The future of DXpedition RTTY?

Posted: August 19, 2018 in Uncategorized


Occasionally, one of my Blog readers will submit a topic or question. This is a very timely topic submitted by an anonymous author:

Like the decline of phone patches; the aging QSL Buro; and free lunch, the times they are a changing.

The recent FT8 success of KH1/KH7Z Baker Island DXpedition may have sounded the death knell for DXpedition RTTY.

DXpeditions live and die on rates and unique call signs. There’s no question SSB and CW operators drive the rates, where RTTY is typically far behind. While an experienced RTTY operator can hold their own, the real fact is most DXpedition operators are not experienced. Putting an inexperienced operator at a RTTY position is sure to create unhappy callers who send e-mails complaining about the RTTY operator. DXpeditions will sometimes sacrifice an SSB operating position and use it for RTTY. With rates and unique call signs being important considerations this strategy is less than optimum. Some people may say it’s not all about rates and unique calls, they’ve probably never been on a DXpedition.

Let’s look at the Baker Island numbers:

With two dedicated FT8 positions they made 16,661 contacts, a stunning 24% of total. Nearly 1,000 of those contacts were with unique call signs who made only one contact with KH1/KH7Z. That’s ~1,000 people that would not have had a KH1 QSO. These alone are stunning statistics. While FT8 represented 24% of all their contacts RTTY was 1.3%. Why did this happen?

RTTY is a tedious and boring mode. After a few days into a DXpedition the operators are suffering from sleep deprivation, adrenalin highs / lows, and they’re handling other ancillary tasks. Put an inexperienced operator in front of a RTTY terminal, making one QSO every minute or so and the operator eventually tires and loses interest. And we all know how the pile-up will respond.

The FT8 Fox / Hound implementation keeps the operator busy, selecting calls to place in the queue and monitoring the system, etc. During KH1, at one point a single operator was running both FT8 positions at the same time, maximum productivity, try that on RTTY. Being a new mode, not requiring high power and large antennas FT8 has drawn the attention of many who never dreamed of operating on HF or working a DXpedition.

I think that RTTY will quickly fade away as a DXpedition mode to be replaced by FT8.

What do you think?


  1. Neil G0JHC says:

    The fox/hound thing is still a disater for weak signals. Id be interested to see the stats for KH1 for the EUs that only worked KH1 on FT8. Id suggest all KH1 worked are the big gins that they also wkd on cw/ssb? Sure you can fill your boots with “local” QSOs etc.

  2. Graham Alston says:

    I’m glad to see the end of RTTY. I tried for 2 hrs in the RTTY pileup on 20M for KH1 with S9+ signals and never got a QSO. The rate was about one every 2 minutes. On FT8, 7 slots without any trouble. It’s also a game changer for DX’ers in countries like VK that are almost always fighting EU/NA pileups off the back of the Dxpedition’s beam.
    Graham VK3GA

  3. Peter W2IRT says:

    Count me in as hoping RTTY quickly and quietly goes away as the digital DXpedition mode of choice. Not because I love FT8 (I don’t), but because RTTY is such an incredible PITA in a huge split pileup. Searching for the QSX in a 15 or 20 kHz pileup, for hours on end, isn’t my idea of a good time. And as Paul stated, there aren’t many who can get a good rate going on RTTY.

  4. steve says:

    There has been one good dxpedition with rtty in the pacific I can remember the call might have been k5p where the main rtty op spread the word on how he want qso’s its was easy he wants your call then your report with very short messages. i’m not a rtty op but made 2 qso’s in that mode other wise its a waste of time kh1’s use of ft8 was very productive cause they didn’t have the big amps on the high bands their signal was low but many got through in ft8 the ops got into the swing pretty quick and things flowed. it looks to be the future, with k1jt and team doing great work n tweaking it. Made a qso the other night with tx5t was easy and simple in ft8. This also allows newer younger dxpeditioners to get on some of these trips if their phone or cw skills aren’t up to scratch cause the big guns dont want to use that mode. it also opens up dxpeditions to the wire antenna 100w brigade with good chances for a larger donation pool if they are made to feel like real qso’s. None of this you worked them in ft8 that’s not a real qso. so lets bring ft8 and make it the done thing . btw i’m not a fanboy i use ft8 as a tool. 92 dxcc worked in digi mode 250 in ssb 192 in cw.
    de vk3meg

  5. grantwillis says:

    Paul, I think you under-rate RTTY as an expedition mode. I also think that holding up KH1/KH7Z as an example of why RTTY should die is unfair to RTTY. I say this with some background as a RTTY contester as well as a RTTY DXPeditioner.

