Since I went into the contest as a part-timer with the intent of working as many "locals" as I could and helping out those guys running meteor scatter, I had a lot of not-in-chair time. Most of that time, I parked the radio on 50.313, just to use FT8 and PSK Reporter as a 'reverse beacon'. As Mike, FKO mentioned, there was a good number of random meteor bursts throughout the whole contest, including a lot of rather dense pings most all day Sunday. So, a lot of the things I decoded (and subsequently auto-spotted to PSK Reporter, which passes them throughout the spotting 'system') were the results of meteor scatter bursts just long enough to allow WSJT-X to actually figure out who was there. I think a stable signal needs to be present for a little more then 5 seconds to get a FT8 decode. This is why a weak ionoscatter signal which keeps getting interrupted by a strong meteor burst won't decode using FT8 but might be readable on CW or even SSB and would be a quick QSO using WSJT-X's MSK144 mode.
Even with this apparently good meteor activity, I still had numerous failures on MSK144 runs between 1400 & 1600Z Sunday. On some occasions, my run partner would have a page of decodes from me, with nothing on my end over 10 minutes and then, on the next run, my new partner would decode absolutely nothing in 10 minutes, while I had a page of decodes - go figure. This was with stations that I've worked many times before using this mode. The regulars call it "one-way rocks" and it's something that I've seen for many years. I'm sure the actual reason is complicated :)
Another comment on the digital debate. As Mike said, all the WSJT modes are simply part of the toolbox. Smart contest op's (and weak-signal op's) know when to select different tools for the job. However, this particular change (the introduction of FT8) is being very disruptive to the amateur community as a whole, not just us VHF/UHF op's. Entire sub-bands are emptying, their op's moving from traditional modes and frequencies to channelized digital modes. All of a sudden, many op's have "nobody to work", and this is where the problem lies.
Some small percentage of op's just won't accept any change, others are thrown outside their comfort zones and what happens with them depends on their ability to adapt. Many others move en masse to the 'next new thing' without giving it much thought, kind of like life in general in the early 21st Century.
Others, like me, look at this change from a technical perspective and try to preach some sanity, such as, don't stay on a 40 QSO per hour mode when the band opens during a contest, move to a 200 QSO per hour mode like SSB. I have no complaint about FT8, outside of it being used improperly and the wisdom of compressing many KHz of spectrum users onto one frequency.
WA7JTM seems to have followed the path of either the first or second group I described. Is he right ? Is there a 'right' and a 'wrong' ? Who knows - but he will be missed if he follows through. I can name another half dozen 'big signals' around the country who have much the same opinion as him regarding WSJT-X modes. These guys run the 'beacon stations" - the "go-to" stations - the guys Who Would Be Missed if they stopped contesting. MOST of them fall into my group, those who don't understand why people put up with 40/hour rates and massive single-channel QRM on FT8 during a band opening.
What do we, us dedicated VHF contest and weak signal guys, do about this ? Do we petition to disallow digital modes during contests ? Do we ask for a dedicated digital contest ? Do we walk away ? Do we do nothing ? Or, do we teach by example, using the proper tools at the proper time (like we've always done), telling people why and how we do what we do and hope we can build momentum and a cadre of tool-using, thinking VHF multi-mode op's ?
Keith J Morehouse
Calmesa Partners G.P.