Monday, July 21, 2014

July 20, 2014 Six Meter Opening

This past weekend (July 19-20, 2014)was a flurry of activity in a short period of time. Company in the house had kept time before the radios to a minimum, but a short period Sunday afternoon more than made up for it.

A friend  had antenna trouble earlier in the week and I managed to take time off from visiting to run by his house and help him trouble shoot the problem. During the course of the visit, we talked about six meters and talked about a quick way to get an antenna up for at least listening on the band. The idea of a wire antenna was already on the table because of my somewhat success in using my 90 foot sloper as an interim antenna on six and the discussion turned in that direction.

We looked at how it is common practice to use a forty meter antenna on fifteen meters. The third harmonic relationship of those two bands means that a half wave antenna on forty becomes a 3/2 wave antenna on fifteen, matching fifty ohms rather closely on both bands. In fact, any half number of half waves will do the same.

Looking at his space available, it was determined that there was room for a 7/2 waves antenna for six meters, it turning out to be about 63 feet long. Interestingly enough, this also would make the antenna useful in the forty meter 'phone band! It was decided he would try putting it up in an inverted Vee configuration as is common for HF operation.

Sunday afternoon, he told me that he had the antenna up and it matched up pretty well without a tuner on six.. As I returned from a road trip taking our visitors back, I got a text from him, first saying he had worked a South Carolina station ( from his  Central Texas QTH) on six with good signals and that there appeared to be a contest on. Just a short time later he had worked 12 stations in 7 states. The top of the wire was probably about 30 feet up.

I checked the contest calendar as I settled back in and noticed that it was the weekend for the CQ World Wide VHF Contest...but it was ending just as I sat down. Since my friend had mentioned the band was open, I decided to tune through the band anyway, if nothing else to see if a few beacons were coming through. I also figured that if the band was really open, a few operators would continue to try to work some VHF DX even if the contest period was over.

Turned out I was right on both counts. Just tuning up from the bottom of the band up to the area where I often hear beacons ( 50060-50080) I quickly ran into an extremely strong signal from WZ8D, on 50067.25 indicated on the R-75 Signal was S-9, sometimes hitting 10 DB over S-9! Yep, there was a band opening! This was at 2106 GMT, just six minutes past the end of the contest.

The receiver was in the wide bandwidth, and I could hear another somewhat weaker signal adjacent, so switching in the 250 Hz filters, it was easy to separate out WA3TTS/B, another beacon on 50068.5 indicated, not quite as strong, but very respectable.

Over the next half hour or so, the following appeared in the reception log ( all times GMT)

2108 W8IF/B 50079.25 579 CW Beacon
2112 WD8CW 50098.2 559 CW calling CQ
2113 K8LEE 50077.9 589 CW Calling CQDX
2114 N5DG 50104.5 549 CW Calling CQDX
(very weak at times, deep fading and a flutter, almost buzz modulated-backscatter?)
2115 K4RX 50103.5 559 CW Calling CQDX
2121 AC4TO 50107 539 CW working another station
2123 AB5EB 50106.25 559 CW Calling CQ DX(fluttery)
2124 KB9AX 50106.5 589 CW Signing with another station
2129 KD8NYL 50130.2 57 SSB In QSO
2130 K4RX 50103.2 589 CW Calling CQDX
2133 WA9IOC 50094 579
2134 W9CPV 50093.25 569 CW
2135 WR9L/B 50074.4 579C CW Beacon
2136 W0FY 50074.4 579 CW Beacon
2137 K0KP 50073.4 589 CW Beacon
2141 K8TB 50065.3 549 CW Beacon
2142 W8EH 50060.6 579 CW Beacon
2144 W0ZF 50128.1 58 SSB
2147 KG9Z 50096.1 579 CW CQ

It might be worth watching the VHF publications and other blogs, because I heard some of the stations apparently working Europeans, though they were not audible to me. I heard at least two stations appearing to exchange signal reports with an ON station and one with an Italian.

It was also interesting to note that relatively nearby stations ( near in the overall scheme of things, not actually local in the Waco area) were obviously multi path back scatter signals with echo, flutter and almost a sound of being modulated by a buzz.
I continue to be intrigued about the idea of using long wire antennas for VHF. There is gain to be had and the multiplicity of lobes makes reception from various directions possible.  It can also allow operation or reception quickly without complicated antenna construction.  Not to say that it would equal stacked multi element yagis, but the inability to get those up should not be a reason not to get on the air or to listen. Feedline does become a consideration, however, as losses at these frequencies are higher and at least a fair match is necessary to avoid even greater losses. open wire line might be a consideration and experimentation is on tap for that here.

I would be interested in hearing from anyone else who noted this opening or others, particularly anyone in Europe who noted it or even heard some US stations.

This opening was particularly interesting because this week has been marked by a very quiet sun, few if any sunspots. All during the week, the upper bands have been poor or totally silent here, thought 20 meters has continued to surprise with openings to Russia and Asia in the 0200-0300 time period.

I hope to have more time to explore what is going on with the bands this week. This past week was filled with visiting grandbabies, and after all, this is “ just a hobby.”

Monday, July 14, 2014

Wake Me When the Band Opens

Wake Me When the band Opens
Sometimes we need to be awakened when the bands are open. It might not seem there is much there and it becomes easy to doze at the controls and just go off and do something else. Maybe we are just hearing the same old stations or maybe we get a little jaded and long for the “real DX” when there is still plenty to be had right in front of us. Maybe we just need to listen a little deeper into the noise. Sometimes it can be a matter of looking back over old waters that we thought had been fished out.

Such was the case this past weekend when C1AT, my second op, found the bands a little boring. The past several days—in fact most of the past week—had seen the low frequencies clobbered with QRN. Static crashes from thunderstorms had entered the headphones and were like a hammer that delivered well directed blows to the head.

So when the weekend came, C1AT suggested starting at mid day with a WWV sweep to see if the higher bands held promise. There was supposed to be a high level of solar activity toward the end of the week and if there were indeed blackouts perhaps the residual ionization might make the high bands better a few days later.

Starting the sweep at 25 MHz was not promising. WWV was a just audible carrier and no signs of WWVH. The 20 MHz stop showed a very strong WWV at S-9+ and very steady, indicative of good short skip. At that point C1AT yawned. OK, lets check 15 MHz. Hmm, S-9 +20DB with WWV on top and WWVH just barely audible behind. At this point C1AT put her head on her paws and uttered tose words,

“Wake me up when the bands open.”

Of course for real DX at midday in Central Texas ( 1700 GMT) it was hardly worth checking 10 MHZ, but I gave it a whirl: WWV was along at S-9+20 DB and steady, and just barely audible at 5 MHz, inaudible at 2.5.

A quick check of 6 meters, looking for some Sporadic E almost woke the cat up. There did not appear to be any activity to speak of and one beacon came through: W3DOG/B on 50017. As soon as she heard that call sign, she cafe a sniff and dropped back off. A swing though the phone band found one station calling CQ on 50135. A little adrenalin pumped when I heard “ Kilo papa 4” a few times with an incomplete call. Turned out to be a KP4/W3. Still DX by 6-meter standards, but short of entering the “ countries” column. And he faded quickly and disappeared, leaving a sea of white noise very conducive to snoozing.

A sweep of 10 meters saw little activity. Many beacons were there, but most operators must have been lulled to sleep by DX boredom. How could they? The band was obviously open to much of the US and the XE1RCS beacon on 28183.4 was quite strong. The somewhat chirpy but very familiar sound of the PY2WFG beacon was there on 29203.3. The West Coast was represented by K6LLL/B on 28203.5 almost colliding with him. And YV5LIX was very strong on 28215. There were other beacons audible from various call areas of the US, at least one other XE a VE7 and a few other Brazilians. Where were the “ live operators”?

Snoozing, I guess.

A trip to 12 meters found no signals at all. None! Fifteen was pretty light. A “7” on SSB along with a TG9 from Guatemala. Slipping down to the cw portion, at 1732 found a station involved in an obvious rag chew style contact, very strong, very steady. Was this another Stateside short skip station? Probably. C1AT snoozed on. But wait! When he signed, it was F6FPU! France with a good, strong, steady signal into Texas. The W3 station he was working was weak and warbly, sure signs of the band being very, very long.

But that was all. Further up the band, there were numerous strong US stations around 21050 taking part in the Weekend Sprint contest for straight key operators. NC1M was 599+20 DB! Maybe the W3 above had just had his beam turned toward Europe and had little signal toward Texas. Maybe C1AT was right. The eyelids were getting a little heavy from hearing the steady “ hiss” from the receiver undisturbed by DX dits and dahs.

Lets check 17 meters. A little excitement when an EA9 showed up with a little pileup on 18070.6, then CT8/DL5NUA on 18075.2 with a fair signal, followed by DL1MD...but then not much.

When one pond shows no fish, try something else. Lets go looking for SWBC stations. Its been awhile since we had done a good sweep of the higher SWBC bands in mid day.

Thirteen meters is the first stop. Will anything be there?

1758 GMT RNE 21610 S-9 Noblejas, Spain
1800 GMT WHRI 21600 S-7 Cypress Creek USA

And that was that! OK, lets look at 16 meters:

1804 (All GMT) VOA 17895 S-9+20db Greenville USA
1805 BBCWS(FR) 17885 S-9 QSB Ascension
1806 RNE 17850 S-9+10DB Noblejas, Spain
1807 WRMI 17790 S-9+30 DB Okeechobee, USA
1809 RNE 17755 S-6 Noblejas, Spain
1810 RNE 17715 S-9 QSB Noblejas, Spain
1812 AIR (!!) 17670 S-5 QSB Dehli, India

Ah, one little jewel. The lists show this last one to be a non directional service. Maybe a yawner to some, but it made at least an interesting entry. The rest of the session was spent with a sweep of 19 meters that did not turn up anything earth shattering, but was still useful to stay familiar with the band. There was one nice logging at 1818 on 15650 from Greece and another of the VOA station in Botswana at 1820 on 15580 that took a little digging to hear well enough to ID, peakinga bout S-5. The rest were routine except for Radio Sultanate of Oman at 1835 on 15140 with a very nice signal.

