Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Data modes - 2. CAT etc.

This is the second of three postings about data modes.

You can find others at:-
Data Modes - 1. Getting Started. Find it here.
Date Modes - 2. CAT etc. You are here.
Data Modes - 3. Software and modes. Still to come.
and a related posting:-
Flex 1500 and data modes. Find it here.

This posting is about Windows. I do use other OS as well myself, but I am not very knowledgeable about them.

Sorry it is so long (someone said my postings were "detailed"!!!). I am trying to cover a lot of situations from someone's first installation, to a setting where a more experienced user has a problem. Apologies.

The reason behind this particular posting is the regular appeals on WSPR.net site which say something like this "Please help, I cannot get CAT to work with my ... (fill in appropriate rig name)."

This happens every few days. Either on the forum or on the chat page, people keep asking for help with broadly the same issue : they have connected up their rig to their computer via a CAT lead or some sort of interface, and it does not work. Usually they have set their software (be it WSPR, WSJT-X or whatever) up, selected the rig in question, and while they can receive and decode signals they cannot transmit or change bands.

The rig is usually the FT-817 as well. Not that the 817 is especially difficult, it is just that the 817 is a very common rig on WSPR.

If you work your way through this posting, and juggle your settings, and then your CAT works, just skip the rest of the posting. Keep checking as you change things. Often the simplest thing can sort it out, and then it is best left alone.

Right so, having connected up the leads (6- and 8-pin min-DIN plugs on the FT-817), we should be in the position of having set it up in the following way as per posting 1:-
Your set-up might look different - you may have bought a data interface which also handles audio, and may even just have one USB plug which carries both audio and data into the computer (creating a "virtual sound card" in the computer). But it all works much the same way.

CAT is separate to audio whatever way it gets into the rig so the first thing to do is to check that the audio is reaching the computer. Find the audio card you are using on the "Sound" tab in "Device Manager", select it on the program you are using and you should find the data mode you are after on your waterfall, or at least the white noise on the band. If your rig has "digi-VOX" (see part 1) you can turn that on and get going to prove everything is working. Once you know that the audio works you can move on to the CAT issue.

If you read part one of this series (here), you will see that it is possible to work the PTT direct using an RTS/DTR signal to a chip. If you have this type of chip to hand, it is an easy way to check that the data is reaching the rig and the PTT is working. You can often use data modes that way, but you will miss many of the features of CAT.

Anyway, those are ways of checking the PTT. Let us suppose that you believe everything is working, but CAT will not trip the PTT or change the frequency on the rig. You may get an error message, such as "CAT - communication timed out".

For the moment I will take the Yaesu FT-450 and WSJT-X as the example we are using. The same general principles apply to all data programs and suites. Here is mine - I am guessing that you already have the audio connected up.
To set up you rig, click "setup",  "configuration" and fill in your station details. On the "PTT method" you select "CAT". Then you click the box "enable CAT" and select the rig from a very long list of rigs. If your rig is not on the list, try a similar one from the same make (if that doesn't work you can still enter your own settings). When you select the rig, the software examines a big list of rig settings (often in a file "hamlib" or similar) and fills in the boxes data bits, stop bits, serial rate and handshake.

You need to enter the CAT port. This is the port created by Windows when you inserted the USB into the computer. You can find that in Windows "Start", "Control Panel" (view under "small icons" on the top right) "Device Manager" and "Ports COM and LTP". In there you will find a series of things, one of which will be a port which leads to your CAT chip. I could suggest all sorts of things to work out which is which, but a good way to find out is to un-plug the USB socket and wait for the COM Port you need to disappear. Plug it back in, note the number, and enter it into the software under "CAT Port".

In WSJT-X you can now check the PTT and CAT Control using the radio buttons for those tasks. It should work. (For WSPR there are no check buttons, so you have to use "tune" or "band" to check CAT)

The purpose of this posting is to show what I do if it DOESN'T WORK.

First thing to check is that the settings from the hamlib (or whatever) library which the software looked up, are the right settings for your rig. First suspect is the serial rate - the speed of the data connection. This causes many problems. Look up the menu system in the rig and make sure that the speeds are both the same - theoretically multiple speeds will work too, but let us keep this simple. On the FT-450 you find it under "CATSPEED", and it is indeed 9600. If not, change it (or the speed in the program) to be in agreement.

Then check the data bits, stop bits and handshake. These may be in your rig manual. 8 data bits is pretty common, you can have 1 or 2 stop bits, and handshake is usually none. I had some problems with the FT-450 to begin with, and I had to use "Hardware" handshake to get it working, before realising that I needed to juggle the rig data timeout settings to get "none" to work. See here for that particular quirk of the FT-450.

