Sunday, July 26, 2015

Radios Used for DX Here

Icom R-75 used for General Listening, as Amateur Aux Receiver and for Six Meters. Has 250 Hz filters in both 9 MHz and 455 kHz IF's for sharp, sharp cw selectivity! I use it for DX-ing the amateur bands and for use alongside the transceiver in DX pileups and contests.


Yaesu FT-757-GX used for Amateur- has 300 Hz cw filter and narrow SSB filters

Drake 2B used as backup Amateur aux receiver. Has 2BQ Q multiplier. Great for pulling signals out of QRM. Crystalled for some SWBC and Utility Bands, too.  Still as good as when I got it in 1966!
Hallicrafters SX-96 for BCB DX and casual listening. Still very good for SW DX! Wonderful audio on external speaker and even good for listening to amateur SSB and CW as well as utility stuff.


Icom 251A for two meter FM, SSB and CW.  Its an oldie but a goodie, but still has very useable sensitivity. The little rig on top is the 20 meter QRP rig that I take into the field and that recently made the trip to Galveston Beach.


MacKay 3001 LF receiver used for NDB DX. Tunes from 30 kHz to 600 kHz and spent most of its life on an ore carrying ship. If you look closely, you can still see the ship's call letters on the card under the speaker. I could not bring myself to remove it!!

I am sure that many who read various DX blogs wonder just what giant installations with fancy, expensive gear is used to log all that good stuff mentioned in the postings.  I thought I would share what is used here in the shack in Central Texas.  Most of this gear I have had a number of years and can say that I have never had a brand new piece of gear in over fifty years of listening and hamming.  Most of it was obtained very inexpensively or through trading or, in some cases, through salvaging gear that others had given up as not repairable.  Not shown are three other radios put on the desk " as needed" and include a Hammurland HQ-170 used mostly for 160 meter amateur cw work and a Hallicrafters SX-111 also used for amateur backup. I traded for it for purely sentimental reasons: the ham who helped me learn cw had one and at the time ( I was 11 or 12 years old) it seemed like the be-all, end-all of receivers.  In its day ( early sixties) it may well have been!  It still works well and with the WWV tuning position also covers 30 meters, which did not exist as a ham band when it was built! There is also a military surplus BC-342 that can be brought in for backup work on 160 and 80 meter amateur frequencies.  Its just fun to use.  Antennas include an 80 meter sloper up 45 feet, tuneable for all bands,  a ground plane for 20 meters, a "random" whip vertical ( about 30 feet high), 3-element yagi for six meters, 11 element yagi for two meters ( both horizontally polarized), a ten element yagi for FM broadcast and a 44 element yagi for UHF TV. I also have a home made three foot tuned loop for LF/MF. My late father  helped build it as well as the desk the radios sit on. There is also a good sized pile of aluminum tubing and other hardware stacked along the back fence for temporary special antennas or portable work and a large stash of wire and coax and other assorted stuff.  Just good stuff to have. If anyone would like to share equipment or antenna pictures, drop a note to "comments" and I will pass along an email address to send them.  I would also like to hear about your adventures.  Sometimes the stories are better than just lists of loggings!  73 and good DX!!

Friday, July 24, 2015

What Kind of Listener Are You?

What kind of listener are you? That may seem like a strange kind of question. It might seem obvious at first, but as we will see, it can be any one of many things, or perhaps numerous things.

The term “ DX-er” is really pretty broad. It can encompass all kinds of listening and generally refers to someone who tries to hear or work stations at a great distance. In fact the very term “DX” is an abbreviation for “distance”

But even that can have various meanings. To the Broadcast Band or Medium Wave Listener, it can mean anything beyond the normal range of every day listening. For those who specialize in daytime DX, it can mean anything over 150 miles or that which can be listened to comfortably for recreational purposes. For the night time listener, it can mean anything beyond normal ground wave range.

For the FM or TV DX-er, it can mean anything beyond 75 to 100 miles, or again anything beyond what one would normally see or hear on a “normal” day. Or for some, what can be pulled in with the aid of high gain, outdoor antennas rather than the line cord antenna or a table radio or the whip on a car.

For the SWL or Short Wave Listener, it usually can mean anything out of the country. For the more seasoned DX-er it might mean anything beyond the stations that normally purposely beam signals into his or her particular listening area.