Not earth shattering DX, but still a fun couple hours in front of the radio. And yet another lesson in finding DX when the band does not appear to be exactly hopping. Even afer all these years, signals from Botswana and Oman are still pretty exciting.

And C1AT? She said to wake her up when Masterpiece Theater came on...

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Flashback: The Doomed Beam Antenna

A few months into my Novice amateur radio career, I was beginning to feel the nibblings of the DX bug pretty bad. A magazine article and a project in the ARRL Antenna Book had me anxious to try building a small beam antenna. The antenna had a small boom and a moderate amount of gain and appeared to be something we could build at home. It was thus that at age 13, my first beam project lived, and died.

The antenna was a two element phased affair known as the “ ZL Special”. I am not sure where the name came from but it brought forth visions of working many of them on fifteen meters. There are literally dozens of articles about the design on the internet now, but then all I had was a few paragraphs in the ARRL Antenna Handbook ( 1961 Edition!)

The antenna is basically two folded dipoles spaced a short distance apart and connected with a transposed phasing line. The articles about it indicated that this resulted in a 135-degree phase difference between the elements. It can be built like a small two element yagi, and fed directly with 52 or 75 ohm line.

I had planned to make it with two pieces of TV twin lead and just hang it in the air, then wondered aloud if it could be made with a wood frame to support the elements. My dad once again jumped into the project and we soon had a frame built out of material from his carpenter's equivalent to a parts “ junk box”. He had material stored that was left over from numerous past projects and remodel jobs. It was to be a lesson in antenna construction for both of us.

It was decided the antenna would be mounted on one of the wood masts for my longwire. The longwire I had was suspended between two wooden masts consisting of 2X4's using rebar as steep angle guys.( My dad never built anything half-way. Those masts had triangular concrete foundations) It would be supported by a short piece of water pipe that would be attached to the mast with a pair of angle iron brackets that would be placed around the mast rather than weaken the wood mast by drilling holes through it. The angle iron came from an old bed frame that turned out to be a source of hardware for a number of antenna projects over the years!

The boom for the antenna was only about five feet long and was to be a 2X4 with a threaded floor flange being the means of attaching it to the water pipe support. The elements would be the twin lead supported by thin rippings of redwood. The twin lead was tied to the supports with monofilament fishing line at about six inch intervals. It was fed with 75 ohm twin lead. This and all my antenna projects were low budget, all built with what was available. The 75 ohm twin lead was two cents per foot in 1963.

The antenna masts were both already designed to be tilt-over affairs so attaching the antenna assembly was not too difficult. It took us the better part of a Saturday to put the beast together and get it into the back yard. At that point we learned just what “heavy duty construction” means.

Dark was falling when we were finally ready to raise the antenna. In order to lift all the weight of the wood mast, we got on the roof to pull on a rope attached to the top of the mast. W had the mast sitting it up on a sawhorse to have it off the ground a bit and to give us a little better pulling angle. Once we got it vertical, it was a matter of putting in a locking pin through the lower part of the mast and reattaching the guy lines. The masts were guyed with pieces of iron reinforcement rod such as is used in concrete and came down within two feet of the base of the mast, making the mast almost like a small tower. My dad really did not like the idea of wire guy lines cluttering up the yard.

There was no rotator for the antenna. We had a light rope dropped to allow the antenna to be pulled in different directions then tied off. It was about 22-feet off the ground. The brackets holding the mast were larger than the mast pipe with a sleeve pipe over it, allowing the antenna mast freedom of motion. The lower of the two brackets supported its weight on an old wheel bearing. My dad was pretty resourceful about such things.

There was little wind when we got the antenna in place. It was also about dark. It would be the next day before the trouble showed up.

Because it was after dark, the 15-meter band was dead and devoid of signals with which to test the antenna. It tuned up fine, actually loading up much easier than the longwires did on 15 meters. It also showed much less power line noise than did the wires. That might have been because it was directional and was turned at right angles to the power lines.

I called a friend of mine across town to get on the air to try it out. I started out with it turned toward him. He was across Waco from me, probably about 12 miles away by air. The initial word was good. I was much stronger there than I had been on my old inverted V and somewhat stronger than on the longwires. Turning the antenna 180 degrees showed a good drop in signal and turning it 90 degrees to him had me almost disappearing. The initial feeling was that it was working well.

The big test would be the next day. I had a weekly schedule with a station in the state of Washington and that would tell the tale of whether the antenna would really work better than what I had been using. Images of large numbers of DX QSL cards began to appear in my head.

The next morning, the wind was up a bit. As we backed out of the driveway to go to church, my dad and I noticed that the elements were hopping a bit in the wind. He noted that they appeared to catch the wind quite a bit.

By the time we got back from church, the wind had picked up quite a bit. I went out back to try to turn the antenna to the northwest to set up for my schedule. It was a real fight getting it swung around. Winds were up around 20 to 30 miles per hour by that time and it was obvious that something about the wood elements was really catching the wind. The ends were moving a foot or more up and down continuously. The wood mast was creaking and swinging within the constrains of its guys.

About that time, my friend had driven over to see what we had built and as he and my dad came out it was obvious that the antenna or mast might not survive. Rather than loose the whole thing, it was decided to try to take it down.

That decision was almost a disaster in itself. It took all three of us hanging on ropes to lower the mast that by that time was bucking and twisting wildly. We got the thing down, took the brackets off the mast and raised it back up where it seemed to heave a sigh of relief at just holding up the wires again.

The doomed ZL Special never came up off the ground again. Within days it was disassembled and the twin lead went into my own parts junk box for use another day. Thus were lessons learned at an early age about light weight antenna construction and the effects of wind loading!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

New Operating Position

This week I had time to spend in front of the radios following a complete makeover of a room in our house--new paint, new floor, a long awaited removal of a bar that opened an alcove and a place to bring the radios into a designed for usage, real indoor shack. I wonder how many of you have a planned area for the radios or if they just find a place to land and get used there?

My dad had built a desk for my radios several years ago, but for the past 25 or so it has been used more as a bookcase and "business" desk and a place for the computer. Now its being used for which it was designed. I have my primary radios all in one place ( though if my life is any indicator, there may be some shuffling later!) sitting on a slightly elevated shelf with the knobs at the right height, accessories with their own shelf and spaces, holes for cables, good place for a desk lamp and clock. It's wonderful! And it only took 16 years to get done!
Radio Desk

For now the primary radios are a Yaesu FT-757-GX for both hamming and SWL DX with special filters for SSB and CW, my Icom R-75 with dual 250 Hz cw filters and special AM and SSB filters in a modification, an old Icom 251 all mode 2 meter rig for SSB and CW DX and an old favorite, my Hallicrafters SX-96 for SWBC and BCB-DX...all in a row. Some of my other receivers are stacked above along with a couple transmitters.  You might recognize a Heathkit DX-40, Knight VFO, Drake 2B with Q-multiplier and speaker, MacKay vintage shipboard receiver. Eico 723 transmitter and 722 VFO and a fifties vintage Montgomery Ward Airline broadcast receiver.

I wonder why this took so long! There are even good places for current logbooks and my cw keys that can be far enough back for my forearm to be comfy. And there is a great spot for the flat screen computer monitor at eye level out of the way of the radios! My late dad would be proud to see it put to its proper use. And I am amazed at the thought he put into designing the desk for best use. Anyone else designed a special shack? Or like my old ones, did it just grow on its own? Now if I just had the matching Hallicrafters speaker to go with the SX-96....

Second Op-C1AT

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

May Six Meter Sporadic E Opening!

I have been intrigued by Sporadic-E propagation since my youth and experiences with TV-DX-ing ( seen an earlier post that details those exciting days!) I don't know if anyone has a definitive answer as to just what causes Sporadic E, though there has been speculation ranging from thunderstorms to short, high bursts of energy from the sun to “just because” or “they just happen”.

In any event, they do occur and appear to be the result of high ionization areas or clouds in the E layer that appear sporadically ( hence the name). These openings result in localized higher than normal maximum useable frequencies that can affect signals beginning about 2 mHz up through the VHF range. Activity up through six meters and up to about 70 mHz is fairly common, though there have been occasions of Sporadic E extending up into the FM broadcast band ( 88-108 mHz in the U.S.) or even occasionally up into the 2 meter amateur band ( 144 mHz).

I have noticed the best Sporadic E openings beginning in the month of May and extending throughout the summer, to about mid August in North America. At least that is the time frame I have made the most loggings by this mode. That is not to say that such openings do not occur other times of the year. I have noticed a few even in the dead of winter. Others may have noticed more in other parts of the year. My observations might also have been affected by the time I had available to look for them or just lack of noticing.

I had begun tuning up through six meters back in April, looking for beacon signals, but other than the local ground wave available signals had not heard anything. I had also begun checking DX Summit for such things.

It was just such a check that led me to tune up to six meters this Sunday (18 May local time) I had not been in front of the radios on Saturday because of a trip out of town to one of the grandbaby's birthday party ( this IS just a hobby and there ARE priorities!! :-) ). But after getting back late Saturday night and before getting into bed about midnight ( the 200 mile trip each way in one day is rather tiring) I did make a check of DX Summit to see if there had been anything unusual. There I found a number of entries of 6 meter activity that had continued not just through the day but well into the night.

Sunday afternoon was the first time that it became possible to get in front of the radios. Just a quick tune through the band resulted in the “find” of a strong SSB signal on 50140 in the form of AG6V at 2206 GMT, then going back down the band, a very strong CQ on CW from XE2CQ ( nice call!) above S-9 on 50104 at 2211 GMT. Over the next few minutes the following stations were heard. Times are, of course, GMT.

