Monday, March 8, 2021

The Annual Coastal DX Trip

 For the last several years, my family has made a vacation trip to the Texas gulf coast.  At first we stayed at motels on  Galveston Island.  Then one year we shared a rented beach house house on the Bolivar Peninsula with our daughter, son-in-law, and grandkids in the small community of Crystal Beach, a short ferry ride from Galveston.

On previous trips when we stayed in motels I would take my Radio Shack DX-440 or a Sony portable and do a little casual listening on a motel room balcony or occasionally sitting in a chair on the beach, Seldom were any antennas actually erected except one year when I stood up a twenty meter quarter wave vertical at the water's edge. (you can find that story along with pictures in the archives of this blog Scroll down and look for "Mini Beach DX Trip" in 2015)

However for real DX with a decent antenna,  nothing beats a beach house with a direct, unobstructed view of the salt water of the Gulf of Mexico. From Bolivar Peninsula, there is access to an over-water path from almost due east through south and around to southwest. That  first beach house vacation changed everything, leading to that being the location of choice. Of course it was not the same one every year. Some years the house would be on the front row, nearest the water. Others it might be on the second or even third row,  depending on how much lead time we had before going, what was available and what our budget was for a given year.

This year the trip had to be rescheduled twice because of  hurricanes.

This year our rented house was not on the front row, but there was not a house on the lot in front of it so there was actually the advantage of having more room to string an elevated wire sloper. Plans for a long beverage did not work out because of the presence of a road about 300 feet from the house between it and the beach.

After unloading all the family luggage,  with the help of my grandson the installation of the antennas began.  The W6LVP loop went up on a couple sections of fiberglass pipe on the upper deck balcony, placing it almost 30 feet above the ground. Another stack of poles held the upper end of the wire that was then strung out across the back yard and the vacant area between the house and the water. The upper end was up about 35 feet and it sloped down to the ground with a length of somewhat over 250 feet, sloping toward the east southeast.  The length was not measured,  it was just tied off at the upper end and stretched out until we ran out of room.

The R-75 was set up on a table in the top floor sitting room and there was immediate disaster.  There was horrible noise across all bands,  though interestingly enough,  it was only S-6 on the MW band. It was the same on the loop as on the wire.  It could not be nulled with the loop.  We tried moving the loop ot into the yard away from the house and it was a little better.  I had only brought 75 feet of coax so we could not get that much farther away.

So what does one do in such circumstances? One plows ahead as best one can, beginning in the area where the noise was least and the environment was target rich: MW,

The initial run on September 29, 2020 was just a short run before dinner at 0220 GMT checking for a few Cubans.  This was just about sundown  and the regular for Texas listeners on 530 khz was booming in: Radio Encyclopedia at well over S-9 with none of the R-75 preamps turned on. Transmitters for Radio Reloj were heard on 570 and 850.

The next afternoon about an hour and a half was spent on a MW groundwave band scan using the loop. Starting at the bottom of the band, a 1 kw station from a Dallas suburb made it on 540 khz.  All of the Houston area stations were quite strong, topped by 50 kw KTRH on 740 that was full scale on the R75 Smeter, again with no preamps on. There were a few surprises, including a station from Reynosa, Mexico on 590 that pushed through 5 kw KLBJ from Austin, I am sure aided by a straight path over water.

The real demonstration of the signal assistance of a water path was the reception of Radio Rebelde from Cuba on 670 khz at three o'clock in the afternoon local time.

Since the noise was lower on the sloping wire than on any orientation of the loop,  it was used, with a note to self to bring more coax next time in case this problem should come up again.

During the daylight groundwave sweep some of the highlights were Reynosa, Mexico on 810 at S-6; XECT 1190 Monterrey, Mexico S-7 (!); XEEW 1420 Matamoros  S-6; KRZI 1660  Waco, Tx  S-6;       KRJO 1680 Monroe, La  S-6; KZLS 1640 Enid, Oklahoma S-5 ; KWKH Shreveport, La S-5;KDLF 540 Ferris, Tx ( near Dallas 1 kw) S-6!

The water path to New Orleans was excellant with the mid afternoon signal from WWL on 870 booming in at well over S-9.

But overall,  the results were disappointing because of the high noise level.  The usual daylight signals I had heard in years past from the Yucatan were just not audible .  

The trip was not exclusively a radio trip,  as these never really are. There were grandchildren and daughters present and things to do besides radio. Time in the surf,  birds to be watched, sea food to be eaten and other things that have little to do with electrons zipping through wires. These things must always be kept in perspective.

Every trip will not be a blazing success.  In this case, the last night in the beach house gave a bit of an answer.  The grandkids went home and we were to leave the next morning.  For the first time since we were in the house,  both televisions were off.  And the noise was gone.

Unfortunately packing to leave the next morning had already begun and there was little time for last minute DX-ing.

There will be other trips and other times and perhaps more radio time on another trip.  Something is always learned on any trip and this lesson was trips are not always successful.

There was one final listening adventure. A quick sweep was made through the 60-meter band before the R-75 was packed up. A mystery was noted that others would be musing over for months.  There was a very strong signal on 4940. It was in Spanish and appeared to be religious and was not identifying. There was a Peruvian listed on the frequency in the WRTH but showed to only be 1 kw and I had never logged it before at home or on previous trips.  Others were to report it in the weeks to come and eventually months later it would be determined to be a reincarnation of a station in Colombia. I heard it at home several times over the next months myself, often  about S-5 or so,  sometimes down in the grass.  However that night at the beach just before the R-75 was turned off for the last time on the trip,  it was a solid S-9 plus 10 db.

Oh well,  there will be other trips and other times.

Such is the world of DX.

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