How To Sync Your PC Time For POTA Operation of WSJT-X

by Chip Coker KD4C

We’ve all seen how easy it is to set up and operate out in the field using the low cost quick deploy portable antenna and using battery power and portable radios. But that only gets you SSB and CW. What if the bands aren’t great and you want to work FT-8? You’ll need a PC, but more importantly, you’ll need a PC with accurate time!

FT-8 works on synchronized transmission cycles – some stations transmit in the first 13 seconds (of the minute) and another set replies from seconds 15-28. Then the cycle repeats. One of the benefits of the mode is the knowledge of when stations will be transmitting. All this requires an accurate clock (and given that the WSJT-X software runs on the computer), that means that the computer clock must be accurate. Just how accurate, you ask? According to the mode specs, you need to be within =/- 500 milliseconds of standard time (1/2 second). Sometimes that can be tough to achieve with a computer that hasn’t been connected to the internet recently. GPS to the rescue!

There are several inexpensive GPS devices that have USB ports. With the proper software, these devices can be used not only to accurately detect your position, but to set your computer’s clock (much more accurately than is needed for FT-8). The picture above shows such a device that I’ve used to set a laptop clock within just a few seconds. There are several sync programs available but the one that I used is BktTimeSync (shown below). It’s free and available here:

BktTimeSync User Interface

Just install the software and connect the GPS “dongle”. The driver for the GPS should install automatically, after which the GPS device will show up as a “COMx” port (you can open Device Manager if you don’t know which port number). Once you select the correct COM port in the software and select “connect”, the clock should update in less than a minute (check the status messages in the software). Now you’re ready for portable FT-8!

HamClock – A Shack’s Best Friend

By Chip Coker KD4C

What if I told you that there was once a big wall-mounted device (called a GeoChron) that cost hundreds, even thousands, of dollars, and that many hams coveted it as the ultimate shack accessory. And what if I told you that said GeoChron gave you an up-to-date DX map of the world and showed light/dark areas, sun position, and grey line, and was the first thing a non-ham noticed when walking into a ham’s shack for the first time, getting “oohs and aahs”. Now, what if I told you that, instead of having to buy a big expensive gadget, all that capability and much much more is now available in a single piece of software, and that software is FREE and runs on a Raspberry Pi. So now for $15 (Raspberry Pi Zero) and a bring-your-own HDTV or computer monitor, you can have the ultimate shack accessory!

This software is packed with so many helpful features that I’m going to have a hard time describing them all here. First, in addition to a Local or UTC clock, it’s a real-time Map of the World, that shows sunlight position and illumination, and the current position of the “grey line”. Second, it displays information about your selected “DX” station, including position, grid square, short path and long path range and rotor bearing, current weather, and time. Third, it has helpful “widgets” for propagation (SFI, Sunspots, Planetary K, DRAP, Sun imaging – pretty much any propagation related statistic. Fourth, it can monitor and display live spots from the DX cluster and POTA and your spots from PSK Reporter. Fifth, it has built-in orbital predictions to show when your favorite ham satellites are going to be overhead. Plus, you can view and control the entire display in a web browser on your network (if you have the big image on a wall HDTV). Oh and did I mention that the software has a full API so you can control it from other software (more on this later)? Now I’m exhausted from trying to describe the features, and I’m sure I missed some.

A recent HamClock image from my shack. Just look at all the features crammed into this little (and free) marvel!

Now surely by now you’re asking “how can I get such a thing?” Well, the hardest part is getting your hands on a Raspberry Pi. A Raspberry Pi Zero will work just fine, and they have been available every other week at MicroCenter – You will have to be diligent and check the website. You will also need a MicroSD card (also available at MicroCenter). The process is fairly simple, even if you’ve never done much with a Raspberry Pi: 1) Install Raspberry Pi OS (there are a bunch of YouTubes on how to do this), and 2) go to the HamClock page, select the “Desktop” tab, and follow the easy instructions. The User Guide is fully documented so you can figure out all the things that you can configure and click on!

Because this is Linux, I will warn you now that it’s not the usual Microsoft “double click the installer” app – there are some “command line” instructions (I think a total of 4). Do not let this scare you off! The result is worth it to have this on your shack wall. I recommend that you just run it “full screen” and just use the built-in HDMI out of the Pi (you might need an adapter) and just pump the display into a wall-mounted HDTV or a spare computer monitor with an HDMI input. But you can also just stick the Pi under the desk and run it in a browser window, through a VNC session, or on a small dedicated display.

Oh, and I mentioned a fully scriptable interface. After a small mention and prompting from me, Josh N4NZ created a small NodeRed flow to take the “double-click” station from WSJT-X, harvest the Grid Square, and send it to HamClock. So now when you click on a station calling CQ on FT-8, the HamClock map will then set the DX on the display and you will see the path, range and bearing, etc. That’s both cool and helpful. This part is a little more involved than the basic install, but if you understood the previous sentences in this paragraph, talk to one of us after you get HamClock up and running!Jason KM4ACK shows how to install and configure HamClock (as well as some extra things list change the display resolution)

DXCC: Done!

DXCC Award for KD4C
DXCC Award for KD4C – Confirmed contacts with 100 Countries

I didn’t make my original goal of DXCC by the end of 2020. Lots of reasons, none of which are important now. But another 5 months and it’s done.

