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My club is considering doing digital modes next year for Field Day. There are a few issues that we are discussing, including:

  1. What modes are most commonly used?
  2. How many contacts could be made?
  3. What is the best set up for a digital station? Multi-band?
  4. What mode will give the least interference with CW operations, but the most contacts?

In other words, we are trying to figure out how to set up a good digital station, and looking for some feedback along these lines. As Field Day is fresh in everyone's minds, I thought I'd ask and see what we can do.

To add a bit of information, I'm thinking primarily of HF modes, with some thought as to typical VHF modes. We haven't tried yet, because the club is worried about a low number of contacts for a potentially large amount of work. We aren't thinking of doing anything like meteor scatter, at least not at this time, just standard HF communication, with a chance of VHF with standard propagation modes.

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    $\begingroup$ While I do like the spirit of this question, I don't like the exact way it's asked. For example, you haven't specified your location and it can be very important. Next, did you try listening to what's already in the aether? If so, what did you conclude? If not, why not? Did you check which are the usual calling frequencies for the modes you're thinking of doing? Did you have in mind digital modes plus something else such as EME, meteor scatter, aurora or similar or just digital modes? I think that adding some of that information could make it easier to provide a relevant answer. $\endgroup$ – AndrejaKo Jul 1 '14 at 20:44
  • $\begingroup$ Also, pretty broad. I read it as "let's have a discussion about digital modes on field day". $\endgroup$ – Phil Frost - W8II Jul 1 '14 at 22:27
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    $\begingroup$ Not that I have any hard data to back this up, or I can objectively say it is the "best", but psk31 is popular, easy, very narrow band, and packed on field day, all bands. There was also plenty of other activity, about like normal, except more of it. $\endgroup$ – Phil Frost - W8II Jul 2 '14 at 12:17
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The number of contacts will depend much on the band conditions. But to get a feel for the number of points you might gain for your efforts, you might take a look at what participants in 2012/2013/2014 managed to achieve. Here's one sample: http://k8bxq.org/node/7 To gauge the rate of growth in popularity (to get an idea of the prospects for next year) take a look at the ARRL's FD results, where you'll find totals for digital contacts over the years: http://www.arrl.org/files/file/ContestResults/2012/2012-FD-QST-V3.pdf

Each contact counts the same as a CW contact (x2) but you don't need someone with CW skills, and digital operating skills are a good bit easier to learn than CW... so a digital station might provide a bonus in terms of available skilled operators.

You'll need to take the same precautions to avoid receiver desense and related strong-signal issues, as with other modes. But many digital modes can perform effectively at low power, so they can be less prone to inter-station interference on FD. Additionally, many of the digital modes are more immune to interference, and are less likely to be troubled by the CW ops. With care, and adequate antenna separation, you might find that the CW and digi-station can share the same band without serious issues - which can be a real bonus when only one band seems to be open on FD.

PSK31 has been around for a very long time, works great with low power and high noise, is very straightforward to use, works great on HF, and should definitely be one of the modes you'll want to use. But if you can be flexible, you'll find that changing to another mode after exhausting all the PSK31 ops on a particular band can help boost your numbers. With a computer running a flexible digi-mode app you will have your choice of virtually any of the HF digi-modes available at your digi station - so plan to use them all!

You might find this blog to be of interest: http://www.w4cn.org/about-ham-radio/digital-modes.

FB OM GL FD

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You might be surprised at the number of 6 and 2M contacts you can generate using low power and simple antennas. I have been able to do several Grid expeditions to put on the less populated grids for the guys chasing VUCC on 6 and 2 Meteor Scatter. I used my FT897 mobile at 100W (50W on 2) out into a 9 element 2M Yagi and Full wave loop made of wire and a PVC cross. It was not unusual to work stations to 1000 Miles plus with a few contacts at 1300 Miles. I plan on offering my rig to the local club this year as the VHF UHF station. You should be able to call CQ on FSK441 (WSJT software) on 50.260 (The 6M FSK441 calling frequency. It is normal practice to set your CQ up so it also contains your RX frequency. When you hear someone answer on the RX frequency you switch to TRX on your RX frequency to keep the calling frequency clear. The CQ message would look like "CQ WQ5S U3 U3" if I wanted to use 50.263 as my RX frequency.
Before FD you might want to watch some of the activity on the Ping Jockey Chat page and get an idea of how everyone there operates and schedules contacts. The guys there a friendly bunch and would be glad to help someone get started on MS 73 and GL WQ5S

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