Friday, November 21, 2014

Taking Advantage of a Local Station's Silent Period

It's happened to all of us in the DX community before. A local station either goes completely silent, or decides to reduce its hours of operation. Most likely, this is purely for financial reasons. In the case of KFNS 590 (which is in the process of being sold to a Christian group as I write this), it's over nonpayment of debts. A station also stays silent during the course of a sale, which is also the case with KFNS (1,000 watts day and night with separate patterns for day and night operation). In the case of KXFN 1380, their reduction of operations is not only a purely financial move, it's also because of a loss of their nighttime transmitter site. Until the station flipped from female-centered talk to extreme talk, it was a 24-hour operation. When the station flipped to extreme talk, they cut back their operations to being on from 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. When the station lost the lease on its nighttime transmitter site, KXFN became a 5,000-watt daytime only operation (they operated at 1,000 watts at night, which misses most of the St. Louis metro area).  KXFN also utilized separate patterns for day and night operations.

Many DXers take advantage of the silence of a local station to try and pull in DX. In the case of the silence of KFNS, the dominant station on 590 at night becomes KXSP in Omaha, NE, which operates at 5,000 watts day and night with a non-directional antenna. The station has operated with the same facilities since they were WOW. Also received during the nighttime hours at my Hazelwood, MO location are two Michiganders, WJMS in Ironwood (on the Upper Peninsula) and WKZO in Kalamazoo (on the Lower Peninsula), along with KLBJ Austin, TX, XEPE Mexico City, Federal District, Mexico and Radio Musical from Cuba. During the hours before sunrise, a Midwesterner near St. Louis could hear WMBS Uniontown, PA with its Adult Standards format. The absence of a local on 590 also allows DX to come in on 580 and 600. On 600, one of the dominant stations at sunset into the early evening hours is WMT out of Cedar Rapids, IA. I've also heard WREC out of Memphis, TN, WSJS out of Winston-Salem, NC and the Cuban from Urbano Noris. One station on 600 I added to the log during KFNS' silence is WVAR in Richwood, WV. 580 is usually dominated by XEMU in Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico at night, and WILL Urbana, IL during the daytime. Even with KFNS on the air, WIBW out of Topeka, KS makes it in at local sunset on 580. The DX possibilities could be endless while my local 590 (licensed to Wood River, IL) remains off the air during the sale.

Taking advantage of the reduction in operating hours of a local station is another way to add to your DX totals. Since KXFN 1380 began reducing hours, I've logged a number of stations on 1380. The dominant station at night is WLRM out of Millington, TN (a suburb of Memphis). Also noted at night on 1380: WVSA in Vernon, AL (along the border with Mississippi), WTJK in South Beloit, IL (on the Wisconsin border), KCNW in Fairway, KS (a suburb of Kansas City), KLIZ in Brainerd, MN and WHEW in Franklin, TN (a suburb of Nashville), along with WPYR out of Baton Rouge, LA. One station, KAGE in Winona, MN, was heard simulcasting an FM sister station (KWNO-FM 99.3 in nearby Rushford). WGNU 920 has a regular silent period on Saturday and Sunday; while WGNU is silent, KDHL in Faribault, MN is dominant, along with KARN in Little Rock, AR. I've also noted my ex-local on that frequency (as WAFS and WGKA) at my Hazelwood location. Other stations on 920 I've noted (regardless of whether WGNU is on or off) include KLMR in Lamar, CO, CFRY in Portage la Prairie, MB, KYST in Texas City, TX (a Houston suburb), as well as stations in Russellville, AL and Whitesburg, KY. 30 years ago, when the local on 550 (then KUSA) had a silent period, I would usually note KTSA San Antonio, TX dominating. Other times, I would hear KFYR in Bismarck, ND.

Since I returned to St. Louis in 1992, the local on 630 has been off the air for extended periods twice. During the first silent period in 1994 during the transition from KXOK to KJSL, I heard WBMQ in Savannah, GA, CFCO in Chatham, ON, CKRC in Winnipeg, MB, KSLR in San Antonio, TX and another station in Honduras. Since that time, CKRC has moved to the FM dial and WBMQ has cut night power from 1,000 watts to 47 watts. During the second silent period in 2013 during the transition from KJSL to KYFI, KSLR and CFCO were again noted, along with WNEG in Toccoa, GA, WREY in St. Paul, MN and XEFB in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico. While the local on 630 has to protect KHOW in Denver, CO at night, it appears Denver also protects St. Louis; KHOW has not made it into the logbook at Hazelwood. Neither has WLAP in Lexington, KY (nor another Lexington station, WVLK 590).

Even FM stations have been off the air for extended periods of time, allowing DX to be pulled in. Three of Clear Channel Radio's (now iHeart Radio) St. Louis FM stations were knocked off the air after a derecho moved through St. Louis in July 2006. On 93.7, I was able to relog KTUF in Kirksville, MO, and added WTRX Pontiac, IL (now WJBC-FM) to the logbook. On 104.9, I added WFIW-FM in Fairfield, IL, KPWB-FM in Piedmont, MO and KBOE-FM in Oskaloosa, IA to my FM logbook. On 107.7, I added stations in Fairbury, IL, Otterville and Stockton, MO. From June of 1999 to the following June, WFUN-FM 95.5 was off the air for station upgrades and moving the studio from St. Ann to Olivette. E-skip conditions allowed me to log WPLJ in New York, as well as KYFO in Ogden, UT and KMBR in Butte, MT. Tropo conditions allowed me to log Chicago, Detroit, Indianapolis and Nashville, as well as WGLO in Pekin, IL and KAAN-FM in Bethany, MO.  

