Monday, December 30, 2013

Low band Excitement, High Band Treasures

This weekend combined two of my favorite activities on the ham bands and led to some good overall DX on the low frequencies and some pleasant surprises on the higher bands, too. This was the weekend for the Canadian RAC contest and also the Stew Perry 160 Meter Challenge. The Canadian contest started Friday and the Stew Perry Challenge ran from Saturday morning through Sunday morning, Texas time.

I particularly like to look for the Canadians on the low bands during the RAC Test , given that the distance isn't that great, but the low band challenge is there. So Friday night, I started trolling 160 meters for Canadians and soon found a group of them. Most were quite strong, with the main object of the contest being for everyone else to work Canadians.

From an SWL strategy standpoint, I usually find a good strong VE and listen as he gets a run started, logging those who call him, hoping for some good DX to be in the pile. When it appeared that there were not many Europeans showing up on 160 calling them, I began rolling through the band logging all the VE's I could find.

One of the fun things about contests is hearing the old familiar calls. That was certainly the case this past Friday night with regulars like VE5UF and VE3EJ having signals well above S-9 on the R-75. While on 160, I found some others, too. Those in the log included VE3BW, VE3CX, VE2ZJ and VA2EU.

After a while of not finding any new stations, it was time to try 80 meters. There the strategy of parking on a VE calling CQ and hoping for some Europeans turning up worked quickly about 0300 GMT when I found VE3TA on 3521.1 coming in at S-9 + 10db. It wasn't long before a string of Europeans were calling him along with a big pile of US stations. The Europeans were not real strong, but were led off with OM3ZWA and SM2LIY. Many more followed along with the US and Canadian stations.

The 80 meter band was chock full of VE's with monster signals. Among those heard in less than an hour were VE1LD, VE3FZ, VE3GFN, VE3VSM, VE7RAC,VE4RAC,VE3SWA,VE6AO( with an S-9 + 20 db signal!) VE4YU, VE6RAC,VE5GC and VE6JL. One nice surprise was hearing another old familiar signal, WL7E from Alaska on 3527.5 at 0310 GMT.

Saturday night Texas time ( December 29 GMT) I slid back behind the lighted dials again as the Stew Perry 160 Meter Challenge was well under way. I was hopeful for Europeans because many of the close in Stateside stations were relatively weak and some of the VE's were quite strong. It was not to be, however. The only sniff of a European station was an S51 from Slovenia, and he was not fully copyable.

The exchange in this contest was just grid square numbers and to count a station in my SWL log, I required myself to actually copy the grid square of the station being heard. Not a lot of DX was heard during the evening. XE2S was heard at 0045 GMT on 1812 with an S-7 signal. Among the Caribbean stations heard were regular KV4FZ from the Virgin islands at 0044 GMT on 1811.7, NP2X from the Virgin Islands heard at 0106 GMT, and FM5CD from Martinique heard on 1835.4 at 0113 GMT. The European's still had not appeared at my station by 0400 and I called it a night.

The next morning ( Sunday morning Dec 29 local)was also disappointing with regard to the JA's and other Pacific stations. While DX Summit showed several JA's being worked, the only one I managed to hear was JA3YBK on 1812 at 1151 GMT. Even Hawaii was not present in large numbers. I did hear one broken call that ended with a /KH6 tacked onto a Stateside call at 1204 GMT on 1835.9, but never was able to get the entire call. A little later at 1215 GMT I did hear DX contest regular KH6LC on 1811.5, but only about S-4. I heard him making long strings of CQ calls with few takers.

At this point, it was obvious the real low band DX was not going to be found on 160 meters. The morning before ( Saturday Dec 28 local) I had found a few interesting broadcast stations in a quick sweep through the 60 and 49 meter bands, so I decided to take a look on slightly higher frequencies than I had been trolling for amateur CW signals.

Slipping up to the 120 meter broadcast band, it was obvious the hunting would be better here. My usual bellweathers for band openings were there strong enough for audio to be heard...these were Australian stations VL8T on 2325 and VL8K on 2485, Tennant Creek and Katherine respectively. They were actually being heard before a hint of sunrise at 1231 and 1233 GMT respectively. WWV on 2500 was boiling in at S-9 + 30 db. I was a little disappointed in not hearing WWVH from Hawaii behind it.

Things did start looking up as I tuned up from there in the Upper Sideband mode, the idea being to stop and ID anything that showed up with a carrier strong enough to recover audio from. At 1238, found Pyongyang coming in at about S-5 with good audio on 2850 kHz. Going on up did not hear anything more until WWRB on 3185 blasting in at S-9+20 db and CHU with time signals from Dominion Observatory Canada on 3330 kHz at S-9+ 10db.

The really good news came when I got up to 3480 and another North Korean was coming in at S-9 + with great audio. Maybe the morning would not be a total waste! It was to be a mixed morning. Radio Nikkei was coming in well on 3925 at 1305 GMT and China radio easily heard amongst the ham traffic on 3985 moments later. Rolling on up, it was to be China and India through the next half hour...with Xinig, China on 4220 at 1310 GMT. This was a good catch because of its relatively low power. From India,Bhopal was heard on 4810, Mumbai on 4840, Lucknow on 4880, Jaipur on 4910.

The disappointment was the total lack of Papua New Guinea stations. I guess they are all disappearing. I will miss Radio New Britain and her band mates in the future.

At 1319, I noticed that Alice Springs VL8A was still on its daytime frequency of 4835 while Tennant Creek and Katherine were still on 120 meters. In one way, its a disappointment not hearing them on the lower frequency, but at this time of the morning ( 1319 GMT) in Central Texas, it is much stronger on the higher frequency: a good S-6 with easily listenable audio.

The 5000 khz WWV frequency had WWVH at about the same strength as its Colorado frequency mate. Radio Rebelde on 5025 was present with its usual strength of S-9+20db, but this morning the audio sounded rough and there was a low rumbling sound beneath the program audio.

Swinging up into the 49 meter band, the BBC World Service from transmitters in Thailand was quite strong on 5845 and a bit stronger on 5875. The Voice of American from the Saipan/Tinian site was coming in about S-5 with flutter on 5890. One surprise was hearing Iran on 5920 kHz at 1346 and Vietnam with a good signal on 5925 at 1346 GMT.

