Testing Antennas With WSPR

There are many ways to test HF antennas ranging from simulation to various antenna analyzers and bridges. However, nothing can replace simply using the antenna to see how it works. Just as — supposedly — the bumblebee can’t fly, but it does so anyway, it is possible to load up some bed springs and make contacts. But it used to be difficult — although fun — to gather a lot of empirical data about antenna performance. Now you can do it all with WSPR and [TechMinds] suggests a moderately-priced dedicated WSPR transmitter to do the job. You can see a video about the results of this technique below.

While WSPR is often cited as taking the fun out of ham radio, it is perfect for this application. Connect the transmitter and a few hours later, visit a web page and find out where you’ve been heard by an objective observer. If you had a few of these, you could even examine several antennas at similar times and conditions.

The transmitter has its own GPS so it doesn’t require much configuration. You do need to set the frequencies you want to use and — presumably — the SWR at these frequencies of your antenna will be acceptable. Of course, you also need to set your callsign and transmission schedule. You can manually set the location code if you don’t want to get a GPS setting.

Once set up, you don’t need the computer connected. After some time, you can just visit the WSPR.org web site and view who has been able to hear the little low-power transmitter.

Of course, you don’t need a dedicated beacon do pull this off. Use your normal radio or put together your own beacon. If you want a refresher on WSPR, [Dan Maloney’s] $50 Ham has you covered.

19 thoughts on “Testing Antennas With WSPR

  1. FT8 and FT4 is what took the fun out of ham radio.

    Amazing modes but almost totally automated. Not in
    the spirit of AR IMO.(And i love the other digi modes, PSK/Olivia,etc,etc)
    but FT8/4 has ruined digi modes. I mean WAS in a few hours!!!?? Come on!!

    1. Not my cup of tea to be sure, but I feel that they’ve been a bit of a godsend during the depths of the solar cycle to those who want to do DX without CW.
      A big factor is that the software works really well. The same can’t be said for fldigi or really any other digimode software I have tried. Other digi modes have been like mating pandas.

    2. Agreed. I can always see all of the activity at the low end of every band and then I see reports of other hams making dozens or hundreds of contacts on FT8 and other digital modes and that’s fine. But that’s not what I got into him for. Making a long distance contact during this last cycle on SSB has always been where the fun is for me. I got my license to actually talk to other people in real time, not let my laptop do all the work. That’s also why I am learning CW, too.
      Maybe digital mode should be renamed to bashful mode jiji.

    3. The weak signal technology behind FT8 did not have to be locked up in a mode so automated, rigid, and boring as FT8 … and it’s a shame that everyone now seems to think that was the only way to make it happen.

    4. “FT8 and FT4 is what took the fun out of ham radio.”

      I know what you mean.
      There’s no communication at all. No “Hello”, “Bye” or “Good night”.
      It’s like sending a PING command to a server and get an certificate for it.

      That’s why I’m so isolated among the hams in my town:
      I’m not after prestige, diplomas. I’m not a greedy person. I’m simply happy when I can tinker around with things and talk with others. I don’t like chaotic contests with all their shouting and beebing. I prefer a cozy, quiet, peaceful place.

      But the other hams, especially on local FM repeater, often brag about FT-8, which I listen to with more and more disgust. You can literally imagine how they do start drooling over the idea getting as many as possible contacts into their logs. Without aquiring any skill set.

      Alas, if you explain your reasons not do FT8, they think you’re not capable of using FT8. Not being able of setting up your PC, whatsoever.

      Which is confusing to me, because I’m working with all sorts of technology, new and old. C64 era home computers, CP/M, Linux, Arduinos.. I’m even compiling stuff manually on Linux occasionally and use a soldering station. Just like the other Hackaday.com people here. But nope, I’m backwards, because I refuse to use FT8. FT8 is the future, you know. Soulless, automated communication and eQSL are a must. Here I wonder: What happened to all that diversity that’s (rightfully) associated to amateur radio? How can they ignore?

      Anyway, the technology behind is interesting, still.
      WSPR (whisper) is used by low-power balloon missions, for example.

      And then there’s JS8Call, which is based on FT8, but allows for true ham radio fun (chatting ‘ragchew’, finding new friends).

      Alternatively, there’s also VarAC, among other things.
      If hams just would give those other modes a try.

      Vy73, Joshua

      1. Let them chase their beloved diplomas, let them watch their computers “ping” each other almost without operator input.
        At least there’s more room on the band for those of us who do AR for fun, for real communication, and for meeting new people from great distances via radio. For those of us for whom the reward is not a diploma for ranking in a contest, but a meaningful conversation with a person thousands of kilometers away (in the case of HF) or tens to hundreds of kilometers away (in the case of QRP VHF/UHF – there is a large community of PMR446 enthusiasts in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Technically it’s not AR because it’s an unlicensed band, but it’s actually QRP UHF and the community around it is amazing. I always look forward to climbing a hill on the weekend with a small consumer radio with 500mW power and chatting with enthusiasts who have done the same.)

        I look forward to hearing you on the air.