When one of your locals are off for whatever reason, take advantage of that station's silence and log some DX! 

Friday, August 15, 2014

A DXer's View of the Violence in Ferguson

One of the hobbies I have picked up in recent years is monitoring public service radio traffic, especially police radio traffic. Over the past week, my Radio Shack PRO-2052 has received a lot of radio traffic coming out of Ferguson. This is in relation to the violence that followed a police-involved shooting in that town that's made international news. I'm sure you may have heard this over the BBC (either on satellite, shortwave or your local BBC outlet) in recent days.

I have lived most of my life in Hazelwood; the only time I have not lived in Hazelwood was the four years I lived outside of Atlanta (Woodstock from 1988 to 1991, and Marietta in 1991-92). I still remember the time the verdict in the Rodney King beating case was handed down in 1992. The local TV stations had cut into programming for live coverage of the violence around Morehouse College and Clark Atlanta University; I still remember the afternoon drive DJ at Clark Atlanta's radio station (WCLK, 91.9 MHz), the late Ken Batie, making a plea for peace on the airwaves during his "Hot Ice" Contemporary Jazz show. Even WSB 750 had wall-to-wall coverage of the events in Atlanta back in 1992.

Never, in my wildest dreams, did I ever think something like this would happen close to home until last Saturday, when this shooting occurred. On Sunday, I had both of my TV sets on in the shack, tuned to two local stations. I switched back and forth between KMOV 24 (4), KSDK 35 (5) and KTVI 43 (2) for their coverage. Reminded of what happened 22 years ago down in Atlanta, I tuned into my old radio station, WFUN-FM 95.5, now known as "Old School 95.5". One of the DJs on the station is DJ Kut, whom I worked with at 89.5 KCFV back in the early to mid-1990s. Around 0142 CDT on August 11, I tuned my radio to Old School 95.5 and recorded more than 20 minutes' worth of programming for posterity. The recording included a message from St. Louis native Cedric the Entertainer (who grew up in nearby Berkeley) and a simulcast of KTVI's coverage of the violence. KMOX 1120 was nowhere to be heard as the violence was happening; they were running "Overnight America" instead of providing continuous coverage of what was going on. KTRS 550 was also missing, running "Red Eye Radio" instead of continuous coverage of the story. R&B radio came to the forefront as the events unfolded; local news/talk radio was, for the most part, absent.

I had my scanner on for several nights after that; the police helicopters flying over the area were using 154.725 MHz (used by several communities in northern St. Louis County, including Overland and Breckenridge Hills), later switching to 155.730 MHz (the Missouri Sheriffs' Net frequency). The latter frequency is close to the Hazelwood police frequency of 155.745 MHz. I also heard radio traffic on the frequencies used by St. Louis County Police (notably 155.655 MHz; the North County frequency is 155.130 MHz) and St. Ann Police (460.450 MHz), among others. Several municipalities in northern St. Louis County, including Dellwood, Jennings and nearby communities, use 155.550 MHz for dispatch and communications. Ferguson's police operations are primarily on 155.010 MHz. The law enforcement point-to-point frequency of 155.370 MHz has gotten quite a workout the last several days. I had even monitored the developments on satellite radio (I've been a Sirius-XM subscriber since 2007) via the BBC World Service and CBC Radio One; the story got coverage on the BBC World Service on August 11 (one of the people interviewed on that day was a reporter from KMOV). That night, the violence was covered on CBC Radio One's "The World at Six"; the first fifteen minutes of "As It Happens" that day was devoted to what was going on in Ferguson.

I began my broadcasting career in Ferguson nearly 30 years ago, at KCFV 89.5 MHz. I also spoke to the station's current General Manager, Paul Huddleston, on Tuesday (8/11) to talk about what's been going on. Neither of us knew, in our wildest dreams, that this would happen so close to home. I worked with Paul back in the early to mid-1990s at KCFV. A number of the air personalities on the station today are African-American; I'm sure they would have plenty to talk about, as far as the events that have unfolded are concerned. I worked with several African-Americans during my two tours of duty at KCFV; I retired in 2009 from a radio station which has a sizable African-American audience (WSIE, 88.7 MHz). None of us thought something like this would happen in Ferguson 30 or 20 years ago; not even three weeks ago.

I also talked about the events in Ferguson on the local Amateur Radio nets, starting with the Monday night net of the Lewis and Clark Radio Club (145.230 MHz, negative offset, PL tone 79.7 Hz); I also talked at length about it on the Tuesday night net of the St. Louis and Suburban Radio Club (146.850 MHz, negative offset, PL tone 141.3 Hz). The events in Ferguson were also on the minds of many in the local Amateur Radio community.

I was also reminded that Dellwood was the longtime home of the late DXer Terry Klasek. He probably would have been searching for coverage of these events on the few stations still on shortwave. A back room of his old QTH on Vickie Place was devoted to his radio endeavors. Having a tabletop scanner in my shack allows me to monitor the radio traffic coming out of the area. This was one piece of equipment another long-gone DXer, Rich Eddie, had in his shack in Webster Groves.

