Amateur Radio News

Capturing the 40th Zone: How I Earned My CQ WAZ Award in FT8

FT8 can be its own art form. I know many think differently, and that is okay. Anything worth doing is going to have both supporters and naysayers. To each their own. Luckily, there is enough room in the world and the hobby to let everyone enjoy what they choose.

For me, FT8 was a way to feed my competitive appetite. A newer ham in a not-so-great sun cycle—I was antsy. All I started with was 100 watts and a wire. My lone advantage was the ability to break through some pileups with a female voice. And as much as I still love that, I wanted the ability to earn the awards that everyone else talked about.

I got serious about learning how to do FT8 when the TV show “Last Man Standing” held its special event. I tried 20 and 40 meters SSB several times. Between their noise floor on the stage and my small 100W signal, even my female voice was not helpful enough to get through. And I HAD to have that QSL card. So, it was time to buckle down.

I was not without my struggles. I had a KX3 with some serious frequency drifting issues on every band digitally except 20 and 40 meters. I had an old TS2000 that needed a SignaLink to do anything digital. I had a compromised short wire antenna that really needed a better antenna tuner to do all the bands efficiently. I have trees that insist on continuing to grow all over the place and require significant trimming. Still, the contacts slowly came.

I started to go for all the awards. The first I got was Worked All Continents (WAC). My wonderful Elmer called me at 7 am on Christmas Eve morning because he saw Japan on FT8 for the first time. We both needed Asia while exploring this new (to us) world of FT8. It kept going from there. Grid Squares, U.S. Counties, Worked All States (WAS), DXCC, 5BWAS, additional QRZ awards, LoTW awards, and CQ awards. Once I earned them, I switched to band endorsements, country endorsements—anything I could try.

But an award kept escaping me—one I could not obtain no matter how hard I tried; no matter how I changed up my equipment. I could not get CQ Worked All Zones (WAZ). This award is issued to any licensed radio amateur station presenting proof of contact with all 40 CQ zones. You can read WAZ Award rules here.

I got 30 of the 40 pretty easily. Then I started deliberately looking for the other ten. After a couple years I managed to have 36 zones. I was pleased but aggravated that I couldn’t find the other four. However, the sun is in a better place than it was when I first started FT8. After quite a while, I slowly managed to get zones 23, 26, and 39. Having 39 of 40 seems quite good, right? Just having one left turned into a small obsession—Zone 34, a notoriously hard place in which to make a QSO. Eventually, I kind of gave up. I just didn’t think it was going to happen; however, it was always in the back of my mind.

Late night/early morning on July 13, I was sitting at my desk. 20 meters FT8 was still scrolling from earlier that day. I wasn’t paying a whole lot of attention due to other things on my mind. I glanced over at the monitor and saw “Sudan” scroll by. My breath hitched. Was it a valid FT8 transmission? I quickly pushed everything aside and watched the screen intently. He came back again and at a decent signal strength! I rapidly looked for an empty transmission spot, set my TX and called him. I watched my TX scroll past, barely able to breathe. I wanted this QSO so badly! When the first red line came back with the signal report, I think I stopped breathing completely. “Please, oh please, let this QSO complete,” I was thinking. The RR73 glowed brilliantly before me. My son reports that I actually screamed. I probably woke up the entire house! Tears streamed down my face as I logged the QSO. Finally, my 40th zone.

I am trying to be patient while waiting for his QSL card. He loaded his logs early just for me when I emailed about how excited I was. A big thank you to ST2NH for indulging this impatient and overjoyed operator.

This hobby is what you make of it. No matter your limitations, no matter the people who say that FT8 isn’t “real radio,” do not give up on what you want. We are currently surrounded by negativity on anything and everything. If this is your beacon of light in the darkness of reality, then be proud of your accomplishments. Have you reached any milestones that no one else seems to understand? Feel free to email me and I will celebrate your accomplishments with you.

As for me, the 40th ZONE! Finally!!!

Questions? Share them in the comments below or email me at

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