2212 AI6O 50097.14 CW 579QSB “CQ”
2216 AA4CF 50097.54 CW 559 “CQ”
2219 KD4AOZ/B 50061.26 CW 559QSB BEACON
2222 K4TQR 50050.34 CW 569 BEACON
2227 N4LR/B 50068.42 CW 549 BEACON
2228 WN6K 50098.00 CW 559 “CQ” DM13
2230 N4KH 50097.4 CW 599QSB “CQ” EM64
2233 XE1RCS/B 50019.43 CW 549 BEACON EK09
2242 N4LR/B 50068.41 CW 569 BEACON EM73

Further tuning around at that time resulted in no new signals, but Sporadic E lived up to its name: signals would go from barely audible to over S-9 in seconds, stay up there perhaps a minute, then plunge to the edge of audibility.

By the way the set up for logging these stations was the Icom R-75 in the wide cw bandwidth or the wide SSB bandwidth and connected to an 80 meter sloper at the high end up about 45 feet, sloping down toward the East.  I am in Waco, Texas in EM11.

After an hour or so break, I came back to the radio just to see if the band was still open. Surprisingly, it was! Some signals were surprisingly strong, especially since I had not set up the feedline for the antenna for VHF work. Normally for day to day HF work the antenna comes to the shack in about a 175 foot run of RG-8X routed out of the way around the edge of the yard. The line loss at the lower HF frequencies is tolerable in that length of line. Usually when I plan to listen on 6 meters, I disconnect the longer line and run the shorter 75 foot line directly across the yard, suspended across what is normally a walkway to reduce the losses. Of course it cannot be left that way. Perhaps this summer another support will have to sprout next to the shack window by the house with a “proper” six meter antenna on it and a short length of heliax to feed it.

This time, the Mexican and West coast stations did not appear, and interestingly, some Texas stations only moderate distances were heard. I am certain they were not coming ground wave, but perhaps by Sporadic E back scatter. The distances from Dallas, New Braunfels and San Antonio were far too short for Sporadic E into Waco. I am not sure about one particularly strong station heard from Brownsville at the far southern tip of the state.

Here are the loggings, again with times GMT, and now past 7 PM local CDT and into May 19 GMT.

0047 KS4L 50095.6 CW 559 “CQ”
0053 W0OOG 50097.6 CW 549 “CQ”
0054 AB4B 50095.27 CW 589 “CQ” EM64
0055 K5HTI 50125.6 USB 55
0056 K5HGX 50125.6 USB 55 EM11
0056 W9CAR 50125.6 USB 58/59 TN
0057 AB4B 50132.7 USB 57 “CQ”
0058 N4IM 50132.7 USB 54
0059 W4BAB 50145.7 USB 57
0104 AA9RN 50155.2 USB 57
0105 AB5EW 50150.2 USB 56 EL09
0105 W4BAB 50150.2 USB 57
0106 NE4TN 50150.2 USB 57
0108 W5QQ 50132.9 USB 55
0110 KA5GNM 50130.3 USB 58
0112 W4AQQ 50132.7 USB 58
0112 AB4B 50132.7 USB 58
0122 K4EJQ 50095.8 CW 599 RUNNING 1 KW AND 6 EL.
0123 AF5FM 50098.6 CW 579
0125 AB5EB 50150.5 USB 55 EL09
0129 W4VAS 50145.25 USB 56 EM74
0129 W4SOH 50145.25 USB 57 EM76
0131 K4MVL 50145.25 USB 57
0132 W3DP 50125.25 USB 57
0134 N9JED 50125.25 USB 55
0134 W4IMD 50125.25 USB 59+
0136 N4BAF 50135.15 USB 57

At this point, other activities required the listening session to end. I noticed on DX Summit the next day during daylight and early evening in Europe, many postings of stations working over similar or greater signals. I noticed several times stations calling CQ with no takers. Perhaps many people were unaware the opening was even occurring!

This is, indeed, Sporadic E season, such as I enjoyed in my young days of TV DX-ing, but with six meters, the band can appear open even when the Maximum Useable Frequency would not be high enough to even put a single rolling bar through an analog tv picture!

I would be very interested in hearing some of your signals heard on six meters the past few days and in the days to come. Just drop a note through comments. Include your email address if you want ( it will not be posted, all comments are reviewed before going up) and I will email you back with my personal email address. I would be interested in hearing about the openings and would also be happy to add your loggings to a future posting on the blog! The same goes for DX on any other mode, as well...HF amateur DX, Shortwave Broadcast, Medium Wave Broadcast, TVDX or NDB's. Would love to hear from you!

73 and good listening!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Waking up May

A couple nights after the May-opening debacle, it was with some trepidation that I sat down in front of the radios. After months and months of poo-pooing those who said that the cycle was on the downslide and arguing that the bands were still hot, I had had my confidence in them shaken a bit. So instead of running back to find the goodies, it was time to sort of sneak up on it a bit.

To that end, as the dial lights came up on the R-75 with its memory taking it back to the 3 mHz range, I thought that would be a good place to start the WWV sweep to get a sense of what was going on. It was the night of May 2nd Central Daylight Time, just at dark, or 0200 GMT. As usual, all times are GMT.

0202 WWV 2500 S-9+20DB ( low bands OK!)
0203 WWV 5000 S-9+20DB
0204 WWV 10000 S-9+40 DB ( first hop very good!)
0205 WWV 15000 S-9+30DB (higher bands not struggling!)
0205 WWVH 15000 Strong behind WWV—not just a first hopper!
0206 WWV 20000 S-5 But steady...hope for the higher bands!
0206 WWV 25000 Inaudible, but might not be on the air this late

Well, let's just see if the Maximum Useable Frequency is lower or if WWV 25 mHz is just off the air! ( according to their website, WWV 25 was just on limited hours). Punch 24890 into the R-75's keypad and hit “ enter”. Well, there is some atmospheric noise when the antenna is connected, Tuning up from the bottom of the band with the bandwidth wide open...nothing. What's this? Are folks not expecting it to be open and just not here? Is the band open to some watery, unpopulated area of the Pacific? Cruising slowly up the band the noise starts dipping rhythmically.

Something is hitting the AGC on the edge of the passband. Anticipating leads to faster tuning and sure enough there are multiple stations dropping in callsigns. Something is in there. Some of the stations calling are JA's but can't break any callsigns out. Are they calling some North American station that I would not be able to hear? No! Under the pile was ZL3PAH on 24911.3. To coin a phrase, “the deaths of 10 and 12 were greatly exaggerated”! But there were not a lot of stations in there...I did pull out the callsign of JA2FJP, then WA7NBU came blasting in at RST599+10 DB. First hoppers were still stronger. But the main thing was, the band was still open even if folks weren't taking advantage.

Let's slip down to 15. Band noise is there but only one station head on CW: LU9MDH at 0215 on 21020, RST559 with lots of QSB. Not one to give up right away, I kept running up and down the band and did eventually find another station at 0218. Asiatic Russia in the form of RV9CX on 21027.5 with flutter calling CQ. No takers.

Well, maybe as dark progresses the band really is starting to tank. Let's drop to 17. Coming up from the bottom I hit a fair signal from RZ0AF on 18070, another Asiatic Russian, again with a fading, flutery signal. Is this the way its going to be? Band openings just to the west, toward the sun? Up just a bit at 0220 finds WA1EHV on 18072.6, very strong, very steady. So it looks like the first hop stuff is doing better than the DX. If the Asiatic Russians are weak will that be all there is? But wait! As he signs, the station he is working pops up with a lot of flutter at RST549. Drat! As luck would have it, he fades a bit just as he is signing and I miss the prefix, just getting the last part: “3DX”. But “ don't touch that dial!” If he was a US station too close or on backscatter, he will be gone. But if he was a DX station that held the frequency before working the WA1, one should wait. Maybe he will call CQ in search of another hunter. Wait, wait, wait...THERE HE IS! He is calling CQDX with a quick

turnaround and I missed the prefix again. Was it an EA? Wait, here he goes again. ES3DX! Estonia. Now the question is, was the band somehow open to Europe short path, or was this ES3 coming longpath?

Let's tune around a bit and see if we can figure it out. Up at 18087 there is another station calling CQDX. Is this another European, indicating maybe a shortpath opening? Nope. RU9HM, another Asiatic Russian. Moving up and down the band, nothing much else shows up except W1AW on 18097.5 at RST569. No other Europeans. Hmmmm, chalk this up as a good maybe at longpath!

OK, let's try 20 meters. By now its 0224. If this is a “sun only” opening, there should be only Asian stations, and maybe weak fluttering Europeans long path. But as you can see from the loggings below, its really ambiguous. All times GMT, all on R-75 and sloper:

0224 RA3RLP 14002 RST 539,flutter calling CQ Russia
0225 UA1APX 14003.13 RST579 qsb Russia
0225 K9LZJ 14003.3 RST539 flutter, backscatter? Working the UA1
0226 DL1NKS 14007 RST589 steady Germany
0226 K0DU/QRP 14007 RST569 working the DL1 USA
0228 W9FAM 14009.2 RST589 USA
0228 RU4HD 14009.2 RST569 working the W9 Russia
0230 VE7CP 14010.8 RST559 calling CQ BC, Canada
0231 UA6HX 14011.4 RST569 calling CQ Russia

 So, which is it, long or short path Goodness knows...but they are in the log! Getting late and time to shut down...quick check of 30 meters before having to walk the dogs. At 0233 GMT 10104.4, PZ5RA in Surinam RST 579. Maybe I should tune around just a few minutes more....

But, hark, hark, the dogs do bark...and there is the carpet to think about. Ok pups, lets go outside! Real life intrudes in the hobby yet again! :-)

May Starts With a Snooze

If April went out with a yawn, May started by hitting the “snooze” button on it's alarm clock. This was the week after the big flare and the time period that the big coronal mass ejection was supposed to miss the earth completely. May 1 GMT in front of the radio started with the following WWV sweep ( Times GMT, receiver R-75 on 80 meter sloper:

0000 WWV 25000 Inaudible
0001 WWV 20000 Carrier just audible
0002 WWV 15000 S-6
0002 WWVH 15000 S-6 even with WWV
0003 WWV 10000 S-9+30DB
0004 WWV 5000 S-9
0005 WWV 2500 S-4

The snoozing gets worse. For the first time in as long as I can remember, with the sun up, Ten Meters was completely and truly dead. I mean dead. No discernible noise other than receiver front end noise, not ONE beacon heard, nothing on CW or SSB. Whoa!. Same same Twelve Meters. Absolutely nothing.