    KH1/KH7Z by all accounts had people running their RTTY station that 1) didnt spend a lot of time on the mode, starting only in the last 3-4 of days of the expedition, and 2) didn’t know the mode or the gear and were clearly not very experienced at running a pile with it on the gear they had on the island. I had the experience level feedback in fact from one of the NA pilots. Rating RTTY a failure for all expeditions based on KH1/KH7Z because of contact numbers is not therefore an accurate reflection of RTTY’s value as an expedition mode IMHO.

    On the other hand, I ran RTTY recently as YJ0AG from Vanuatu as well as FT8, CW and SSB. At first I almost didn’t bother with RTTY. In the end I had quite a few uniques come through activating RTTY despite running FT8 for the better part of 7 days prior to opening the RTTY slots. While running RTTY, unlike KH1/KH7Z, I was achieving north of 100 contacts/hour. I put most of that down to knowing the gear, the mode and having refined the software setup and rig config to maximize decodes while managing the pile. It can be done – but you have to have practiced to be able to string it all together. My experience on Niue as E6AG the year before was similar.

    I think what you really should be highlighting is don’t send green RTTY ops out on rare dxpeditions and then expect them to run RTTY. If the ops are green then don’t bother throwing them at RTTY unless you have people and seats to burn. If you have an experienced op and the right software and hardware, RTTY can be equally as efficient and indeed can be a lot of fun to run, once you get the hang of it.

    On the other hand, spectrum management, complex software decode setups etc are not required to run the FT8 station in Fox mode – so green digital ops can pretty quickly get the hang of the queue management and make FT8 sing (although it has a problem with dropping carrier power the more slots it activates which can break contacts on FT8 Fox mode – something I have separately discussed with Joe).

    In short – it depends on the operator strengths and capabilities. If you don’t know RTTY very well, then sitting behind a huge pile is daunting. FT8 shields the operator from much of the mayhem I feel. To claim RTTY should no longer be used on expeditions based on one expeditions experience – big call and one I would question the validity of.

    Finally – if someone wants an expedition RTTY op – drop me a note! I’m always interested….

    Grant VK5GR

  6. Thuy says:

    The biggest advantage of FT8 is that, as a side effect of decoding
    dozens of callers, there is a simple solution to the DXpedition
    funding problem (too few advance donations). Let me explain. As Paul
    wrote, the expedition op must be “selecting calls to place in the
    queue.” One upcoming expedition has made a small change to their copy
    of FT8 software, to guarantee that those who donated more are earlier
    in the queue than those (from the same geographical area) who donated
    less, or donated zero. They tweaked sortHoundCalls from and
    have shared this with me and a few others for review. Right now,
    they’re in a fierce internal debate about whether to ANNOUNCE that
    they are using this for all FT8 pileups. Think about it. On your
    needed band, the opening to your area may be short. Suppose 200
    callers are decoded over the course of the entire opening, but there
    is only time to work 100. If you choose to donate zero, their software
    AUTOMATICALLY GUARANTEES that they won’t answer you unless NOBODY from
    the donor list is currently workable. Donating zero immediately
    becomes irrational, especially because the minimum advance donation is
    the same as the OQRS cost. Still, nobody is required to donate: you
    can take your chances that your needed band will remain open when the
    pileup thins, or sit at your radio to try to be the first caller
    before the pileup starts. They will answer any non-donor IMMEDIATELY
    if the queue is otherwise empty, and you might even get free LOTW
    eventually. Also, if they call for (say) only VK, the software
    configuration WILL NOT answer donors from other continents. From the
    DXpeditioner perspective, the best part is that NOBODY KNOWS if you’ll
    end up using the special FT8 that automatically queues donors. The
    mere existence of this software means that any rational DXer should
    donate to you in advance, as the FT8 pileup experience could otherwise
    be quite frustrating!

    • N6PSE's Blog says:

      I firmly believe that DXpeditions must/should work anyone/everyone and that whether they donated up front should NEVER be a factor in whether a contact is made. We must keep HamSpirit alive. FT8 is a mode, nothing more. It should not be used as a fund raising tool or a way to reward up front donors.

      Paul N6PSE

  7. Steve Hawkins says:

    I realize that this may be an unpopular point of view but I have no interest in FT-8. An acquaintance has written a shell script that can make automated FT-8 QSO’s with no help from him. I think that modes that require none of the skills necessary to track a DX operator through a pileup on CW or SSB pileup and make contact, should be in a separate DXCC catagory. If my computer works 100 computers in 100 countries who should get awarded DXCC. Me who did little to nothing or my computer and the software.

    • N6PSE's Blog says:

      I guess you could write a script for any software to pretty much work any mode, but the question is why would you? Why would your friend want to automate making FT-8 QSO’s? That seems to be a really silly thing to do and I would not find any enjoyment in that. He might as well get a robot to run his shack for him.

      • Steve Hawkins says:

        I would not. I value the skills I have built up over time getting through huge CW pileups. I don’t care if others use FT-8 and enjoy it. All I’m saying is that I think that contacts made by someones computer should be in a different DXCC category by themselves.