For the Radio Amateur, what is DX can vary from day to day. It can be anything out of the country or off the continent, particularly on the higher bands. On a clear, cool winter night with low noise on the low bands it might mean across the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean, but during a regular day or night might be something more nearby.

The term “DX” itself, it seems, can vary in meaning depending on the time or place. Generally, for me, it is defined by being out of the ordinary, whatever “ ordinary” means at that particular time. If I am visiting somewhere away from my home location and have only a portable radio with no external antenna, it can mean anything I can pick up. It becomes like exploring. If I am home with the R-75, SX-96 or the ham transceiver with the larger outdoor antennas, it will mean something totally different, from across the sea to sometimes being limited to a country not already in the log.

Even the term “SWL” can mean many things. There are some Short Wave Listeners who tune mainly to hear programs from other countries. The idea is to hear news from a different angle or point of view or perhaps news of a particular locality. Some may have family roots in the station's area while others may just have a curiosity about such things.

Some may want to hear the music of a particular area. This, then gets into the realm of splitting between listening for broadcasts targeted to foreign listeners and those meant for domestic consumption.

The latter is getting more and more difficult in recent years as many broadcasters drop their broadcasts in the Tropical bands. There was a time when such stations were designed to reach listeners in more distant areas of a country from the metro areas. They used the lower frequencies and higher angle radiating antennas to do so. In tropical areas, the static levels in spring and summer were also high enough that regular broadcast signals did not have the dependable range that they have in higher latitudes and broadcasters used transmitters in the 49 and 31 meter bands to reach outlying audiences in the day and the 120, 90 and 60 meter bands to reach them at night.

There was a time when the old White's Radio Log or World Radio Radio TV Handbook was loaded with stations beginning about 3 mHz that are now all but gone. In those days, up thorugh the sixties and into the early seventies, the lists were loaded with stations from Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and many Caribbean Island nations.

Nowadays, many are gone, replaced by FM stations to overcome the static. Programming is fed to the outlying lower powered FM's by satellite or microwave and listeners hear more pristine sound rather than the often fading and interference laden signals coming through on the lower shortwaves. But that means that the listening targets for SWL's are now greatly diminished.

For many, me particularly, there was something exotic about hearing the music and strange sounding languages from these places. I think the exotic feeling was perhaps enhanced rather than diminished by the occasional fading, particularly the sweeping sound of selective fading that accompanied these signals coming from the loudspeaker!

There are still stations broadcasting on shortwave, just some of the old friends are gone. The possibility of logging them is still there, just diminished somewhat.

Even among the SWL's who tune in the broadcast stations, there are two camps: One camp keeps track of the stations and programs and listens for content, The other camp seeks the weakest, rarest, must difficult to hear stations to run up the country count. This might be considered the hard core DX-er.

For this particular category, the current state of International Broadcasting might almost make things better. The bands are less crowded and the “newer” countries or political entities might still be present on short wave to cover regional areas or to get their ideology outside of their area, to spread it. There are also stations broadcasting into those areas trying to change minds or get ideas in to those behind the new boundaries. Some are learning that dependance on the internet for this is a losing proposition because government entities are learning to control internet flow into and out of their spheres of influence.

Among the “program” listeners, there are some alternatives to shortwave. Discounting the internet, nearby countries can be heard on the standard broadcast band with good antennas and good receivers. Those living within a hundred miles or so of the border might also try FM and TV as a means of getting some neighboring culture.

For the hard core DX-er there have always been other sources of signals to add countries to the “heard” list. Some of those are disappearing as well. The maritime cw shore stations were always good for some of the countries that did not offer readily received broadcast stations. Over the years, they have put countries like Mauritius, Timor, Goa, Macao, India and Pakistan in my log. They have all but disappeared in recent years with the growth of satellite communications.

There are still utility stations that can be heard or received from some rare places. These stations include stations for communicating with aircraft along with other forms of digital communications.

The most available targets for DX-ers wanting to log new countries now are probably found in the amateur bands. Hams are still on the air in most countries or entities of the world, are readily identifiable and are fairly easy to QSL. Almost any SWL DX-er can copy the single sideband signals with even the simpler portable sets available these days. More complicated table top sets used for more serious DX-ing of broadcast stations are more than adequate. The addition of a narrower filter than normally used for AM would be a help.

Amateur signals are now appearing in various digital modes. Any receiver used for copying digital utility stations will be more than adequate for pulling out digital amateur stations.

