Mike Walker, VA3MW, sent a bunch of contesters the image on the right via email of the WSPR program tracking his 5-watt signal as it propagated on 160 meters. As he said in the email “My computer has more 160M countries than I have now. This was 5 watts into my 160 vertical and a receiving loop.”
I asked Mike if he would explain WSPR for us and here’s his submission:
WSPR is one of the collection of low power, low speed tools by Joe Taylor, K1JT. What makes WSPR different is that it is a tool we use to measure propagation. It is automated and the results are reported to a server at WSPRNET.
If you are already running a sound card mode like PSK31, then you are 100% setup to run WSPR. Your computer listens to the audio from your radio, controls the PTT and also transmits the WSPR signal.
WSPR happens in 2 minute cycles, so it is important that you have an accurate clock on your computer. There are many tools available, but Dimension 4 is one of the better ones, however it might only run on XP.
You can download WSPR at http://physics.princeton.edu/pulsar/K1JT/. Once there, you will also see many other similar modes like JT65, WSPR-X and a few more.
Setup is similar as other modes (you’ll need to know your Com ports for Rig control and PTT). One caveat is that you must use com ports number less than 15 if I remember correctly. So, if you have your CAT control on Com17 you might run into problems. Test your transmit power and make sure you have the right DB value in the setup screen. 1W is 30db. 5W is 37db.
The documentation summarizes most things except the 2 minute timing window. You will not start to receive data until you get to the top of each even minute. The bottom right corner will show your audio level – keep it to about 0db if you can. Set your frequency (20M is a good place to start) and then wait another 2 minutes to see what shows up.
WSPR signals sound like a single tone as they are only 15Hz shifted and not like PSK31 or RTTY. They aren’t very load and you may not even hear it.
You can watch the world wide WSPR activity at http://wsprnet.org/drupal/. Look for the Map on the right top side of the web page. Don’t forget to check out the Forum and the Chat window (you’ll need a login to chat).
Since it is a beaconing mode, you can now start to see, in real time, what is going on with any band.
I have learned that there is always a 40M path from my QTH in Toronto to VK land just about every morning. This morning (September 16th) was no different. This is what I was hearing and who was hearing me with my 1W SDR Ensemble radio and a Windom antenna.
Last night, on my remote base, I was using a full sized Quarter wave vertical and I had no problem hearing or being heard by Europe with 5W. Sadly, my computer has worked more DX than I have on 160M. 🙂
You can use WSPR in conjunction with the Reverse Beacon Network as some very real time tools to help you see what is going on with the bands. You don’t need anything special, just an antenna and any HF radio.
You might surprise yourself.