One of the things I like the most about listening on the low bands around sunrise is how these frequencies sound so much different at this time of day. They seem to behave more like their higher frequency cousins and not like what one would expect from frequencies usually associated with the idea of them being used for local service. The signals sound like they are just sailing in and there is the exotic sound to them.

I have noticed over the years that these bands are highly under-estimated for their potential for DX. It is easy to get to thinking of them just as “ night time” bands. It appears to me that one must think about what is going on over the entire path. For example, if one wants to hear Japan or Australia here in the U.S. on the low bands, one must be aware of when the sun sets there. That is where the signal begins its journey and if there is no way to make the first hop, even if the rest of the path is in darkness there will be no signal.

That may mean that the window for hearing those signals is rather narrow. The time that the sun is setting there may be about the same time as the sun is rising here. By the same token, if the sun is rising in the east here and light is spilling over the horizon, the last place where the low band signal is hitting the ionosphere to the West is still in darkness and the brave little signal is already on its way down toward the receiver.

By observation, it has appeared that the lower frequency signals will disappear first, but that some amazing things can happen. I have heard 160 meter signals from Japan and Hawaii with dawn breaking here. The Australian and Papua New Guinea 120 meter and 90 meter broadcast signals have popped in with the sun well above the horizon at times. Signals on 60 meters and 40 meters have been audible from Australia, Indonesia, China and sometimes even India with the sun well up. I have heard amateur signals on 40 meters from Australia, Japan and Indonesia as late as two and three hours after sunrise!

Sometimes this has seemed to work in the other direction, too, with low band signals propping in from Europe and beyond before sunset, though the effects I have noticed for this have been mostly on 60 meters and above. I have heard and worked 40 meter amateurs in Europe as early as three o'clock in the afternoon here in Central Texas.

Getting a little higher in frequency gets into some truly interesting things. The 31 meter shortwave broadcast band and the 30 meter amateur band have been truly surprising at times. At the time of equinoxes, several years running I was able to hear and often work a VK6 amateur station on the far West coast of Australia on 30 meter long path before sunset here.

Sometimes to find the DX, one must take a chance. After all, all you are gambling is time. I usually tune around on the AM standard broadcast band on the way home after work. There are times I notice early skip occurring on a few frequencies, particularly high in the band. If it is still daylight and I hear Cincinnati coming in on 1530 or Minneapolis starting to show up on 1500 or Nashville on 1510, I know to get behind the receiver early and start fishing on the low bands for something unusual.

No matter where in the world you may be, you can develop bellweathers for early low band skip. You might start looking on the medium wave band early in the evenings for signs of co channel interference on some of the channels not occupied by local stations. By being familiar with what is out there on a “normal” day, you can easily notice something that is out of the ordinary and use that as a hint to go looking for some good stuff on the low HF bands.

The same goes for the higher bands, too. It is easy to think there will be nothing there and not take the time to scour the higher bands, particularly if there are those who are already saying this sunspot cycle is a poor one and the DX is not what it could be ( I think hams have been saying that every cycle since Noah was maritime mobile!). Often times the bands are open and no one is home.

Ten meters offers some interesting ways to check, even if no one is out there calling CQ. There are literally hundreds of beacon transmitters on the air between about 28190 and 28300 khz. Sunday afternoon ( Dec 29) initial tuning across the bands did not show much, but a run through the “ beacon band” showed several of them coming in quite well just before noon. These small, automatic transmitters transmit their callsign and sometimes location information over and over and over as a means of telling what is going on with the band. These stations showing up led me to scouring through the bands again and some real jewels turned up, including a new country for one band.

The first treasure showed up on ten meters at 1738 GMT in the form of 9J2BO all alone on the entire CW portion of the band, not wading through a pileup of stations, but involved in a casual conversation with a Stateside station with quite a good signal.

This led me to running back and forth between 10,12,15 and 17 meters tuning slowly back and forth across the seemingly unoccupied bands. Another clue that something might be lurking there was the atmospheric noise that was there even in the absence of regular signals. I look for this noise, easily distinguished from power line noise or storm static to tell when a band might be open.

Down on 12 meters, all by themselves I found VE6CMV talking with CT3EZ on Madeira on 24935 at 1802 GMT on SSB. Nice signals, too. Not overwhelmingly strong, but easily readable. When I did not find more, I slipped back up to 10 meters for another sweep and found a real treasure in the form of A25WO from Botswana on SSB on 28490.13 at 1811 GMT. Then down the band just a bit was CU1EZ in the Azores at 1815 GMT on 38474.2.

After not hearing much else for a few minutes, slipping back to 12 meters what did I find on 24970 on SSB but ZS6BAF at 1823 coming in about S-6 all by himself on the band. It was open but few were taking advantage!

An excursion down to 17 meters found a little more activity with more of the usual semi local activity ( i.e. Stateside stations working Stateside stations) but a bit of a pileup on 18072 led to the discovery of SU1HZ from Egypt at 1832 GMT, a new one for that band. So much for poor prop for the day!

Looking in unexpected places can indeed lead to discovering unexpected treasures!
This weekends work was with the R-75 receiver and 90 foot sloper up 45 feet at one end and sloping to the Northeast.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A Trip to the Beach

While visiting with the family for Christmas, the conversation at one point turned to trips to the beach.  That got me to thinking about a trip taken this past summer to Galveston.

For many years I have enjoyed listening for stations at locations other than the home base. Particularly for the medium wave band, this gives a chance to hear stations that would normally be masked by local or semi local stations. Its also fun for those interested in DX-ing non-directional beacons on the low frequencies for the same reason.

This past summer my wife and I were going to take a trip to the coast. Immediately the thought went to what I would take in the way of radios. On a family trip, taking radios is always a sort of side-issue as that is not the main point of the trip, so the thought was keeping it really simple.

I considered taking the R-75 but was a little concerned about leaving it either in a parked car or unattended in a hotel room. After a search through what I had on the workbench or in the closet, I decided on an older Sony solid state radio. I am not sure of the age of this radio. I bought it about 18 years ago at a garage sale for five dollars! The owners had lost the AC power cord and thought it was useless. Of course, internal batteries would take care of that and an old electric razor cord replaced the missing one, so that was a really great deal!