The events of the past week also reminds me of being prepared for the worst. As a member of St. Louis Metro ARES, I've taken part in several practice deployments. While the Amateur Radio community hasn't been called upon to provide backup communications for the riots (this is a rare occurrence), they were called upon when an EF2 tornado hit Hazelwood in April of 2013. Monitoring the police radio traffic from the relative safety of my shack, five miles from the epicenter of the violence, allows one to find out the basic information about what's going on before it appears on the local, national or international news.

During times of disaster or violence, it's an excellent idea to have a tabletop or handheld scanner within reach. (The picture below is of my shack, taken in June 2014.)


Thursday, June 26, 2014

Two State Milestones on FM: Florida #70 and Illinois #200

Every time I reach a milestone in my DX career, whether it be reaching a certain mark overall or a certain mark from a state, province or other political division, I tend to mark that in my logbook, especially when I report it to a DX club publication, such as IRCA's DX Monitor (of which I am Editor-in-Chief) or WTFDA's VHF-UHF Digest. During the month of June, I have reached two milestones on the FM band: the 70th FM station from the state of Florida, and the 200th FM station from the state of Illinois.

Coming into June, Illinois and my home state of Missouri were the only states I've received more than 100 FM stations from. My total from Illinois has stood at 199 since I logged W279AQ 103.7 Mascoutah (northeast of Belleville) in December 2013. It was well worth the wait for Illinois #200, when I logged the new WJKD 105.5 in Altamont (southwest of Effingham on I-70) on June 22 at 0300 CDT (0800 UTC). This is one of a number of FM stations that identify with the most common marketing name for the Adult Hits format, Jack. With KPNT on 105.7 (licensed to Collinsville) broadcasting in the failed "HD" system, I was lucky to pull this one through. With the 200th FM station from the Land of Lincoln now in the books, Illinois is in a club all to itself. The closest state to that is Missouri, with 173 FM stations heard. Missouri FM #175 can't be that far behind.

For the past few years, there has been a battle for third place in my FM logbook between the states of Florida and Iowa. The Sunshine State and the Hawkeye State have traded places several times in recent years; Iowa passed Florida to take over third place at 0356 CDT (0856 UTC) on the morning of September 1, 2013 with the log of KSOI 91.9 in Murray, near Osceola. Before that, Florida took over third place from Iowa on June 12, 2012 at 1956 CDT (June 13, 2012 at 0056 UTC) with the log of WBVD 95.1 Melbourne for the 60th Florida FM. On June 19, Florida once again took over third place from Iowa with the log of WJUF 90.1 Inverness at 1800 CDT (2300 UTC) with a legal ID mentioning the 89.1 outlet in Gainesville. Florida FM #70 was logged at 1902 CDT (June 20 at 0002 UTC) with WKLG 102.1 Rock Harbor, which features a Hot AC format and tourist-oriented ads for Miami and Key Largo. Florida and Iowa are the two closest to 100 logs now, although it'll be a while before they reach the 100 mark (FL is 30 stations away from 100, IA is 65 away). Texas is the one closest to the 50-station mark (three away), with Tennessee not far behind (five away from 50 FM stations). These marks could be met this year or next.

Florida is now my most productive E-skip state (69 of the 70 stations logged from FL have been via E-skip; only WKSM 99.5 Fort Walton Beach has been heard via tropo), while Illinois has been my most productive FM DX state overall (given my location in eastern Missouri, which favors the Land of Lincoln). More milestones lay ahead.

Shortwave Radio Needs to be Better Marketed

I have been a shortwave radio listener since the fall of 1981, and like many of us out there, we've been appalled with the reduction in shortwave broadcasting by the major broadcasters, especially to the Americas. It got me to thinking about what the weakness is with shortwave broadcasting; the problem is that shortwave radio is being poorly marketed.

One of the things that shortwave broadcasters are not doing right is promoting the advantages of shortwave radio over local medium wave (AM), FM and digital broadcasters, Internet radio and even satellite radio. Here are the major advantages shortwave radio has over local MW (AM), FM and digital broadcasters, Internet and satellite radio:

1) A much larger signal footprint, or coverage area. In the United States, your most powerful AM stations (the maximum limit is 50,000 watts) are limited to a 750-mile radius at night. AM signals are dependent on ground conductivity; daytime coverages range from 125 miles (for WSB 750 Atlanta, GA) to 400 miles (such as KNBR 680 San Francisco) or more. The most powerful FM stations in the United States (the maximum power is 50,000 watts in much of the Northeast and parts of California, 100,000 watts elsewhere) cover, at most, a 100-mile radius around the transmitter site. Digital broadcasters are generally confined to covering their own local area (DRM and "HD" radio stations don't really count; that's not REAL digital radio). Satellite radio services (such as Sirius-XM), only cover part of a hemisphere. Sirius-XM, for example, only covers the United States, southern Canada and northern Mexico to Mexico City. U.S. shortwave broadcasters, which have a minimum power of 50,000 watts and can broadcast up to 500,000 watts of power, are generally free to cover the earth, provided that their signals are beamed to another area of the world, such as Europe, South America or Asia. The signal is heard like a local station in most of the United States and other parts of North America. For example, when the Voice of America used 15580 kHz to Africa via Greenville, NC, the signal came in like a local AM radio station while driving through the St. Louis metropolitan area. Shortwave broadcasters do not publicly promote the advantages of a shortwave signal over local MW (AM), FM, digital (Eureka 147) or even a satellite radio service; they really need to promote this signal advantage to the general public.

