Not all of this information is easy to find, so I hope this will help with the spread of this knowledge. Credit to N1RWY and his website for getting me going. The write up below adds my personal experience and warnings of pitfalls to his setup. Link to Google Search for his site (I didn't link direct into his page, but you will find him at the top of the search. His page contains some very intrusive ads and I think his page is being re-tooled. )
FT-8 is a cool and newish mode that allows some weak signal exchange of contact information. It is not a conversational mode of communicating, and the software largely takes care of the exchange for you.
I will focus on Windows setup here, but I found that with very few changes, this will work just as well on Debian based Linux distro.
Let’s start with the radio. YAESU FT-991A – DO NOT CONNECT the radio to your computer yet.
There is a list of menu settings that are below. Set this up on your radio.
031 CAT RATE = 4800
032 CAT TOT = 100ms
033 CAT RTS = Enable
059 CW FREQ DISPLAY DIRECT FREQ
062 Data Mode = OTHERS
064 OTHER DISP (SSB) = 1500 Hz
065 OTHER SHIFT (SSB) = 1500 Hz
066 DATA LCUT FRED = OFF
068 DATA HCUT FREQ = OFF
070 DATA IN SELECT = REAR
071 DATA PTT SELECT – RTS
072 DATA PORT SELECT = USB
In addition to menu settings, you will want to set the following modes and functions. Press F button to get to the function items.
MODE = DATA-USB
METER = ALC
RF PWR = Start with 8 Watts
WIDTH = 3000
NAR/WIDE = W 3000
DT Gain = 6
The DT Gain is important. I found, as you probably will, that this is initially set to 50, which is a huge difference from the recommended starting point of 6. Keep this item low and increase it slowly, as your power level as well as ALC levels will be affected by different levels of DT Gain.
Set your frequency on the radio to an FT-8 frequency. I started with 40 meters, so that would be 7.074 mhz **** Edit – this step is optional. The CAT control of the software will set the frequency for you. ****
Next step: get your computer ready.
DO THIS STEP BEFORE connecting your USB cable to the computer!
Go to the Yaesu website and download and install the appropriate USB drivers. Check them out here.
Once installed, connect the USB cable between the radio and your computer. I used this one (Tripp Lite USB 2.0 Hi-Speed A/B Cable with Ferrite Chokes (M/M) 6-ft. (U023-006)) after noticing some weird things happening with the first one I just grabbed out of my closet. Those issues went away with the new cable I ordered. Once you plug in, check your device manager and look for new COM Ports to be installed. You should get two; a standard and an enhanced. Note the COM port number for the enhanced.
Now download and install the WSJT-X software from here.
Open the newly installed software. Go to File > Settings. Let’s setup the radio settings first:
Check out the screenshot. Here are the options if you want it written out:
Rig: Yaesu FT-991 (select this from the drop down)
Serial Port: COM5 (make this match your enhanced COM port number from earlier.)
Baud Rate: 4800
Data Bits: Eight
Stop Bits: Two
PTT Method: CAT
Split Operation: Rig
Once these are setup, click on Test CAT. If all is well, the button should turn green. Once that happens, click on Test PTT to see if your radio changes to transmit mode. Click that button again to switch it back out of transmit mode.
Now click on the Audio Tab:
You are fixing the Soundcard options here. Make sure they are listing the USB Audio CODEC here. Mine shows the number 2 at the beginning, but your number may be different. *** EDIT: incorrect settings here might cause your computer sounds that you normally hear from the speaker to be transmitted, or cause the tones the software is using to communicate to come out over the speaker instead of into your radio. ANY audio issues you encounter, come check these settings. ***
Let’s go ahead and switch to the General tab now.
This menu will include some settings that I recommend that you use, but this can be your personal preference.
For sure you will want to setup My Call and My Grid. I had to google how to get my grid. I found and use GridMapper from QRZ. https://www.qrz.com/gridmapper
Under Display, I would recommend checking the 1. Blank Line Between Decoding Periods 2. Display distance in miles (I’m in US right?) and 3. Tx messages to Rx frequency window. I find that 3rd option helpful for me.
Under behavior, make sure the following are checked: 1. Double-click on call sets Tx enable and 2. Disable Tx after sending 73.
Now that the settings are there, let’s go back to the software window and set a few preference type items.
First, make sure you are in FT-8 mode. This software can do several other modes, but we will work with FT-8 for now. Use the Mode menu to check and select.
On the bottom right of the main window, look for the slider under PWR and set that to the top.
If your radio is on and set to an FT-8 frequency, you may be decoding already. Check the meter in the lower left, and make sure that the green bar is around 40 or 50 dB. This is showing you the strength of the audio as it is coming from your radio. I found the best way to adjust this is to right click on the speaker icon in your system tray, and choose Open Sound Settings. Now scroll down until you see App Volume and Device Preferences. Click it. Scroll down and find the WSJT-X volume slider, and adjust it until you see the dB at the level I mentioned. My volumes are mostly turned up except for WSJT-X, which is set at 21.