Honestly, it’s a pretty big feat at solar minimum and wouldn’t have been possible without FT4/8 modes (which represent ~90% of my contacts). Also, it would have been much harder without LOTW, as all my 100 contacts were confirmed via LOTW. I suppose I could have waited another who knows how many months for paper QSL cards, but for this I was impatient. I actually had to work 108 countries to get 100 stations that were on LOTW, so I guess I’m on my way to the honor roll – it’s doubtful that I will get there but who knows. My only regret is that I’m sure that in the ’80s I worked at least 3-4 countries that no longer exist (East Germany, Yugoslavia, etc.) and I’d love to have those cards back.

Here’s to the next 100!

The Geratol Net

Back in the early days of my ham experience, just after I successfully upgraded to Extra in the fall of 1978, I was taking advantage of my new Extra class phone band privileges on 75M and happened across an interesting group of people that referred to themselves as the Geratol Net (notice the distinct spelling that differentiates from the legendary consumer dietary supplement, although I’m sure there was some overlap given the demographics of the people on the net).

The purpose of the Geratol Net was to aid members in obtaining an elusive endorsement that at one time was provided by the awards department of the ARRL – “Worked All States with Two-Letter callsigns in the Extra Class portion of 75 Meters” – Otherwise known as the Geratol Award, or as they call it, the “Unbelievable Operating Achievement Award“.

Being young and otherwise nocturnal, I had no problem dedicating lots of weekend hours late at night on the Geratol Net trying to obtain this elusive award. As you may or may not know, WAS on 75M phone is not an easy task, given the particulars of propagation. Couple that with finding stations in all those states that have 1×2 or 2×1 callsigns that are crazy dedicated enough to stay up half the hours of the evening pursuing the prize (or enabling those that desire it!). But such was my pursuit.

The net is structured in such a way as you can request certain needed states (I think it was up to 3 a night) and if stations in those states are present in the net, you will be given a (relatively) clear frequency to attempt to call them. If you’re both successful in giving and receiving reports (as refereed by the NCS) then a QSO is declared and QSL cards eventually pass in the night to arrive at the doors of both happy operators. Most nights there would be anywhere from 15-25 stations, so you might end up lucky or (more often than not) just there to help other stations out, since no one from your need list was checked in.

Since I was in Tennessee, I was sought after early on, mostly by western stations, but after awhile of me being a regular, Tennessee was no longer that needed. Working the close-in stations on 75M phone was relatively easy, even for a modest station running barefoot, but stations in the Northeast and Northwest were a bit elusive given 75M propagation and the distances involved. Most everyone on the net was concerned about Alaska and Hawaii and, while they were tough, I don’t remember them as being the most elusive. I expect the Alaska and Hawaii stations that were on the net had a) a bit better antenna system, and b) saintly patience, which was to our benefit.

Speaking of better antennas, I do remember the quest for a better 75M antenna as taking up quite a bit of time. Different orientations of dipoles, along with ground-mounted verticals all were in the mix to be tried if there was a needed station that was deep in the noise. But I never exceeded the barefoot power level of my modest Kenwood TS-520S.

As I recall, it took just under a year to find the 50 elusive stations, receive the needed QSL cards (through the snail mail!), verify everything, pack it all up and send it to Newington with the award application. Then to wait for the soon-to-be-cherished wallpaper to arrive…

Geratol WAS
My cherished WAS with the numbered Geratol Endorsement – #348

Arrive it did, and I was never so happy to put it in one of those cheap document frames and on the wall, staring at the cherished endorsement and knowing that I was #348 of a very select group.

Fast forward oh so many years, the vast majority of which I had no 75M phone capability, so therefore unaware of the fate of the Geratol Net, when I received an email requesting that I try to check in soon. Wait, it was still going after all these years? After the shift in 75M extra bandplan where the hallowed 3.787MHz was no longer an Extra-only allocation? Quick – to this new thing called the internet! A little searching and I found that the Geratol Net has a home on the internet, and that someone has obtained the numbered list of awards from ARRL. The awards department no longer issues the endorsement on a paper WAS certificate, so it’s no longer a League matter, but these guys have kept up the tradition and are issuing their own award. The site also had some notices that some of the notable calls from when I was hunting have gone SK, but the Geratol Net lives on. I hope to be a part of it again, just after I can start wrestling with a suitable 75M antenna!

Starting Over On DXCC

Update as of May 2021: DONE!


I was close to DXCC in 1982. Back in the days of paper logs, QSL Cards, the DX “Buro” (QSL Bureau), and Cycle 21, it was fairly easy for a high school kid to work lots of countries on 15 and 10 meters. Having a 3 element beam at 55′ didn’t hurt either. But that was then. After being mostly inactive on HF for 20 years, moving 3 times, and leaving behind my log and QSL Cards, there’s no way to get back to where I was on the quest for DXCC.

So I’m starting over.

Now we have FT-8 and LOTW, so it’s a lot easier to make (and confirm) those weak signal contacts. In a little over 18 months, I’m up to 70 countries. Probably 15 or so behind where I was back then. Of course there’s no real way to know if I had something then that is now unobtainable (pretty sure I had East Germany and Yugoslavia confirmed), but I’m resigned to never being on top of the honor roll. I’d just like to have the milestone checked and maybe the wallpaper…