BITX40 Rebuild Part 1: Mistakes, Planning and Teardown

uSDX (SSB with a QCX) Update

JS8Call: Another “Zombie” mode?

Before anybody accuses me of a clickbait title, please examine the following comments taken from the JS8Call Facebook group:

Over and over again Hams are disappointed with JS8Call because they have the impression that it is a “Zombie” mode, where the majority of stations are automatic, and that human to human QSO’s aren’t as common. Is that true?

The Case for JS8Call

JS8Call is a program created by Jordan Sherer (JS), KN4CRD. From JS8Call.com we get the following description:

JS8Call is an experiment to test the feasibility of a digital mode with the robustness of FT8, combined with a messaging and network protocol layer for weak signal communication on HF, using a keyboard messaging style interface. It is not designed for any specific purpose other than connecting amateur radio operators who are operating under weak signal conditions.

JS8call.com

From that we learn two things: JS8Call is a messaging and a network protocol layer for weak signal communication on HF. This means it is a multi-purpose mode. Let’s talk about these purposes.

Human to Human QSO’s

How many times have you made a contact on FT8 only to wish that you could have had more than just an automated QSO that took less than a minute? For me, many. But, I lack the skills and time to make a program to do that. But Jordan didn’t.

Jordan Scherer took the leap and put together JS8Call (originally called FT8Call due to its use of the FT8 style encoding) and made what was originally a conversational FT8 mode. But as the Beta versions of the program progressed, his vision became clearer as features were unveiled.

JS8Call wasn’t created in order to be a QSO-Only mode, although that functionality still exists and is at the forefront.

JS8Call as a Network

“Can you hear me?” Certainly we have wondered if we’re being heard by another station, and for that most of us use the wonderful pskreporter.com website. With that we know who heard us, and we know who hears them. But can we hear each other? The only way to truly know is to ask them. And who else are they hearing?

These are the Heartbeats and Heartbeat responses you see on JS8Call. These are designed to be in the 500-1000hz sub-band so as to not interrupt QSO’s happening above 1000hz. With these Heartbeats, you know who hears you, and who you also hear, since they actively respond.

You can also query these other stations to find out who they are hearing. And then you can relay through them to query those stations for the same information, and you can even have relay QSO’s! As a test one night, I relayed from my QTH in Washington all the way across the US and into Europe, and back, all with different stations in one big loop- with 5W of power on my end.

Last but not least, you can leave Messages for other stations, even via relay. You don’t need to have a live QSO to have a conversation.

“But I can’t find a QSO!”

Getting a QSO is the same on JS8Call as on any other mode- call CQ when people are listening. Sometimes Operators will be frustrated because all they see are Heartbeats and responses. Don’t worry- that just means that other Operators have left their stations running automatically for network reasons, and they aren’t active at their station. Others will be, so keep calling. I know that I’ve answered CQ’s when I was busy with other things just because they station kept calling. Perhaps more automated stations could make a point to do the same.

Also, make sure that you use a band where there’s activity. Currently, JS8Call is most active on 40M both day and night. You’re likely to find stations less active on other bands, although 20M has more operators than it used to.

Make JS8Call successful

If you see a problem- don’t worry. JS8Call, like Amateur Radio in general, is a experiment. Be a part of the solution. Don’t just call CQ, look for other stations calling CQ and answer them too.

As for all the network stations, why not join them? There’s no harm in turning your station on Auto, set the frequency in the waterfall between 500-1000hz, and seeing what happens. You might be pleasantly surprised!

Getting Started with JS8Call

First, go to JS8Call.com. The user manual is there as is everything you need to know. Here are some basic tips:

  • Set the default speed to Normal or Slow mode. Don’t default to Fast or Turbo
  • Make sure the time in your PC is correct
  • Try longer distance QSO’s during the hours before and after sunset
  • Start QSO’s with Name, Location, Grid Square, SNR. Then continue with the conversation. That way if the contact drops out due to bad conditions, the QSO can still be logged.
  • Don’t be discouraged by automated stations. They are signs of activity and will help you know where you can hear and be heard.
  • Answer CQ’s as often as you call them.
  • Join the JS8Call Facebook group and the JS8Call Groups.io discussion group for more resources.
  • Remember to have fun!

Let us know your tips and tricks for JS8Call in the comments below. Thanks for reading, and 73!

5 comments

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    • W1PJE on October 14, 2020 at 5:45 AM
    • Reply

    How do you leave an “automated” station running all the time and not violate Part 97 rules? Confused. Seems a bad idea.

    • paul elliott on October 14, 2020 at 7:34 AM
    • Reply

    Automated can mean receive-only. That’s what I have running (plus occasional human-human operation). My auto stations report, and relay APRS messages via internet.
    -Paul – wb6cxc

  1. The legalities of Heartbeats are covered in the JS8Call documentation in the “Frequently Asked Questions” section. You can find the link to the doc at http://js8call.com/help/. Do a Ctrl+F search for “97” to get right to it.

  2. Seems to me that I am responding to a controlling station requesting data or using my station to relay. I do not have Heartbeats being sent automatically. My station only responds to others.

  3. Very well written and well said Ryan. I do not send out a heartbeat unless I am sitting at my radio actively participating. I respond to many CQs and send out CQs usually getting at least one nice rag chew QSO a day. And have started to get to know regulars on 40 and 20 meters so a nice community spread across the country. de tom w7sua

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