        73 de OK2MTB

    5. Hey there fellow ham!

      Despite this article being about wspr and not FT8 (both serve a total different purpose), I’d like to give you a bit of hope regarding the community that you deem to be joyless. I am the newcomer responsible for one state in Austria for two years now and I made a different experience.

      The “youth” that joins now more than ever is mainly between 20 and 35 and yes they try a lot of modes and activities. FT8 is used in the beginning by those shy ones, but it gets boring really quick. Believe it or not, but a two thirds are totally going for SOTA after getting their feet wet. We have at least one introduction day a year and workshops for building measure-tape yagis due to the demand. I can see no “lost kids sitting in the dark cellar with FT8 running on their rigs taking over ham radio” where I come from. They brag with stuff like “I did multiple SSTV contacts on that summit via 2m FM and 20m SSB – see the pictures uploaded to QRZ.com” on the repeater. They made some OMs get mad for sure by using the “all modes” QRGs on 2m for SSTV in FM, but its within the rules here and fine for me.

      I did and enjoyed FT8 too because it helped me understand a few real life principles in antenna design. No shame here. It is like the beginners drug and when they stay with it its most likely a lack of alternatives.

      I also help sorting the QSL cards and despite a hand full of hard core ft8 hogs – most of the hams still operate SSB, CW or FM (SOTA again). The old elmers at home in our state enjoy SOTA too as chasers. They play a very big role in motivating the youngsters to begin with CW (we have a training program), EME, contesting and taking over responsibilities in the clubs.

      so maybe it is just your personal impression or a local problem? Or maybe I am the one living on an “island with the blessed” as we say here. Who knows.

    6. Ft8 stops being automated with a bit of imagination, I do all kinds of swapping in Ft8 with no problems; I’ve been doing BOTA lately, and exchanging codes does great. I use JTDX which seems more flexible to me than Wsjt-X. And it’s great when the spread is so bad that there’s not even CW.

    7. You’re right! SSB and AM are also taking the fun out of ham radio! Everyone needs to go back to CW with spark gap transmitters! Anything else isn’t in the spirit of ham radio!

      1. Um, I may sound like a nitpicker now, but..

        SSB really was bad decision. It’s a castrated AM. It caused a huge controversial. The lack of a carrier caused lots of problems.
        To this day, SSB has stability issues.
        If SSB was used differently, say one sideband and a lowered carrier (not entirely surpressed),
        digital modes could “lock on” much better.

        Secondly, AM.. AM could have been much better these days if the community only had ever invested in synchronous detection (SDRs can do it now!)

        Aircrafts still use AM with wonderful receivers, that have incredible audio quality.
        AM is great, because it’s non-destructive. It allows two stations to talk over each others.
        In avionics, this is a life saver.

        And it guarantees interoperability between generations of airplanes and towers.
        If a plane ever comes out of a time vortex, it can still get in touch with a tower! ;)

        CW.. CW isn’t the same as morse telegraphy.
        Even though everyone says that nowadays (we hams are all a bit of a doofus here).

        “CW” stands for “Continuous Wave” and is an undamped wave, a smooth sinusoidal carriervwave.
        A spark gap transmitter creates a damped wave, which on an oscillogram looks like a PLAY symbol found on your 90s walkman.


        IMHO cool and wise hams say “code” or “telegraphy” (has style!).
        “CW” is for hipsters and wannabes. 😂

        Also, Hellschreiber (Feld-Hell) uses CW signals, too, but it’s no morse telegraphy..

        Aaanyway.. Very 73s.

  2. Sicxty years ago, there was awave of articles about under the noise reception. No software needed. There was a lot of excitement, but I’m not sure it saw practical use. Moonbounce was a relatively new thing, big antennas, parametruc amp!ifiers, and full power, so if you could cut back on one of those, it would open things up.

    Then there was Cohefent CW from about 1974. Get a lot of synchronization to help reception.

    For that matter, meteor scatter used to use timing, I forget details, so you weren’t randomly listening.

    The problemwith the software it’s divorced from this early work. And most people aren’t building the software, just using it.

  3. I’m an old school HAM. My bias says if it requires the internet or gps to function it’s something like ham radio… but not ham radio.

    I too have been told I’m out of touch and don’t understand my computer. Funny, my first email address was on arpanet.

    FT8 has it’s uses. I use it, along with pskreporter, to test antennas and propagation. Sort of like whisper. Sort of.

    For digital you just can’t beat the original, CW. Learn that and an incredible world opens up to you.

    And I’ll echoing Cesar, JTDX is much more functional.

    Good DX all, W3IRL

  4. A few years back a guy wrote some software that interfaced with WSJT-X and
    TOTALLY automated it. So,,,the “guy” on the other end of your FT8 QSO may not
    even be in the house.(illegal but occurs) That is MUCH harder to do on PSK/Olivia
    when I ask the other guy a non-generic question. And much like other posters, I
    want to “TALK” not exchange macros. Fact is, if you are a “macro warrior” you
    don’t make it into my log. You must have a “ragchew” for that.
    On the post about “CW” —- That term may have came from the fact
    that all radios list it as a mode,,, SSB/LSB/LSB/RTTY/CW,,,etc

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