For those DX-ers who have learned to copy CW for logging some forms of utility stations, there is a veritable gold mine of DX laying in wait on the amateur bands. CW signals punch through where practically nothing else will.

There are some particular techniques for finding, identifying and logging DX in the amateur bands that are somewhat different from hunting for other forms of DX. This is brought about by the more random nature of operating on these bands and the varying conditions for prop on the different bands. We can take a look at some of those in another article.

But we come back to our original question. What kind of listener are you? The answer might be just one category for some folks, but for many of us the answer is something more like “ it depends on the day.” For me, sometimes it just depends on the mood I am in when I sit down in front of the radio. It might depend on conditions for prop or whether there is a lot of noise on some bands. It may depend on whether I have read or heard about a new station broadcasting from a country I need or whether there is an amateur DX-pedition putting a station on the air in an entity I need. It might depend on whether an amateur radio contest is set for the coming weekend that might provide a target rich environment for DX.

The bottom line seems to be, the more areas of interest a listener develops, the more likely that listener will have to find a reason to sit down in front of the radio, put on the headphones or turn up the audio gain for the loudspeaker, and step out on a short walk around the world.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

A VHF Field Day

Amateur Radio Field Day is a yearly adventure I have enjoyed since 1962 when I first experienced one as a visitor at the Central Texas Amateur Radio Club. Operating or listening away from the regular shack or with other than “usual” antennas has at times been a fun diversion and at others has allowed antennas to be used that could not normally be used because of apartment restrictions.

This year, scheduling with family events and other things had made planning difficult. At one point there was a plan to go operate with one of the local clubs, but times available and their schedule was making that hard to work out. Operating at home was considered, with the thought of setting up in the back yard with emergency power and erecting different antennas than normally used to simulate a Field Day situation. When it appeared that assistance in raising heavy masts would not be available, things began to look a little iffy for the 2015 edition of Field Day.

Then I got to thinking about the previous two Field Days when six meter openings had resulted in many, many signals being heard and several hours being spent just on that one band. Previous Field Days came to mind where there was a fair amount of two meter activity to be enjoyed during parts of the day.

VHF antennas being available and being very light weight and a home location on a good hilltop with good views of the horizon in three directions brought the idea of trying a VHF only Field Day. The limited operating time and simple to raise antennas seemed to fit the bill.

I had purchased a three element six meter beam at a ham fest two years ago that had not been assembled, so the plan was to use it on a short mast.  The hilltop location and the fact that Sporadic E openings don't require a very high antenna anyway made that a viable thing to do.

I have had a couple of eleven element two meter beams for many years with another light weight twenty foot mast that could easily be raised by myself, so the plans were to use one of the beams. It would be mounted horizontally for SSB.

Field Day is an activity that is generally thought to be for hams, but it can also be enjoyed by SWL's and other DX-ers. Those who live in apartments or in locations where antennas are restricted can at least during the activity use antennas they could not have at their home location. Some might even get away with a day or weekend use of those antennas at their home location if not left up permanently.

Antenna prep work before contest time went pretty smoothly. The six meter antenna assembly went well and the antenna adjusted for the low end of the band per the included instructions. In this particular case, the antenna was a kit that someone had purchased years before and not assembled and the entire thing in the original shipping container had been sold at the Belton, Texas hamfest at a real bargain price. Nothing on the paperwork with the antenna indicated how old it was, but from the condition of the shipping carton, it was probably at least twenty years old.

It was mounted on a fifteen foot mast consisting of ten foot and five foot “stack together” mast sections purchased from Radio Shack probably thirty years ago that were part of my antenna “ junk pile”. I am one who never throws anything away—a veritable pack rat when it comes to metal tubing, old TV antennas, push up TV masts and that sort of thing.

The base of the mast was placed in a heavy base designed to support an umbrella to shade a back yard table. The mast fit perfectly into the hole in the middle of the 24-inch diameter round base and did not even need guying initially. I did for safety's sake tie it off with nylon cord. It would be rotated by hand.

The two meter antenna went on a thirty foot telescoping mast that was not telescoped up all the way. The two top sections were only pulled out half way each. I did not feel safe in trying to tilt it up by myself.  The two meter antenna would also be turned by hand.

