Sunday, August 30, 2015

Where is the DX, Jamming and World News

This previous two week's listening has been somewhat jumbled because of work and other requirements, and covers some scattered ground. There has been an obvious continued drop in solar activity that has left the upper bands a little weak. However, as far as the amateur bands go, it appears that from an operator's standpoint, it may have been a self fulfilling  prophecy.

I had no organized listening plan for the weekend of August 22nd-23rd, thinking there would be very little time, but figured one of the things I would check out would be the amateur Hawaiian QSO Party. This is one of what I have grown to term “ smaller contests” that can be listened to or participated in on a rather casual basis. Hearing Hawaiian amateurs is not particularly difficult in Central Texas but its a fun place and there are various time windows for the different bands on which to look for them, leaving time for other activities with the family or tuning for other things.

On the morning of August 22,  I sat down in front of the radio a bit after 6 AM local time ( 1100 GMT) and ran a quick check of the WWV frequencies. Hawaii being to the west of me and it being daylight, it seemed obvious that the place to start would be the low bands. Running WWV, I found the 2.5 MHz signal being S-9+20 DB with WWVH ( of course, from Hawaii) being well audible behind it. On 5.0 MHz, the Ft Collins WWV transmitter was S-9+30 DB with WWVH even louder than its lower frequency cousin behind it. On 10 MHz, WWVH was dominant at almost S-9 with WWV down very low beneath.

On the higher frequencies it was a predictable story. On 15 MHz there were just detectable carriers with signals so weak that no audio was recoverable. Nothing at all was audible on 20 and 25 MHz.. ( There was an old joke in a magazine I read when I was a kid—and I cannot remember what it was to give credit—but the joke was about a ham or SWL who had sent out a plaintive cry “ Help, the bands are so bad I can't even here my own crystal calibrator!”. Wups, guess I gave away my age because some reading this may not be old enough to know what one of those was for or what it was!! But I digress...)

A run through twenty meters showed few signals at all. All were very weak except a few first hop US signals from the Southeastern US. So it was down to forty meters to look there.

At first it did not seem like a very promising morning. No stations were heard calling “ CQ Test” at the bottom of the band. A tune upward to 7033 did find a group of stations dropping their callsigns. There it was! The first station from Hawaii heard for the morning. He was so strong that if I had not copied the callsign right away, I would have thought he was Stateside. KH6J was S-9 and above and had attracted a small crowd This was at 1146 GMT.

A return to the bottom of the band and the beginning of a sweep upward began to turn up a few Asian signals. Perhaps it had not been sundown or close enough to it when I first tuned in and I was hearing the band open. JH1RZY was coming in RST 569 to be the first in the log. A few more then followed.

A few minutes later, a bit of a mystery developed. I head a bit of a pileup on 7015.6, including both US and Japanese stations calling someone. There seemed to be a lot of interest in JA4GXS/4. A check of DX Summit showed a few stations posting him. Going to did not turn up anything unusual, just his home QTH without the “/4”. I am not sure if he was perhaps operating portable on an island or was doing some kind of special event thing. I marked him for further checking later. Perhaps something will turn up. If not, at least he is another station in the log!

While looking on the computer for info on JA4GXS/4, I was also still tuning and tuning. At 1158, whle down around 7008 I spotted a weak signal with that “ DX sound” ( how can I describe it. It just sounded like DX!) After listening through a QSO or two, I finally picked out the call: VK2AWD at RST 569. Forty was for sure officially open!

Over the next thirty minutes, signals from Japan increased in signal strength as the sun came up in Texas and went down there. Several were heard, among them JA7ORC, JA1NUT ( an old friend on this and other bands) In between over the next few minutes, a couple of Asiatic Russians, the strongest of which was RW9JZ peaking at 589 and heard several times while sweeping back and forth across the band. As conditions improved, I ran across JA7ORC again The first time I heard him at 1159 GMT he was RST 579, but the second time I crossed paths with him at 1210, he had come up to S-9 + 10 DB!

Then it was time for breakfast.

