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 format...no 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 QSL.net.

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.