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Introduction to digital mode PSK31 and how it works with your class or student club.

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Digital Mode PSK31 101

PSK31 Waterfall

There is nothing more exciting for a HAM operator then to make a new contact on the air. You will learn, that using the airwaves takes some tweaking and practice, but once you get things dialed-in so to speak, most of the bands won't always cooperate with you. Don't get discouraged. Set a goal for yourself and your team to try and make as many contacts that you can for a given period of time, and before you know it, you will start racking up the QSO's

What is PSK31 and why use it?

From the ARRL Website: "PSK31 is a digital communications mode which is intended for live keyboard-to-keyboard conversations, similar to radioteletype. Its data rate is 31.25 bauds (about 50 word-per-minute), and its narrow bandwidth (approximately 60 Hz at -26 dB) reduces its susceptibility to noise." Click for full description on ARRL or read more on the "Official" PSK31 website

Why should you consider using it? The easy answer to that question is, PSK-31 does not require much power or bandwidth to communicate, if fact, once you get everything setup and working... you can probably work locations even farther than you expected.

PSK31 Explained

The following video explains the PSK31 digtial mode extremely well and how it works. Take a view moments and review the video.

Thank you Randy (K7AGE) for this video

Reasons to consider using PSK31

We have compiled a short list of some reasons why you should consider using PSK-31 with your students and hope that you stop and take a moment to try and work this into your club.

  • PSK31 is a digital mode, and does not require the operator to use the microphone. We found that the middle-aged students can sometimes be a little mic shy. This is mode is great for them to get on the air.
  • Digital mode is permitted during School Club Round-up contest (at least it was in 2017), plus each contact is worth 2 points in digital mode.
  • PSK31 does not require the knowledge of special syntax or coding like CW does, but it is helpful to know how the exchanges work.
  • Not much bandwidth or power needed. If the bands are cooperating with you, it is feasible to make tons of DX contacts with PSK-31.
  • Using digital on the air can be done quietly. If your ham shack is unfortunately located next to a near by classroom, you really don't want students in there calling CQ during the others class time. With digital, you can just turn down the volume and let the computer/radio do the work.

Some Issues to Overcome

We are not going to sugar coat that getting onto digital is a simple process. It may take some tweaking and some help from and Elmer to get things setup and going correctly. Even after you have it all setup, you are going to need to monitor the configurations and settings, but just keep that in mind.

Digital operations is dependent on the incoming (RX) and outgoing (TX) sound adjustments. You don't want the outgoing sound to be too loud (this will distort your messages going out) or too soft (people in the distance will have heard time reading your signal). On the receive side, you want to adjust so that you don't overload the software and distort the decoding of the message. Again, it takes some practice and tweaking, but once it is all set, it is worth the trouble.

The best thing you can do is some research based on your radio, sound card, and software that you are using. Once you get everything working together and working well, just make some notes in case you set things back for voice control. This way you can switch thing back into digital mode again easily in the future.

What you will need...

Besides your transceiver and antenna of course, you are going to need a few more things to get into the digital communications. Again, depending on your radio, you made need an external sound card (although people have just used the incoming/outgoing ports of the computer). You are going to need PSK31 software, some you can get for free, others you will need to purchase. And the last thing will be a computer.

There are many different ways you can get on the air with PSK31, so again, do some research and find out what is best for your situation.

The Next Step...

Once you have your equipment setup and you are ready to go, we suggest that you spend some time listening in on your waterfall. There is a procedure to the exchange during the QSO (which can change form time to time), but once you get a hang of it, it makes a lot of sense.

When you are ready, go to to Digital Mode PSK31 102 and get ready to start making some QSOs.

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