OK, healthy diets or no, there is no way to continue hunting DX on an empty stomach! Weekends around our house, after a week of low fat, high fiber breakfasts, we break the mold. It has to be thick bacon, fried eggs sunny side up or occasionally scrambled with capers, green onions, and cheese, toast with home made jam and sometimes sliced tomatoes with gravy. Ahhh. The breakfast of DX champions!

OK, back to the radios to search for DX. A short sweep through fifteen meters results in only a handful of US stations. On to twenty meters. By now its 1600 GMT. Only one Hawaiian heard. KH6Y is very busy on 14033. Seventeen meters yields only two signals: K7RI on SSB and VE5SD on CW.

OK, lets take a crazy step and check ten meters. Nothing across the CW portion. But ten meters has one group of targets that are always there, no matter how much the hams looking around might be discouraged from making a call. They are the beacons, generally found between 28150 and 28300. The band had that “ open sound”, again an undefinable sound that tells the seasoned listener that something should be there. Its a kind of increase in the noise level that is not man made QRN, but a general rise in a soft sounding rustling. I know its not very scientific, but I am sure some of you know what I am talking about.

Using the FT-757GX for the mornings exploring, it took spinning the dial many times to go from the vicinity of 28000 up to 28200. No keypad frequency entry for this beast! Slowing down above 28200, I ran into the first signal at 28222.1 Beacons are generally very low powered, mostly 5 watts or less, many just one watt. But there the first one was: W4KLP/B, not strong, only about S-4, but readable. Up a bit at 28232.1 was a beacon heard many times here: W4CLM/B stronger at 569. Three others were logged in short order. All were from the Southeastern US, indicating the opening was to that area particularly and perhaps even a Sporadic E opening. The main point is, the band was open and nobody was home! Nobody noticed.

So it was back to twenty meters, by now at 1700 GMT...still predominately US stations. Oh well, lunch break, chores and back at 2200 GMT.

This time was different. In between the strong US stations, there were some weaker signals. Finally at 2203 the first European came through: IK2CIO, not strong, just 559. Then as the hour wore on, more and more showed up the strongest being HA8IB at a healthy 589. It was a matter of digging for them. They were there, just down in the grass. Its another case of not getting discouraged if the DX doesn't just jump out of the radio into your lap.

It definitely appeared the Maximum Useable Frequency was just plain low, even in mid afternoon local time. On a total whim, I dropped down to 30 meters just to see what was cooking.

WWV on 10 MHz was booming in and steady so things did not bode well, but why not at least look around. Another sign things weren't too promising was the lack of the non amateur digital signal that usually appears at about 10101 when the band is open to Europe. But there was a cluster of signals calling someone about 10103. it was now 2220 GMT. Admittedly a little early for 30 meters, but things had been dull on 20 so why not check. It took listening to three or four exchanges before the surprise of the afternoon was identified: 4X4WN, David, was working several East Coast US stations. He was not strong, about S-3 and a bit of a difficult copy, but there he was! And in the log! Interestingly enough, careful tuning of the rest of the band turned up almost nothing. It appeared that anybody who was anybody was on that frequency trying to work the 4X4!

The rest of the afternoon was spent back up on twenty. There was DX to be found among the stronger “ local” signals. It just took work to find them. Instead of finding one every two or three minutes, it was more like one every ten or fifteen minutes. It took careful tuning but several Europeans were logged then as later afternoon approached and it became August 23 GMT 0000 things got a little better. KH6J appeared again, along with RG0A from Asiatic Russia and EA6UN from the Balearic Islands. Otherwise it was mostly US and Central and South American stations till radio shutdown at 0100 GMT.

The next morning, Sunday morning August 23 Texas time or 1145 GMT after feeding dogs and cats and making coffee, I lit up the FT-757GX once again and proved to myself that the lower bands are the place to be during low solar activity, I immediately ran across XE2CQ from Mexico holding forth on 7004 with a beehive of Japanese stations working him. Some of the JA's were quite strong, S-8 and greater. The strongest was JH1JBV.

There was DX to be heard elsewhere than just in that one pileup.Up the band a bit at 7012.5 was DS4AOW from South Korea coming in quite well with an RST 579 signal at 1157 GMT. Minutes later at 1159 GMT, just 3 Khz down the band was the prize of the weekend, P29LL from Papua New Guinea, a good log any day! He was not strong, RST 559, but readable. Over the next few minutes, several JA's jumped into the log.

