateurs enjoy the social aspect of the hobby. That for them it is the friendship aspect as much as the technical appeal which they enjoy. And a good thing too I say. However for me it was the construction and relative performance of antennas (and propagation) that fascinated and so brought me along to amateur radio. There have always been different attractions of this difficult-to-define human pastime. For instance, to my surprise, I enjoyed learning CW - and passing the test felt like a real achievement, even though I had no choice in the matter.


A couple of months back I had to take down my antennas for building work. On the weekend before this happened I noticed a new mode, FT8, and installed the early version. There were a couple of innovators already trying it out. When my antennas were reinstalled, after a couple of months of inaction, I was amazed: FT8 was everywhere! In fact if I had not known better I might have assumed FT8 was 'data mode'.


I thought this was a great thing. With limited space at my QTH I like to try data modes on VHF and now there was actually some activity to be part of. Last weekend I noted that 10m was open and lots of FT8 stations were allowing me to see it was open. In previous years I suspect it would have opened and closed without it being known.


So FT8 is great. Data modes have arrived. Everybody happy. Hurray!


Erm, no. It would seem not. In fact it would seem not in spades.


A backlash has arrived sinners. And there are those who really do think computers are an abomination on the face of radio. (CW fundamentalists? SSB fundamentalists?) This is not new. I was roundly mocked and abused by these 'zealots' when daring to suggest someone might like to try Wspr on 4m - as an experiment. It took me aback at the time. I did not realise that people would feel threatened by machine(s) (generated modes). Which just goes to show how stupid I am - human, only human. Here is a typical and understandably human point of view. I get this and understand the sentiment behind it, but I do not necessarily agree with it.


So now there are many forums where FT8 is under attack. You can see CW v FT8 or SSB v FT8 messages all over the show. Why is this? Why do some operators feel under threat if a few khz of FT8 appears on their radio. Perhaps it has something to do with our predilection for either/or thinking. Everybody has this to greater or lesser degree: you can see this in politics, religion, football etc.


Personally I think FT8 will peak then fall back. People might try it for a while and then try something else. If they like CW, they might 'go back' to it. Or, more sensibly, they might use more than one mode - radio inclusion!


I do understand the concern. Recently I met an elite CW operator. He told me that in the past year or two many of his friends had become SK and he felt he was losing some of the joy of radio. This is natural. I could empathise with and understand this completely. I feel like this about many aspects of life that have changed. However does this mean that anything new is by definition bad? I have a tendency to feel this way I admit, it is difficult to keep an open mind all of the time, for instance I cannot imagine using Internet linking (Dstar whatever) to (in my view) emulate radio - but each to their own. FT8/Wspr/PI-RX/JT65B etc. uses radios and explores propagation paths with actual radio waves, directed by antennas, doing all of the work! Aparently some people do not realise this, thanks for pointing this out Jim.

But CW isn't going away and neither is SSB or even AM and FM. The argument some people are making appears to go along the lines of: people are leaving Mode A for Mode B and I am left alone.


Perhaps it is a case that the Mode B people would never have been Mode A people. That if Mode B had not existed then they would not be on the radio at all. 'Good riddance' the Mode A people might say. But to whom would they say it?


As for me I like antennas and propagation. Data modes are perfect for this aspect of my life. (It is part of my life and has been since I was a very small boy). And I do make friends, it is sociable. Take for instance the friend with whom I have been discussing the FT8 backlash. We have never met. We found each other over the airwaves using data modes and now we communicate regularly. It can be sociable too!


In conclusion I guess what I would say is relax. There is plenty of bandwidth for all activities. A rise in one does not mean there will be, necessarily, a causal effect on another, or that the rise is permanent. Take for instance the CW Reverse Beacon phenomenon. It has fused two modes and breathed new life into one of them. If we learn new things from new modes so much the better, but nobody should be forced, or coerced into using one mode rather than another. It is a hobby not a religion - or is it?


Last but not least it strikes me as ironic that much of the grumbling about computer modes takes place via online forums.


Go figure!