Setting up FT8

(Updated 2019-12-08)

First, download and install the latest distribution from the WSJT-X project page. The documentation is well-written and useful.

Second, verify your system clock is set accurately. Seriously. The FT8 cycles are 15 seconds, of which 12.6 seconds are transmit, 0.5 – 1 seconds of decode & lookup, and the rest left up to you to make a response. On Mac, this is done via command-line:

sudo ntpdate -u time.apple.com

As David (ac0vh) notes, MacOS 10.14 or newer:

sudo sntp -sS time.apple.com

On Windows, use Dimension 4

Edit the preferences. In the General tab:

FT8 – General Settings

1. Enter your call sign.
2. Enter your Maidenhead grid.
3. This is optional, but if you choose your IARU region, it’ll help set up your frequency list later.
4. I like the program off by default as a reminder to set my system time.
5. There is some automation in place such that when it sends the “73” (“Best regards”), it’ll stop transmitting until you reenable it again.

The Radio tab is going to vary depending on what you own.
For my Elecraft KX3:

1. USB device for the control cable.
2. The computer controls the radio rather than using tones (like my HT does).
3. This tells the radio to use data mode, which disables compression, the RX/TX EQ, and uses a low error-rate ALC.

From the KX3 manual

My Mac lacks a microphone, so I use an external USB dongle for both in and out.  Generally, you want to use as little volume as necessary to avoid overloading the card.

FT8 audio

Generally, I run with ALC (Automatic Level Control) — the ALC gain on the radio -showing 4-5 bars.  Some radios will require this off. Sound out from the radio (and into the sound card) is kept at a minimum.  See below.

The reporting tab has two items of interest:

FT8 – Reporting

1. When you detect a station, upload it to this (free) spotting service  This is a pretty nifty

https://pskreporter.info/pskmap.html

This is very useful because it lets you see that your station is being received.  The light purple arc is an estimate of where I’m being well-received.

2. There are supplementary utilities that can listen to the connection and automatically log for you. For example, I have JT-Bridge act as a layer to do lookups then instruct MacLoggerDX to upload them to QRZ.com. (Yes, this is overly complex.)

Finally, the first time you use wsjtx, or if you update, you’ll need to load in frequencies. Right-click on the main window and select Reset. I skim through these to remove bands my radio doesn’t support (e.g., 2200m, microwave frequencies):

FT8 – Frequencies

Right click and save these just in case you want to start over.

Okay, now that that’s set up, in the main window, there are three areas of interest:

FT8 – Main

Select the “Monitor” button to start listening.  The waterfall should start showing activity if there are users on.  Once a full 15-seconds has elapsed, you should start seeing those signals being decoded.

On the bottom, left is a meter showing input levels.  You want it to be in the green, ideally around 25-30db.  If it’s too quiet, the bar will be red meaning you’re not getting enough signal.  If it’s too loud, the bar will turn yellow indicating oversaturation.

The other two tick boxes are assistive automation.  Auto Seq will progress through the calling sequence on each cycle.  It’s necessary on FT8 because of the rapid cycle times (and my lack of cat-like reflexes).  The Call 1st is used when you’re calling CQ – it will automatically select the first response (either by time or, in the event of a tie, the sub-frequency you’re monitoring followed by the order of sub-frequency).

The standard messages, on the bottom, right, are automatically generated when you respond to someone (by double-clicking on their CQ) or someone responds to you.

So now, here’s how a sequence works.  The top quarter and bottom half of the graphic below are WSJT-X.  Sandwiched in the middle is a third-party listener, JT-Bridge, that does lookups of people and lets me know if they’re in a geographic area of interest.

First, I have the Monitor button (in green) selected, so it’s listening.  On the waterfall graph, outlined by the red rectangle are 15-second bursts of transmissions from NA4M calling CQ.  To response, I double-click on the CQ at 02:05:45.  (With JT-Bridge, I can also click on the one with the little number “3” next to it).

That action does the following things:

a) Pre-loads a set of standard messages (shown below) for the exchange.
b) Enables transmit (the Enable Tx button, currently off, because I’m doing this post-exchange)
c) Populates the Rx Frequency side with what’s happening on my receive frequency.

You’ll see in step (2), I respond, but he doesn’t acknowledge.  He repeats his CQ 30 seconds later.  I respond in step (3).  When he acknowledges me with my signal strength in step (4), the line turns purple to let me know that someone’s talking with me.  At that point, I return back to him with R-09 signal strength.  At step (5) he acknowledges receipt, and then exchange regards.

Buckle up, this goes faster than you’d think…

67 thoughts on “Setting up FT8”

  1. Patrick Elyn

    Hello Jim,
    Thank you for this information website about WSJT-X and his setup.
    73 de ON6AT Patrick

  2. How do I manually insert a call sign I wish to contact? ie. I see a QSO with a DX station that is listed on the left side of the RX window. I want to copy or input that station in my right hand window. I have been copying and pasting then manually changing all the responses to reflect the station I’m trying to contact.