The method for raising it was one that I had developed over the years for even taller masts. I used nylon ski rope for the guys with three attached at the fifteen foot level on the mast. The length of two of the guys was figured out and they were tied ahead of time to a chain link fence around the yard. The third guy was left slack. The mast was then laid on the ground with the bottom of the mast in a shallow hole in the ground with concrete blocks behind it to keep the base from slipping. The mast was then “ walked up” by starting with the antenna end and walking in the opposite direction from the already fastened guys. When the mast was vertical two of the guys were already taut. I had one assistant who was available only for a few minutes stand at the base of the mast and hold it steady while I tied off the third guy to a tree. I never cut the ski rope, but coiled up the unused portion so it can easily be used for another project later! The entire antenna set up time had been less than two hours.

The time had been shortened considerably by the ready availability of plenty of hardware. I have collected over the years a lot of antenna “ parts” that are handy for such things. There are plenty of U-bolts, screws, tie wraps, nylon string, twine and rope, pulleys, extra nuts and washers of the size nearly universally used for small antennas in jars and plastic bags always “ at the ready”. I always look for old TV antennas and mast sections, broken vertical antennas and such at hamfests, picking up bits and pieces here and there usually at very low prices, as each piece is not worth much by itself, but when you need it, you need it!

I also have rolls of RG-8X with connectors attached in various lengths from 25 feet to 100 feet, stored in plastic bags. For relatively short runs, the loss in this cable is acceptable and its much easier to handle than something larger. I do have a few short runs of RG8, RG6, RG-11 and RG-213 with connectors attached, also in “ go bags”. Short runs of this cable is readily available cheap at hamfests, sometimes really cheap if no connectors are on it. Developing the skill to attach the connectors can result in good useable feedline being obtained at very little cost! RG 6 is readily available from old cable tv drops or may be even be purchased new at reasonable cost and on the HF and lower VHF bands has acceptable loss figures. It being a 75 ohm line is not a problem with wire antennas or even other types as the match is fairly close. And with short runs and the use of antenna tuners in many modern rigs, its a good alternative to more expensive line for portable operation.

Now for the rigs. There would my venerable old Icom all mode rigs plus my R-75 receiver for help on six. Other than the R-75, these rigs are probably thirty-plus years old, but still do pretty well on receive. The R-75 does very well. The two meter rig was obtained as a real bargain because its internal AC power supply was not working. It was a switching supply and rather than even bother with fixing it, I have always just run it off a battery or an external Astron DC supply. In this Field Day Operation, the supply would be a twelve volt car battery running all three pieces of gear. While the set up of antennas was in the “ field” of the back yard, the radios were still in the house. This was to be a “ just for fun” operation with no score to be turned in. Besides, being VHF only, what could one expect to really do score-wise​?

The set up went so quickly and smoothly that there was time to shower and even go get a haircut before start up time! Trying the rigs initially turned up one problem right away. My local, neighborhood power line noise chose this one day to really kick up. With the six meter beam turned in any direction from due east through south and over to southwest, the noise was terrible. It was S-3 on the R-75. The unusual thing about the direction the antenna was peaking was that it was away from the power lines that run on the north west side of my yard!

A look around showed one possibility. One of my permanent station antennas—my 80 meter sloper—was running across the path of the beam on the south side. Could it be picking up the noise and re radiating it into the six meter antenna? It was dropping across the path of the antenna only about ten feet away. The answer came quickly when I untied the lower end of the sloper and walked it off across the yard and away from my temporary VHF antenna farm. A check again showed the noise much, much lower and peaking where it should this the north and northwest, and just detectable by ear. It was not moving the S meter on the R-75 at all. On two meters, the Icom 251A was not being bothered by it at all. The old 551 showed only a small amount of noise on six.

It was soon to be time for Field Day to begin. A quick sweep of both bands showed.....nothing. There were some beacons coming through on six meters. If there was not to be a Sporadic E opening there would not be much to find, as by noon local time, all of the tropo enhancement would be gone. Just before contest time, there were a few W9 and W4 area beacons coming into Central Texas. Oddly enough, the one good beacon within normal groundwave range at Goldthwaite was not audible.

Time to start! Scanning the bands on six: Absolutely nothing. On two meter cw: Absolutely nothing. On two meter SSB: three stations from North Texas, all in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and normally workable in the worst part of the day anyway. Just for fun, checking the FM simplex frequencies knowing that the horizontal antenna would not be worth much at a distance but thinking perhaps someone local might be on: Nothing.