Fifteen was not much better. No broadcast signals above the band, no CW signals, just a little noise and finally on SSB, one lone signal from PY2VI in Brazil on 21301. Seventeen meters was still not much good. The only station on the band was W1AW/1, one of the ARRL Centennial stations calling CQ on CW only RST449 with heavy QSB. He was getting no takers. This IS bad!

On down to 20. There I find plenty of signals, strong and steady, but all close in, single hop stuff. The strongest signal on the band is another operator of W1W/1 on 14026 working plenty of stations, but mostly in Florida and the Midwest. I hear one, lone VE3 in Ontario calling CQ and he is only RST549.

On down to 30 meters. At least WWV was strong on 10 mHz. Not an auspicious beginning. The first station heard is K5RIX on 10113.5. ( I am in the “5” call area) Not exactly DX. It is still full daylight and perhaps a little early for the band, but there have been many times I have heard Europeans this early. Nope! Not this time! There is another W1AW/1 station heard about S-7, but otherwise mostly Midwest stations strong and steady. Well, one W7 whose call indicates Northwest. One more sweep and the only DX found is one lone signal from Panama. Its the first time I have heard a beacon on this band: HP1AVS RST449 with QSB on 10122.1 at 0028.

OK...let's try something radical. I go all the way down the MW broadcast band. I am sure the absorption will still be high for skip, but let's just see if things are any better really down low. I started at the top of the Expanded Band. On days the band will be good, stuff often starts propping in early. At 1700, the station within groundwave range on daytime power, KKLF in Richardson, Texas is in at S-7, but there is already some short skip as KVNS from Brownsville—way too far for groundwave—is battling it out with him. The Chicago area WVON on 1690 is starting to show up about S-4, at least making it well over my local noise level. Nothing on 1680 yet, 1670 is covered with splash from the local 1660 KRZI with 10 kw with its usual S-9+50 DB signal from only a few miles away. By going to the narrow lower SSB position, I am able to pull out KZLS from Enid, Oklahoma on 1640.This station is marginally audible here during the daytime on the bigger wire antennas.

On down to 1630, the usual groundwave signal from KKGM in Fort Worth, Texas is there about S-6 and showing some signs of co channel hop. This station just does not have the signal one would expect from a 10 kw non directional station just 90 miles away. Its dial mate, WTAW on 1620 in College Station, Texas, also 90 miles away but in the opposite direction is always much stronger, today at S-9+20DB with no signs of co channel showing up yet at 0050.

Going down to 1610, The Caribbean Beacon from Anguilla ( which should be in or near darkness by now) is starting to show up, fading a bit but about S-5 on peaks with good audio. On 1600, another semi local from the Dallas/Fort Worth area, KRVA is in at S-9 with no interference. The local 1590 KLRK is in at S-9+20DB. It's transmitter is about 20 miles away East of town, technically licensed to Mexia, but now in reality a Waco station with 2500 watts. My location on the West side of Waco is right in the hot lobe of its four-tower directional array.

There is a little more skywave starting to show at 0108 GMT as the 1 kw KXZZ from Lake Charles, Louisiana ( once upon a time KLOU with a rock more!) is in about S-8, using the lower sideband narrow selectivity position on the R-75 to get it out from under any KLRK splash. A slight nudge of the tuning dial down to 1570 and the band is starting to open more as XERF on 1570 is already in at S-9+20DB. It will get stronger as the night comes on. I am not sure how much power this station in Villa Acuna, Mexico is actually running these days. It was a true Border Blaster in the day with 250 kw right across the border from Del Rio, Texas. But in recent years it has been reported running as low as 50 kw, then a few years ago there was word that the 250 kw was running again ( and it sounded like it!!) with the World Radio TV Handbook and others listing it at 100kw. I can say it is truly stout into Central Texas from a bit before dark till at least an hour after sunrise every day.

For some reason, I slipped back to 1620 since it was obvious that to the east of us, darkness was falling, and sure as the world, Radio Rebelde from Cuba is starting to come up behind WTAW.

OK, how about we check a few lower frequency shortwave stations. Wow! They are obviously getting through! WWRB is S-9+30DB on 3185 at 0115 ( remember the time when there were no US stations down here, or even below 49 meters?). Just up a smidge from it at 3215, WWCR is S-9+40DB at 0116. Scrolling on up in the upper sideband mode to allow easy detection of carriers, I find Radio Mosoj Chaski on 3310 at about S-5 and rising. And next to it, Radio Sonder Grosse from South Africa is booming in at S-9+DB on 3320. The ionosphere isn't broken!
Just time to check a few more as the supper call is coming. CHU, the Canadian Time Signal station on 3330 is S-9+20DB ( I still remember when it used to identify as “ CHU, Dominion Observatory, Canada”.  Sorry to see them drop that part, it always sounded sort of special)

The only other signal heard in the 90 meter band that once was so full of signals comes from HRMD in Honduras ( I still like to log them by call letters when they are available...old habits....). A fast dial up as the second supper call comes finds New York Volmet WSY70 on 3485 at S-8. But now red beans and rice are calling from the supper table more loudly than stations from the radio! There ARE priorities!!!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Closing Out April

This last weekend of April had not been all that productive as far as great DX was concerned. I had spent a good bit of the month trolling the ham bands and decided that at least part of the last weekend of the month should be spent looking through the broadcast bands. I did not make it up early on Sunday the 27th, so the tropical bands were already pretty well done by the time morning chores were completed.

After the dogs, cats, birds, squirrels and other assorted critters in and around household were fed ( we have feeders for the wild creatures out back plus four dogs and three cats that demand attention!) and the coffee was made it was already just past 8 AM local ( CDT) time, or 1300 GMT.

The WWV sweep showed 2500 and 5000 kHz already dropping down in strength, while 10 mHz was well up but with WWVH still very strong up behind WWV, almost overriding it. On 15 mHz, WWVH was head and shoulders over WWV at S-9+10DB. The 20 mHz WWV was just audible and 25 mHz was not detectable.
I had remembered from my younger days listening to Radio Australia before school on 9580 ( has any other station ever really owned that frequency?) up until after 8 AM, and with the 10 mHz WWVH being very strong, figured at least to try to see what might be lurking on 31 meters, even though the sun was well up.

Since I was already nostalgic about my high school days from thinking about Radio Australia keeping me company while dressing for school, I decided to use the Drake 2B that joined my shack almost fifty years ago to make the morning sweep. The 2B is mostly a ham bands only receiver, but it has five bandswitch positions that allow use of extra crystals to tune five additional 600 kHz wide bands. The range is actually a little more than that with the extra range on the dial.

When the lights came on in the dial and the S-meter swung up to its upper limit, then drifted down to its regular position, I noticed that it was still tuned to 40 meters where it had last been tuned so I figured I'd make a quick sweep for broadcast stations that might still be there before trundling up to 31 meters. With the receiver in the SSB mode, so carriers would show up behind the Sunday morning amateur traffic, a quick sweep showed a few Asians still coming in.

This late it was all China, all the time! With stations noted on 7205, 7215, 7225 ( with a strong S-8 signal this late in the morning!) 7230, 7265, 7275, 7325 7365, and 7385 ( the last two possibly Firedrake jammers) Radio Free Asia from the transmitter on Saipan was very stoute on 7390 with the quick sweep ending when I hit WWCR on 7490 at S-9+20db!

OK, so it was on to 31 meters to see what we could see. With the crystal in the “C” bandswitch position, the receiver would tune from 9300 to abut 9900. The first station hit was again radio Free Asia presumably again Saipan according to the lists on what appeared to be on the Drake to be 9336 kHz with a booming signal at S-9+20db. Just a bit higher up at 9370 WWRB almost pegged the meter. Below are the loggings of the morning beginning at about 8:50 AM Local Time ( CDT) or 1350 GMT

The columns are time in GMT, station, frequency, and location if determined. All logged on the Drake 2B with an 80 meter sloper for the antenna ( high end at 45 feet)

1350 Radio Thailand 9390 S-9 Udon Thani, Thailand
1353 Far East B/C Corp 9400 S-6 Philippines
1355 China Radio 9410 S-5 Beijing
1356 China Radio 13 9420 S-5 Lingshi, China ( fast QSB)
1357 Far East B/C Corp 9430 S-9+10 DB Philippines
1358 Voice of Korea 9435 S-7 North Korea ( erratic QSB)
1402 Overcomer Ministry 9460 S-5 Unknown transmitter location
1403 All India Radio 9470 S-4 Aligarh, India ( Flutter QSB, down into noise)
1404 WTWW 9475 S-9+30 DB USA
1406 China Radio 9500 S-6 Shijiazhoung, China
1408 Radio Veritas 9520 S-6 Philippines ( rapid, deep QSB)
1412 China Radio 9525 S-7 China with 1 kHz het
1413 CRI 9535 S-5 Kunming, China
1418 Radio Havana 9550 S-8 Havana, Cuba
1420 Radio Australia 9580 S-9+20DB
1422 BBC WS 9585 S-8 Singapore
1424 R. Nikkei 1 9595 S-7 Tokyo
1429 R. Taiwan 9625 S-5 Taiwan ( heavy flutter fading)

After spending most of the rest of the day with the family, I drifted back to the radios later in the evening. It was actually after 7 PM local or midnight the GMT morning of April 28. I was back on the R-75 at this point and decided to go against my usual grain and start near where I had been and work up. The 30 meter amateur band was very active with very strong US signals throughout. Not a lot of DX, but it turned out to be good I looked around. First there was one lone Spanish station: ED5BY on 10109 at 0015. Then I heard a bit of a commotion down the band a bit and in the pile that had quickly formed up I found TF4X from Iceland holding forth. He was not strong, 559, and there was considerable flutter and echo on his signal ( auroral?)

