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"Simply Digital" by Dave Hunter (N3YFO)

Simply Digital-Going to the digital side of amateur radio appears complicated. There are interfaces, wiring issues, manufacturing differences in how the connections are configured, etc. In addition to this, there are the various operating systems of Windows, iOS, Linux, Android etc. And finally the multimodal programs of Mix W, FLDIGI, and others that only add to the confusion. So why bother to experiment?

Let’s talk simple for starters. The basics are a computer, a PSK 31 program and a radio. No, this is not the ultimate way to do things, but if you want to play with digital communications, this is the start. Let’s go step by step.

1. Get your radio, a functioning computer of some sort with a sound system all in the same area.

2. Search, download and install a PSK program for your computer’s operating system. Search for a simple PSK program. I use Digipan for windows.  It is about 500 kilobytes, it runs on all windows versions and is small and simple. There are similar programs for just about every operating system including mobile phones, which are also computers.  Android has several of these programs for sure.

3. Find another operator willing to send and receive PSK. The computer will listen through its microphone and decode the warbling audio into letters and words. To respond, type the response and key up the radio transmitter and let the computer talk. This is known as audio coupling. PSK is robust enough to do this sort of thing without a directly wired interface from the computer to the radio.

So what can this PSK program be used for? As amateur operators, we are not allowed to encrypt anything. However, if you want to send some information privately, this could work. Most persons listening to a voice conversation would not be set up to do PSK (or any other digital mode for that matter) Thus the information sent will be relatively private and secure. I can think of sending my cell phone number or an address this way.

Another use is a sort of mailbox or monitor. If you want to leave the radio unattended and others know you have PSK running, they could send you a message. Not very efficient vs texting and email, but it can work.

PSK is only one of many amateur radio modes that are available. But its robustness and simplicity makes it a great way to get started and play with digital on the air with no investment in equipment, connections and aggravation. Save that for later when you want to really go into it full tilt.

So load up a PSK program, get on the Saturday evening roundtable and ask for some digital air time. Many of us have permanent digital installations in our shacks and can accommodate your request almost instantly.   

Digital operators also give and receive “elmering” which is radio speak for mentoring. I participate in a twice a month FLDIGI net where I learn or try something new each net. Sometimes with good results and other times not. The bottom line is there is always someone out there who wants you to succeed and join the digital ranks. I will load up Digipan on the shack computer if you want to give it a go.