This wasn't a good start at all! Maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all! The beacons were there, but no Field Day stations on six. Usually a number of Non Field Day base stations will show up just for contacts with the band open, but absolutely nothing! Grrrrrr!!!

Nothing to do but take a break and come back later. I took a drive over to the local club site and sat and watched the cw station making a fair string of contacts on 15 meters, came home and checked again. Nothing. Went with the wife for lunch of Mexican food and came back about 4 PM local. Nothing. I did find a few more stations on two meter SSB including one in Oklahoma.

Since this was not going to be an official entry anyway, I decided to check DX Summit and see if anyone was noticing an opening. They were! Stations along the Eastern US were working New York to Florida and stations in Cuba, Grand Cayman and Puerto Rico were being spotted. But nothing here. I kept the beam pointed just south of due east straining to hear any trace of KP4 or ZF2. Nothing but noise! Grrrr!

Meanwhile back on two meters, a few more stations showed up, this time from East Texas, one from Austin and a couple from the San Antonio area. Where were all the Houston area stations? On two, the big base station guys should be there looking for a few contacts. Grrr!

But then,a VHF contest is like that. Its very similar to what an old ( now silent key) airline pilot friend used to say about flying the airlines: “ Its hours and hours of sheer boredom punctuated by short seconds of stark terror!” Or in this case, short seconds of elation followed by a drop back to depression and boredom again!!

The only thing I could figure was that the E cloud was out over the Carolinas somewhere and just not between me and those other guys. I did see a few 5's on DX Summit posting, but it was very few. Earlier in the day, the Europeans had been working all kinds of Sporadic E. But here, nothing. It made me think that perhaps more than stuff from the sun affects the formation of E clouds. Just guessing, but it sure seemed like that. I thought back to a few weeks earlier when thunderstorms were scattered all over the Midwest and East and there was a big E opening. Just thinking and tuning and thinking and tuning....

During one of these quiet periods, I switched to one of my regular antennas and just listened a little on the HF bands to the activity there, wondering if I had made a big mistake. The bands were fairly good and there were even some Europeans making contacts with US Field Day stations on 20 meters.

Soon it was suppertime. A break from listening to white noise and time for a little sustenance and a visit with the wife away from the boredom.

It was getting late in the day and I spent more time trolling two meters, hoping for some late in the day tropo. Well! Here came some of the southeast Texas stations...Houston, Beaumont and a station from Lake Charles, Louisiana. But soon those same stations were all I was hearing calling “ CQ Field Day” over and over.

Back to six meters, thinking maybe the sun to the west of us in the sky would do SOMETHING! Lets check the beacons first starting at 50050 and up.
Whoa! Where did this come from? KA0CDN/B was almost S-9! When did this happen? A check up and down the “beacon band” turned up two more very strong signals:K0EC/B from Colorado and N7JW from Utah both up and down but pushing S-8 at times! It was like someone had flipped a switch opening the band. And there was the semi local K5AB back in its usual spot, too.

A quick trip up to 50125 found bedlam! It sounded like 20 meters! Stations calling CQ Field Day, some working good strings. Actual QRM. Before diving in, I took a swing through the cw portion from 50085 up and heard nobody. So it was back up about 125 to begin filling in the log.

There was a beehive of “zero” stations, with the strongest from Colorado, but others from Nebraska and even fairly rare ( for me at least) South and North Dakota. A couple from Minnesota. Interestingly, the weakest stations were from Kansas. One “zero” station was a surprise when the section was copied...they were in Utah. The strongest station heard during this particular opening was W7GJ in grid DN34 in Idaho at 10 db over S-9! Where were these guys earlier! There was one K3 heard, but it wasn't really an indication of a Northeast stretch of the band. It was a bit of a disappointment when the section report indicated he was in Colorado. ( Imagine disappointment

hearing Colorado on six after all the white noise heard earlier...such is “ living in the moment” in DX-ing!)

It was a busy couple hours with my handwritten log ( yes I do still use one, entering in the computer later---hopelessly old school) getting a little messy in places until about 0345 GMT where as suddenly as it was opened, the band snapped shut. It had started getting a bit stale anyway, with mostly the same stations being heard over and over and no fresh blood. As I think back, some of them that had been strong had started slipping and were mostly calling CQ without finding any new stuff anymore either.