Essentially, if the data bits, stop bits and handshake do not work with your rig, you can juggle them about and try to see if some other combination will work. You might want to try something else first - adjusting the COM port settings which comes next here is a more likely problem.

On the face of it, setting the rig and the software to the same settings should make the CAT path straight forward. Yes, and often it does. But we reckon without WINDOWS and the oddities it produces.

When you plug in a USB socket, Windows sets up a COM port to a generic set of parameters. These might or might not suit your rig and software. So if you have set the program and the rig to the same settings, Windows may have set the COM port to something conflicting.

This diagram will not be liked by computer buffs, but it tries to explain what I mean.
As usual, click the diagram to enlarge if needed.

You will see that, inside the computer there is a COM port, and logically, just as the settings need to be correct in the rig and the program, they also need to be right in the COM Port.

Usually Windows will select a combination of settings which work. Even if the speed is wrong, it might be multiple of the speed you need, and everything is fine. But not always.

If you need to reset the COM Port settings, go to COM Ports ("Ports COM and LTP"), as described above, click on your COM Port (you found out its number by unplugging it before), then click "Port Settings" and you will see the settings. To change them, use the pull down boxes. Here is mine for the FT-450. On the same screen is the  "Posts (COM and LTP) in Device Manager (haven't I got a lot of COM Ports!):-
Everything here is fine - the speed, data bits, stop bits and handshake all agree. CAT works.

Turning to something more difficult - WSPR and my FT-817. I have an LDG Z-817H auto tuner. The auto tuner manual tells you to use a data rate of 38400, whereas the WSPR program automatically selects 9600. Even if you set both of the rig and program to 38400, the COM port may not pass this speed. In my case CAT failed. So you may need to reset the COM port if you use this type of tuner. These are the settings that work for me
A similar situation arises with the YT-100 tuner for the FT-897/ FT857/ FT100. The LDG manual suggests you set the data rate to 4800, but in the case is it is an even fraction of the usual rate (9600) so you would probably get away with it.

I  have found on occasion that the FT-817 will not work with 2 stop bits and only works with 1 stop bit. No idea why this happens, and I suspect it is related to some brands of chip.

Moving on from WSPR to Ham Radio Deluxe (HRD) , this can be a useful tool in setting up your data modes. HRD was a brilliant design when first published by HB9DRV, and it is now developed by HRD Software. HB9DRV built into it a search function which will try various options for you. This automates a lot of the fiddling above (but it won't solve the COM Port settings).

If you do not know what settings to use, simply click "Connect" and in the screen enter your rig name and select "Auto-detect" in COM Port and Speed settings.
HRD will then go off and look for the right COM Port, and try various speeds until it finds one that works. If you have checked "always connect to this radio" you will find the port numbers and speed appear in the "preset" tab when you next open it. You can then take those details and use them in other programs.

At that level, HRD is a handy thing to have on your computer, even if you do not use its data programs. In reality, HRD is a VERY useful tool. Not only does it give you good data modes (like PSK and many, many, more), it comes with the main screen which you can use to control your rig. More of HRD in a later posting.

Where HRD does come unstuck for me is that, so far, I have not paid for the latest version from HRD Software. I am still using version 5.1 which was the last freely distributed version. I like the free version of course, but its rig library does not include recent rigs, particularly the Icom IC-7100. If  I bought the latest version, it would of course.

After a while of developing HRD, HRD Solutions stopped distributing HRD 5.1. No reason why they should distribute the free version while they were trying to sell better versions at the same time. You can still find HRD 5.1 for free on the Internet, and it still works.

This brings me to Icom. Icom does not use CAT but have their own version, CI-V. It differs in various ways, but principally in having the rig model as part of the data exchange. That is neat for refining what functions can be controlled, but it means that libraries of rig data need to keep being updated. With CAT you can find something similar, or just insert your own values for things, until it works. With CI-V you need HRD (or WSJT-X etc) to send the right rig name code.

So I use my old version of HRD with my IC-7100, but as HRD does not have the settings for the IC-7100, I use settings for the IC-7600. HRD 5.1 does have the settings for the IC-7600. Icom call the IC-7600 "7A" for CI-V purposes, and I changed the settings in the IC-7100 to identify itself as a rig named 7A. Then I have to use IC-7600 as the rig name for WSJT and WSPR etc.

There is nothing wrong with CI-V as far as I can see. In many ways the simple 3.5mm plug it uses is far easier to handle than tacking CAT onto an 8pin DIN as Yaesu do. But as I have not found the money to buy the latest version of HRD I have to use a work-around for the IC-7100.