Twenty meters wasn't showing much, either. Mostly US stations. A trip up to 17 found a few stations and another high latitude station from an area not heard often: JW0FA on 18073 at 0022 from Svalbard. Not an entity one will have much chance of hearing broadcasters from! Like the Icelandic station on 30 meters a bit earlier, the signal was marked by flutter and echo.

A check of the WWV's showed some promise for the higher bands. The 25 mHz WWV showed just a trace of carrier, the 20 mHz was about S-3, but the surprise was 15 mHz where the S-meter read S-9+20 DB. And while the WWV signal was probably most of that, WWVH was very strong behind it.

Maybe it would be worth a check of the higher broadcast bands. This time it was with the R-75 on the sloper.

0033 Radio Australia 19000 S-8 with echo (interesting!) Shepparton
0035 Radio Australia 17860 S-9 stead Shepparton
0037 VOA 17820 S-5 Tinang, Philippines
0038 Radio Australia 17795 S-4 flutter Shepparton
0039 HCJB-Australia 17760 S-4 Kunamurra, Australia
0041 Radio Australia 17750 S-4 echo/flutter Shepparton
0042 CNR-1 17605 S-4 Beijing, China
0044 CNR-1 17580 S-7 flutter Lingshi, China
0045 Firedrake Jammer 17560 S-6 China
0046 CNR-1 17550 S-4 Heavy fading Beijing, China
0048 R. Pakistan 15730 S-5 Flutter, echo Islamabad, Pakistan
0050 R. New Zealand 15720 S-6 Steady New Zealand
0054 R. China Int'l 15565 S-5 China
0056 R. Vatican 15470 S-5 via Tinang, Philippines

Interesting signals. Some strong and steady, others from the same locations weak and fluttery. More than likely because The beam headings were in some other direction that toward North America. Might be some long path or more likely backscatter. Those with echo, perhaps multipath signals. Hearing things sound like that have always given me the feeling of finding something exotic.

One last check of the upper ham bands showed background noise on fifteen, but no immediately noticeable signals. One more pass for luck? Well, they say you make your own luck. That last pass turned up one signal: JT1AA/3,  Mongolia at 0106 on 21020 on cw...signal a fair RST569. Perhaps not too surprising given all the China broadcast stations that had been coming in. That one last pass is almost always worth it!!!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

April Goes Out with Near Prop Flop

The last full weekend in April was not a red letter one for the log here. There had been a big X-Flare during the week, and while the Charged Mass Ejection was not expected to hit the Earth, there did appear to be some impact.

I have grown to expect first a blackout, then an actual improvement or enhancement of prop on the higher bands as the ionosphere “settles down” following such a flare. Either I missed it, or it just did not happen.

There was no time to get in front of the radios the day of the flare itself, but I did manage to get into the glow of the dials Friday night about 8 P.M. ( 0100 April 26 GMT). The WWV sweep did give some indication that the high bands should be in good shape ( times GMT):

0119 WWV 2500 S-9+10 DB
0120 WWV 5000 S-9+20 DB
0121 WWV 10000 S-9+30 DB
0122 WWV 15000 S-9+20 DB
0122 WWVH 15000 Easily audible behind WWV
0123 WWV 20000 S-5 with QSB
0124 WWV 25000 S-4 rapid, deep QSB

Getting to the bands themselves, the only audible signal on the ten meter band was the VY0SNO beacon on 28182. It did have a fairly nice signal, 579, but there appeared to just be no activity in North America to be heard. ( this often seems to happen on ten. There will be good prop as indicated by the presence of beacon signals, but no one on the air to take advantage of it) There were, however, no signs of beacon signals from Central or South America.

There were a few signals on 12 meters, but mostly on SSB and mostly US stations in ragchews. A move down to 17 meters brought the first DX of the evening with JN1NOM calling CQ at 0129 on 18076 logged with a 549 signal. He seemed to be getting no takers. Just up one click at 18077 was RU9NC at 559 with lots of flutter. US stations from the New England area had good signals that were strong and steady, but Midwest and West Coast stations were weak and fluttery. On to 20 meters.

First tuning did not bode well. There was nothing at the bottom or the band but OK1HB on 14007 calling CQ at 0132 and not finding any company. Further up the band, US stations were working each other with nice, strong, steady signals, a sign of good short skip. The band appeared very short. I did find a pile up uncharacteristically high in the band at 14028, but it turned out to be on W1AW/1, the centennial ARRL station down one, listening up. All were near local strength. This was not looking good.

As I tuned the edges of the pileup I heard a weak, fluttery signal about 14029. the rhythm of his calling did not match those of the pileup, so tightening up the selectivity and working the passband tuning on the R-75 a bit, I was able to tell he was not trying to work W1AW, but seemed to be working his own pile. After about five minutes of getting one letter at a time when he did sign his call every few contacts, I found the jewel of the evening: A65CA in the United Arab Emirates! He was really down in the grass with echo and flutter.

It had been a long stressful day at work and the eyelids were getting heavy. Its funny how concentrating on CW can lead to the forehead clunking down on the table if you don't watch it! So it would be one more sweep of the band to see if any other Middle East stuff would come through.

It may be “cheating” a little to check DX Summit to some, but if you can't hear them what does it matter...and if you do, well you just saved a little time. The “cheating” would come if you heard the signal and just assumed it was the target and logged it in the SWL column.  So when I use DX Summit, I force myself to fully copy the callsign and at least one callsign of stations he is working to get it in the “heard” column.

There was a spot for TA3AX on 14010. Tuning down there, sure enough I found him, but closer to 14009.9 by my accounting ( with the 250 Hz dual filters, that distinction IS important!) He was in pretty steady at 559. This made me wonder if the A65 I had heard earlier had his beam pointed another direction and I had been hearing him perhaps on backscatter or multi path and the TA3 had his pointed more my way. He was calling CQ when I heard him and I got no clues to that from stations he was working, so that is just a guess.

By now the sleepies were really attacking hard, so one more quick sweep up the band turned up more strong US stations including W1AW/2 on 14027.3 with the strongest, steadiest signal of the evening, pushing the R-75 s-meter to + 20 db. The only European heard in the evening was found on 14037 at 0144 in the form of IZ8EFD coming in 559. I caught him signing with another station who was quite strong when he came back. A bit of a surprise when he identified showed him to be from Venezuelan using the special call 4M5M, logged at 589. This sort of confirmed to me that the band was fairly short. It was also time for Lights Out”!

A bit of a reflection here: I remember the earlier years of DX-ing where nothing would keep me away from the glowing dials. Sleep could be easily pushed back, either with coffee or a Coke or just sheer will. Age has brought on a more clearly defined “wall”.  Either that or the Sandman has a bigger shovel these days!

In the perfect DX-ers world, I would have been up before sunrise checking the post flare prop. But in the real world of older age, lack of endurance I have noticed following cancer treatments a few years ago ( not sure what it did, but there has been an effect from the chemo and radiation that has been noticeable even now—but, cancer free eight years now!! No complaints!) and our Saturday morning ritual of a leisurely breakfast with the wife and I, on the weekend mornings if I sleep in, it is usually mid morning or later before the radios light up. ( It is JUST a hobby, isn't it! )

As it was, it was almost 10:00 A.M. Texas time before the tubes lit up. My old friend Drake 2B was lit this morning alongside the R-75.

This was the weekend for a Swiss contest so I anticipated a lot of European activity on 20 meters. Wrong! It was like the night before. US stations were very strong and steady, as if first hop prop was relatively short. At 1455 GMT, the pileup on W1AW/1 was deep and strong, with the Drake analog S-meter staying above +20 db most of the time.

I still prefer the mechanical S-meters. On the Drake, in the Fast AVC mode, the needle bounces around a lot, while in the Slow mode it sort of floats around. On the old Hallicrafters SX-111 it really bounces around with each dit and dah on cw and flies around vigorously on SSB or fading AM stations.

As an aside, in addition to being great on the ham bands, the SX-111 is really great for for broadcast DX-ing on the 41 meter broadcast band and on 31 meters, too. Even though it is a ham bands only receiver, the WWV bandswitch position allowing reception of the 10 mHz WWV allows enough tuning range to get fairly far down into 31 meters and the 50 kHz IF provides excellent selectivity on AM in the wider bandwidth positions that provides quite pleasant AM reception. There is no actual calibration for the 31 meter band, but as one who developed methods of determining frequency long before accurately calibrated dials or digital readouts I have my ways of knowing where I am!!! Just ask any other old time DX-er! ( Maybe that should be the subject of a future blog entry!)

The mechanical S-meter on my old SX-96 is much larger and seems more damped than the 111's. The '96 might have different AVC characteristics as well, having been designed more as an SWL receiver than as an amateur receiver. The digital bar type S-meters just are not the same! But back to the subject at hand.

After noting several stations from the “4” and “7” call districts pounding into Central Texas, tuning down the band showed almost nothing below 14025. Finally one weak signal was heard calling “ CQ Test” around 14030 with lots of QSB. It was the first station heard working the Swiss contest: HB9CA, working mostly fairly close in European stations with few of them audible here at all, and the ones that were, too weak to ID. Over the next few minutes, only three other HB's were found. One unusual thing for this time of the morning on 20 was noted: a South American, PT5WF, was trying to work some of the Swiss stations in the contest. He was weak and fluttery, probably aggravated by the fact that he certainly had his beam pointed away from me and toward his would-be targets. Or perhas it was backscatter.