2) The signals have characteristics of both AM and FM. In mobile applications, while the transmission of shortwave radio is in AM mode (some transmissions are in single sideband, or SSB), some characteristics of FM radio are also present in shortwave radio signals. For example, shortwave radio signals don't fade under overpasses, like FM signals. Shortwave broadcasters have also not been promoting this advantage over local radio signals, and really need to market this more effectively to the general public.

3) The major economic advantage: shortwave radio programming is free, like your local AM and FM radio stations. Access to the Internet for Web-based radio stations and programming is NOT free. One has to pay a monthly access fee for Internet service; it's not cheap these days. And with proposals running about to end freedom on the Internet (Net Neutrality) in the United States, such connections could become much slower. Satellite radio is also a pay service; a subscriber to satellite radio has to pay a quarterly fee for access to programming not available for free on local AM and FM radio. With a powerful signal and virtual worldwide coverage, the higher quality programs of shortwave broadcasters are available to the listener WITHOUT having to pay a monthly, quarterly or even annual fee to an Internet or satellite radio provider. Shortwave broadcasters need to better market the economic advantages of shortwave radio (which is free) over Internet and satellite radio (which are pay services) to the general public. Internet radio is also NOT real radio; the only real radio uses a transmitter, tower and/or satellite.

4) Shortwave broadcasters are free of corporate ownership and control. Today's MW (AM) and FM stations, especially here in the United States, are corporate owned. The agenda of your local MW (AM) or FM station (especially if you live in the United States) is not set in your hometown; it is generally set in cities like San Antonio, TX, New York, NY, Indianapolis, IN and Minneapolis, MN; these agendas are usually arch-conservative in scope. The on-air policies of local radio (especially in the U.S.) emphasizes a "one size fits all" approach; they're dumping grounds for extreme right wing talk show hosts, sex-driven and bloodthirsty "shock jocks" and homogenized playlists. While many shortwave broadcasters are public broadcasters, they usually have more fair news coverage and much better programming than your corporate-owned local radio station. A number of shortwave broadcasters also air Christian programming; they operate as a ministry outreach instead of as a for-profit entity or a public broadcaster. A few are owned by enterprising broadcasters, like Allan Weiner, who provide a place for voices that aren't commonly heard on your local radio station. There are a few U.S.-based broadcasters (most notably WWRB in Tennessee) who provide air time to program hosts even further to the right on the socio-political spectrum than extreme right wingers like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. Shortwave broadcasters need to promote the fact that they have ZERO corporate control as a major advantage over your local MW (AM), FM or even DAB station, not to mention the higher quality programs of shortwave over those heard on your local MW (AM), FM or DAB station. 

5) Shortwave receivers are more widely available than you think. It is an often-held myth that "there aren't that many shortwave receivers available." That is not the truth. Shortwave receivers are widely available; one just has to look for them. In the United States, Radio Shack has a selection of Grundig/Eton shortwave receivers available; the same can be found at outdoor stores like Cabela's. Many shortwave receivers are affordable now; some can be found for as low as U$30. By contrast, the cheapest Internet receivers are over U$100; receivers that receive the failed "HD" digital system will set you back at least U$150. A converter for your car (such as the MFJ-306) are built for digital readouts; that will cost you less than $120. The availability of shortwave receivers should also be pointed out as a tool to market shortwave radio as an alternative to your local MW (AM), FM or DAB station.

These five important points must be made to the general public in order for shortwave radio to become an alternative to your local MW (AM), FM or DAB station, and a free alternative to Internet or satellite radio. There needs to be some sort of advertising campaign to market shortwave radio as an alternative to local, Internet and satellite radio; maybe the shortwave stations (such as members of the National Association of Shortwave Broadcasters, or NASB) could ask potential audiences: "Why You Should Listen to Shortwave Radio", and tell potential audience members about the advantages of shortwave radio over your local radio station. These five points can't be emphasized enough. In order to make shortwave radio more widely available to the public, there should be a more concerted effort by receiver manufacturers to make shortwave receiving capability more readily available to the listening public.

One of the biggest things that need to be done is to require all MW (AM) and FM receivers with a digital readout in the United States to have the capability to receive the International Shortwave Broadcast bands (120, 90, 60, 49, 41, 31, 25, 22, 19, 16, 15 and 13 meter bands, or the 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15, 17, 18 and 21 MHz bands). Such receivers should have digital signal processing and C-QUAM AM Stereo capability, and be free of failed terrestrial digital systems like DRM and "HD" Radio. U.S. radio audiences need to realize that the Cold War is over, and we are not as subjected to Communist propaganda as we were 30 years ago, when we had Radio Moscow, Radio Beijing and East European countries to fill us with their view of the world. We have the right to listen to stations like the BBC, DW Radio, NHK World, KBS World and Radio Australia on our home or car receivers via shortwave; U.S. listeners have been denied that right for over 60 years now. Another change that's needed is to lower the minimum power of U.S. shortwave broadcasters to 5,000 watts from 50,000 watts, and make it a national, as well as an international, broadcasting service. We don't have very many listening alternatives that are NOT controlled by corporations left in the United States; therefore, we should have no corporate ownership of shortwave radio stations in the United States. Shortwave is just fine with independent owners like Jeff White, Allan Weiner and George McClintock, as well as public and Christian broadcasters, and should not be ruined by the likes of Clear Channel Radio, Cumulus Media, CBS Radio, Emmis Communications and Hubbard Broadcasting. Corporate radio has already ruined local MW (AM) and FM radio in the United States. We also should have more tourist-oriented shortwave stations focusing on a region of the country, such as the Midwest, and more full-service stations on shortwave; full service radio is not on our MW (AM) and FM dials so much anymore. 

