I’ve spent most of the last five decades pounding brass. Starting as a Novice with CW-only HF privileges and equipment. My station has always been modest and I learned long ago the benefits of CW for the unassuming. 100 watts and a wire. That’s me. But I’ve enjoyed enough success with that combination that I’ve yet to meet a pile-up I didn’t think I could bust.
Then a few months ago ham radio was gifted with another new digital mode and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. My digital HF resume is downright embarrassing. I’ve made a handful of RTTY contacts in 40 years. Then when PSK31 became a “thing” I jumped on that bandwagon for about 30 minutes and four contacts before deciding it wasn’t for me.
But this FT8 thing has captivated me and I’ve logged nearly a thousand contacts with it in just a few months and it’s been an eye-opener. I simply didn’t know, and had no reason to assume that the digital HF segment of the hobby had grown so large.
I’m flat-out stunned by the number of hams engaged in this facet of our hobby.
While I have no data to back this up, it’s not much of a stretch to proclaim that there’s considerably more activity on the HF digital modes than can be found on CW. It wouldn’t even be a fair comparison if it weren’t for contesting.
And I’ve discovered a couple other things…
While working FT8, I keep a Web browser open so I can visit the QRZ pages of stations I work. A high percentage of these are younger than average operators and many of them also happen to be relative newcomers to hobby radio. While a lot of them cite antenna restrictions as an obstacle - this has been mitigated by the use of weak signal digital modes.
In fact, one evening I worked three stations who were using the HF mobile antenna on their automobile while it was parked in their driveway. Their bios detailed how they come home from work, park outside the garage door, and run a cable from the antenna on their car to inside their house so they can enjoy amateur radio too.
If you’re looking for a place where the younger, newer, smarter, more motivated, and more active ham radio enthusiasts are hanging out these days, look no further than the waterfall.