A fellow can only watch just so many hours of hurricane news coverage in one week so after dinner last evening I retired to the shack. Having been away from home a few days, I fired up the laptop and went looking for something new. There were plenty of signals in the waterfall on 40 meters, but very little DX.
Calling a few stations in North America, I got nothing in return. This seemed unusual and continued long enough that I decided something must be wrong and I started checking settings. I couldn’t find anything obvious. The audio and USB connections all looked proper and the transmitter was certainly working. Then I noticed something odd, many of the stations who I had called appeared to have a time problem.
Surely it wasn’t everyone, maybe it was me?
FT8 is particularly sensitive to the time. Your computer clock has to be within about one second of the actual time or it just won’t work. That’s why the WSJT-X docs recommend using a program or some other resource for regularly updating and maintaining your PC time.
I use a Windows 10 laptop for FT8. When I’m not using it, I turn it off and sometimes that can be for several days at a stretch. I expect it’s clock to be off a little every time I turn it on and so as a matter of practice, the first thing I do when I boot it up is to go into settings and request a time update.
I did that first thing last night but after seeing so many time discrepancies I did it again. And then a few times more for good measure. I started and stopped the program a few times too, just to be certain it was registering the updated time setting. But all of the stations I tried to call seemed to be out of sync with me and eventually, I gave up and went to bed.
That was the first time I’ve ever been skunked trying to make an FT8 contact.
This morning I was up long before dawn and back in the shack and once again, I set the clock on the laptop and listened to 40 meters. The band was dead. Same for 30 and 20 meters but 80 meters seemed to be buzzing and almost all of the stations copied appeared to have their time set correctly. First CQ I replied to I worked. Then another and another.
Now this is the way it’s supposed to work!
I logged twenty contacts before stopping for another cup of coffee and to jot down this entry before the sun comes up. Though I’ve devoted most of my on-air time to FT8 these last few months, I’m certainly no HF digital expert and have no explanation for this.
Is it possible that a dozen or more stations were out of time-sync last night or was it me?