Ladies and gentlemen, shortwave radio needs to be better marketed to the listening public.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

E-Skip Openings in Late May and Early June

It was well worth the wait for the E-skip openings; the first one took place on May 25. It started at 1030 CDT (1530 UTC) when I pulled in XELN-TV 4 out of Torreon, Coahuila, Mexico. Channel 3 had the usual stations: XHPN Piedras Negras, Coahuila and XHBQ Zacatecas were in before 1200 CDT (1700 UTC). Shortly after 1300, I pulled in two stations from Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua: XEPM-TV 2 and XEJ-TV 5, all in analog format. Better catch these now before they go digital! On the FM side of the dial, the opening started down in the Rio Grande Valley, with KESO 92.7 South Padre Island, TX in at 1105 with a spot cluster in Spanish. Three Chihuahua FM stations made it in as well: XHDI 88.5 Ciudad de ChihuahuaXHHPR 101.7 Hidalgo del Parral and XHSBT 99.5 Buenaventura before 1300 CDT (1800 UTC). 

The action began shifting north to El Paso and southern New Mexico after that, with another log of KBNA-FM 97.5 El Paso; the UTEP (University of Texas-El Paso) mention gave it away. Another El Paso FM noted was KSII 93.1. From southern New Mexico, I noted KDEM-FM 94.3 Deming mixing with 120-mile distant KATI California, MO. Albuquerque (yes, the city where Bugs Bunny forgets to make that left turn) came through on FM, I noted a call change with KLQT 95.1 Corrales, which I first noted as KABQ-FM in July 2009. KMGA 99.5 was also noted from Albuquerque. Two Arizona FM stations made it through, with KMVP-FM 98.7 Phoenix noted with an Arizona Diamondbacks baseball game from Citi Field in New York (they were playing the Mets that day). Another one noted was KXAZ 93.3 Page, which now has an Adult Hits format for the Lake Powell area. The maximum usable frequency reached 162.400 MHz, noting WNG548 in Show Low, AZ at 1435 CDT (1935 UTC) with a weather forecast, conditions and mention of nearby Springerville. WXJ34 Albuquerque, NM noted with a weather summary for the upper Rio Grande Valley and metro Albuquerque at 1437 CDT (1937 UTC). Mexican TV stations were still in through 1445 CDT (1945 UTC). Northwestern New Mexico was still in before 1500, noting KTRA 102.1 Farmington and, close to the top of the hour, KAZX 102.9 Kirtland, serving the Four Corners area.

By 1500 (2000 UTC), the action had shifted to Colorado. A new station was noted from the Colorado Springs area in KKPK 92.9. Severe storms were moving through the Colorado Springs area at the time; I was fortunate to record KATC 95.1 being interrupted  by a severe thunderstorm warning for the Colorado Springs area. Three new Denver stations were also noted, including only my third "Franken-FM", KXDP-LP 87.7. After next year, these stations will be a thing of the past. The other two new Denver FM stations noted were KYGO 98.5, which simulcast on AM 950 at one time (the 950 pattern is beamed toward the east at night), and KQMT 99.5. I even got into the ski resort areas, with KSKE-FM 101.7 Eagle, near Vail, and KIDN 95.9 Burns, between Eagle and Hayden. Two new Utah FM stations were noted, KWUT 97.7 Elsinore and KZNS-FM 97.5 Coalville; the latter simulcasting one of the all-sports stations in Salt Lake City (KZNS 1280). Before 1600 CDT (2100 UTC), Wyoming stations began to be heard. KUWR 91.9 Laramie was noted at 1559 CDT (2059 UTC) with an ID for Wyoming Public Radio, along with another Laramie FM, KIMX 96.7, which uses the slogan "I-Mix". KSIT 99.7 Rock Springs was also noted at 1556 CDT (2056 CDT) with a rock format and legal ID; KQLT 103.7 Casper also had its Country format interrupted by a severe weather warning for the Casper area at 1630 CDT (2130 UTC). Western South Dakota and northeastern Wyoming began coming through between 1635 and 1715 CDT (2135-2215 UTC), with South Dakota stations KRCS 93.1 Sturgis, along with Rapid City stations KLMP 88.3 and KOUT 98.7 noted. KLMP 88.3 runs a Contemporary Christian format, but is also one of the few non-commercial stations to run arch-conservative Fox News Radio. Two more Wyoming FM stations made it in: KHRW 92.7 Ranchester and KLED 93.3 Antelope Valley-Crestview. The city of license for KLED ("The Legend", a Classic Country format) was the longest I could ever fit into any of my logbooks! Before the opening faded from FM, I pulled in a call letter change: KURL 93.3 Billings, MT. I last noted them as KYYA. Ownership limits led to a swap of 93.3 MHz and 730 kHz, with KYYA moving to 730 kHz with a News/Talk format, while KURL moved its Christian programming to 93.3 MHz.