The radio is a Sony TFM8000W. It tunes the standard broadcast band, FM, the Hi Band VHF public service band and has two short wave bands tuning a total of 4-22 mHz. It has an analog dial. The internal loop antenna has a good, sharp null and there is a telescoping whip for short wave, FM and PSB. It also has a signal strength meter!

I am always interested in playing with the radios at the coast because of the great possibilities of salt water paths, both for night time and daytime DX. This trip, there would be no external antennas, just the internal antennas on the radio. I was not certain where we would end up staying and whether it would even be possible to use anything at the hotel and the beach is always an iffy deal anyway.

So off we go, taking only the usual family stuff, some beach towels and our folding beach chairs and the Sony. We did not even have a hotel booked...would just search one out. That turned out not be be such a good idea, but after a few false starts we ended up with a room on the fifth floor of the Holiday Inn on Seawall Boulevard in Galveston, right across the road from the beach.

I can admit this now: When we pulled into the parking lot I “accidentally” pushed a button on the car radio to a low, locally blank dial position to check for power line noise. It was fairly quiet!

The fifth floor room was a good spot not only for DX-ing, but also for looking out over the Gulf. The view was really nice with a good view of ships entering and leaving the nearby ship channel and the intracoastal canal. I have always had a soft spot for things maritime, both on the radio and for sea stories in general. The high spot offered something other than a good view. It offered a good chance to hear ships on VHF a good ways out ( though this trip there would not be that much listening on those frequencies).

On previous DX trips to the coast with “ the guys” and not a family trip, a good load of gear was often taken, along with a log periodic antenna mounted on a tripod for pointing out over the water.

It was used for looking for long haul ship and aircraft DX with a variety of scanners and analog receivers. But not this trip. Dxing would be limited to the time the XYL would be relaxing with her mystery novel or just relaxing in the sun. (Just a hint to those wanting to do this sort of thing on a family trip: sensitivity is a must!!)

Another thing that is a must is a pair of headphones. The sound of static, heterodynes, fading signals and other hash is not conducive to the relaxation of the better half. A watch, extra pens and a sturdy notebook to serve as a log are also necessary. I don't take my main log with me on these trips lest it get misplaced or soiled with sea water, sand or mustard from hot dogs. A clipboard or kneeboard is good, as well. Writing log entries in less than optimal conditions often leads to legibility being a little variable, too-another reason for using a “temporary” log, even if it means some copying over or computer entering later.

I was amazed to find that noise in the hotel room was not too bad. There are times that wireless computer connections, or the computers themselves can generate a lot of hash, but the newer and higher quality ones seem to be better.

The first bandscan began at 0130 GMT with just the little Sony's internal loop antenna. On June 17, this meant just about sunset, meaning that some of the stations heard were still on daytime power and directional pattern. The location was the fifth floor of the Holiday Inn on Seawall Blvd in Galveston. In “Comments” column, GW indicates groundwave or local signal.

The stations heard are listed below.

Time GMT Call Letters Frequency Locations or comments

0135 KEYH 850 Houston, Tx GW
0136 KKOW 860 Pittsburg,Ks
0137 WWL 870 New Orleans
0139 XENL 860 Monterrey, Mexico
0143 KJOZ 880 Conroe, Tx GW
0145 KRVN 880 Lexington, Ne
0146 CMBZ 890 Havana, Cuba
0148 XEW 900 Mexico City
0150 KYST 920 Texas City, Tx GW very strong!
0151 WKY 930 Oklahoma City, Ok
0152 XEQ 940 Mexico City
0153 KPRC 950 Houston, Tx GW
0154 KRTX 980 Rosenberg, Tx GW
0157 XET 990 Monterrey, Mexico
0158 KLAT 1010 Houston, Tx GW
0200 XEQR 1030 Mexico City, Mexico
0201 WHO 1040 Des Moines, Iowa
0202 XEG 1050 Monterrey, Mexico
0203 XEEP 1060 Mexico City
0204 KNTH 1070 Houston, Tx GW
0205 KRLD 1080 Dallas, Tx
0207 KFAB 1110 Omaha, Ne
0209 KMOX 1120 St.. Louis, Mo
0210 KWKH 1130 Shreveport, La
0211 Unidentified EE 1140 Unknown
0213 WJBO 1150 Baton Rouge, La
0214 KFAQ 1170 Tulsa, Ok Hvy QSB
0215 R.Rebelde 1180 Cuba
0216 XEWK 1190 Guadalajara, Mexico
0217 WOAI 1200 San Antonio, Tx QSB
0218 KGYN 1210 Guymon, Ok
0219 KDEI 1250 Port Arthur, Tx GW
0220 KXYZ 1320 Houston, Tx GW
0221 KLVI 560 Beaumont, Tx GW Vry Strong!
0223 KLIF 570 Dallas, Tx

Then came dinner time. DX-ing cannot compete with fresh sea food dinner in a coastal city! Note that many of the stations are so familiar that they can be “identified on sight” so to speak!

The next morning took us to the beach itself. We went out to East Beach, an area known as Apfel Park on Galveston Island. We set up within feet of the water in our folding beach chairs with my wife reading her mystery, myself either playing with the radio or taking a dip in the water and looking for shells. As you can see this was not a full blown DX-pedition, but just casual looking around while on a relaxing few days away from work, home and the demands of dogs and cats ( that duty being taken up by a helpful neighbor...another whole story there!)

The times are not logged because I forgot to take my watch out to the beach with us and in the glare might not have been readable anyway. The bandscan began about 10 AM local daylight savings time ( 1500 GMT) and ran up to about 1700 GMT with breaks for dashes into the water and being washed over by the waves!