 It was time for a WWV sweep to get an idea of what's happening. It was time to use the R-75 for this because of the keypad frequency entry making it quick work. Besides the Drake was not crystalled up for other than the 5, 10 and 15 mHz WWV's Again, times are GMT. ( 1500 GMT is 10:00 A.M. Local time here...CDT)

1507 WWV 2500 Inaudible
1507 WWV 5000 Inaudible
1508 WWV 10000 S-9+ 20 DB
1509 WWV 15000 S-9+ 20 DB
1509 WWVH 15000 Well audible behind WWV
1510 WWV 20000 Carrier Just audible
1511 WWV 25000 Carrier Just audible

It appears the higher bands are not being helped out much by the earlier flare, and, in fact, seem a bit depressed from their usual activity.  A check of ten meters showed just a few beacons. Those beacons are a really good indicator of band activity and no matter where in the world you may be, there should be some of these little low power stations pumping out 1 to 5 watts 24 hours a day. One really good list can be found on one of the pages on

This particular morning, pickin's were rather slim. Once again, times are GMT for these beacon loggings:

1514 WA4ROX/B 28285.9 RST559 C ( “c” in RST reports indicates a chirping signal)
1519 LU2ERC 28193 RST339 Argentina
1520 LU2FB 28197 RST339 Argentina
1521 PY2WFG 28203.3 RST449 Brazil
1525 NP2SH 28275 RST559 QSB Virgin Islands

After only a few South Americans were heard calling CQ endlessly without response, as is my habit, I began working my way down toward the lower bands. The stop in twelve meters was not long with one station, K5XB, heard on backscatter, again heard calling CQ with no takers. The only other CW station on the band was from Madeira, CT3HF. 

Once again, I fear that people are giving up on the bands too easily.It appears that some may make a quick tune through and if they do not hear a gaggle of stations, go on somewhere else. It may be that two things could help this situation out. One would be for those working stations to post them on DX Summit or other spotting networks and for others to spend some time calling CQ. Checking the beacons on ten meters should be a “given”. And again, the clue of atmospheric noise other than static crashes or local man manmade noise should be an indicator that more time should be spent trolling the waters. So many times I have heard DX stations, sometimes quasi-rare ones even, calling CQ to no avail!

It might be that DX-ers of today are missing a bet in not making use of some of the patience of our forebears. It may be a clue to our changing culture that we all look for instant gratification even in our DX-ing!

A jump down to 15 meters did result in finding some of the activity in the Swiss Contest. Several HB9 stations were heard with moderately strong signals from 1515 to about 1700 GMT. Interestingly enough, many of them were working South American rather than North American stations, while most were working other Europeans on single hop prop.

A check back up on ten meters at 1700 ( noon local time) showed some of the South American beacons a little stronger, but not much activity. Two big surprises came, however, while listening on 28200. On this frequency a network of beacons around the world transmit in turn, so it takes listening on the frequency several minutes for the cycle to complete. While there was no ham activity at all noted in the cw part of the band one one SSB QSO noted in the phone band, beacons from South Africa and Hawaii were heard! ZS6DN was heard at 1705 GMT with a good RST569 signal, and KH6WO heard at 1707 GMT with an RST559 signal. This is very early for hearing KH6 signals here on ten meters.

After a break for a few hours, a trip back to the radio saw a number of South American beacons coming in much better than in the morning, along with some strong signals from Florida beacons. Once again, there were few actual QSO's heard...mostly South American stations. But one jewel was there lurking, once again indicating that the band was open but either no one was home or it was open to an area where little people live. At 2158GMT, down on 28006.25, up popped FK8DD in New Caledonia calling CQ!

Hence the day went. The Saturday of the last weekend in April would not go down in the annals of DX history was being all that great. One last check of twelve meters was worth the stop however, at 2237GMT there was 3D2RH on 24894.1 on Rotuma. Not a new one for my overall country count but a new one for twelve meters! Listening for a while when the band does not immediately serve up something is, indeed, worth it.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

First Time Being DX

Its one thing tuning the dials and hunting for DX, but it is another thing entirely being the hunted. Both are an adventure but each has its own problems and challenges

Outside of ham radio, my first introduction to the same came early in my first year in broadcasting. In November 1965 I made my first appearance behind a microphone at our local AM broadcast station. I had been hanging round the place for about three years, watching, learning and generally making a pest of myself.

The station was a 1 kilowatt day, 500 watt night facility on 1580 kHz and employed a four tower directional antenna system. As such, at the time this required an operator with a First Class Radiotelephone License to be present to maintain transmitter watch and make transmitter log entries for key meter readings every half hour. Since I had already had an amateur radio General Class license for some time, with a year of intensive study I managed to get a First 'Phone and they had little reason not to put me to work, even though I was still in high school!

In those days, the AM band was much less crowded that it is now, and with 1580 being a Canadian Clear and much more protected than it is now, there were only a handful of stations on the air in the US at night. As I recall, there was us ( KBGO), KLOU in Lake Charles, Lousiana, WCLS somewhere in Georgia and a station in California that I do not recall. There was a strong Mexican station on the frequency with 50 kw in Hermosillo, but it signed off at midnight their local time. Our station stayed on 24 hours ( a relative rarity for small local stations then) meaning for a few hours it was fairly much in the clear.

With the 500 watt night power and the four tower directional array pointed generally West, the signal in that direction was pretty good. Part of my duties included making the weekly ( then) required field intensity readings in the nulls to make sure we were in compliance with our license, and a few times I took some “ extra” readings in the main lobe and figured the effective radiated power was a bit under 2 kw.

Because of the directional resulting in our signal not being very good in the Eastern part of our metro area, the engineer at the time had the modulation really maxed out. Even for the time, we had compressors and limiters that were set at faster recovery times, maximum compression ratios and working pretty hard. The Gates Sta-level was usually in about 20 db compression range with the recovery time on “double” ( the fastest) and the Gates SA-39 limiter was usually working in the 15 db compression range with the rear panel selector switch on the fastest recovery time. There were always fresh tubes in the modulator and PA ( they were 833A's) and switching the modulation monitor between monitoring negative and positive modulation peaks always showed more on positives. We were the loudest thing on the dial locally. We had a young full time engineer and a seasoned part time engineer who taught me early on about the importance of audio processing and coverage.

All of this combined to really help us stand out on the dial. We got many reception reports in those days. Most, of course, came from Western states. There were none from Canada. Since 1580 was a Canadian Clear the antenna had to protect the entire Canadian border.

Before I came to work, it often fell to the program director or the chief engineer to answer reception reports. The PD was more interested in keeping up with his dj staff and doing remote broadcasts than answering letters, and they would stack up on his desk. Sometimes he would hand them off to the engineer who was also just as busy doing an air shift as well as taking care of all of the equipment.

So when it came to light that I was interested in these things, guess who got a pile of letters handed to me ( I had no desk!)? There was often a problem in trying to figure out if the letters came from people who had actually heard the station. Since most of the reports were for the overnight shift, there were few commercials to check the reports against. For checking old program logs for a one two year old letter, I was shown a big stack of program logs in a closet with the admonition not to get them out of date order!

There were some very distinctive song titles from local bands that were useful, but in general song titles didn't mean much because the station kept no records of what was played when. Key slogans like “ Waco's Big Go” or promos for fun club cards or reports of oldies being called KB Goldens or references to new tunes as “ King Climbers”, etc were helpful. The best clue was any reference to news being at ten minutes before the hour and twenty minutes after the hour. Often some of the reports were just so vague that it was very difficult to determine if the reporter had been hearing the station or not.

Some interesting things came to light when I began to notice that a good number of the reports would come right before to right after sunrise. Many of these reports would come right after the change to 1 kilowatt day power with an even tighter directional pattern that resulted in an effective radiated power of almost 4 kw, generally to the West-North-West. For those in the Mountain Time Zone where the local daytime only stations had not yet come in, we would have a pretty good signal, often well above some of the 1 kw or 250 watt non directional daytimers in the Central Zone that would come on at the same time we changed to day power. Most of those reports would come in the quarter hour or so after power and pattern change.

There were some real surprises that winter of 1965-66. I got two reports from Hawaii, one from Japan and three from New Zealand. All of those were easily checked out as being “ for real”. A check through the engineering files showed that there were several reports from New Zealand the first year the station came on the air in 1962. It should be noted that beginning in about mid 1967, a number of stations began staying on after midnight both in Canada and Mexico that pretty much ended our DX target status. A station in California and a 50 kw station in Arizona getting night time status later put the nails in the coffin.

The station did not have QSL cards. To answer reports I managed to grab some letterhead and take it home to hand type each response on my manual Royal typewriter at home. Depending on the time available and how many there were, the letters might be simple, straight forward confirmations, some would have details on the transmitting equipment ( Gates BC-1T transmitter, 4 tower directional, etc). Sometimes I would stuff a rate card or other promo material with a coverage map in with the letter. There was really no consistency to it all. I remember paying the postage myself.

Needless to say, I would be very happy to hear from anyone who logged KBGO on 1580 during the time period from 1962-1969.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Importance of Good Modulation

Searching for a new DX target got me to thinking about something I have noticed about a number of Shortwave Broadcast Stations. Many have good signals but are all but unreadable or unlistenable because of poor audio. I am not sure if this is coming about because of a lot of automation and lack of monitoring, or something else.

This came about because it appears that my new DX target will have pretty good audio. The posts that have me looking have been telling of Horizon FM in Tenerife ( Canary Islands) being relayed on 5780 kHz. I am not sure if its the station itself doing this or some hobby group. The posts seem to indicate they are starting with 75 watts and an inverted V antenna up about fifty feet. One post quoted the broadcasters as saying they would be processing the audio with an Optimod audio processor.

This gave me hope of hearing them for two reasons. First the Optimod in all its versions is a pretty good device for, as it name implies “optimizing the modulation”. And second, because this indicates that those involved in putting the transmitter on the air “ get it”. You have to get good audio into the transmitter for the listener to get good audio out of the receiver!

With Amplitude Modulation (AM) there are two parts to the signal: The Carrier and the Sidebands. The sidebands carrier the intelligence. In regular AM there are two, upper and lower, with the bandwidth being equal to the highest audio frequency transmitted. In other words, a tone of 5000 Hz will result in sidebands 5000 Hz above and below the carrier wave.