Two new digital TV stations were also added to the logbook on May 25. One of these is KNOP 2 North Platte, NE; the shortest E-skip digital TV log at 575 miles (919 km) from Hazelwood, MO. I pulled in the main channel (carrying NBC's coverage of a golf tournament) and the second channel, carrying the local Fox affiliate. This is a video capture of KNOP 2.1:


The second new DTV log was KYUS 3 Miles City, MT. Even with very low power, this is quite a haul at 945 miles (1,521 km). I was able to get PSIP information from this station:


KYUS is my first digital TV log on Channel 3. I also logged this several times in analog format, especially when relaying KULR 8 in Billings. Two new analog stations were noted, both on Channel 6 and both from Saskatchewan. CFQC-TV2 North Battleford and CKCK-TV2 Willow Bunch both battled for domination on the channel at 1819 CDT (2319 UTC).

Another E-skip opening occurred on June 1; the maximum usable frequency on this one was 90.1 MHz, noting XHRYS Reynosa, Tamaulipas, Mexico with a Top 40 format, weather conditions and local ads in Spanish at 1544 CDT (2044 UTC). Four Mexican analog TV stations were also noted: XHWX 4 Monterrey,  Nuevo Leon, XHAE 5 Saltillo, Coahuila, XHTAU 2 Tampico, Tamaulipas and XHPN 3 Piedras Negras, Coahuila; the first two between 1430 and 1500 CDT (1930-2000 UTC) and the other two between 1715 and 1730 CDT (2215-2230 UTC).  The June 2 E-skip opening allowed me to re-log analog Channels 2, 4 and 6 in Havana between 1045 and 1130 CDT (1545-1630 UTC). Still another opening on June 6 allowed me to pull in only my second Cuban FM, CMBV 93.3 Havana (Radio Taino) with Latin pop music, promos and Cuba mentions in Spanish at 1955 CDT (June 7 0055 UTC). On that same day, I re-logged XHTAU 2 Tampico, Tamaulipas, Mexico at 1125 CDT (1625 UTC), as well as Havana, Cuba on 4 and 6, as well as Santa Clara, Cuba on channel 3 (analog format). The E-skip opening of June 9 afforded me a huge opportunity to fatten my CW logbook, working stations in the Northeast U.S., as well as Ontario and Quebec in Canada on 6 Meters CW. I did work a New Hampshire station on 6 Meters SSB, though. The MUF peaked at Channel 2, with CIII2 Bancroft, ON (in analog) noted at 1648 CDT (2148 UTC) with a Toronto newscast, including a traffic report. The opening of June 11 also peaked at Channel 2 to Ontario, again noting CIII2 at 1655 with the local news.

With the addition of a couple local 10-watt FM stations to the logbook, my FM total now stands at 1,262 as of June 11, 2014 from 46 U.S states and the District of Columbia, eight Canadian provinces, seven Mexican states and the Federal District (Mexico City), and Ciudad de la Habana in Cuba. The analog TV logbook now stands at 577 from six countries (U.S., Canada, Mexico, Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela), the digital TV logbook now stands at 164 stations from 18 states, and the NOAA Weather Radio logbook now stands at 114 stations from 22 states. 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

A DXer in the Radio Industry

For twenty-two years, from the time I graduated from high school in 1985 to the end of the first decade of the 21st Century, I worked in the broadcast industry. I took six months off in 1988 and 1989 after moving to the Atlanta area, three months off in 1992 while returning to the St. Louis area, fourteen months off in 1995 and 1996 to work outside the industry, and eleven months off in 1999 and 2000 to transition back to college from my last commercial broadcast job. I've been fortunate to be both a DXer and a worker in the broadcast industry. Unfortunately, DXers working in the broadcast industry are becoming nearly extinct in this day and age. It seems like yesterday that DXers like Glenn Hauser and Jerry Starr were making an honest living in the broadcast industry, especially radio.

What today's radio industry is missing out on is the unique perspective offered by the DXer. He or she will be able to explain to the management of the station he or she works for about the hobby whenever the station gets a letter or reception report from a distant listener. Without that perspective, the station won't understand a letter or a reception report from a distant listener. That has happened to me several times. When I was working for WFUN-FM 95.5, I typed up a verification letter for my boss to sign. He simply threw it in the trash. Another example is when an FM DXer in southwest Missouri was hearing KIND-FM in Independence, KS. He called the station, and the operator on duty said: "We don't get out beyond the state line." This is an indication of the lack of understanding of the DX hobby in this day and age. Had there been a DXer in charge at either WFUN-FM or KIND-FM, then the station would have been more DXer-friendly. The DXer brings an understanding of signal propagation to the management of a particular radio station or cluster. When I was working at WFTD 1080 Marietta, GA, I typed up a form letter for verification of distant reception reports. I tutored my boss, Rocky Payne, on the DX hobby. I even talked about it on the air during a Sharathon in 1991. WFTD received reports from all over the East and Midwest while I was there; I'm the fortunate recipient of a verification letter from the station, which I received for a report from my present location in January 1993. The ministry that owned the station sold it in 1998. At my last job at WSIE 88.7 Edwardsville, IL, I also explained it to my then-boss, Frank Akers, and the station's then-Chief Engineer, Dave Caires.  I distinctly remember the station receiving reports from upstate New York and from Florida during the nine years I worked at the station. The most recent radio manager to get some tutoring on DXing has been Paul Huddleston, the Station Manager at 89.5 The Wave (KCFV Ferguson, MO). He told me of one time, when he was out in St. Charles County, MO, tuning into KPNT 105.7 Collinsville, IL. The signal faded out enough to hear WIXO in Peoria, IL. Needless to say, he was surprised to hear a Peoria station in a fade of 105.7 The Point.