A check of two meters revealed only the same stations I had heard earlier. Well, this was the advantage of a VHF Field Day. While others working HF were finding foreheads dropping down to the table tops if overnight reliefs weren't found, for me it was Nap Time! I set the alarm for 4:30 AM and dropped off to la la land with dreams of ZS6 on six meters dancing in my head. ( Hey! A guy can dream!)

Rising Sunday morning at 4:30 AM CDT or 0930 GMT and checking the bands showed only a few stations on two meters, all the same ones heard the day before in the Dallas/Ft Worth and Houston areas. Nothing on six meters but the K5AB beacon within normal ground wave distance. Oh well, time to make coffee and grab a bowl of cereal.

Back behind the radios at 1030 GMT netted a few more extended ground wave two meter signals on SSB, some newbies within about 200 miles. Still nothing on six. Continued search on two meters turned up a few more, including one station from Lafayette, Louisiana.

About 1130 GMT, or about 6:30 AM local, the signals on two meters began to pick up. Two more Oklahoma stations were heard and one in Arkansas. A couple tropo signals were found on six, but still no Sporadic E. A bit early for that.

About a half hour later, things began to wake up with a few beacons beginning to prop in from Florida and the Carolinas. A few minutes later it was really on when one of the beacons from Atlanta, Georgia hit a solid S-9( W4CLM/B)

The rest of the morning was a blur of log entries. First it was stations from Florida, Kentucky and Georgia. Then the band stretched up into Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York, then swinging around to the Midwest and finally stretching into the Caribbean. This time there were plenty of cw stations coming through, with the absolute strongest being WA8FTA which was 10 db over S-9. By 1415, the VE's were coming in, with several VE3's hitting S-7 and later in the morning a couple VE4's and a VE5. The strongest Canadian here was VE3SAR at S-8.

The band was chock full of W0, W9, and W8 stations...some of them actual Field Day operations and some fixed stations taking advantage of the opening and handing out contacts. Stations from KP4, CO7, KP2, ZF2 and PJ4 were heard. DX Summit showed folks hearing the ZD8 beacon and some east coasters hearing Europeans, but they did not make it to Texas.

All in all, it was a good time! For VHF DX-ers, contest days are good times to get into a target rich environment. For listeners, its also a good time for DX, too. Most VHF hams would be happy to get reception reports and QSL. And as shortwave broadcasting has less activity, tuning the amateur bands is a good way to still enjoy the thrill of logging DX and adding to the country list. Activity on six and two meter SSB is up because of many HF rigs now including one or both VHF bands in the mix. Particularly on six, there is a lot more activity because of this, and with higher power than in years past as most of the rigs put out 100 watts on the magic band.

Overall, the idea of a VHF field day was a good idea, and perhaps good practice for the more dedicated VHF contests.

I would be very happy to hear from others involved in VHF DX-ing, either amateur or as listeners. I would particularly like to hear from anyone who has done TV or FM DX outside the US, particularly Hawaii. Just drop a note with your email address to “comments” on this blog.

Good DX!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Sporadic E Season is Here!!

The past two months have seen dozens of openings and even some two hop openings reaching to almost 100 mhz in some cases and for some paths. This brings tremendous opportunities for FM, TV, Utility, Aircraft and Amateur DX-ers to add some new things to their logs.

There have been many theories put forth as to what causes this effect, and I am not sure if anyone actually has it nailed down yet. What appears to happen is that clouds of high ionization in the ionosphere's E layer form and allow signals of much higher frequency than would normally be reflected by the F layer to be propagated. Sometimes it is less important to know the scientific or physical reason something happens than it is to just know its there and use it!

Early in the month of June I had begun noticing some of the 6-meter amateur beacons from the Central US and Northwest starting to show up. I find most of them in the 50025-50075 khz range. They are often very weak and one must tune carefully to find them. However, once the band fully opens, they can be quite strong, often S-9 or higher, despite their power being relatively low, often in the 1-5 watt range.

That is one thing I have noticed about Sporadic E skip: power levels can be quite low and still a strong signal be delivered. Back in the 1960's when most 6 meter radios were low powered, there was considerable DX worked. I myself used an AM transceiver that only put out about 6 watts and worked several states and Caribbean countries with a simple antenna in 1965-67.

There were also many adventures with TV DX over the years. Now it is somewhat more difficult because of the advent of digital television. One must have a TV or converter box that can be force tuned to a given RF frequency rather than just scanning for signals to program in. There is also the difficulty in noticing if there is even a weak signal to be worked with unless the TV or converter box has a feature for seeing signal strength either on the box itself or displayed on the tv screen.