    1. You can’t. Those ‘left side’ call signs are being decoded by others, not you. When YOU decode a station, it will ‘right side.’ Manually setting up a standard message to call a left side station is fruitless — you’re not decoding him.

  3. Very helpful sir. Would you please let me know all the radio “width” settings and all of the radio settings best suited for FT8?

    1. Matt – most folks use 2.5KHz. If I’m trying to reach someone whose signal is really difficult to hear, because there’s a nearby strong signal, I’ll use the notch filters to refine it.

  4. Tom Fitzpatrick

    Hi, I have FT8 all set up using a hp computer K3 and an outboard sound card. It’s receiving great and PTT keys the rig, but I’m not getting any output from the computer to the rig on transmit?

    1. Tom – my initial guess is the volume is not high enough to drive the radio. On the bottom, right of the WSTJX screen is a little slider that you can use to adjust the output from the app. Failing that, you may also try bumping up the output volume a little bit and also verifying that the device is correct. (For my KX3, I use CAT control rather than PTT.)

  5. Tom Fitzpatrick

    I’m using an outboard sound card. Still not getting anything out of the computer??

  6. Jim
    Thanks for the helpful info. I use a Mac and finally figured out how to use the internal log. How ever I have a list of about thirty previous contacts that I would like to add to the log. Do you know how to do that?

  7. Oh2EUU Pete
    Installed and set up FT8 yesterday Everything works until my third message is sent, after that it does not progress to the final messages, but repeats sending the third message over and over

  8. Bill Broadley

    I couldn’t quite figure out, or at least wasn’t sure.

    Are you driving the KX3 directly over USB and not using a signallink/similar usb sound card?

    Is there one USB cable between your KX3 and computer or two?

  9. Milton de Rezende

    Even with 100 watt no one answers my calls. I get it perfectly, but when I give a clik nobody answers The clock is right. The ALC is correct, I leave in USB but the program does not decode.
    Thank you very much. Milton PY2CYE

    1. Jol – Yes you can. The USB dongle is the alternative for those who con’t have a MIC in connection to our computers.
      73, Jim

  10. Just followed your guide. My Mac doesn’t have a mic port either so I’m using a usb sound card.

    Ive got a programming cable plugged in to the radio (857D) and the software can control the radio.
    I have no micro phone port so I’m using usb sound card .
    I run a cable from audio jack from the radio to microphone in and I can decode signals.

    Do I need another cable from the usb sound card to the back of the radio?
    If I do can you recommend one

    73’s jez

  11. Grahame Booth

    I can’t get the color tab to function. That is, colour call signs that I have already had contact with. With default settings just get green, red, yellow. Clicked load ADIF file but nothing changes. Can you help please? Using Win and WSTJ-X v2. Thank you!

  12. I am using a MacBook Pro, an Icom 7300, and WSJT-X 2.0.1 Darwin. Everything looks good except no power out and a loud tone comes from the MacBook speaker. I looked at the Audio tab in Preferences and I don’t have a choice of Audio Codec, just internal microphone, etc. I own a SignaLink USB interface but am not using it. Someone told me that with a 7300, a Signalink is not needed. I am confused/frustrated. Can you help please? Thank you. –Stu WA6BTK

  13. Sorry for taking up time on this site, but I have another problem. Since installing either the WSJT-X or the driver (not sure when this problem started), the 7300 will abruptly shut itself off for about two seconds. The the 7300 will turn itself on again and be fine for roughly 10 minutes and then will shut itself off again. Do you have any idea what’s happening? Thank you, again. –Stu

  14. I did a full reset on the 7300 and the off/on/off problem seems to have gone away. But the hamlib connect error still remains. I looked at the NO5V tutorial and I’m set the way the video shows.

  15. My first try at WSJT-X FT8 and when everything is up and running, the KX3 goes into split mode. Is this correct? If not. how do I change it?

    1. Split mode is normal when your TX frequency (the red goalpost) is towards the left or right sides of the waterfall. It’s not easy to explain why … but I’ve tried, with a diagram: see page 20 of the FT8 Operating Guide (https://bit.ly/FT8OP).

      73
      Gary ZL2iFB

  16. Jim, thanks for your tutorial on ft8. I am almost there on getting things working. My problem at this point is whenever I double click on a call sign in either window (band activity or Rx frequency) the program closes.

    I am using WSJT-X v 2.1.0, on an iMac, with a Signalink USB, to a Yaesu 450-D.

    Thanks in advance for any insight you may have.

    Mike Cox KI5DF

    1. Mike – When it crashes, do you get a stack trace of any kind – that may narrow it down.Things I’d look at (which you probably have) – version of the OS (needs to be 10.10 or higher). THe signalink should be plug and play, but it would be worth double-checking that WSJTX is showing it as an audio device for input and output.

  17. Thanks for the tutorial Jim!

    In the event someone is running 10.14 or newer macOS/OS X the command to synchronize your machine’s clock has changed.

    “sudo sntp -sS time.apple.com”

    73,
    David

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