Usually, a Chief Engineer signs the verification letters or cards for reception reports from distant listeners. Many of these engineers are also Amateur Radio operators, and have an understanding of signal propagation. Many an engineer has signed letters of verification from the AM and FM stations I've heard, as well as the analog TV stations I've seen, over the years. Some reports have been signed by a contract engineer, some by program directors, operations managers, copy writers, and even a fellow DXer or Amateur Radio operator. Shortwave stations usually have people assigned to sign verification cards, usually an engineer, copy writer or even a correspondence section. 

I have argued over the years for more DXer involvement in the broadcast industry, especially one who has been trained for employment in the broadcast industry (especially those who got their education through a college or university). The perspective a DXer is a perspective a broadcaster really needs to understand the letters and reception reports received from listeners outside the station's main coverage area. Without it, the broadcaster doesn't have that perspective to draw on. With fewer owners and the broadcasters' obsession with voicetracking, fewer stations will have the unique perspective a DXer/broadcaster offers. I was fortunate to work in the industry for as long as I did.

Broadcasters should be encouraged to hire more DXers for paid employment, regardless of whether it be an on-air or support position. It was the DX hobby that provided the motivation for me to enter the broadcast industry nearly 30 years ago. Today, with fewer opportunities for broadcast employment than 20, 25 or 30 years ago, the likelihood of a broadcaster gaining the unique perspective a DXer offers to the industry is greatly reduced. The more DXers are involved in the broadcast industry, the understanding of the hobby by the broadcaster will be greatly enhanced.

Before you send the next reception report to a distant AM or FM station, it would be wise to get several copies of "The Broadcaster's Guide to DX", which is offered by the Goodie Factory of the International Radio Club of America. The minimum order for this pamphlet is 10. My advice is to order as many copies of this pamphlet as you can, and put it into your next reception report to a distant AM or FM station. This will provide the broadcaster with a basic introduction to the DX hobby. 

Having been on both the receive and transmit ends of radio, I have been able to experience the radio from the DXer's and broadcaster's perspective. I keep this in mind, even though I've been retired from the industry (the radio industry's choice, not mine) for nearly five years now.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

2013 DX Year in Review

Several milestones were reached as I look back on 2013. As I write this blog on Christmas Eve, my total count now stands at 1,461 AM stations, 1,239 FM, 576 analog TV, 162 digital TV and 112 NOAA Weather Radio stations.

The biggest milestones I hit on AM this year was the 1,400 total station mark (this is the only band where call letter changes count) and the 100-station mark from my home state of Missouri. The 1,400 mark (before purging a few stations from my log; mainly DX tests that I never verified, and adding a few stations I forgot to enter in the book) was WINK 1200 (now WJUA) Pine Island Center, FL (Fort Myers market). The station made it through with talk programming and Southwest Florida advertisements and promos at 4:18 p.m. Central (U.S.) Standard time (2218 UTC) on January 7. The signal held until the station cut power and changed to night pattern at 5:00 p.m. CST (2300 UTC). It would also be my 30th AM station from the Sunshine State. The 100th Missouri AM was logged on August 22, when I logged KMMO 1300 in Marshall (between Jefferson City and Kansas City) at 9:29 a.m. Central (U.S.) Daylight time (1429 UTC) with local advertisements and a farm report which was also simulcast on KMMO-FM 102.9 MHz. The 100 kW FM was in much stronger than the 1 kW AM; the regular on 1300 kHz (WFRX West Frankfort, IL) was surprisingly absent that morning. The only other state that I've logged 100 or more stations from is Illinois (114 as of December 24, 2013); the 100th station from the Land of Lincoln was logged in January 2011 (WKZI 800 Casey).

On FM, I made it to the 1,200 mark on June 28. Before adding two FM stations from Indiana that I previously forgot to add to the log, that station was KSYN 92.5 in Joplin, MO. This station was noted at 9:16 a.m. CDT (1416 UTC). 19 minutes later, I logged my 30th FM from Kansas with the log of KJML 107.1 in Columbus (across the state line from Joplin). FM #50 from Indiana was also logged in 2013, noting WSKL 92.9 Veedersburg (across the state line from Danville, IL) on August 27 at 11:22 a.m. CDT (1622 UTC). On September 1, Iowa returned to third place on my most productive DX states list when I logged KSOI 91.9 Murray (near Osceola) at 3:56 a.m. CDT (0856 UTC)...one of the most interesting parts of this reception was the legal ID by a kid who couldn't be any older than seven years old. KSOI is the 65th FM from the Hawkeye State, dropping Florida (with 64 stations...63 via E-skip and one via tropo) to fourth place. I slowly got close to 200 FM stations from Illinois; #190 was noted at 12:39 a.m. (0539 UTC) on June 18 with the log of WKIO 107.9 Arcola (Champaign/Urbana market). As I write this, I need only one FM from the Land of Lincoln to hit the 200 mark. I also noted my 170th Missouri FM station on July 30 at 12:57 a.m. CDT (0557 UTC) with the log of K259BB 99.7 Sikeston, MO (a relay of my local KSIV-FM 91.5). The most surprising log on FM this year was another translator. K279BI 103.7 Kansas City, MO made it to Hazelwood at 10:00 a.m. CDT (1500 UTC) on June 18 with a simulcast of KCMO 710; a 250-watt FM translator was received 225 miles away! As of right now, I only need four FM stations from the Show-Me State to reach the next milestone of 175 stations.