There are times frequencies reflected in Sporadic-E prop reach even higher frequencies. There are times FM broadcast stations will skip halfway across the country. Since the prop is frequency dependent, this will show up first on the lower frequency end of the band, in the United States, this will mean the non commercial or educational stations will be affected first. Listen for unusual heterodyne beats down in this part of the band and if heard, tune carefully. I remember once hearing a station from Minnesota coming into Texas beautifully in the car.

Sometimes Sporadic E will appear to “ bend” or come from a direction other than that from which you know the station is broadcasting. Sometimes this can occur if there is more than one “ hop” or the signal is reflected from more than one cloud of high ionization. Sometimes, if the effect is noted fairly early in the morning, it might mean a combination of things are happening. Perhaps the signal has hit the Sporadic E cloud after already having an extended trip as a result of a temperature inversion.

This time of year when there might be a cool night and the temperature rises rapidly in the morning, these inversions can themselves bring extended signal range, though not as far as Sporadic E. The air is not warmed by the sun, but rather by the earth which is first warmed by the sun. The boundary layer between the warm air at the surface and the cooler air above results in a bending effect. That boundary will rise as the morning wears on, stretching the range farther and farther until the critical angle for refraction back to the surface is reached and the band appears to “suddenly” go dead. However, if this refraction is still present, that signal might continue up above the surface and if it runs into a Sporadic E cloud along the way, it will be reflected back down with interesting results. I have seen interesting things happen when the temperature inversion is to the west of the sporadic E opening. Right in the middle of stations coming in from the Midwest into Texas by Sporadic E there would suddenly appear one or maybe two stations from the West or Midwest.

The other thing that is noticeable about Sporadic E prop is that beam headings often don't seem as sharply defined as during tropo or regular ground or space wave prop. Sometimes this is more a product of the antenna's vertical pickup pattern at various angles of arrival. Often Sporadic E signals come down at a rather steep angle, depending on the distance away and the height of the cloud. The signals are striking more the top of the antenna than the front.

One other thing about DX-ing Sporadic E: high antennas are not necessary. For weak signal extended ground wave and tropo work, high antennas are needed because of the near line of sight effects of the signals in the high VHF and UHF ranges. Height is distance. But since the Sporadic E signal is coming down from high in the atmosphere, the height of the receiving antenna above ground is less important. I have had good results with antennas no more than fifteen or twenty feet high! As long as the antenna is fairly well in the clear and  does not have any major obstructions directly in front of it, you will find that height is not critical at all!

In a similar vein, lower gain antennas are sometimes an advantage in that they might have a broader vertical angle response. I once many years ago went to a lot of trouble to wide space stack two five-element yagis for the lower television channels hoping to increase my DX catches. While the effort did result in great increases in signal strength and day to day picture quality on TV stations at extended range during normal conditions, I found things were actually diminished when it came to Sporadic E because the received angle response was too low and too narrow! Sometimes less is more.

How far can Sporadic E signals go? I really don't know. There are cases of Transatlantic reception. This can be the result of double hop prop, but then again, it might be the result of some really unusual F layer skip.

How do you know when to look for DX via this mode? Sometimes its a matter of just listening. There might be some indicators. If you have a receiver capable of receiving the six meter amateur band, the best way is to look for the beacons. The internet has several listings of beacon frequencies, callsigns and locations. Checking the low TV channels for stations on channels normally blank is another, though this is more difficult in the digital age. ( perhaps that would be a good subject for another article, how to DX and search for digital TV signals...I will need some help from others on that one...if you have experience, drop me a note through “ comments”). Listening in the 30-50 mhz public service band for unusual signals is another good way, as is tuning through the lower end of the FM broadcast band looking for “interlopers”. Another way is to look at DX Summit on the internet and select “ 50 mHz” and see if there is any activity being reported.

I have been logging stations via Sporadic E for over 50 years and there are many aspects of it that just seem to have to be learned with experience. Sometimes its a matter of getting a feel for how things are working. All of my experience has been in North America. I would love to hear from any readers with experiences to share from other parts of the world, either SWL or ham. If you have such please drop a note to comments with your email address and I will respond with an address to which to send them.

This year, during the Amateur Radio Field Day event, I decided to do an all VHF operation. I will be posting the results of that shortly. Good DX!