The more power in the sidebands, the more power can be recovered by the receiver. At one hundred percent modulation, the maximum power radiated is FOUR TIMES the unmodulated carrier power. Therefore it is important to keep the modulation at as high a level as possible. This is made somewhat difficult because complex audio is made up of different frequencies with different levels. Each instant of audio is not at the same level as it is the next instant. In order to keep the transmitter from being overmodulated, the overall level must be set so the highest peak does not go over 100 percent.

It might seem a simple matter just to keep the level going into the transmitter turned down to the point that the highest peak does not go over 100 percent. But if that is done, the other peaks would not reach that high and some effective power would be lost. There is also the average power in the audio to be considered. It is actually that average power that gives the impression of “loudness” and provides the real secret to having the station well heard above the noise and the clutter on the band.

To further complicate the issue, different forms of audio are complex in another way. There is what is known as the “peak-to-average” ratio. Human speak particularly has a much wider divergence between its peak power and its average power, so even if one were to be able to keep one's hand on the level control and somehow constantly juggle it to keep peaks and valleys near 100 percent, some program content would have less average power than others. The music or prerecorded material would always sound louder than the plain speech.

The answer is in forms of automatic level control. This is done with devices at two different levels. The first is called “ compression”. The compressor works very much like a human hand on the gain control, riding the gain and keeping the general program level fairly constant. It usually has a fairly slow attack and recovery time and follows the average program levels.

Then there is the peak limiter that follows it. This device actually works on that “ peak-to-average” ratio mentioned earlier. It works much faster and takes the errant high peaks and pulls them down to the general level of everything else. This is especially important with speech.

There are two other areas that have to be dealt with in what is termed in the trade (audio processing”. One is the fact that some forms of audio, particularly human speech, is not symmetric in its wave form. The positive and negative swings of the wave are not always equal. In Amplitude Modulation it is particularly important not to go over 100 percent modulation in the negative direction because this can cause extreme distortion and “splatter”...interference with stations on adjacent frequencies. It is also a waste of power that could be used to make the signal stronger for the desired listener. Modulation in the positive direction is less concerning in this regard. If a peak goes over what is termed 100 percent in the positive direction, the peak just continues to rise and actually delivers more power to the receiver.

The trick is that one never knows on which side this asymmetry will occur. Some peak limiters have been designed to sense this asymmetry and to electronically invert or “ flip over” if you will, the wave form so that the highest peak is always positive. If memory serves me right I believe the CBS Volumax limiter was the first widely distributed device to do this, with others following suit during the 1960's and 70's.

With both peak limiting and compression, time of recovery and attack determine just how “dense” the audio becomes. There is a limit, however, to how far you can take this. On low frequency notes, if you recover too fast, you actually cause gain recovery on part of the cycle itself and the device tries to turn the pretty sine waves of a bass into a square wave. On the other end of the spectrum, short duration percussion sounds would be so high and so short in duration that they would force the compressor or limiter to audibly “ push down” the mid range frequencies giving the impression of punching holes in the audio or giving a “pumping” impression.

During the 70's Mike Dorrough developed a multi band compressor that took care of that problem, by splitting the audio spectrum up into sections or bands and processing each separately, with slower attack and recovery times for the low frequencies, faster for mid range, and really, really fast for the highs. Many of the better processors today use this idea.

Then we get back to bandwidth. If the receiver was broad band enough to pass the entire audio spectrum, this would be the end of the story. But since regular AM broadcast receivers are not that broadband ( hearing interference from adjacent channel stations would be the result of that) any power transmitted by our station that falls outside that bandwidth is not only wasted, it causes interference to other stations nearby on the dial.

For that reason, on AM and Shortwave transmitters, it is prudent to limit the bandwidth of the transmitted signal to that which it is expected a receiver will pass. For standard medium wave stations in the US, this would be about 7500 Hz or less. For shortwave stations, it would be less...and in fact may be mandated to be less by some licensing agencies. Therefore, there is usually some form of filtering done to roll off the higher, less useful and often offending frequencies.

There is another area of power waste in the extreme low frequencies. In older transmitters that used high level plate modulation with large transformers to couple the audio from the modulator to the final amplifier, low frequencies at high levels could saturate the transformers, resulting in heating, but also in distortion and lost power. With listeners using smaller portable radios with small speakers that could not reproduce those lows anyway, this power was simply wasted. Even with todays “ boom boxes” it might be argued that the extreme lows are not that useful to the shortwave broadcaster anyway. It kind of depends on who the listener is expected to be and whether quality of music transmission or readability of speech programming is more important. The frequencies in speech that deliver understandability are not necessarily the extreme low end. For that, individual preference of the programmer comes into play. And for that, a higher grade version of the familiar graphic equalizer used in some home audio systems comes in to play.

In any event, it behooves the broadcaster to shape the baseband of his transmitted audio to fit the bandwidth and preferences of the receiver and listener where the sound will come out.

With limited bandwidth, it might seem to some audio purists that the sound would become dull and muddy, and in fact without some further enhancement it might. However, with some judicious reshaping of the frequency response of the audio chain in the upper midrange, where the consonant sounds of speech are generated and the beginning of what is know as the “presence band” begins, this can be overcome. By boosting audio frequencies in the 2500-5000 Hz range a bit with rapid rolloff above, one can put a bit of the “edge” back into the signal and the human ear and brain makes adjustments to fill in the rest. The ear is somewhat fooled into thinking it is hearing higher highs than it does.

The difference between the signal from a well processed transmitter and a non processed transmitter is not just minor...its phenomenal. The average audio is much higher, appears louder, overcomes noise and interference and becomes more listenable during less than optimal conditions.

The effect cannot be obtained just by putting a few boxes between the studio and the transmitter. The entire system must be considered. If the studio sends out audio that is distorted to begin with or is filled with hum or noise, those problems will only be magnified by the processing. The noise or hum will rise between syllables of speech or in pauses in the music. The path from the studio to the transmitter, whether it be telephone line, microwave or satellite link or internet connection must be able to handle the higher density audio and must not introduce their own distortion or noise. And the final peak limiter should be right at the transmitter input.

The transmitter itself must be in good condition. Tubes in the modulator cannot be of low emission or gassy or weak in general or there will be distortion. Tubes in the final amplifier must be able to deliver the positive peak output of the asymmetric audio or the positive peaks will be clipped off in the RF stage resulting in distortion or splatter. High voltage power supplies must be in good condition to supply the higher average currents and have voltage regulation to handle the extra current drawn during asymmetric, high positive peak modulation.

I have seen this work very well in standard medium wave broadcasting back in the dyas before FM dominated the music broadcasting world. How well does it work? In one station where I did the engineering we were on a crowded “ graveyard” channel-1340 kHz, with a power of 1000 watts day and 250 watts night. Many of our listeners in a nearby city were in an area that at night suffered some skywave and other distant station interference. With good processing, we were able to keep our audio above the clutter and gained many listeners. During the day the station was audible and listenable almost a hundred miles away. We were noticeably louder and “ bigger” sounding than our competition that ran the same power and were even noticeably louder on the dial than our other competitor that was a 5000 watt station. We had more audio coming out of the radio than they did, simply because they were not taking advantage of what they had.

It is somewhat disturbing, then, to tune across the bands and hear a large, international broadcaster burning up lots of power lighting up a 100 or 250 kilowatt transmitter and having it almost unlistenable because of low audio, poor modulation, or simply levels not set to achieve the optimum level of modulation. Given the cost of electricity and for some, the importance of getting a message out, that they would take note. And of course, for the DX-er, if they would, perhaps that station might more easily be entered into a log!

Monday, February 24, 2014

New Transworld Radio Swaziland Transmitter Schedule

For SWL's seeking to log Swaziland, courtesy of a new friend with TWR, here is the new schedule for the coming season. Somehow the formatting is not working quite right in reposting it here, but the columns are easily discernible I think, and I hope it will be useful.
Happy DX-ing!

