[Elecraft] FT-8 vs. PSK31: an enlightening Sunday morning field report

Mike Flowers

Forwarded with Wayne’s kind permission. 

Wayne, N6KR, is the co-founder of Elecraft. 

-- Mike Flowers, K6MKF/VK2, NCDXC - "It's about DX!"

Begin forwarded message:

From: Wayne Burdick <n6kr@...>
Date: June 4, 2018 at 2:19:47 AM GMT+10
To: Elecraft <elecraft@...>
Cc: KX3 <KX3@...>, qrp-l@...
Subject: [Elecraft] FT-8 vs. PSK31: an enlightening Sunday morning field report

Thanks, everyone, for all the pragmatic and philosophical observations about FT-8. Depending on who you ask, it’s anywhere from miraculous to take-it-or-leave-it. Or both. This is characteristic of many aspects of amateur radio, of course. To each their own.

A different sub-noise-floor mode, PSK31, was on my mind this morning. After breakfast I grabbed my KX2 and 17/20 meter whip and went outside to check the bands. All of the CW signals were weak at the time. Then I happened across a warbling PSK31 signal in this mode’s preferred segment (14070-14073)—a VA7 calling CQ.

I used the KX2’s auto-spot function, resulting in perfect copy. He came back to me on the first call at 10 W, which is not unusual; PSK31 has an established track record as a great QRP more.

The important point is that I was able to carry on a satisfying, non-automated, data-mode QSO using a only a hand-held radio with an attached keyer paddle. In my sweats. On a gorgeous day right out of a Maxfield Parrish painting. Without a computer.

I was reminded that PSK31 *is* that mystical unicorn: the sub-noise-floor data mode that’s also a conversational mode. It isn’t full QSK, like CW, and it lacks the rigor of FT-8, but it has some of the advantages of both. This is why PSK31 (and PSK63) are built into the K3, K3S, KX3, and KX2. All you need is a keyer paddle. If you prefer a keyboard, you can use a terminal emulator application running on a variety of devices. Just attach your device to the rig using the supplied USB cable.

To summarize: If you’re a CW op who’s temporarily out of CW  signals, or an FT-8 user who longs for a few unmediated QSOs, take a walk on the wild side and try PSK.


1.  Elecraft radios have a special mode, “PSK-D”, that treats PSK31/63 as a narrowband mode for VFO tuning purposes. You don’t just park the VFO at 14070 like you do when using a sound card and a computer. Instead, use a very narrow filter bandwidth (50 to 100 Hz) and tune around the 3 kHz PSK segment using the VFO set to 1-Hz steps. When you find a signal, tap the keyer speed knob, which auto-tunes the received signal (this is the “SPT” function).

2. RTTY mode (FSK-D) is also available. This legacy mode is great fun during RTTY contests. Last year at FD, taking a break from CW, I made over a dozen RTTY contacts using the KX2, including one of over 2500 miles with the rig hand-held + whip.


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