The time was late enough in the morning when night effect should not have been in play. I was interested in seeing what might be receivable over the water path. I did note signal strengths during this session, which I apparently did not do during the night before. WP = “over water path” (at least part of the way) ;RL = “rotated loop”

Call Frequency Signal Location/Comments

KLVI 560 5-9+++ Beaumont, Texas WP
KLIF 570 5-6 Dallas, Tx
KJMJ 580 4-5 Alexandria, La
KLBJ 590 5-7 Austin, Tx
XEFD 590 5-7 Reynosa, Mexico WP, RL
KILT 610 5-9++ Houston, Tx
XEGH 620 5-4 Reynosa, Mexico WP
KSLR 630 5-5 San Antonio, Tx RL
XEFB 630 5-5 Monterrey, Mexico RL,WP
KIKK 650 5-9 Pasadena (Houston), Tx
KSKY 660 5-6 Dallas, Tx RL
XEFZ 660 5-5 Monterrey, Mexico RL
Un-id 670 5-5 Spanish Looped NE/SW
KKYX 680 5-8 San Antonio, Tx
WIST 690 3-3 New Orleans WP
KSEV 700 5-9 Houston, Tx
Weak Tangle 710 3-3 Unknown mix
KSAH 720 5-7 San Antonio, Tx
KTRH 740 5-9++++ Houston, Tx
XEACH 770 5-6 Monterrey, Mexico
KBME 790 5-9+++ Houston, Tx
XEFW 810 5-6 Tampico, Mexico WP
WBAP 820 5-5 Ft Worth, Tx
Un-id Sp 830 3-3 RL
WQIH-489 830 4-4 Pasadena, Tx ( TIS station)
KEYH 850 5-9++ Houston, Tx
WWL 870 5-7 New Orleans, La WP
KJOZ 880 4-4 Conroe, Tx
KREH 900 5-7 Pecan Grove ( Houston) Tx(Asian)
KYST 920 5-9++++ Texas City, Tx(very close)
KPRC 950 5-7 Houston, Tx
XED 970 4-4 Matamoros, Mexico WP
KRTX 980 5-9+++ Rosenberg ( Houston) Tx
KLAT 1010 5-9+ Houston, Tx
KCTA 1030 5-8 Corpus Christi, Tx WP
KCHN 1050 5-5 Brookshire, Tx (Asian)
KNTH 1070 5-7 Houston, Tx
KULF 1090 5-6 Bellville, Tx
KTEK 1110 5-6 Alvin ( Houston) Tx
KYOK 1140 5-5 Conroe, Tx
KGOL 1180 5-7 Humble ( Houston) Tx
KNUZ 1230 5-6 Houston, Tx
KDEI 1250 5-7 Port Arthur, Tx WP
KSET 1300 5-7 Sillsbee, Tx WP
XEAM 1310 5-5 Matamoros, Mexico
KXYZ 1320 5-8 Houston, Tx
KVNN 1340 4-4 Victoria, Tx RL
KWWJ 1360 5-9++ Baytown, Tx WP
KHCB 1400 5-9++++ League City, Tx( close!)
KMIC 1590 5-6 Houston, Tx
KOGT 1600 5-5 Orange, Tx WP
KLOU 1580 5-7 Lake Charles, La WP
KGOW 1560 5-6 Houston, Tx
KYND 1520 5-9+++ Cypress, Tx

About this time, the burning rays of the sun got to be a bit much and the call of Benno's on Sea Wall Blvd with its shrimp and scallops was getting a bit too strong!

The DX-ing done on this trip was done with an analog dial receiver with frequencies kept up with by counting “carrier bumps” from known frequency stations.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Late Night/Early Morning

While waiting for out of town family to arrive for the holidays I found a few minutes to sit in front of the radio. The time was after 9 PM Central in the US on December 22 ( I am in Texas) but early morning in Africa. There was not a plan for this listening session, just burning a little time before the arrival of grandchildren! There was no idea of how much time I would have, so I just started at 3000 kHz on a total whim, tuning in the LSB mode planning to stop on carriers, then try to identify them.

It did not take long until I ran into a really strong one.  It was one of the SABC transmissions on 3320 kHz. Very nice signal, playing an American pop song from the late sixties that I had not heard since playing it myself on the radio in my own early disk jockey days! The signal was about S-7 and fairly steady.

It was a reminder that DX-ing must sometimes take into account time differences, not just for propagation, but for whether a station will even be on the air.  While prop would have been present for some African stations as early as just before dark in Central Texas,  some of the stations might not have been on the air.  East Africa being GMT plus 3, their sign on time might be just about 9 PM my time.  In the case of the SABC, they might have been on all night, but such was not the case in the other good catch of my "night".

After moving up the band and hearing the Canadian time signal station CHU on 3330 at a booming S-9 plus 20 db,  I did not run across anything else in the 90 meter band.

Skipping through the 80/75 meter amateur band rather quickly, I did not find any carriers to indicate broadcast stations lurking there, though I must admit it was a quick trip. Just above the band at 4055 I ran into one my regulars,  Radio Verdad from Guatemala on 4055 at 0338 GMT.  Of course this was evening there and probably single hop prop and they were booming in as always.  They are listed as running only 700 watts, but they really get out well at this distance.  This time they were S-9 plus 20 DB with well processed audio. ( that helps a lot...many short wave broadcast stations seem to scrimp on the one thing that can really help a lower powered station stand out in the crowd: a good peak limiter to hold modulation up high and constant)

Continuing to tune up rather quickly, ran past another regular on 4765 with Cuban jazz at S-9 plus 30
DB at 0344 GMT. Great signal! Then Tarma Peru on 4775, not great but listenable at S-5. Another station that was doing well with low power...listed as 500 watts.

The prize of the night however came at 0348. Good signal with good audio on 4780 with unmistakeable East African music.  It was Djibouti coming in between S-5 and S-7 all by itself on the frequency with great processed audio.  This was during their sign on hour as well. There have been times that this station has been heard in the U-S longpath early in the morning US time, but with nothing like this signal.  I am not sure what kind of antenna they are using,  but as a guess, I would assume something that sends signals out at a relatively high angle to provide close in coverage on the first hop.  These stations are usually more difficult DX targets even when running fairly high power ( I think this one is supposed to be 50 kw). This is because they are not sending out much signal at the lower angles needed for long haul traveling.

It was especially pleasurable to log this one because I have not had Djibouti in my broadcast logs at all previously here at this location.  I have logged utility stations from there, but no broadcast stations. I did hear their stations many years ago during a two year stint in Asmara, Ethiopia ( now Eritrea) back in 1972-73.  Its always good to get a " new one", especially when it drops in your lap without a plan to search it out, like this one.  Maybe that's a lesson that DX-ing can be successful in short bursts taken even when one only has a few minutes before the receiver.  One never knows what one might find!

Tonight's listening was again on the R-75 with sloper antenna.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Strange Conditions December 22, 2013

This was another one of those days when time in front of the radio was limited by family obligations and holiday preparations. One must remember that those things come first and this is “only a hobby!”