WSJT-type programs just ignore CI-V and call it CAT, but they do work with CI-V and Icom rigs in general.

The IC-7100 is particularly fiddly to set up with WSPR. However, like all these things, you just have to play around with the settings until they work, and then you never need to do it again.

Until you change computer.

Or change rig.

Then you have to do it all over again.

Next instalment will deal with some of the software programs and modes.



P.S. I should have mentioned.... if PTT works on CAT but there is no tx signal, check the settings for tx audio in the software. Not strictly a CAT issue, but if you look at the FT-450 WSJT-X settings above you can see Data selected from a choice of Data or Mic. Some rigs accept data as if it came through the mic circuitry, but others, and the Kenwood TS-590 did this if I recall correctly, need the data option checked. There is a similar option to choose in HRD and some other software.
Just another thing to think about ...


  1. Thanks for this ! I wondered if you had seen the problem I am having with WSPR-X with the FT-857D and YT-100. Because the CAT control from WSPR is shared with the YT-100 operation, I find that whenever I operate the "tune" function of the YT-100, the WSPR CAT control goes nuts, usually resulting in restarting the program or resetting the radio ? I have been unable to find a workaround for this...

    John Mcleod N6RCD

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Hi John.
      I have to say that I have not heard of this. In the past I used an FT-897 and YT-100, which is a similar operating system. When the WSPR software operates it can, depending on the version, "take over" the COM port. When that happens it does not like any other access to the rig. I suspect that pressing the tune button which puts the rig into transmit and sends a carrier is not what the CAT software is expecting. I don't know for sure though.

      When I used that combination I never tuned it when the WSPR software was on. I tuned the antenna for each band and theoretically the tuner should remember the settings for that frequency and return to those. As WSPR only uses one frequency on each band this should work. The YT-100 is supposed to follow the rig from band to band via the CAT plus its own memories, and that should work on CAT control via WSPR.

      Is it worth trying to tune the LDG for the WSPR frequency on each band with the WSPR software turned off, and then hopefully you should keep in tune? I bet you already tried that one.

      Someone on the wsprnet.org site might have a better idea.

      Good luck.


    2. Hi Jim :
      thanks for getting back to me ! Yes, I've tried presetting the YT-100 for the various WSPR bands, but it always seems that when I change bands, the thing needs retuning. When I think about it, this directly conflicts with the idea of memories in the tuner unit, so I think this stands some more research ! I think the long term answer to this is to cut the antenna for multiband use so that I don't need a tuner, and as the radio is on 24/7 WSPR HF, this is probably the ideal arrangement. I don't do band hopping right now, but it would be interesting to jump from 20m daytime to say 40 or 30m nighttime monitoring. Thanks for the suggestion about wsprnet.org, I'll try the folks there.

      I'm originally from the UK, been in the USA for many years. My sister still lives in Wokingham Berks, but I haven't seen her in a long time. Prior to coming to the US, I lived in Glasgow for 8 years, which became my home from home.

      Anyway, thanks for the help !

      John Mcleod N6RCD

  3. John
    I guess I put in the word "theoretically" for the LDG memories working as I was never very sure of it myself. With my 897/YT100 combo I often found that the LDG just did not do what I expected it to i.e. come up with the memorised settings. Sounds like you find the same thing.

    It will come as no comfort to you to know that my current FT-450 with a built-in tuner, does indeed go to the momorised settings.

    So what is happening here? Well, I wonder if you are using WSPR set to PTT direct via a serial socket rather than via CAT. Do you have CAT turned on in the software and is it working (changing the band on the rig using the WSPR band menu settings)? If it is, then that should also set the LDG at least to the right band. That is the only thing I can think of.

    It would be a pity not to have band hopping as it is quite interesting. With the latest WSJT-X software you can specify all sorts of permutations of bands and timing slots.

    I am a blow-in here, being originally from GI and arriving here via Nottinghamshire. I was in Glasgow at the weekend and it is really looking good these days.


    1. Jim :
      Yes, WSPR-X is controlling the PTT using CAT, along with setting the frequency. I have my IC-7100 on WSPR now, configured in the same way, and I see the same problem with it's LDG tuner - ie : changing bands usually results in the SWR indicating that a retune is necessary. Hmmm.

      John N6RCD

    2. Jim :
      Just broke open the IC-7100 manual and found that if I set the PTT TUNE status to ON, the IT-100 LDG tuner will either use it's memory, or if the SWR is high, will initiate a retune. I't amazing what you can learn if you use your eyes ! I'll take a look at the FT-857 manual and see if something similar can be done !

      John N6RCD

  4. John
    If that works then I might have to break "The Amateur's Code of Conduct" and start reading the manuals.