Once that is set, take a look at the waterfall window. If it is picking up some signals, you’ll see them coming down the waterfall. There are some preferences to tweak at the bottom:
N Avg 2
Check the box for Flatten
Adjust the window size (grab one of the corners and drag) until the meter at the top goes up to around 2500 max. If your Width on your radio is set correctly, and the band is busy, you will probably see radio signals all the way out to 2500 on that measurement across the top.
That is mostly it! Now some more about actually making contacts.
FT-8 mode depends on your computer clock being perfectly in sync. This is because the mode involves transmitting for 15 seconds, and then receiving for 15 seconds. You’ll hear this back and forth if you turn up the sound and just listen. You can probably even pick out by listening users whose clocks are off by a few seconds or more. The DT column shows you the time difference between your computer and the decoded signal. If your TX and RX are not in sync, you will not make many contacts. I use Atomic Clock Sync to check and sync my computer clock, which is frequently needing adjustment by a second or two.
The waterfall display is important to use. You will see lines of signal traveling downward that indicate a transmitter. Look just above for a little green bracket and a red bracket. The red bracket indicates your currently set transmit frequency (where your signal would appear on the waterfall.) The green bracket indicates your targeted receive frequency. The software will decode all of the transmissions you see in the passband, but the green box will let you select an individual transmission to decode on the right hand side box of your main window. You can move the green bracket by clicking on the frequency (on the waterfall) that you want. You’ll also note that the green bracket will jump automatically as needed if you are responding to a CQ. Hold down SHIFT and click to move the red bracket. When transmitting, try to find a spot that looks open, so that you are not transmitting on top of someone. THIS IS THE KEY TO SUCCESS IN FT8! If you are having trouble getting or finishing a contract, move that red box to another spot and keep trying. There may be someone close to your target transmitting on that same frequency that you cannot see.
FT-8 messages largely take care of themselves once started. During the exchange, the message progression will be shown under Generate Std Msgs. Until you do the next part, these messages will not populate here.
The decoded information will show up in the left window, and the right window will show you decoded items that will be meaningful to you. The software should highlight in green when someone is calling CQ. Pick one and double click on that line that is green. It should start to show up on the right side window. You’ll also see the Generate Std Msgs section fill up, showing you what each message you transmit will say. The software will wait until you get responses before going down to the next message on your list. Remember the alternating Tx and Rx cycle. Your radio will transmit for 15 seconds, and then the software will listen for 15 seconds to decode any reply. The software should keep track of when it is your turn and only transmit when it is your turn. At any time you can click on Halt Tx to stop your radio from transmitting.
If all goes well, the other person will hear and respond to your messages. This exchange will show up on the right side box. It will include signal reports, and end with 73. Once the exchange is complete the software will stop transmitting. Log that contact because you just did it!
To call CQ, select the radio button next to the last box under the Generate Std Msgs section. Then click Enable Tx. When it is your turn to transmit, the radio will send your CQ. If you have the box checked for Call 1st (I think it is by default) then your computer will automatically respond to the first call sign that responds to you. The exchange will go down the list as happened the first time, and then stop after trading 73s.
That should get you going. There are some variations you can include, like perhaps not checking the Call 1st box. Sometimes I get more than one response, and then 2nd or 3rd response is some exotic country or call sign that I would rather call back than the first one that happened to be super local. In that case, double click the line with the call that you want to respond to, instead of letting the software automatically respond to the 1st.
Bask in the glory of FT-8! I very quickly had almost half of the US confirmed QSOs! *** just a month of working weekends to get all the continental US ***
Linux Users: Instead of installing drivers from Yaesu (they wouldn’t work) just plug in the USB cable to your computer and run the command: sudo chmod 777 /dev/ttyUSB0 (that is a zero at the end)
Most of the other configurations and functionality will be the same. I like having an old Linux laptop next to the radio for this task, allowing me to easily go mobile if I wanted.
Additional Linux Tips: I have found when starting things up that the radio does not like being connected to the computer during boot up. It also does not like to immediately pass information over to the software after starting the software. It took some messing, but I was able to get the radio out of whatever mood this situation put it in without resetting the radio (which I was tempted to do!)
- If the radio is acting funny, leave the USB plugged in, and CHMOD 777 your serial connection like above. Get the WSJIT software going and go into configuration mode. The radio may act like it is transmitting during a regular FT-8 cycle. Just ignore. Once you get into the config, click the test button and then toggle the Test PTT button. This should shake your radio out of its funk. You may have to CHMOD the serial connection an additional time.
- Next time boot the computer without the USB connected.
- After bootup connect the USB to the computer.
- CHMOD 777 /dev/ttyUSB0 (remember that is a zero) You may need to do this again if you unplug and replug your USB.
- If all seems good, but the software is not decoding anything, unplug the USB, replug, CHMOD 777 again, then retry on your errors in WSJIT until it comes back.
Your mileage with Linux may vary depending on your distro. This old machine I am using has Linux Mint installed.