It was already 9 PM local time ( 0300 GMT the next day) when the lights of the R-75 came up.

I did my usual sweep of the higher bands first, working my way down and heard----NOTHING!

My first thought was that the wind of earlier in the day had torn the feedline off the antenna. That however did not seem right because my ever-present background power line noise was there. But there were no signals on 10 meters...not even any beacons. There was nothing on 12 or 15, nothing in the 16 meter shortwave broadcast band, very weak signals in the 19 meter band, nothing at all in the 20 meter CW band.

This was supposed to be the weekend for the Croatian DX contest and I had thought I would hear a few stations participating, but NOTHING.

I did my WWV sweep and found:

0300 WWV 20000 kHz Nothing. No WWVH either.
0301 WWV 15000 kHz Nothing. No WWVH
0302 WWV 10000 kHz About S-4 No WWVH
0303 WWV 5000 kHz Whoa! S-9+30 db!
0304 WWV 2500 kHz S-9 +40 db!!

Well, well. Let's check 40 meter CW. full of signals! Quick sweep up from the bottom and there is a very strong signal calling “ CQ Test”. 9A4M from Croatia ( they were out there!) He was coming in well, almost S-9 and steady almost like a one-hop signal. Listening for a moment, I heard a few stateside stations calling and working him. They were all weak and “watery” sounding, while he was strong and steady.

Going to the bottom of the band and coming up, I came across a strong signal obviously in a QSO with a stateside station that I could not hear. They were wrapping up on 7002.5 about 0317 GMT and he Id'ed as SM2EKM without the usual auroral zone flutter signals from Sweden usually have here on 40 meters that time of night. In quick order heard the following:

0320 UR7QC 7012 kHz RST 569 with QSB Ukraine
0323 UA9NN 7017 kHz RST 549 with flutter QSB Asiatic Russia
0326 UA3RF 7018.8 kHz RST 559 Flutter QSB Russia
0328 9A6M 7021 kHz RST 589 Croatia
0329 9A28EU 7025.7 kHz RST 599 Croatia
0330 S54W 7027 kHz RST 579 QSB Slovenia
0331 OF9X 7030.4 kHz RST 599 with some flutter ( Santa Claus Station Lapland!)
0333 AA4MC 7030.55 kHz RST 539 Rapid QSB and echo

Obviously Southern Europe was doing well into the US, semi local stations were not doing too well and Northern European stations were somewhat mixed.

Lets check 80 meters just for fun. Lot of stations here.A quick tune found two calling “ CQ test” so I stopped to ID them.

0340 YT4A 3522.7 kHz RST 579 steady Serbia
0341 YU3AAA 3524.58 kHz RST 589, very good signal, Serbia

Also looks like Southern Europe doing well on 80.

While there were other stations to pick out, it was just too much in the trend to not take a quick run down to 160 meters to find out if anything was happening there.

Whoa! For a non major contest weekend, there were a lot of signals in the CW portion. I stumbled across a strong station calling CQ on 1817 at 0347 GMT and just assumed it was a nearby station. It was XE1FAA and he was getting a few takers.

Working up the band, I found the following:

0348 XE2EJ 1820 kHz RST 579 Mexico
0349 9A5W (!!) 1821.48 kHz RST 559 Croatia!!! on 160!!
0352 XE2S 1825 kHz RST 599+ calling CQ Mexico
0352 LU8DPM 1825 kHz RST 569 calling XE2S ( and working him) Argentina

Not bad for a few minutes of listening. Not having much time, I decided to make a quick tune through the medium wave broadcast band and see if there were any split channel European carriers coming through. On the way down I found XEARZ from Mexico City on 1650 strong enough to be heard through the splash of our local 1660 KRZI. The Caribbean Beacon on 1610 from Anguilla was S-9 plus 10 db and very steady. And XERF on 1570, always strong here, was even stronger, steady at S-9 plus 40 db with all preamps off.

I ran out of time at this point and did not do much of a scan for European split channels, but it might have been a good night for it. This session was done with the R-75 receiver with 250 Hz filters for CW connected to a 90 foot sloper with the high end up 45 feet.

I don't know for sure what was working in the band conditions this particular night. Perhaps the maximum usable frequency was just very low on what might have been the shortest night of the year in North America.

I always find it interesting to try to do some listening on the longest and shortest days and on the equinoxes. I don't know if there is anything magical about them, but its fun to think so!

73 and Good DX!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Fun on Ten Meters Dec 15, 2013

This weekend spent a little time listening to the ARRL Ten Meter Contest. I often hear both hams and SWL's saying the upper bands are not very good because of the sunspot cycle, but I have not noticed it so much. I tune across the ten meter band almost every time I sit down in front of the radio and it is very seldom I don't hear something. Even when there are no stations communicating, the beacon stations between 28.200 and 28.300 are audible.

I was not able to transmit during the contest this year, only listen. During the period of time between 0000 and 0117 GMT I was able to hear and log seventy stations, including numerous Japanese stations, plus Vietnam, South Korea, several Asiatic Russians, a couple Chinese stations and Hawaii and Alaska. The much nearer stateside stations were all very weak or very fluttery sounding, like I was probably hearing them on backscatter.

A sample of the loggings are listed below. Loggings were done with an Icom R-75 receiver with 250 Hz filter and sloper antenna at 45 feet high on one end and sloping down to the ground toward the northeast.

