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”!

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