When it comes to getting on the air with digital modes, chances are it’s easier than you think. There are some fine commercial products that will help you to connect your computer to your radio, but they aren’t necessary. I’ll admit that I own a very simple commercial box for this, but I’ve also used some very nice homebrew devices. Josh (KE7MTF) has been handcrafting some and you’ll read more about them here soon.
Like with so many things, getting started is as simple as just getting started. Get fancy later. Clean up signals later. Setting excuses aside, start by connecting the output of your receiver to the input of your computer. That input will be labeled as your “Line In” or “Mic” input most likely. The output of your receiver could be a headphone jack, recorder jack, “Line Out” or something similar. The point is, it’s not difficult.
Once you’ve got your receiver connected to the computer, decoding digital signals becomes easy and fun. There is Slow Scan Television (SSTV) commonly found on 14.230 MHz which you can view using programs such as QSSTV. Another popular software package is FLDIGI by W1HKJ and it will decode a number of digital formats including CW, PSK31, MFSK, Olivia and many others.
Just getting there, decoding some signals should light the fire for you. Those programs will transmit too. So, if you have a license that allows it, simply reverse the process to connect your computer to your transmitter. Often you can use your transmitters VOX control rather than PTT. Or, as Josh will eventually show you, wiring a simple transistor switch from your serial or parallel port for PTT is pretty easy to accomplish.
Before you know it you can be experiencing a new digital mode. Please give it a try and let us know how you do.