Time-GMT Station Frequency Signal Report Location

0000 JH3AIU 28001.25 579 Japan
0009 3W1T 28011.56 569 Vietnam
0010 K4RO 28002.83 449 Tn, USA
0011 R0DX 28005.57 579 Asiatic Russia
0011 KY7M 28005.57 449 USA
0015 RM0F 28011.87 579 Asiatic Russia
0025 JN4HTR 28019.34 539 Japan
0034 RA0FF 28023.60 579 Asiatic Russia
0035 JA1CP 28022.74 549 Japan
0036 KH7Y 28024.9 579 Hawaii
0036 UA0DM 28.024.9 579 Asiatic Russia
0038 V85TL 28024.30 559 Brunei
0045 JA7IC 28027.53 589 Japan
0048 BG2AUE 28030.90 579 China
0053 N5PO 28035.00 559 Flutter USA
0055 WH7W 28037.20 549 Hawaii
0059 BV1EK 28045.10 569 China
0101 KL7SB 28009.80 559 Alaska
0108 DS5DNO 28060.00 579 S. Korea
0113 UA0CNX 28082.53 549 QSB Asiatic Russia

Again, this is just a sample of what was heard in a very exciting hour and 17 minutes. Don't ever sell the higher frequencies short.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

160 Meter Test, Dec 8 Observtions

Band conditions were again not nearly as good as during CQWW. Stateside stations were strong but many had some deep fades.  I did hear VE2OJ  as early as 0112 GMT and VE6WZ at 0119. The short skip stations from North Texas, South Texas and Arkansas were very strong. AB5K was S-9 + 30 DB at 0129 on 1839.5. I did hear the Virgin Islands stations: KP2/K3TEJ at 0146 but only with a 339 signal. KP2M had only a slightly better signal at 449 at 0323.

Best Western Hemisphere DX was CE1/K7CA at 0329 on 1830.45 with a 559 signal.  He must have a fine station because I noted several stations reporting him on DX Summit.  If I remember correctly,  I have heard him before on this band. The only European station heard was G4AMT heard at 0343 on 1832.82.  There were no Alaskan or Hawaiian stations logged.

Sunday morning was not much better. Many of the stateside signals by 1200 GMT were fading up and down quite a bit. No Hawaiians heard. Two JA's were logged at 1232 and 1245 but both were very faint.  If the noise had not been particularly low, I probably would not have heard them at all. The only other quasi-DX heard was XE2S holding forth on 1819.7 with a good 589 signal at 1229 GMT.  Once again, the short hop stations were very strong.

I did not check the 120 and 90 meter shortwave broadcast bands. Maybe someone else had observations.  This time around, I was in the SWL mode only during this contest and did not transmit.


Saturday, December 7, 2013

Dec 6-7, 2013 Observations

During the afternoon Friday Dec 6 before the 160 meter test began, while driving home from work I noticed the standard broadcast band was already showing signs of skip.  This was a harbinger of good conditions early in the contest.

As early as 2200 GMT ( 1600 local CST in Texas) already there was interference showing up on some of the local stations.  Already WLAC from Nashville was coming in over the semi local daytime only stations on 1510.  The 1530 from Cincinnati was coming in over the Austin area station and the 1500 from Minneapolis was even propping in. The 1540 from Waterloo, Iowa was audible in the background of the Ft Worth Spanish Language ESPN station and Havana was  audible behind WTAW on 1620 even though WTAW was still on 10 kw daytime power only 90 miles away.

I knew the first night of the test would have limited listening time because of a visiting grandson and my own fatigue from going in to work at 5 AM. ( I work in a television station newsroom and icy weather was forecast for today and the early time was necessary because of the rash of calls expected for school closings or late openings and event cancellations that would have to be posted).

As things turned out it was almost 0100 GMT before I even got to sit down in front of the receiver and even at that it was education time for the 5 year old on what was going on.  He seemed to enjoy putting on the headphones and hearing the signals from all around the country.  He even seemed interested in the CW concept and listened intently, at one point saying " that one is really, really fast!" Who knows,  maybe a budding DX-er here!

The WWV check showed the following:( R-75, 80 meter sloper)

Time(GMT)     Call                 Frequency            Signal Strength
0050               WWV                 2500 kHz              S-9+ 20 DB
0051               WWV                 5000 kHz              S-9+ 20 DB
0052               WWV               10000 kHz              S-9+30  DB
0053               WWV/WWVH 15000 kHz              S-8 ( WWVH Dominant)
0054               WWV/WWVH 20000 kHz              Neither audible

Early on at 0100 GMT, stations from the Midwest were all very strong, with stations from the Northeast solid, as well.  The first VE3 station was heard at 0101 with a 559 signal. A W1 from Maine was logged at 589 at 0105.

Interestingly, some of the stations from the Southeast were relatively weak, though the band was very full of signals. Even though it was still partially daylight on the West Coast, stations from California, Oregon and Washington were coming in and gaining in strength rapidly. Before 0130, more VE3's were logged along with VE1ZAC and VY2ZM from the Maritime district. C6AKQ from the Bahamas was logged a bit earlier at 0112. Though I heard stations working a Virgin Islands station about that time, it was inaudible at my location.

The real surprise of the evening was when I tuned across a bit of a pileup on 1820.35 with stations spread out about 200Hz above and below calling and calling. It took a few minutes of careful listening to realize that under the pile was OK2W from the Czech Republic.

After a short break getting the grandbaby in bed, back in front of the radio at 0240 saw the Northeast stations much, much stronger and many more West Coast stations coming in. Ever present contest station W0AIH was S-9 plus 10 db and many W6's and W7's were at or above S-9.  FM5CD  from Martinique was holding forth on 1822 working  a steady stream of stations with a good 589 signal into Central Texas.

By this time, the early morning start was beginning to pull my eyelids shut. It was going to be an early stop, and by 0300 it was getting  very hard to stay awake.  I remember in years gone by I could have just plowed on all night after an early start like this. ( Its a bear getting old!!) There was still enough wakefulness to copy VA5DX with a 589 signal.

There was one more prize of the night.  Another pileup appeared around 1831 kHz.  It took about 15 minutes of intense listening, but then the signal seemed to float up out of the background noise and there was S59A from Slovenia written down as a 549 signal.

There was just no getting up for  the pre sunrise Pacific opening this morning,  but tonight I will be more rested and will be able to dig later for the Europeans and Sunday morning local for the Pacific and hopefully Asian opening.  I noticed checking DX Summit that several stations reported hearing many, many JA's and at least one Korean station along with several Asiatic Russians.  Maybe I will get lucky even with the small antenna.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

160 Meter Amateur Radio Contest

One of the more challenging amateur radio contests takes place this weekend ( Dec 6-Dec 8) and for the SWL who can copy CW it can be a fun way to pick up some new countries on a low band.
It is the annual ARRL 160-Meter Contest and runs from 2200 GMT Friday Dec 6 through 1600 GMT Dec 8.  The object of the contest for hams is to work as many stations as possible. US and Canadian hams work each other and the rest of the world, while other stations work US and Canadian Hams.The W/VE stations give a signal report and their ARRL or RAC section while DX stations give just a signal report.