23nd March 2014 to 25th October 2014
0255-0325 12345 Ndebele 90 3200 50 8 3 Zimbabwe
0255-0310 6 Ndebele 90 3200 50 8 3 Zimbabwe
0255-0325 7 English 90 3200 50 8 3 Zimbabwe
0255-0325 1234567 Shona 90 3240 50 6 3 Zimbabwe
0325-0340 1234567 Ndau 90 3240 50 6 3 Zimbabwe
0330-0345 34 Sidamo 31 9530 100 102 13 Ethiopia
0330-0345 1 5 7 Amharic 31 9530 100 102 13 Ethiopia
0330-0345 2 Oromo 31 9530 100 102 13 Ethiopia
0342-0357 1234567 Lomwe 60 4775 50 8 3 Mozambique
0400-0430 12345 German 90 3200 50 9 233 South Africa
0400-0500 67 German 90 3200 50 9 233 South Africa
0400-0430 12345 German 60 4775 50 4 233 South Africa
0400-0500 67 German 60 4775 50 4 233 South Africa
0400-0445 67 Chewa 49 5995 100 11 5 Malawi
0430-0500 12345 English 90 3200 50 9 233 South Africa
0430-0800 12345 English 60 4775 50 4 233 Southern Africa
0500-0800 67 English 90 4775 50 4 233 Southern Africa
0501-0800 1234567 English 49 6120 50 4 233 Southern Africa
0500-0800 1234567 English 31 9500 100 11 5 Central Africa
1400-1415 1234567 Urdu 19 15360 100 103 43 Pakistan
1425-1455 1234567 Portuguese 41 7315 50 11 5 Mozambique
1455-1510 1234567 Makua 41 7315 50 11 5 N Mozambique
1510-1555 1234567 Lomwe 41 7315 50 11 5 N Mozambique
1455-1525 12345 Malagasy 31 9585 100 3 64 Madagascar
1440-1525 67 French 31 9585 100 3 64 Madagascar
1425-1455 1234567 English 49 6025 100 6 3 Zimbabwe
1455-1525 1234567 Shona 49 6025 100 6 3 Zimbabwe
1525-1555 12345 Ndebele 49 6025 100 6 3 Zimbabwe
1525-1555 67 English 49 6025 100 6 3 Zimbabwe
1555-1625 1234567 Shona 49 6025 100 6 3 Zimbabwe
1800-1830 1234567 Zulu MW 1170 50 MW ND Swaziland
1830-2155 1234567 English MW 1170 50 MW ND Southern Africa
1545-1615 7 Shangaan 90 3200 50 6 3 S Mozambique
1600-1630 12345 Tshwa 90 3200 50 6 3 S Mozambique
1600-1630 6 Shangaan 90 3200 50 6 3 S Mozambique
1615-1645 7 Tshwa 90 3200 50 6 3 S Mozambique
1630-1645 1 4 Portuguese 90 3200 50 6 3 S Mozambique
1630-1645 23 56 Shangaan 90 3200 50 6 3 S Mozambique
1645-1659 1234567 Ndau 90 3200 50 6 3 S Mozambique
1557-1627 12345 KiRundi 19 15105 100 10B 13 Burundi
1630-1645 1 Amharic 25 11700 100 10B 13 Ethiopia
1630-1645 2 Oromo 25 11700 100 10B 13 Ethiopia
1630-1700 34 Oromo 25 11700 100 10B 13 Ethiopia
1630-1645 56 Kambaata 25 11700 100 10B 13 Ethiopia
1630-1645 7 Dimitsi 25 11700 100 10B 13 Ethiopia
1645-1700 123 Oromo/Borana 25 11700 100 10B 13 Ethiopia
1645-1700 56 Hadiya 25 11700 100 10B 13 Ethiopia
1645-1700 7 Amharic 25 11700 100 10B 13 Ethiopia
1700-1730 123456 Amharic 25 11700 100 10B 13 Ethiopia
1700-1715 7 Amharic 25 11700 100 10B 13 Ethiopia
1730-1800 12345 Oromo 25 11700 100 10B 13 Ethiopia
1802-1847 1234 7 English 31 9500 100 10B 13 East Africa
1802-1902 56 English 31 9500 100 10B 13 East Africa
1847-1902 1234 7 Juba Arabic 31 9500 100 10B 13 East Africa
1700-1745 12345 Swahili 31 9475 100 11 5 East Africa
1700-1815 6 Swahili 31 9475 100 11 5 East Africa
1700-1840 7 Swahili 31 9475 100 11 5 East Africa
1745-2045 1234567 English 90 3200 50 9 233 South Africa
1705-1735 1234567 Yawo 41 7300 100 6 233 Malawi/North Moz
1750-1820 12345 Umbunbu 49 6130 100 1 312 Angola
1820-1835 1234567 Chokwe 49 6130 100 1 312 Angola
1835-1850 1234567 Umbundu 49 6130 100 1 312 Angola
1850-1905 1 Luvale 49 6130 100 1 312 Angola
1850-1905 2345 7 KiKongo 49 6130 100 1 312 Angola
1850-1905 6 Portuguese 49 6130 100 1 312 Angola
1905-1920 12 Portuguese 49 6130 100 1 312 Angola
1905-1920 3 Luchazi 49 6130 100 1 312 Angola
1905-1920 4 Luvale 49 6130 100 1 312 Angola
1905-1920 5 Fiote 49 6130 100 1 312 Angola
1905-1920 6 Lunyaneka 49 6130 100 1 312 Angola
1905-1920 7 Kuanyama 49 6130 100 1 312 Angola
1920-1950 1234567 Portuguese 49 6130 100 1 312 Angola
1950-2005 1234567 Kimbundu 49 6130 100 1 312 Angola
1905-1935 1234567 Lingala 31 9940 100 101 343 D R Congo
1935-1950 1234567 French 31 9940 100 101 343 D R Congo
1950-2005 6 French 31 9940 100 101 343 D R Congo
DAY is the day of the broadcast = 1 is Monday etc. & 7 is Sunday
FREQ is the frequency in kilohertz
MB is the metreband
PWR is the power of the transmitter in kilowatts
AZI is the direction of the antenna
Local times are:
Kenya UTC+3 Ethiopia UTC+3 Somalia UTC+3
Tanzania UTC+3 Sudan UTC+2 Mozambique UTC+2
Angola UTC+1 Zimbabwe UTC+2 DRC UTC+1

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Band WAS Open! Saturday Night February 22

With a break in the cold weather, the only equipment I found myself behind earlier today was a lawn mower! Fresh oil, new spark plug, cleaned the air filter and it was almost as good as bagging some new DX when the little Briggs & Stratton started on the second pull after a long winter's nap. With the blade set low to scalp the winter rye that has come up and mulch the remaining leaves, it was a bit of a long job.  As usual, it gave me time to think about DX projects while trying not to think about whether the spring crop of St. Augustine grass will fill in the blank spaces were the lawn was dug up for sewer line repairs last year!

After cleaning the mower, putting everything away and contemplating whether to try to buy a new blade or sharpen the old one another time, there was a little while to sit down in front of the radios before dinner.

It was still an hour or so before dark. Local time here in Central Texas was 5:10 PM or 2310 GMT. For no apparent reason, I tuned up first on the 30 meter amateur band.  I didn't even make a WWV sweep, just started in, knowing time would be limited. The ever present RTTY signal was present just inside the lower end of the band, so I knew something would be there.  I ran into a weak signal at 10103 who was working a strong stateside station. The "local" was W3QZ and was almost S-9 on the R-75 and sloper. He turned it back to the other station which had not identified earlier with a "BK" so I still did not know who he was at the turnover. The other guy did ID right away and it was Switzerland, HB9LCW coming in 559 still an hour before sunset.

A small pileup was up about 1, with HK3/AL4Q at the bottom of things coming in at 569 from Colombia.  The only other activity on the band were ARRL anniversary stations W1AW/4  on 10107.3 and W1AW/8 on 10114, both every strong here.

Lets jump up to 20 meters. It's not a contest weekend, so things are not very crowded at all.  In fact, at first, I thought perhaps there was not much going on. K4VV was calling CQ on 14005 at 2321 GMT at 10 DB over S-9.  A couple minutes later I ran across special call station ZZ80AL calling CQ on 14019.3 with a strong (589) but very fluttery signal from Brazil, and W3BEE calling CQ with no takers at 14022.5. Hmm, this was not very promising.

At 2326 ran up on a really strong signal from W1AW/8, another anniversary station, calling CQ and listening up on 14035. Well, let's see whose going after him. Tuned up to 14036.5 and there was a pretty good pile of US stations calling.  But what was that weaker one ending in "WB" I kept hearing after the rumble from the US stations ceased with each round of calling? A surprise reminder that just because a band sounds unexciting, one should not give up on it...Vainly trying to get past the "locals" was ZS6WB from South Africa!

Well, perhaps there will be some morsels here after all! I found ZX7T vainly calling CQ on 14055 with a good but again fluttery signal.  I think this one is an expedition to a lighthouse. Then swung back to the bottom of the band for an upward sweep and at 2336 GMT heard another plaintive CQ on 14014. The signal was up and down from S-5 and I missed the call the first time around. Good one! 9L1A from Sierra Leone!  He must have called CQ ten times with no takers! Was no one going to notice him at all? Finally, not a stateside station, but Panama  HP1A with a thundering signal into Texas called and got him on the first shout. A few more calls then PY2DS noticed him.  By then he was posted on DX Summit and the gates opened.

Another good example of how a quick tune across the band and snap judgment that things aren't worth the time is not a good thing.  Always give it time and turn over all the rocks!

Wondering if the MUF was just low, I ran up to 17 meters.  Another ARRL anniversary station signing W1AW/4 was on 18075.8 and doing some business. A few stations were calling CQDX and VP9/G3ZAY in Bermuda was having a little fun working stations  on 18078.  Tuning into the pile I found JH0HVJ and JA1PNA from Japan, not real strong but certainly readable and an indication the band was open.

Going up to fifteen meters, I found stateside stations very weak including another version of W1AW/4 only S-6 at 0000 GMT as we slipped into the morning of  February 23 on the world's clock.
Things were obviously open to Asia with JA4CYZ with a nice signal on 21011 and R0FA from Asiatic Russia calling CQ with a nice signal on 21020.1.  He soon had a little business going. Things were not quite so good for a couple others I heard calling:  7N1PRD/0 on 21027 and an unidentifiable PY2 calling a little higher whose signal was so mangled by flutter I could not copy it.

The aroma from the kitchen was wafting in and I knew there was not much more time ( there are priorities, after all!) so I made the jump to 12 meters.  One signal, at 0016 GMT in the form of JH0INP calling CQ DX with no takers on 24903.2.  Would ten even be worth trying?  Always look. There were indications these other bands were open but just without a lot of activity.

Just before moving to the most important room of the house to check those aromas, I ran across a fluttery LW1EUD  ( Argentina) calling CQDX on 28005. Again the flutter was heavy enough to make copying the signal difficult despite the fair S-6 signal.  Up a bit at 28008.2 was JI3BFC calling CQDX with an easily readable signal.  Time for one more check at the bottom of the band and a prize was found with DS2XUM on 28003.1.  The DS prefix is an alternate for South Korea. 

Not bad for a little over an hour as the sun was nearing setting time.  The bands did not show the real enhancement from solar activity we saw the two weekends before,  but there was also not the contest activity to spur things on, either.  ( I wonder if anyone has done any real studies on the effects on the ionosphere of all those signals that appear on the big contest weekends)

A repeat lesson here for those times when the bands do not appear open.  There just might be something lurking there.  Spend a little time digging.  If you are a ham, calling CQ might be a good thing.  You might be howling at the moon, but then, you never know who else might be out there tuning wondering if the bands were truly dead.  If everyone listens and no one calls we don't get anywhere ( if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there ...well you know the rest of that one!) If you're an SWL, don't just make a quick pass and give it up.  Tune slowly and carefully, please.( a variation on a reminder from the guy playing music at the skating rink many years ago from days of my youth!)

Well, gotta go.  There are fresh chocolate brownies coming out of the oven! ( like I said, there ARE priorities!)