  8. John - K6MM says:

    I was the main RTTY operator on the KH1/KH7Z Baker Island DXpedition. I started using RTTY on Radio 1 — while simultaneously using Radio 2 in FT8 mode. That’s right. SO2R two different bands and two different modes. My hourly rates on RTTY: 80-90 per hour. My FT8 rates: 250-300 per hour.

    I am not a green RTTY operator. In fact I have won several RTTY contest awards over the last 10 years. But on Baker Island, the FT8 rates were hard to ignore, and so after 900 RTTY QSOS we switched to FT8 for the remainder of the DXpedition. This was a good decision. As Paul mentioned, we logged almost 17,000 QSOs on FT8. Many were weaker stations from Europe — and for many of these stations, FT8 was their only QSO with us.

    The primary goal of any DXpedition is to log as many QSOs (and hopefully ATNO ones) as possible.
    In digital mode, FT8 is much preferred for the following reasons:
    1. It’s important for little pistol stations especially in antenna-challenged HOA or high-noise neighborhoods.
    2. No other mode has the capability of working five different calls in parallel in the same sub-band with queuing.
    3. Very high rates are possible compared to RTTY = more ATNO’s in the log.
    4. It’s much easier to reach certain parts of the world under poor propagation conditions and weak solar cycles. This certainly proved to be true for Europe.
    5. FT8 is an excellent mode for challenging bands like 6M and 160M. We didn’t work any stations on 6M (in any mode) but we did log 140 FT8 QSOs on 160M.
    6. You still get credit for a digital QSO toward awards, etc.
    7. FT8 may motivate non-digital operators to get in the game.
    8. It is an excellent mode for hearing or speech-impaired hams.
    9. Intentional QRMing (i.e., DQRM) is not a problem since FT8 is a closed system.
    10. It’s much less stressful for DXpedition operators.
    11. FT8 has tremendous remote operation possibilities.

    Is RTTY dead as a digital mode? No. It will always persist especially for contesting. But for time-limited DXpeditions, FT8 is quickly becoming the digital mode of choice.

    My advice: Embrace it. FT8 is here to stay …… until the next digital innovation comes along. : >)

    Grant, VK5GR: I was the FT8 operator who worked you on both 17M and 30M.
    Neil, G0HJC: I was the operator who worked you on 20M SSB.
    Graham, VK3GA: I was the operator who worked you on 10M SSB, 12M CW, 17M CW, 30M CW, 17M FT8 and 30M FT8.
    Peter, W2IRT: I worked you on 20M & 40M FT8.

    John Miller, K6MM

    • N6PSE's Blog says:

      John, thank you for your input on my Blog and your very valuable insights as the primary RTTY Op on the very recent KH1/KH7Z DXpedition. I completely agree with you that the rates alone for FT8 make it a more viable and valuable mode for DXpeditions who wish to maximize their rates and see a large number of unique calls in their logs.

      Best 73,

      Paul N6PSE

    • grantwillis says:


      Firstly thanks for your reply on Paul N6PSE’s blog and your feedback from the other side of the expedition. I am well aware how different it can look when you are chasing an expedition verses being the expedition operator (after my last 2 Pacific activations) and appreciate the feedback from your side. Thank you and the Baker Island team too for the contacts on all modes that found their way into my logs.

      I would, however, like to expand my feedback a little too. Firstly, you may not be aware how much I supported the use of FT8 on Baker (even going as far as helping with some region 3 based band planning before the expedition). I also made quite a few of my contacts with the team using FT8. I always found it quick and efficient and I can easily see the value of FT8, especially as a weak signal mode, for maximizing ATNOs and giving the little guys a chance to make at least one contact. I am not critical of the use of FT8 on Baker Island at all. The QSO rate of 250-300 is also impressive and is a credit to Joe K1JT, the creator of FT8 Expedition mode and the Baker Is operator team.

      My initial argument and concern over what Paul wrote was that it held up the KH1 expedition’s RTTY QSO rate as a bench mark to measure FT8 against. The experience of some (including me) who tried working KH1/KH7Z on RTTY was that it was very slow and difficult. Ultimately, with your comment about hitting 250-300 QSO/Hr on FT8 however it is clear my argument falls down anyway. A good RTTY op, as you have said, can do 80-90 QSO/Hr. Of course that in no way comes close to what FT8 achieved. FT8 of course can also give a lot of weak stations the chance to make it into the log – something RTTY can’t easily do especially in a pileup. I must concede that if you have limited time and limited seats, operators, stations that yes FT8 is now likely to be preferred over RTTY.

      Finally, while I love RTTY (it has always been my favourite mode for the last 30+ years) in the light of what you have said, it is clear my argument is futile. It will be sad to see the old girl die out from expeditions. I hope however to still see RTTY contesting live on.

      Grant VK5GR

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