I started out with digital data modes, I had an HF transceiver and a
computer. I tuned the transceiver to 3581, set the radio mode to
Upper Side Band, set my computer to run FLDIGI, set the digital mode in
FLDIGI to MFSK-32. Then I held my plug-in computer MIC up to the
receiver's speaker. I did this every Tuesday night at 730PM local
I copied the net control station (K7KY) very well,
and it was exciting to watch his transmission show up on the receive
pane in FLDIGI. The net I was copying was, of course, the ORCA
Digital Net, run out of Brookings, Oregon, run by Doug Gustafson, K7KY, and
his wife, Mindy Hamilton, W7ZAP.
I copied that net for many
months before deciding I wanted to participate (listen before you
transmit is also important here). I first participated by holding my
transceiver's mic up to the computer's speaker, squeezing the
push-to-talk button on the MIC, and hitting transmit in FLDIGI, but
that did not work very well because MIC handling noises and
random background noises in the house created errors in my
transmissions. Most participants on the net were using an
external sound card directly wired between computer and radio. I
wanted one, but which one?
After watching Jaye, KE6SLS, use a Signalink USB unit one Field Day, I bought one. I liked it because:
The Signalink has built-in VOX, so I didn't have to manually switch my
transceiver to transmit and back or use the transceiver's finicky VOX
circuit or CAT control for T/R
2. The Signalink has front panel controls for TX gain, RX gain, and VOX Delay right on the front panel.
I bought the Signalink with a cable and "jumper block" specific for my radio, and was off to the races.
a number of months, I wanted CAT control, so that I could use FLDIGI to
control the rig's frequency. This required the purchase of a USB
Serial Converter/Adapter specific to my radio. I bought a CT-62,
which I could also use to program my Yaesu radios. Back in
FLDIGI, I tried
FLRIG, RigCat, and HamLib for CAT control and liked HamLib the
best. My older HF transceiver did not have a CAT control port, so
I used my newer Yaesu FT-817 radio. It was a dream come
true. I could use my computer to run digital modes on my
radio. I started participating regularly. Ham radio was fun
once again. Yes, the 817 is a QRP rig. I routinely got
excellent signal reports from ORCA’s NCS in Oregon. And,
817 has VHF and UHF in addition to HF, I could participate in local VHF
activities. I have been working on a how-to, and will post it
For now, I am writing this as
a means of encouraging hams to do the same thing that I did, or
something similar. When I started out, nobody had a radio with a
built in computer sound card and/or a CAT interface. Now that's
common in many new radios.
No matter what radio or
computer you have or where you are starting out from on digital data
modes, I recommend you use the computer mic to radio speaker approach
just to see what's out there. VHF/UHF digital data modes can work
with a handheld transceiver. I now have FLDIGI, FLAMP, FLMSG, FLRIG,
Ham Radio Deluxe, Digipan, MMSSTV, UISS, RMS Express, VARA, VARA-FM,
WinPac, APRS, and WSJTX installed on my computer *. Do I use all
of them every day? No. Am I an expert at using all of
them? No. Digital data modes** can be fun. Jump
in. The water's fine.
because I started with
FLDIGI, I recommend others do the same. I call it my "Swiss Army
Knife" for digital radio. I use FLDIGI for many things besides
what I mentioned above. For example, need to tune without holding
down the key or mic button or putting your rig into transmit manually?
Just click the "TUNE" button in FLDIGI, take your hands off the mouse
and keyboard, and apply them to the RF hardware. (The Signalink
hears the TUNE tone, and switches your radio to transmit.) (No, I
don't use my serial CAT connection for T/R switching –
that’s all done by the Signalink) (Yes, I do use my CAT
programming memories and other things for my radio, but that's a whole
other topic. That topic probably won't be covered here
because there's no one thing that works with all radios, all computers,
etc. - each setting is specific to the radio and the computer.
The number of combinations of radios, sound cards, and computers
is nearly limitless. I have helped several hams get
up and running, and have given several talks at my local ham club.
I might post a link to a PDF or two that I prepared for those
talks, time permitting.
am excluding JT-8 JT-65, FT8Call/JS8Call, FSQ, WSPR, and others, that I
may have installed and configured, but have not had enough experience
with to say if I like them or not. Also, I have purposely left
out a how-to on Packet Radio, where my only experience has been with using a physical
external hardware TNC, rather than a virtual, software
When I say "Digital" here or say “Digital Data
Modes”. I add "Data Modes" to "Digital" so you will know I
don't mean "Digital Voice", such as D-Star, Fusion, DMR, or something
like Echolinnk or IRLP. These are modes that are not specifically
Digital DATA Modes. By data, I mean text, etc. like when you do a
keyboard-to-keyboard QSO with another ham - two hams, two computers,
linked by radio. The term "digital" has ben coopted by various
diciplines, mostly to differentiate "analog" from "digital", such as in
music, photo, video, television, etc.
Get on the air. And listen, before you transmit. Always.
above sites will give you much more information (including
troubleshooting) than I have space for type here. I repeat what I
said in one of my Digital Modes workshops: It’s not
plug-n-play. Then, it’s definitely not plug-n-play in
another digital workshop.
It's not easy, but it is rewarding,
once you get it all up and running. Rewarding not only because
it’s fun, but also because you will have the satisfaction of knowing that
you have done something that’s not easy, and gotten it to
Here is a link to a site by K1JT, Joe Taylor,
where you will find the WSJT suite of digital software such as JT-8
JT-65, and FT8Call/JS8Call that I am not very familiar with: https://physics.princeton.edu/pulsar/k1jt/