A check of the WWV signals showed WWVH from Hawaii coming in S-9+ on 10 mHz with the US WWV inaudible. On 5 MHz, WWV and WWVH were in together, at S-9+30 DB. Whopping signals. It was decided to make a swing through the lower Tropical band frequencies and just see what might be what.

After getting fresh coffee, it was 1235 GMT of 7:35 AM local time here. The very lowest of the Tropical band frequencies would be already fading. Besides that, as luck would have it, my local somewhat erratic power line noise was kicking up, covering the weaker signals any way.

The lower South Korean frequencies were marked by a more intense than usual jamming. I chalked this up to the new round of tension between North and South Korea that had been brewing the previous week. This turned out to be the case as I worked my way up the band, even as the post sunrise propagation was beginning to fail.

Moving up through the 80 meter amateur band and checking for broadcast signals, the usual Radio Nikkei signal on 3925 was there about S-5, already down from its usual S-9 level that might have been found even a half hour earlier. Radio Verdad from Guatemala on 4055 was also already down to S-6. Of course they are an hour earlier sun time wise than my location. Even with their listed power of about 700 watts, they are sometimes 10-20 DB over S-9 here into Central Texas. I am not sure what antenna they use, but it obviously must be something with a rather high angle of radiation.

More intense jamming was found on 4450 at 1239 GMT atop the Voice of the People. Usually here the music is at least recognizable under the jamming but not this time around. The same went for the signal on 4557. Prop from that part of the world was still holding up for the next half hour as VL8A from Alice Springs on 4835 was about S-8 as an aside, with what ever problems they have been having with their lower frequency operation, them spending earlier time on their 60 meter transmitter has certainly made hearing them here easier. It almost makes one wonder if it might even be better there and they have just not made the corrections to the problem. The published reasons I have read have had something to do with trouble with their automatic timer operation to change frequency, a problem one would not think would be that difficult to fix after this length of time!)

Other signals further up the 60 meter band were as to have been expected, though the lateness of the hour had some of the “usuals” not showing up. Xinching, China on 4940 was S-7, The AIR transmitter for Kashmir on 4950 was S-5 with its characteristic rapid fading. And Radio Rebelde on 5025 was its usual raucous self on 5025 at S-9 + 20DB, though they were even further into sun. It sometimes is as high as S-9 + 40 or more here and I remember times when it would actually pin the S-Meter on my Hallicrafters SX-96!

A the sky became lighter and the signals further began to drop, I made quick run up to49 meters, finding the Chinese signals on 5915,5925, 5955 and 6000 kHz all in the S-7 range. The Echo of Hope on 6003 and KBS on 6015 were about the same, but plagued with jamming.

Rather than a study in post sunrise prop, this listening session reminded me of another aspect of this hobby: that of noting things that happen on the broadcast frequencies during times of political upheaval or tension between countries. Jamming goes up, Sometimes broadcast schedules are changed to bring more new and information or propaganda to bear on the other side of the issue. Sometimes broadcast schedules can add programming aimed at peripheral countries. In any event, it can bring another dimension to listening and maybe the chance to log stations or frequencies that might not ordinarily be available during certain prop windows. Even with increase dependence on the internet by some international broadcasters, broadcast schedules might be beefed up if there are indications that internet service might see increased censorship. If schedules don't change, it might be a symptom of some governments or agencies not catching on that this is the case and indicate a mistaken over-dependence on such delivery methods. Even transmissions on lower HF and Medium Frequencies might be affected.

It is interesting to note that jamming and interference with US broadcasts has not diminished since the recently heralded change in relations between the US and Cuba. This is a condition that might be noticed only by DX-ers and SWL's since it has not been reported in the commercial domestic media!

I am sure there are many other such changes that have occurred in Eastern and Southern Europe over the recent months. Perhaps some of this blog's readers would like to contribute some of their observations. Regardless of one's political beliefs or positions, it is always interesting to note such changes from a DX or SWL point of view and to provide information for possible DX targets or opportunities that might arise.

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