To give you and idea of the difficulty of this contest,  it would be the equivalent of trying to log a broadcast band station running a kilowatt or less across the ocean.  Of course copying a CW signal is much easier than an AM signal, but its still not easy!

For stations in the US, working Europe can be possible during the evening hours and through about midnight local time.  For listeners in Europe to hear US stations, the best times will be between 2300 and 0700 GMT.

For stations in the US, working the Pacific and Asia is best from a couple hours before sunrise on. In this contest it will be difficult for European listeners to hear much activity during this time period because they will be in full sun.  So the window for hearing much for European listeners will be somewhat shorter than for those in North America.  That will be because while there are times that prop into Asia and the Pacific would be possible from Europe, it does not overlap with times that those stations would be able to work US stations and there would be no reason for them to be on. That window is mostly between 0900-1300 GMT.

Beverage antennas used for BCB DX would be useful for those wanting to log some DX in this contest as would loops that cover that frequency range ( 1800-2000) or if your local noise will allow hearing weak signals on that range, inverted L's and longwires.  Of course anything that you have can be tried.

I will be using a sloper antenna fed at the top and two receivers: An Icom R-75 with 250 Hz cw filters in both IF's and an old boatanchor,  a Hammurland HQ-170.  The old tube type receivers really shine on this band as they tend to be more immune to intermodulation interference from strong nearby broadcast stations. They also tend to handle noise better, modern DSP notwithstanding.  At least they appear to to me.  Who knows, that may be psychological or wishful thinking,  but again, at the end of the day, its whatever works!

In any event,  it will be something to have fun with.  During the end-of-November CQ World Wide DX Contest, conditions on 160 meters were fabulous, with stations from Japan and Asiatic Russia logged here in Central Texas.  While a cold front will be moving in late this week, we have no thunderstorms forecast, so perhaps the noise will be low.  And what better way to spend a cold weekend that in front of a good, warm receiver!

Good DX!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Morning Ride

Sometimes we get our daily “ DX Fix” where we can. For me, one guaranteed bit of time fishing the airwaves is my morning drive to work. Its not a long drive. Depending on traffic between fifteen and twenty minutes. I am sure others have much longer drives, though having more time for DX-ing is probably not a reason to wish for one with gas prices what they are!.

My morning drive occurs about 6:40 AM local time ( Central US ) and depending on the time of year ranges from being in full daylight to full darkness. This time of the year-early December-it is right about sunrise. Our local stations are still on night time powers and patterns and stations to the east are blasting away with full daytime power. To the west, things are in the night mode.

Tuning the stations from day to day over long periods of time, it is easy to see that band conditions can vary widely even at these frequencies. One gets a good feeling of what will be heard where and will notice anything “out of place.”

Some mornings I will target certain frequencies to see if something new is coming in. Often I will do sweeps of parts of the band. One soon gets to know the “usuals”. Starting at the top of the band at 1700 I can be assured of hearing Brownsville, Texas with ESPN. On 1690, there can be a bit of a variance...most days its Radio Disney from Denver, occasionally it will be WVON from Chicago. The 1680 spot will be held down by Monroe, Louisiana, formerly with news now with classic country. You get the picture.

I almost always check 1620 to see if Cuba is propping in. Right now they are in full sun and have not shown up much. The semi-local WTAW holds the spot pretty well. Sometimes in the months where power change to the east occurs close to sunrise there...usually early in the month, a station that carries sports programming will show up. A check of 1610 will sometimes show Anguilla in winter months, but lately not often.

Some mornings I will check my “ old friends “ to see if they are there. WIBW on 580 often comes in through the clutter. I will look at 700 to see if the old WLW ( what callsign do they use now?) comes in or if the former true clear channel ( small “c”) is covered. Does XEW on 900 come in..apparently not as strong as it used to...What about XEQ on 940? If I check quickly before I get too far from the house Radio Mil on 1000 will show up. I have to check early because the directional antenna for our local station on 1010 has a null that I drive through and the side splash is minimized.

Will KCTA from Corpus Christi show up with its lower pre sunrise power or will it be XEQR that we hear this morning? Will it be Mexico City or New Orleans heard on 1060? Will Kansas City be strong enough on 1070 to make it through the side splash from KRLD this morning?

Some mornings in months where the sun is up here, stations from the east will disappear and stations to the west will drop in for a visit as their first hop via the ionosphere is still in darkness. During this transition period it is interesting to note how much different the prop is at the lower end of the dial than at the top. The lower end signals drop away quickly with the slightest sun, while the higher in signals make it much longer.

And occasionally, there will be great enhancements. There have been times when I have heard signals from great distances even in full sun. This usually happens in the winter.

The same kind of bandscan can be great fun in the evenings on the way back from work. The winter time is of course more interesting because the sun is going down and that transition is already underway. It is easy to see why the FCC requires some stations to have different directional patterns or even lower powers during what they term “ critical hours” when some night effect is already showing up. That is the time I will hear Waterloo, Iowa on 1540 coming from beneath ( or sometimes over) the 1540 station from Ft Worth, or Brownsville's 1700 coming in over the Dallas area 1700.

It can be a great study of prop. And occasionally an opportunity to log a new one. Sometimes at the beginning of the month, stations may have operators who “ forget” the new time for power or pattern change and remain on day power until the time required for change the previous month. Or sometimes Mother Nature will just deliver a surprise.

Its difficult to actually write stations down or fill in a log while driving, but I have been amazed at what I can remember to enter into the log when I get home or to my work place. Often on a notepad in the truck I can just write down the frequencies and my memory will take care of the rest. Otherwise, its just play back the memory tape and get them down.

Looking back over old loggings of such things can be very educational, too. That is why I log everything, even stations I have heard many times. During thunderstorms where lightning precludes playing with the radios, time can be spent pouring over old loggings and finding interesting patterns.

In any event, spending the morning ride tuning the band allows for a little DX-ing where it might not otherwise occur and it can often be more entertaining than what might be found listening to some morning “personalities”!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Observations Nov 30-Dec 1, 2013

    Saturday, November 30, 2013 with the help of another local ham we made some changes to one of the antennas. The 80 meter sloper that had been mounted on a 27 foot mast was taken down and a taller mast was put up. There were a couple of objectives in the work. The mast being used was old and rusty and somewhat rickety. The replacement mast was not only in better condition, but was a Rohn extra heavy duty push up pole that was also 40 feet tall. With the small extension on the top, the feed point of the sloper would be increased to about 43 feet.