Analog TV DX slowed quite a bit between 2012 and 2013 as more Canadian stations were converting to digital. One of the most frequent stations I've logged since the U.S. conversion to digital in 2009 was CKND2 Minnedosa, MB on Channel 2. Over the summer, the station, which relays CKND in Winnipeg, converted to digital on Channel 9. The only new Canadian analog I pulled in during the summer was CKCO2 Wiarton, ON on Channel 2, noted on May 29 at 7:30 p.m. CDT (May 30 0030 UTC). The Community Calendar for the Waterloo, ON area was the tip to the ID. All of the rest of the new analog entries in 2013 were Mexican stations. Two new Mexican states were added this year: Veracruz and Sinaloa. The first analog TV from Veracruz was pulled in on June 2 with XHGV 4 from Las Lajas in the northern part of the state. That same day, I pulled in my first FM from Veracruz (XHBY 96.7 Tuxpan). The city of Veracruz was pulled in on June 17 with XHFM 2 at 8:38 p.m. CDT (June 18 0138 UTC). The first log from Sinaloa came through on July 18 at 9:50 p.m. (July 19 0250 UTC) with XHQ 3 from Culiacan. We have at least one more season of Mexican analog TV before all of Mexican TV goes digital in 2015.

Nearly all of the new digital TV logs in 2013 were on VHF. The new stations began to slowly roll in after I put up my Winegard HD8200U on May 18. The tropo opening on May 19 brought in two new Tennessee VHF stations (WNTV 8 and WSMV 10 from Nashville) and one from Kentucky (WBKO 13 out of Bowling Green), as well as a channel change from Evansville, IN (WNIN 9, ex-12). On June 4, I noted my first digital TV station from northwest Arkansas (KAFT 9 Fayetteville); I noted this within an hour after the Solar Impulse solar-powered plane landed at St. Louis. I finally logged WMWC 8 Galesburg, IL on June 24; another excellent period of logging new DTV stations came on June 27-28, adding KQTV 7 St. Joseph, MO on the 27th at 6:45 p.m. CDT (2345 UTC), two Topeka, KS stations in KTWU 11 at 7:31 p.m. CDT (June 28 0031 UTC) and WIBW-DT 13 at 7:34 p.m. CDT (June 28 0034 UTC). The next morning, I pulled in KOAM 7 in Pittsburg at 9:03 a.m. CDT (1403 UTC). I also noted their second channel carrying KFJX 13. St. Louis finally went all-digital in August when K49FC 49 (the local 3ABN affiliate) flash-cut to digital on Channel 25 as K25NG. The summer on digital TV wrapped up with two low-power TV stations on August 30: W40CV 40 Jacksonville, IL (relaying WAND 17 in Decatur...I posted a pic of my reception on Fred Vobbe's Facebook page) and W29CI 29 Salem, IL (3ABN). Those were only my third and fourth low-power stations in digital format logged (after WLCF-LD 45 Decatur, IL and WJTS-LD 18 Jasper, IN). While high winds did knock the antenna down in early December, I secured the antenna mast mount with roofing nails.

Three new NOAA Weather Radio stations were logged in 2013. On May 19, I noted WWH37 Clarksville, TN on 162.500 MHz with weather conditions for Middle Tennessee and southern Kentucky at 11:22 p.m. CDT (May 20 0422 UTC). I also noted a city of license change on 162.500 on September 6 when I noted WWF44 Henagar, AL (formerly licensed to Fort Payne) at 1:05 a.m. CDT (0605 UTC). I previously noted the station from Fort Payne on July 23, 2005 at 11:44 p.m. CDT (July 24, 2005 0444 UTC). The only other new log came on September 8 with the log of WWG73 on 162.525 MHz from Seymour, IN at 8:02 p.m. CDT (September 9 0102 UTC). I hooked the HD8200U to my scanner in November, allowing me to use the antenna's directional capabilities. A switch is used to switch between the VHF/UHF/FM yagi antenna and the non-directional discone.

While I had a halfway decent AM season, the E-skip season this year was mediocre, at best. Many DXers reported one of the poorest seasons in years. My worst E-skip season continues to be 2002. Tropo was fairly good this year, although many DXers felt it left something to be desired in 2013.

Shortwave radio held a few gems this year, including The Mighty KBC on 7375 kHz. Here are just a few of the QSL cards I received from shortwave broadcasters in 2013:


(This one is for 17490 kHz)

I also began using prepared form cards for verifying smaller AM radio stations in the fall of 2012. It has helped me verify stations I could not verify previously. One of the cards I got back was from KHMO 1070 Hannibal, MO. The same signer also signed my PFC for WLIQ 1530 Quincy, IL. PFCs have also helped me verify such stations as WKFN 540 Clarksville, TN, WLIL 730 Lenoir City, TN, KWAK 1240 Stuttgart, AR, WZYX 1440 Cowan, TN and WAVU 630 Albertville, AL. The KHMO card is attached below.



What DX does 2014 hold? That depends on the band conditions in the coming year. Several goals are now within reach, including the 200th FM station from Illinois, 175th FM station from Missouri, the 40th digital TV station from Indiana; some of the goals that I might have a realistic shot at in 2014 are AM station #1,500 and digital TV station #200.