    I have carted this particular mast around for almost forty years. It has been used as a stand alone vertical, to support two meter beams, FM broadcast band yagis, television antennas and an 80 meter Windom antenna in its storied life. The past ten years or so it has lain in the back yard waiting for its next assignment.
The sloper itself is rather simple. It is a 90 foot length of wire fed at the top with RG-8X coaxial cable and tilting down to about 8 feet above the ground. It had been tilting down to the east because that was the only direction it could go and fit in the yard. With the increased height, the end could be moved around to a more northeasterly direction.

In its previous incarnation, the antenna had been pretty good for general reception, not showing too much noticeable directionality, though theoretically it would be expected to have a null somewhat to the north. The antenna was used for general coverage reception for everything from low frequencies through six meters. I know this is not what such an antenna would be used for, but I guess it falls in the category of whatever works.

Of course as soon as the tools were put away and the much needed shower taken, it would not do but that the antenna be tested right away “just to make sure I had not ruined it” by making the changes. It was just before dark when I sat down in front of the R-75, the receiver chosen for the “test ride”.

I was particularly interested in how the antenna would behave on the lower frequencies, most particularly to see if the change in position would have affected my on-again-off-again power line noise problem. I was hoping the raising of the height would not make it worse, as part of the antenna was now nearer to power line height.

The first stop was to make a sweep of the WWV frequencies. This is something I often do to get some idea of what is happening prop wise. The table below shows how it went. Each entry has the time, callsign of the NBS site, frequency, signal strength and location.

Observations are all of course in Waco, Texas

2346 GMT WWV 15000 kHz S-9 + 10 db/WWVH well audible beneath
2348 GMT WWV 20000 kHz S-7 with fairly deep QSB ( fading)-No WWVH
2349 GMT WWV 10000 kHz S9 + 10 db No WWVH
2350 GMT WWV 5000 kHz S-9+ 20 db
2356 GMT WWV 2500 kHz S-9 + 10 db

Next stop was the 160 meter band. Noise was low and tuning up past 1825 immediately ran into a pileup-a cluster of stations calling some DX station in a real fur ball of signals. Thinking the DX station would be working split as they often do, listening up frequency from their transmit spot, I tuned down to 1825 even and there was J88HL on St Vincent with a very good signal, 579 on cw working stations as fast as he could. This was a bit of a surprise since it was not even fully dark yet. Tuning back up through the pileup I was copying signals form the northeast, midwest and even far northwest where it was not even dark yet. This meant really good band conditions in any event.

Going up to 80 meters, I immediately ran into a strong signal from HI3A in the Dominican Republic calling CQ. Unlike the station on 160 meters, this fellow was working stations simplex, that is, stations calling right on his frequency. After working a couple stateside stations with very strong signals both for him and in my shack, he took awhile answering the fifth or sixth calling station and pulled out a DL4 in Germany. Almost as surprising as what had happened on 160 meters was the fact that I could hear the DL4! Right there on 3503 kHz! This was at 0018. In quick succession I also heard an ON7 and an F8, along with a big pile of Stateside stations.

Usually I would have spent time mining the pileup for many DX stations for the log. This is always a good source of great loggings...digging through a pileup on a relatively nearby station. But this was antenna checking time, so it was on up to 40 meters, where surprisingly not much in the way of DX was found, mostly midwest stations rag chewing at high speed.

So up it was to 30 meters where the first station heard was a Russian, an RV3...the the world fell in. A huge pileup, and at the bottom of it a station in Somalia who was himself a good 559 signal. After that it was a jumble of stations calling...another good gold mine of DX ( as if the Somali station was not enough of a mine itself!)..several more Russians, Germans, French, even a JH3 apparently long path from Japan.

The DX session ended at 0100 GMT with other planned family activities. But early the next morning when the dogs and cats woke me up at 1130 GMT, I figured I could head to the radio and find some good Asian DX on the low bands.

Nay, not so! While I slept the bands took a drastic change. No stations heard on 160, only stateside ragchews on 80 and 40 meters, not much at all on 30. A run through the WWV frequencies gave the following:

1312 WWV 15000 kHz S-5 QSB with some flutter No WWVH
1313 WWV 20000 kHz S-3 with flutter...No WWVH
1314 WWV 10000 kHz S-9 + 40 db, steady, No WWVH
1315 WWV 5000 kHz S-9 + 30 db, steady, WWVH just audible
1316 WWV 2500 kHz S-9 + 20 db steady, WWVH just audible

Hmm. Appeared relatively short skip on the low bands even right at sunrise. What brought about the big change from last night?

Lets check 15 meters, even though its just becoming light and probably way too early. Wow! A band full of signals. First heard was PR7RC calling CQ on 21005 at 599. Great signal. Just up frequency is CO6LP in Cuba calling CQ with a weak, fluttery signal. Not unusual if 15 meters is open long. Here comes G3PLE answering him about S-5, then a W4 with a weak, watery sounding signal.

Tuning up frequency a bit, I run into a small pile..a weak W4 signing with someone, an S-5 signal with some fading. Whoa! Its a 7X4...Algeria with a fair signal with a little chirp on the cw keying. Then the PR7 from down the band is calling him, then other stations from the Northeastern US.

Lets check 12 meters. A number of moderate to weak signals. But what have we here: An EA9 from Ceuta or Melilla working a Germany station...then up at 24908 a 5R8 from Madagascar. Going back down the band, there appears to be a pile at 24902..a weak station from the Bahamas working a string of Europeans, with a Russian and a very strong familiar Belgian call ON5NT in the mix, a W6 that he works OK but which is very weak here in Texas...then he spends some time asking for a repeat, repeat, repeat and there he is, the distance record for the morning, a ZS3 from South Africa with a 549 signal, then a very strong F4 from France.

No doubt very good band conditions for an upper band after a very good low band night the night before, but not much on the low bands this morning. The question is: what brought about the change? Solar activity? Will have to check and see.

But that's one thing that makes this hobby interesting. It is often totally unpredictable...sort of like fishing sometimes.